Monday, July 18, 2011

Politics of the Centrifuge

In times not so long ago, to solve this country’s problems America’s federal government still relied heavily on solutions scooped from the gumbo simmering in the culture’s so-called melting pot. Compromise and consensus were integral to the process of governing. Yet, in recent years, we, the opinionated people, have willingly walked away from the notion that finding common ground is even possible.

In some precincts compromise is said to be tantamount to betrayal. Today, instead of politics of the melting pot, we have politics of the centrifuge.

Consequently, in 2011, we Americans are losing our grip on the desire to solve our society’s largest problems through cooperation. The constant whirl of conflicting political messages seems mostly to inflame our grievances, which distances us from even wanting to foster cooperation. It pulls us away from common sense solutions.

The spin pushes our two major political parties steadily toward their edges. The middle ground of a moderate Republican, or Democrat, is routinely portrayed in political commentary as hopelessly sold-out and utterly passionless.

Thus, today’s Republicans and Democrats seem locked in a mutual death grip, trying to move the virtual vacuum in the center of the debate in the direction that suits them. In this game the truth is no longer about grasping reality, or looking deeply into something. It’s mostly about projecting certitude.

Of certitude, philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) made a timeless observation:
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts.
Perhaps the biggest irony of the so-called Information Age is that the truth seems to matter to everyday people less and less. Via electronic media, well-financed branding campaigns easily overwhelm subtle truths with shrill voices and strident blather. On top of that is heaped relentless telemarketing and talk-show crackpots; constant accusations; constant denials; aggressive promos and seeping disinformation. When you add them all up, the combination becomes a cacophony that stands like a wall of noise.

With that dense wall in his way, even Sherlock Holmes would have trouble finding the truth.

On the other hand, because it’s easy to find, Americans are tending more and more to focus on the brand of reality they prefer to see. For millions of consumers, it’s as simple as choosing between Fox News and MSNBC, where remembering which personalities and which isms they are supposed to hate is all one needs to follow the newsy soap operas those networks present.

Speaking of hated personalities, many of our elected officials’ staffs save time, too. They depend on focus groups to reveal how best to package propaganda to give it credibility, to dupe a target audience.

Getting caught up in a high contrast mindset may be inevitable in the event of a bloody crisis. In a raging battle, in the midst of all-out war, people must decide instantly whether they are facing friends or foes. However, as a way of life, facing ordinary trials and tribulations, we, the bewildered, aren’t geared to stay in crisis mode forever.

It seems our collective consciousness has stayed locked in crisis mode since 9/11. Whether it was anthrax, or orange alerts, or weapons of mass destruction, or defending torture, or the banking meltdown/massive bailouts, or the stimulus package, or health care reform, it didn't matter. Each episode was presented to the public as if the doomsday machine in director Stanley Kubrick’s satirical masterpiece, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), would be triggered by making the wrong choice.

The noisy debt ceiling duel of July 2011 is being presented as yet another life or death fork in the road. If anything good comes from this process it will be a miracle. Both sides are hurling doomsday rhetoric into the stormy whirl ... both sides are gambling that more blame for whatever comes from this contrived crisis on Aug. 3 will stick to the other party.

To wind this piece up, here are some apt words on topic from the poet, W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), from “The Second Coming”:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-- 30 --

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

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