Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Disillusioned And The Delusional

My brother can't resist getting his 'anti-liberal' jabs in. I ignore it. He persists, slyly, and then covers with something like, "I'm just messing with you, Simoney." The reasons I ignore him are threefold: 1) there was a time when I used to do the same thing in reverse so I figure it's karmic payback, 2) every attempt at what I would like to think of as an "idea exchange" ends badly (always), and 3) for whatever primal brain logic has been hardwired in us to view the world differently, the truth is that having grown up together we still view the world very much the same way. If we remove labels from the conversation, and hyperbole, and political baggage, we would agree way more often than we disagree.

But this post is not about my brother. He just got me thinking about perception and political differences. Any similarity to my brother in this post from here out (real or imagined) is accidental and not the intent of the author.

I call myself a liberal. I don't believe it's a dirty word, regardless of what Newt Gingrich would have us believe. It's a legitimate political philosophy, the foundation of all of western civilization. If pressed, though, I would have to admit that part of my self-labeling is an act of rebellion. Defiance. An offense against what passes itself off as 'conservative' these days (since it certainly isn't what conservative used to be). You could even say that the source of my disaffection is the betrayal of true conservatism. I may not agree with every point of conservative philosophy but I can at least follow the logic. This bastard thing the Republicans have created under the tutelage of Karl Rove is another thing altogether. It's a lie. It's beneath contempt.

I am not an idealist. Naked idealism makes me uncomfortable. I don't view the world through a prism of idealism and, in fact, I think few people do. Most of us become a little jaded as we age, as our ideals are continuously pummeled by the blunt force of reality (I like to think of that process as 'gaining wisdom'). Political wingers -- the far left and the far right -- are the idealists. The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle. Wingers are actually quite rare... you can recognize them by the consistency of their positions. They are against all war. They are against all government. They are "all" or they are "nothing." On the plus side, there is no hypocrisy in these people. On the minus side, there is no reason.

It's an unfortunate reflex these days to label anyone who passionately disagrees with us as "far left" or "far right" whether they fit this definition or not. It's a lazy attempt to marginalize both the argument and the arguer. It's a bad (and easy) thing to do. At the center of these accusative declarations are the vanity pundits who will say anything inflammatory for fame and fortune. There are also shadowy organizations with lots of money, no frontman, and an unknown agenda, who can say anything they want without personal accountability. These entities distort the tone and context of our national dialogue. What should be an important conversation becomes a yelling match. It's a disgrace.

The truth is that the left-right paradigm isn't even all that relevant anymore. Sure, it exists in pure terms and in that regard it highlights legitimate differences of political philosophy. But in practice it's turned into a parody of itself. It's been perverted by political players who create wedge issues to draw and redraw lines of division in the hope of an increased power base. Even worse, it's been been perverted by the media to create and control new demographics for financial gain. The left-right paradigm in American politics has become a grotesquerie; it's nothing but the perverted, twisted carcass of political tradition.

One could spend a lot of time trying to pinpoint exactly where in our history we hopped onto this track. I'm a fairly recent student of politics so I can only hypothesize that the will to manipulate the political system has always been there and that only as the means to do it effectively have evolved (via mass media) has it intensified. It's an obvious game now and anyone who isn't caught up in the emotional sway of the rhetoric can observe the political parties twisting themselves like pretzels to manipulate the hapless electorate.

It's a very valiant thing to say you're above the politics, to say that you refuse to dwell in that gutter. Sadly, that all but ensures you'll become a victim to it. If there is one thing of which I've become convinced it's that there is nothing left uncorrupted by politics. Personal politics, national politics, international politics. And the one thing that politics requires is a rube.

So who are the rubes? They fall into three categories: the idealists, the ignorants, and the idiots. If you watch closely enough, you can actually see them being played.

The most recent display has been the Democratic Party's attempt to capitalize on the public's current anti-Iraq war sentiment by promising to deliver us out of Iraq. Swept into office by stunning margins, so far they've passed a few toothless bills, made a few speeches, and generally done zero to affect the war. To be fair, I don't think the Democrats can responsibly do much to pull us wholly out of Iraq but that sure hasn't dimmed their rhetorical fury. They're playing their electorate like a fiddle.

In 2004 we had the tirade against gay marriage which the Republican Party honed into a razor sharp wedge. After rallying around all of the fantastic rhetoric about gay marriage leading to the downfall of civilization, what has the Republican base gotten for their trouble? Oh yes... nothing. Unless we want to give Republicans credit for the fact that no man or woman, to my knowledge, has yet entered into holy matrimony with a box turtle. They're also playing their electorate like a fiddle.

If 2004 was the year of gay marriage, 2000 was the year of family values. And what did the true believers reap for all of their righteous Republican voting? Larry Craig, David Vitter, and Mark Foley. Nothing more. For what, at the time, appeared to be their electoral moment of glory, there have been no resultant vouchers for private (aka religious) schools nor are there commandments in the courthouse. Electorate, meet fiddle.

For many years before religious persecution became the cause celeb, abortion was the penultimate issue used to move otherwise apathetic voters to vote. And where people were uninspired to battle for, or rail against, the removal of a microscopic clump of cells from a woman's body, the specter of partial birth abortion (an exceedingly rare event) was wielded like a club to beat voters into the booth. This was routinely countered by the battle cry to defend the life of the hypothetical mother. And so on, and so on. And what have those years of endless intentional hostility wrought? Nothing. The issue itself has become a litmus test for identifying "real" Democrats and "real" Republicans. Those "real" politicos know it's stalemate, though. Roe v. Wade is here to stay. Electorate, meet fiddle.

In the same span of years, the Democrats have been routinely playing minority voters... promising them some vague form of recognition and then delivering nothing but equally vague lip service. More egregious is the travesty of collecting money from labor unions for decades and then turning the other way as manufacturing jobs were gutted from the economy. Electorate, meet fiddle.

The point I'm trying to make is that we're all viewed as pawns on a chessboard. The divisions that are being created between us are as politically convenient as they are substantively meaningless. It's not always easy to see through the illusions, to break from the delusion. In this age of instant information you'd think we'd all be too sophisticated to be easily deceived. The trick, of course, is that the golden age of media is a two way street. We use our increased access to media to be informed; they use increased media access to influence our thinking.

My political views aren't really out of the mainstream. I don't pretend complex problems have simple solutions. I abhor the state of our corporate media. I think our constitution is worth defending. I think laissez-faire capitalism is a zero sum game. And I really, really hate being played for a rube. None of this is radical stuff. In a way I feel cheated... idealists get all the passion. To be disillusioned is to feel kind of empty. That's why I've enjoyed my flirtation with Obama -- he's stirred my inner idealist. In the end, though, it's our responsibility to separate reality from illusion.


Anonymous eagle eyed milton said...

Your best posted blog ever! Even I can agree with you here (finally).

9:28 AM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger Logic101 said...

Thank you, eagle eyed milton! It's kind of sad, really... even I routinely get caught up in the pointless vitriol. Every once in a while it's good to step back and try to get some perspective.

10:56 AM, October 19, 2007  
Anonymous eagle-eyed-milton said...

At least we are both Bear fans.

11:59 AM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger Logic101 said...

All Bears fans are welcome here, regardless of political affiliation. :-)

1:54 PM, October 19, 2007  

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