I've resisted the siren song of the endless weblogs for 2 years now. The infection- sorry- election of 2004 struck the last blow to a crumbling resolve.
What happened? Why? And why the sod didn't I realize that Dubya's meretriciously megalomaniacal, stultifyingly stupid, stupefyingly shallow, and frankly, fascist views were shared by more than half the country?
Maybe I'm doing an injustice to my fellow Americans. (J. Herbert Christ, I hope so.) Maybe his views are just easier for the sheople to swallow than a considered, reasoned discourse. Grass to gravel, if you will...
I'm reading The Meaning of It All by Richard Feynman, the Nobel-prize winning physicist and Manhattan-Project collaborator. In 1963 Feynman gave 3 speeches in Seattle; the central speech was titled "The Uncertainty of Values". (Sound relevant?)
In that speech he stated that the way he judged whether a man knew what he was talking about was to ask him simple, lucid, "naive" questions on a subject in which he was not an expert- and see whether or not that person had ready, clear answers. Feynman said that the person who answers the question with "I'm not sure- I need to check with someone who knows about that," as opposed to, "Of course I can fix that!" seems to him to have a higher degree of understanding- of both the problem and the steps necessary for its solution.
(Aside from the obvious, this is relevant. Stay with me here.)
Feynman said a paragraph later that he was pretty certain that "such a man would never get anywhere in this country". It's just as true today as it was in 1963, and it is emblematic of the gaping abyss between those who accept uncertainty as a consequence of knowledge and those who fear it because uncertainty demands a readiness for change.
When Kerry replied to a question in the 3rd debate with, “It’s not that simple,” I was dumbstruck. I’d never before- and may never again- hear a politician openly acknowledge that reducing a complex question to simple English doesn’t similarly reduce the structure of the problem. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten (or willfully ignored) the fact that an unwillingness to acknowledge uncertainty and complexity is an integral part of what has become the American national identity.
Before I’m crucified by a great many intelligent, indignant people, let me state that I don’t mean that every single person in America operates this way. I mean that the search for the lowest common denominator in advertising, programming, and public life has reduced the common denominator to a pair of eyes with a 17-second attention span and a craving for spectacle.
Yes, we all know this. Yes, get the hell on with it. But wait.
We know it, but no one wants to talk about it. We on the left have continually failed to swallow our idealism and prepackage our ideas because to do that would be to acknowledge and internalize the mediocrity we try so hard to fight. Laudable and consistent.
Also ineffectual. Because no matter how hard we try, we are not going to succeed in getting those who don’t think the same way we do to give us a listen if we don’t talk in a way they can understand. We can have integrity or influence. Not, it seems, both.
I’m not suggesting we whore ourselves like Rove the Revolting. I’m suggesting that we try to speak to a population who has just elected a President with the depth, sincerity, intelligence, and complexity of a Pepsi commercial in a language which will hold their attention.
Prepackaging isn’t pretty. A lot gets lost along the way. The question liberals have to ask themselves is, “Is what we lose worth what we gain?”
Loss: the White House, the House, the Senate, civil liberties, informed decision-making, international credibility, truth in governance, Social Security, separation of church and state, civil rights, universal enfranchisement...
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