Why We Blow Stuff Up On The 4th Of July (redux)


Saturday, 1:35pm
Reno, NV
Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)


As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.

We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.

Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair… of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways… of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery… of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…

It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.

But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.

Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).

Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure.

We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.

Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.

However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.

This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.

I just learned to loathe cynicism itself long ago.

Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…

… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.

Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.

And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to be “well, what would you do in his situation?”

Which, of course, produced exasperation that someone of such intelligence and knowledge as themselves should be required to come up with solutions.

If you’re actually looking for biz solutions rather than just complaining about everything wrong with the world, here’s a great place to start.

The nerve, asking him to dirty himself with real-world considerations.

Nowadays, I prefer to just let the conversation die from non-involvement. No matter what the cynic is talking about, it’s the same game every time – either “they” (the mysterious folks apparently running everything) need to fix things, or the world just needs to stop bothering Mr. Cynic with its problems if no one’s gonna take his advice.


Yeah, you’re the guy I’m going to when problems need fixing. Those platitudes, snooty attitudes and arrogant dismissals of detail work oughta solve everything fast.

Oops, I let some sarcasm slip there. Sorry.

Anyway, I bring up my detestation of cynicism because it often rears its ugly head right about the Fourth of July, when guys like me start ruminating on what’s good about this country.

Yes, I know The Man is getting better at keeping us down.

I know we’re being groomed for digital slavery by evil geniuses who want to control the universe. And I know it’s hopeless to fight city hall (let alone the gazillionaires currently corrupting every corner of the government with buckets of moolah).

But I’m an amateur historian.

And I can scoff at the cynics because even a casual glance at the ride we’ve taken as a country so far lays bare a single fact: We’ve always been at each other’s throats… the machinery of government has always clogged up at some point with cronyism and stupidity and corruption… and there is no single “truth” about living in the modern world.

Folks, we’re making it up as we go.

If you’ve been living your life believing there’s some grand plan guiding things beyond the next election cycle, well, good for you. I hope that belief gives you comfort, but you’re delusional.

What’s kept the country going, so far, has been the incredible creativity of a minority of people who either get sucked into positions of authority, or who throw themselves into the fight (and suffer the consequences) because they simply cannot ignore the craziness anymore.

Our Constitution, cobbled together by men who did their best to force-feed the breakthroughs of The Enlightenment into government, is part road-map, part mysterious Oracle (written in language so open to interpretation that we haven’t agreed on it in two centuries years of trying), part sobering reminder of how imperfect our origins are.

Hey, it was one of the first governing documents of its kind, so cut it a little slack. Your bitchin’ new iMac is a direct descendant of that first homemade Apple computer (with no monitor and very limited utility) in Wozniack’s garage, you know. Your nice dependable car with the sealed engine bloomed from the unreliable Model A. The first of anything is almost always a fragile, error-riddled Beta version that gets a few steps forward and then collapses.

Which is why we didn’t get our modern version of the Constitution until after we tossed the mortally-flawed Articles of Confederation, and added a whole bunch of Amendments to address other serious problems that kept popping up.

I don’t have any easy answers to the problems plaguing us, and you don’t either.

The battles we fight have always been with us, and forever will remain with us. Right vs. left, ignorant vs. arrogant, moralist vs. libertine, religious vs. secularist… you’re not gonna solve the disconnects and partisanship with laws.

What resiliency we’ve enjoyed has been because of the elasticity of the governing document. It has bent near-to-breaking many times, but keeps snapping back.

Which brings me to one thing I insist on celebrating in our Constitution over all other elements – the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Like much of the writing in our governing document, it’s vague and easily interpreted in silly ways.

However, that key detail about freedom of speech is the grease in the engine of democracy. Most of our ancestors, thoughout history, had no such luxury. A few short generations ago, I easily could have been shot just for writing what I do on this blog. Most ruling classes, once they get into power, seek to shut down dissent (and anyone else they don’t like for general purposes). It’s hard to rule large growling groups of humans, and you can get very irritable when critics are always sniping at your heels.

So, despite all the cynical things you can say about this joint, I keep coming back to that fragile, constantly-in-need-of-nurturing First Amendment…

… which, if any of my ancestors throughout history could have seen, would have taken their breath away.

We take it for granted that we can speak our minds here… and my network of writerly pals feel mostly immune from the anxieties our colleagues in other times have suffered (and still suffer in many parts of the world).

It’s hard to imagine how I’d get through my day if I had to bite my tongue, and keep all this blather in my brain a fearful secret, 1984-style.

Americans are a contentious bunch. We may yet screw things up and lose it all… but it’s not a foolish bet, either, to believe we can also re-establish our foothold in this brave new world and keep the noble experiment going…

… as long as writers and other ass-kickers are free to persuade, cajole, cast shame and float new ideas without being tossed in the hoosegow.

And so, today, I tip my hat to the flag and Ms Liberty, and shed a modest tear for the freedom I’ve been given to be my anti-authoritarian, irreverent, rebellious bad self.

Here’s to ya, old girl. My love is genuine and forever, no matter how much she pisses me off at times.

And to the cynics: Either put up, or shut up. There’s work to be done, and your troll-like carping from the sidelines has long been like the annoying yapping of lap dogs. Lay out your plan for what to do differently. Don’t just gripe.

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks.

Hope you have a great holiday weekend. Don’t get sunburned, don’t get too wasted, and don’t burn down the garage. And for cryin’ out loud, don’t get sucked into another futile political argument with that asshole brother-in-law of yours…

Stay frosty,


P.S. Love to hear your comments on how you deal with cynics, and how you view this opportunity to live in a world where you can spout off to The Man without (for now, at least) risking your neck.

We live in interesting times, my friend.

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  • phil says:

    With all of its faults, the USA still has the capacity to change. We are still free to speak our minds. The pendulum swings both ways. We may not spend enough time in the sweet spot, but we will surly get there again.

    • John Carlton says:

      I hope so, Phil. I’ve been a political junkie my entire adult life, and nothing surprises me. I grew up during the Cold War, came of age in the crucible of Vietnam (and the stunning culture-changes wrought by the Sexual Revolution), and have watched the left and right go at each other’s throats for decades now. As horrible as 9/11 was, it did show that we can come together during an emergency. (Though, our aggressively-stupid refusal to deal with other disasters — both natural and man-made — remind us of how temporary any agreements are.)

      Thanks for the note.

  • Took the words right out of my brain.

    When any such political nonsense comes falling out of a mouth owned by someone I care about, I tell them they have 4 options…

    1.) Take the energy they are using to bitch and enact change with it. (It’s more than casting a vote)
    2.) Leave the country.
    3.) Kill yourself.
    4.) Suck it up and deal with it.

    Harsh, but true… and tends to shut them up.

    Thanks for the post and happy 4th, John.
    I hope you and yours have had a great one.

    • John Carlton says:

      Nice summary, John. Oddly, it was going into the biz world that finally made me realize the “answer” to any critic, of anything: “Well, what would you do about it if you had the power to effect change?” Most critics never want to be put on the spot like that — they’d rather complain. It’s easy, there are no consequences, you can feel superior and get your jollies mocking other people’s efforts to actually do something, and so on. “If you ain’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem” is glib, but basically true. Shut up and pick up a shovel. Or a pen. Or a cause.

      Of course, just as in business you do not automatically succeed just because you “try”, so in politics you aren’t automatically on the right path just because you did pick up a shovel, or pen, or cause. The key missing feature is almost always critical thinking. Stop being so startled with every thought that pops into your brain that you believe it must be “the truth”… and stop pretending that every expenditure of energy you perform physically must be on the right path.

      Real progress only comes with bumps, bruises (especially on your ego) and frequent re-evaluations of what you’re doing, thinking, and going after.

  • Rob Jones says:

    I like to deal with the cynics by making ridiculous opposing comments, then laugh away as I go about my day unaffected while they continue to snap, crackle and pop.

    • John Carlton says:

      You bastard, Rob. How dare you challenge people’s rigid thinking and ineffectual complaining like that?

      Just like “tough love” works really, really, really freakin’ well in teaching… so it also works in life. Most lasting change only happens after some psychic pain…

  • Tom McGaughan says:

    Nicely written John…It is difficult to deal with cynics when you are one yourself…like me…!! But I get your point how it is basically a long standing feud between the leaners of both sides of the political spectrum… I do have to resist the temptation to jump into the fray and expound in my difference of opinion…
    It is kinda like dealing with some asshole who cut you off on the road. Why bother flipping him/her the bird…It goes back to my Dad’s philosophy on dealing with idiots…”Son…I know he’s an asshole…you know he’s an asshole…but he doesn’t know that we know he’s an asshole…” I have had to use that doctrine to get me through most of my 62 years…and dealing with cynical assholes…
    As you said…Fuck ’em…!! Have a good 4th…even if you’re hiding under the bed with your dog who is shit scared of the explosions…!!!

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks, Tom. You have a good 4th weekend, too.

      That Zen attitude of your Dad’s is right on. The ancient Stoic’s had it right — if it’s just an insult to your ego, let it go, man. Who cares if the guy flipping you off feels like he “won” by being a big dick? It only affects you if you ALLOW it to affect you. Which most folks do, but that’s just a lack of good training in living well.

      For me, it’s the other side of envy. Whenever I felt myself feeling bad, cuz So-And-So was making more money or somehow succeeding where I’d come up short… I just asked myself if I’d like to BE that guy. The answer is always “nope”. I would want to spend 15 seconds inside the head of most folks — even the good ones. I’ve spent a lifetime getting comfy inside my own skin.

      With insults and such, I just amplify it — what’s going on in that azzhole’s life that makes him want to drive dangerously, piss people off, and invite the wrath of demons and angels alike? Nothing good. Let him go off on his ill-fated path. And don’t allow the wake of his nasty vibes to linger in your own thinking or life.

      True “wealth”, for enlightened folks, is much more than money, or success, or fame, or anything outside of living well. As YOU define “living well”, not anyone else.

      Okay, the fireworks are starting outside. Gotta go hide with the dog…

  • Drago says:

    Well said.

    Having lived in Europe for a few years now, I can understand why us folk would rather contemplate deeply on the meaning of the life of a rose as opposed to guzzling beer and blowing things up, but being raised in Canada, I appreciate fireworks on the beach too, (and good beer) and miss them.

    There are definitely not enough fireworks displays over here for my taste, and more than enough people complaining about the politics instead of being useful.

    Some parts of this brave new experiment aren’t so bad. This guy attached a Gopro to his drone and flew it right into the 4th’s firework displays. Pretty good footage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9KZ3jgbbmI

    Can’t even do that with a really good zoom lens.

    As for how I deal with cynics… depends.

    Some of them, I just give them space – it’s not for me to change them. Getting involved in other people’s issues is often counterproductive for more people than not.

    Other times, I’ll get rapport and bury them with information.

    If it’s just run of the mill ineffectual whining, putting them on the spot as you said in your comment above works wonders.

    If all that fails, I’ll tell them I am the problem. I really am. Because I haven’t done enough about it so far, but I can change how I am and make a bigger difference than I have so far… They usually have no resistance to that at first until they realize they are in the same boat with the same power. By that time, they’ve lost drive and either contemplate or change tack and we repeat the process, hopefully, mindful that we are doing so.

    So, generally, I avoid conversations with cynics. Unless as Bill Hicks said “If I can transform my own consciousness by doing so, then someone else’s, I’m happy to do it”

    Quoting Bill Hicks might work too – “listen, the next revolution is going to be a revolution of ideas”.

    Or his response to the heckler yelling “freebird” might work well too: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bill_Hicks

    Might try that one day.

    If they are sober, I might even quote Buckminster Fuller ““You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
    To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

    “So instead of complaining that crossing the river gets people all wet all the time, build a bridge. Or keep ineffectualy whining and keep waiting to see if that will work. Good luck with either option. Call me if you need some help with building that bridge. I’d love to help. Saves me money on gym memberships.”

    If that still doesn’t work, and I don’t feel like talking about it anymore, I’ll start talking about monkeys and how they do, or do not interact well with dolphins and Shetland ponies once they’ve all had a few drinks.

    You might be surprised how many people simply get into those kind of conversations.

    Or a happily spoken, smiling: “well nice talking to you, have a great night – I have to talk to some more people. Cheers!” works extremely well.

    Kindness and compassion are often a great antidote to cynicism, but (rarely) they can provoke further rage.

    There’s so many situations in which I could find myself face to face with a hard-core cynic. It’s hard to circumscribe even a good portion of possible effective responses in one blog comment without taking an hour or more, so I’ll just leave it at that.


    Have a great weekend.

    • John Carlton says:

      Love this stuff, Drago. Thanks for the well-considered thoughts — makes me smile to know this blog is a small bastion in the ocean of crap online, where you can share deeper stuff without fear, and actually find other deeper-thinkers eager to read it and share themselves…

  • John says:

    Hi john
    Thanks for a great blog. I always look forward to your thoughts. Your blog keeps me going when I feel down or I am running into obstacles with marketing or business. I appreciate your interview with Kevin about Burnout. That really hit home for me when you talked about being the caregiver for your mother. My mom has stage 4 breast cancer that has spread to her bones. It’s been a battle but hearing you get through it has given me strength. Thank you again for everything you do and share with us. May God bless you always

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi John. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this. I did manage to learn something about life, and love, and doing the right thing while I went through my own trials with my mother’s illness… and while I sincerely wish no one else ever has to go through what I went through, I know it’s part of life for most of us.

      Sending some good vibes your way. Take care…

      • John says:

        Thanks for the support John. Its awesome that you responded to me. You are a legend and to get a personal reply from you is great. I am grateful and honored.

        Everyone tells me I doing the right thing by taking care of my Mom and I am keeping that in mind. It is an honor to take care of her. My Mom is my rock and I thank God everyday for her. I am doing my best to stay positive through it all.

        My fiancee/girlfriend recently left me too because I have been taking care of my Mom while she fights cancer. She said it was too stressful for her. Long story but knowing you got through will keep me going. God bless and keep up the good work helping all of us with your knowledge.

  • Hey John,

    Great piece.

    How do I deal with cynics?

    I don’t.

    I think Gandhi had it right: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

    I don’t believe in complaining or blaming. It’s a waste of energy.

    Also. . .

    Anyone who willingly leaves their fate in the hands of another person (politician, school system, employer, etc.,) is bound to get screwed sooner or later. And deserves it too, for lack of foresight.


    I just subscribed and read your 53 rant-report.

    There were a couple of very good sections I copied. This one gem stood out:

    “The actual ‘thing’ being bought may involve rocket science, but the buyer flips because of something basic like primate-level greed.”


    What books do you recommend on neurology/psychology/decision-making?

  • John C. says:

    Hi john-
    You mentioned in an interview that sometimes you stare at the walls thinking of ideas. You mentioned that you have someone very understanding who lives with you and supports you. How did you find this special lady? I am working on learning how to be a great copywriter by learning from you and it is hard to find someone who understands the goal. They all want the end goal and everything now instead of being patient and realizing you have to work at it. This might be a good topic to blog about and share your wisdom with us or any advice you have here will be helpful too. Thanks again.

    • John Carlton says:

      Ah, man… you gotta look hard for the kind of special lady who’ll put up your shit, support your wild-ass adventures, and bail you out when necessary. Okay, she’s never bailed me out, but I’ve calmed down a bit in my later years.

      Seriously, get on your game. Write lists of what you want in a mate, edit it obsessively, look far and wide. Online, it’s a whole fresh game — the opportunities to connect with folks who share your exact likes and dislikes is stunning. But old-school works, too — just never stop trying. Don’t be obnoxious, and don’t expect to ever find that “perfect” mate. However, by knowing yourself, and what your “non-negotiable” needs are… you are ahead of the game.

      In the bad old days, you sorta had to settle for whoever you could find. Now, in the brave new world, there truly are “a lot of fish in the sea”. Heck, if I were young and starting over, I’d hit up Google… and just start researching all the options out there.

      If you’re young, enjoy the adventure of looking for someone not just “special”, but who meets your specific needs. If you’re way too anxious to get into a good relationship (perhaps because youth has done wandered off into the horizon), then get busy, but don’t get desperate.

      Believe it or not… no matter WHAT your situation is, or what your fears are, you’re not only not alone… but someone else has already found ways to surmount those very same obstacles, and has shared their experiences and discoveries online. We’re really at that point on the Web.

      Good luck, John.

  • Chris says:

    Hey John, how do I deal with cynics?

    There’s a lot of ways I get them out of my head, but here’s what I do:

    1. Hear all their whining and complaints in a nasal, South Park voice.

    2. Realise that they don’t know that they’re idiotic and give them that grace.

    3. Continue forth in massive action to keep operation moneysuck going on.

    I gotta thank you for what you do, honestly.

    I’m lucky to be born in the most connected time of the human race, and even more lucky to discover all your teachings and the power of direct response at the young age of 16.

    Without you, I might have drifted on more for at least a few more years…

    … Heck, I knew about Dan Kennedy and loads of other direct response guys, but you were the grizzled old geezer who kicked me in the arse and got me moving.

    When I started implementing your freelance course while balancing high school, boy there were loads of critics and cynics.

    “No one reads that much copy”

    “Marketing is bullshit”

    “Being a student is the easiest part of your life why are you so hard on yourself?”

    I’m at stage 2, just out of the rookie stage, taking a couple jobs, working the kinks out of the copywriting process…

    But just a couple days ago one of my clients gave me a chance to earn some cash.

    If I could write a letter that converts more leads than his current VSL is doing, I’m gonna be paid slightly under a couple hundred.

    I could listen to the cynics all day and let them get to me…

    … Or I could get my ass down to the computer and start researching for the assignment…

    …finding hooks that grab the reader by the throat…

    …crafting the headline like a Da Vinci masterpiece…

    …editing the bullet points till they leave the reader dripping with desire…

    And that’s what I’m going to do.

    You’re right, by the way.

    The first version of anything is usually pretty crappy.

    But it’s like turning on a tap.

    At first there’s gonna be a murky mess, but keep on going and clear water’s gonna come out eventually.

    The cynics can be whining weasels for all they want, but I’m choosing to ignore them…

    …and continue plodding towards the Feast that awaits me.


    P.S. Thank you for all of this. You’re like the business mentor I never had, through all your teachings, writings and rants.

  • sandra westerdahl says:

    Hi John and all the other guys that have commented here. I am 76, on Social Security and Food Stamps, Energy Assistance, and have many medical problems so cannot work anymore. Sorry for the sob

    Just want to let you all know how much I have appreciated hearing the wisdom that some people have in this chaotic world. I have been following John for many years and have always enjoyed his comments on life, and now am getting a rare treat to hear all the comments from others. It’s a breath of fresh air from the people around me.

    That’s all I have to say right now. Just letting you know that there are more people in the world and the universe than those who deal in small matters that they believe are tragedies.


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