Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Absolutism: Turning Obama into a Toothache

Fighting, tooth and nail, for our god-given right to answer the wrong question with the wrong answer.

One hundred days should have been enough time to fix the depression, win the wars and save the country. 94

Maybe we know someone who, when approaching even the most mundane sort of every day challenge, slips into a frenzy of impossibilities and hopelessness at the drop of a hat. Oh, yes. Outcomes are solarized into precisely two shades, blissful, unimaginable perfection or utter catastrophic mortal failure. The sleeping, lazy mind eliminates the continuum between the possibilities, the continuum in which most of actual reality seems to reside. H-bombs and ebola, thankfully, are denizens only of the sensational media for us in this country. Likewise, aside from a perpetually narcotic, orgasmic religious atrophy of some sort, we seldom encounter outcomes which have not even the slightest shade of gray in their, well, “perfect wonderfulness.”

Yet, we are invited daily to wander into the adoption of perfect scenarios for all sorts of things, most of which none of us would rationally expect in a more reasoned moment. Baking a perfect batch of cookies is one thing -- we can buy the best ingredients, measure all the recipe twice or three times and calibrate the heat of the oven to a tenth of a degree with an electronic thermometer. One the other hand, is it reasonable to expect, or even hope for, the same kind of numbing control on more dynamically variable causes? Causes such as foreign policy? Causes such a bailing out the banks? Causes such as performing to every dot and ticker each feature of a campaign once the campaigner faces the reality of his office?

As a culture now drenched in tragic codependency, we have an insatiable appetite to control everything, to know everything in advance and to enjoy outcomes entirely predicted and guaranteed, realized through “purified” approaches so sterile they would be welcome in a surgical operating room. We coast ahead, stupefied and disappointed, when our dreams and insistence on a course of events totally devoid of risk are brutally “cluttered” by the events and complications they encounter in the abrasions of the real world.

Progressive or reactionary, it doesn’t seem to matter too much what the position might be, its clearly necessary deviations from its initial pristine representation can be nothing other than outrages and insults to its original supporters. After all, they were the ones who so bravely risked embarrassment when they supported it in the first place. Now, once this brilliant idea has been horribly soiled and disfigured by “outrageous fate” during the course of its striving to become a living, breathing actuality, that is, soiled by the complexities of the uncertainty of its environment, all these “fair weather patriots” and other “eager beavers” dive headlong into victimhood. And the most infuriating kind of shallow criticism. Glazed eye, ideological tactics vomited out to momentarily sway voters. Anything goes.

What’s the point?

Like it or not, the last few elections have painted the American population as something unpleasantly close to a 50% -- 50% mix, but the allegations as to the meaning of that ratio may have been subtly managed to our national disadvantage, that is, they may have been presented as something they actually weren’t.

Clenching our “party absolutism” as tightly as a cornered psychopath we breathe dangerous generalities into what may well be the wrong political metric to rationally describe the state of national opinions. We divide ourselves, quite conveniently for the simplistic pundits, into two camps with only a shell pocked wasteland between them. At least, that is the scene to which we are introduced in childhood and sustained upon throughout our political lives.

In fact, the Republican Party cannot be defined as simply favoring torture and looting, and the Democrats similarly as “soft on defense” and “strong on tax and spend.” Not only are these suspiciously short lived caricatures supported intermittently during moments of political opportunity, they seem to be little more than awkward invitations to addictive, imaginary conflict, concept-wise. They have proved themselves, of late, to be destructive and divisive, and, more interestingly, essentially without purpose or constructive motivation. There is no particular political goal beyond the superficial moment itself, an American phenomenon which is most profitable when it is most partisan.

Headline news-wise, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

With voters prepared the way we have been prepared, the fickle victory of any election is as fleeting as a single success on the gridiron. When the darting fits of our eight minute attention are successfully redirected, again, by those same pundits, that last election becomes as immaterial as a decisive field goal. “Glorious, but gone. Over. History.”

We are flooded with examples of this “shell in the chamber” absolutism. The Rep’s want the government out of the hair of banks so they can pay their CEO’s as much as they want. The Dem’s want them nationalized so their executives are incentivized to act more prudently. The Rep’s are certain that every strategic aspect of the nation’s defense could be well served by secrets extracted from screaming, dying torture victims. The Dem’s want to be idealistic. They say the Rep’s are brutal thugs. The Rep’s respond that the Dem’s are silly pollyannas.

The Rep’s claim that paying for universal health care will wreck the economy. The Dem’s argue back that for-profit health care is wrecking the economy already. Both sides saturate their positions with very much less than honorable rhetoric -- advertising gimmicks. They have thrown everything imaginable into this pot of soup while carefully avoiding firm estimates of cost or constructive plans about how to pay for it.

The Rep’s want our armies in Iraq and Afghanistan to “march all the way to victory.” The Dem’s assume that the entire affair has been so fatally botched that no amount of lipstick can rehabilitate the dismal history of it. Facts mean nothing. Concrete accomplishments are either disregarded or exaggerated. Voters seem much more interested in the political “basket ball game” for domestic dominance than in the rather troubling aspects of possible outcomes.

Without the perspective of history (the U.S. is now 40th in the world in literacy), an alien on our shores would assume that the country is only a gnat’s sneeze from a repeat of the gunfire which marked the Bolshevik Revolution. Listening to the pundits, one might conclude Republicans and Democrats both have a wet dream of utter annihilation, a cleansing pogrom of all opposition ruthlessly conducted on every street and directed by talk show hosts as generals.

This list stumbles ahead daily. We can add abortion, bipartisanship, the CIA photos, the budget, Pakistan and Gaza, and the stimulus package. All the players are waiting in breathless anticipation to engage in every debate. Their positions have been assigned and accepted. After all, there are only two possible choices.

The media has literally exhausted itself (at least the last remnant of its credibility) while very responsibly and objectively persuading us that there are two sides to every issue, and that those sides are so close in their respective validity that anyone who is not torn by indecision and exception is no more than an uninformed, thoughtless brute. The broadcast premise is that there are precisely and exclusively two sides to all the selected and approved issues, Rep’s and Dem’s. Unapproved debates about other unadopted and unpublicized topics are strictly reserved for the “out fielders,” that is, dreamers and other ridiculous futurists who simply want to waste time on something besides the endless, numbing, narcotizing “partisan” debate.

The media polls, objective analysts with their fingers on the “pulse of public opinion,” relegate such independent thinkers to the tin foil hat section. “Every important thing we need to think about has exactly two convenient sides and has been well defined by the entirely unbiased editorial staff of our network or newspaper or both. Everything else has simply been injected into the mix to ‘muddy the water’ and ‘confuse’ the voters. So, sit down and tune in. We are getting ready to help you know just what to think about everything that is important.”

The Rep vs. Dem spitting match has veiled the real faces of the actual sides long enough. Here is the astonishing news for those still sloppily languishing in the “There have to be two sides to everything” Kool Aid pool. The universe, this world, this country all exist in a continuum of possibilities. If every absolutist position of any current player in our politics were to be fully actualized, we would face the choices of staggering around with a new dynastic, oligarchic royalty at war with everyone we hadn’t nuked yet, or else street fighting outside the Dollar General store, trying to rob each other for the price of a can of corn.

We have been hypnotized by this vacuous two party model long enough. It has grown so rapacious now that none of the players can even think a coherent thought about something as supposedly universally central to the values of each side as, say, the good of the country.

We’ve been set up.

At least the conflict to which we are so addicted is a set up. The thrall of our culture, especially as it manifests in our media, has become so threatening, penetrating or compelling that we simply haven’t time to ponder ideas about good political and national management. The most voracious of the combatants finds himself in the embarrassing state of being unable to coherently even express the axioms of his position’s political beliefs. Utterances which might have been constructive comments had they been thought through become inane accusations, most successful only when they evoke an accompanying chorus of similar inane accusations.

Still, although somewhat suspicious, we remain locked under the finite limits of our established two party politics. No tin foil hats for us!

Is this some sort of dramatic, Malthusian exaggeration? Let’s take a test. It will be a self-graded essay test where each question must be answered in a “terse and laconic” paragraph. Here come the questions.

1. What are the simplest, most fundamental values of the Republican Party?
2. What are the simplest, most fundamental values of the Democratic Party?
3. What are the simplest, most fundamental values of the United States?
4. Exactly what qualifications would you require for a really great President?
5. In the biggest “big picture” possible, what are your hopes and ambitions for the country?

How did you do? Did your answers fit closely to any available example of political rhetoric? Are there voices discussing the topics you listed in answer to these simple questions? Or, are the voices all too focused on something too similar to a football game to merit the influence they are having over your opinions? Over your political activities? Over your dreams for the future?

Considering your answers and the discourse and debate in the country, are we on a relevant track? One that is likely to create the ideas we need to get out of this mess?

The solution, our tomorrow, our children’s future will be based on sincere, mature selections of various positions in the continuum of possibilities. We simply have to stop indulging in endless ideological nose bleeds sponsored by those who profit from our mindless adversarial indulgences. Instead, we will need to learn to accept and support some workable, “middle of the road,” negotiated strategies for our own good -- both of the sides in conflict have their “own good.”

The goal of Obama’s Presidency runs far beyond the sole aim of vindicating as non-hypocritical lockstep with everything he offered in his campaign. It has to do with applying the very best choices available to the challenges he faces. That latter fact will determine both the degree of our nation’s success and the tone of history’s treatment of his administration.

He is searching very thoughtfully for a path which can embrace all the sides of us. Yes, of course, elections have consequences, but if all those who voted for John McCain look carefully at the course Obama has set for us, they will see that they are included. The childish dogfight is over. We can’t afford any more of it.

We certainly don’t need to spend all of our waking time listening to well practiced instigators -- pundits or politicians -- arguing decisions about choices we don’t actually have. We can hardly afford any more of that, either.

Does anyone else suspect that maybe the actual struggle isn’t between Rep’s and Dem’s at all? Hardly any member of either party could get a passing grade reciting the essential positions of those parties or the contemporary relevance of their historical foundations. The threatening -- and exhilarating -- and non-optional challenge in the opportunity of the moment cannot be met by a mindless participation in the prepackaged, semiliterate “burning issues of the day” provided by such clearly defective players as our media and political ideologues. The new “sides” are denoted by traits such as nationalism, idealism, optimism, tolerance, sincerity, maturity, positive activism, involvement and cooperation. We have some gravely serious rebuilding to do.

Our country isn’t divided 50% -- 50% at all. We have far more in common than in dispute. We can do much better than this. We can do so much better than this that the entire world will be stupefied by our example. By our new hope.

We now have the leader. The question is, “Will we follow?”

Interested in knowing more about some outrageous pundits?

and, of course,

1 comment: