Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sobering and Profound

Tim Burke has some careful and wise thoughts to share, at the beginning of yet-another new year of argument, accusation, and (rarely) agreement:

I can remember thinking that John Edwards seemed like a decent enough candidate in his first run for the Presidency, but I can’t even begin to remember why I thought that: some vague impression of his electability, a few catch-phrases here and there that mimicked positions I could charitably imagine having a resemblance to what I’d like to see happen, and yes, some sense that he seemed like a capable, decent leader. In retrospect, obvious bullshit, all of it. I can remember telling a few friends in 2000 that Bush seemed to have some interest in governing towards the middle, because of a few little rhetorical flourishes, and I thought that again when he gestured in that direction right after 9/11. Again, bullshit....

If I’m setting out to buy a dishwasher or a video game, I feel pretty good that crowdsourcing is going to help me find a decent product, that the flow of information online will give me a peek at the actual experiences of users. I feel like I’m pretty experienced at spotting obvious shills, in part because they typically describe products or services in phony language or improbably complimentary terms. I get burned now and again, but not very often. Politicians and public life, not so much, none of it, because almost all of us are engaged in one way or another in adorning the lies and tale tales of the political elite, in pushing a line or selling a product.

Just about every blogger I read and respect, and I include myself, has a politics that is an a la carte assemblage of positions and favored projects strung together loosely by attitude and affect. Most of the people I like are too smart and wary to be active, aggressive shills for any particular candidate, but there’s still a lot of qualified nods for some leaders and lip-curling disdain for others, based largely on whether they’re telling the lies that we like or the lies that we hate, whether they match up at some moment with some random item on our personal checklists of things-we-like....[E]ven people that like to imagine themselves as tough-minded independents and skeptics tend to invest in politics the way that audiences invest in the narrative of a contestant on Top Chef or The Amazing Race.

And then beyond that conversation is a vast domain of other readers and writers busy spinning and confabulating in a far less guarded way, a heaving ocean of shillery.

We lie to us, we know we’re lying, we know we know we’re lying, but we keep on lying anyway, and we keep on pretending to believe ourselves....

For our own velvet revolution, for at least a possibility of moving the ball forward past this stagnant, curdled moment in American life, I think what we’ll all have to do is take the risk of authenticity, to develop a grown-up taste for the rough edges and honest imperfections of lives as they are lived. In our politicians, in our public figures, in ourselves.

As is commonly said, read the whole thing.


djredundant said...

I was there until the last paragraph: what makes our current situation so "stagnant and curdled"? Last time I checked, both houses of the legislature changed hands, the Executive changed, we've seen massive new efforts at expanding government (for good or evil-- choose your fate), and the real possibility of the Senate swinging wildly back the other way.

Put simply, I see no more stagnation than any other period in US political history-- quite the opposite. I think things are pretty dynamic and in flux. The speed of perception has changed, thanks to the ocean of information available, but that's a perception problem, IMHO.

Russell Arben Fox said...

DJ, I suspect that Tim was speaking more generally about how citizens--and, specifically, bloggers and other wanna-be pundits--are talking about (and are complicit in being taken in by talk about) politics today, not the actual condition of government. Take Reid, for example. Just about everyone knows the perceived reality his comment about Obama being light-skinned was premised upon. Just about nobody was "actually" offended by him having made such a statement. But we all run about, commenting and responding, acknowledging that it's all a meta-level game of posturing and yet taking it seriously all the same. His post is a plea for authenticity, for seriousness and honest engagement--and as it's coming from a blogger who is usually quite willing to defend our media-saturated, agonistic, oppositional, (post)modern condition, I found it quite refreshing and wise.