Sunday, July 19, 2009

Democracy shows its limits

Here is a letter to the editor. The whole thing is wingnutty, but I will emboldify the part under consideration here and now:

When does President Obama start to be assigned blame and responsibility for the troubles of our economy and related national matters? That hasn't happened yet, has it? His policies have far more to do with the state of our economy that anything he "inherited", but he still is held blameless by the media. My guess is the blame starts in September. Why? I'll explain.

We all remember the terrorist attacks on our country in September, 2001. You also probably remember that 100 percent of the blame for "allowing" that to happen was heaped on George W. Bush by the mainstream media and eventually by most elected Democrats, even though he was in office only eight months when those attacks happened. No blame was allowed to be put on the Clinton administration. Today, every time Obama speaks he makes sure to remind us that everything happening in this country is still Bush's fault. He can't get away with that for much longer, if history is a precedent.

So, if the media is consistent here, our problems will be Obama's fault in two months. Let's see if that happens.

Vince Knauff

No time or purpose in getting into all the fallacies and confused thinking that suffuse this little missive. But really, now: you can claim that teh media is teh librul if you want; you're wrong, of course, but it's such a vague claim that you will probably not be heaped with all the scorn and ridicule you probably deserve. But this just takes your breath away. Do I "remember" this? Do you? Would anyone who wasn't in a coma during the whatsisname administration? Of course not, because--and I'm sorry to have to state the obvious here, BUT--it never goddamn happened. The media was never anything other than wholly servile, even after it became clear that whatsisname had consistently ignored warnings of possible terrorist attacks from people who knew these things. The chutzpah of making such a flatly counterfactual claim and expecting to be taken seriously is just stunning.

It's easy to see where this insane delusion comes from: start with the premise that the mainstream media is teh librulz. This premise is attractive because it's fun to feel persecuted without any of the inconvenience of actually experiencing persecution, and because it's way easier to believe that That Darn Media is distorting the picture than it is to admit to having been wrong about anything ever. Given this, it ought to go without saying that Our Brave Preznit would be under constant assault by this nefarious media. The conclusion follows from the premise. Actually observing the real world would compel one to admit that there's something wrong somewhere in this equation, but it's like the old joke says: sure, it works in practice--but does it work in theory?

When I'm writing about crazy people like ol' Vinnie, I sometimes wonder: is he crazy, or am I crazy? Because it would be a pretty big coincidence if I were always right about these things, the way I think I am. I'm just some guy. What makes me think I'm so goddamn special? I mean, obviously I don't want to imagine that I'm delusional, so I have a pretty big stake in thinking the other guy is. And if I were crazy, there's no reason to assume that I would know it.

I don't know, though. I certainly try to be as self-aware as I possibly can be. I know that, at a sub-rational level, I hold ideas--"ideas" isn't even the right word, really--that are wrong: as in, occasional instinctive racism and regressive views of female sexuality. But the thing is, I know these things are wrong, and that expressing them or building a worldview around them would not be good for me. So I don't, and I put my conscious mind to work swatting them down. Being allegedly higher animals, we humans are supposed to be able to not wallow in our ids all the time. Seems to me that the problem with people like Knauff is that they are, for whatever reason, unable to do this. So yeah--I kind of think I'm the rational one here, even if it does involve excessive self-flattery on some level.

But the point is, these are not isolated sentiments that Knauff is expressing, and one has to face the cold, hard truth that at least a third of the electorate in this country has broken free from any tenuous connection with this real world thingie. How, I ask you, is democracy meant to function in such a situation? It's supposed to involve rational debate, but how is that possible when one side is completely barking mad? It just doesn't work. You can't compromise between sanity and in. I'm not saying that anything else is likely to work better, but, like markets, democracy relies on a level of rationality that is only intermittently present (if we're being optimistic).

If we were all still functioning as small, nomadic bands of hunters/gatherers, this would be, if not good, at least a workable mindset. Chief Vince Knauff's mythological tale of the Librul Media would be a good explanation for why the Oonga people hate the Boonga people, and its truth value would be simply irrelevant. But now we're living in a culture that is way beyond anything we've evolved for. Maybe our brains just aren't up to the task.

Or maybe, as Neil Postman believed, it's all the fault of teevee. Regardless, however: great googly moogly, are we ever dysfunctional.


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