April 12, 2012

Approaching One Grand

This will be the 997th blog post I've hoisted onto this site in the last six years.  I imagine that each one averages about 350 words, so that's a lot of brain-belching.  Still, it's a piker's effort compared to the big boys, like Paul Krugman, who writes about 997 blogs a day.  It should be pointed out that each of Mr. Krugman's blogs is the same as the one before, but it remains a prodigious effort simply to put that many words on paper (or into pixels), as I should know.

Philosophically, I think my orientation has changed over the last six years.  For example,  like many initially afflicted with Blogger Grandiosity Syndrome (BGS), at first I though it was incumbent upon me (even expected of me) to comment on every major meme arising from the maelstrom of American pop culture. 

The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman saga is a case in point.  A few years ago, I would have felt it my solemn duty to weigh in on this sorrowful episode with my own pithy insights.  I now see that this is simply falling into the American Meme Trap.  It won't be long before this Crime of the Century will fade into absolute nothingness, and then all we will have as a memory is the unfortunate way that mass media intrude into the legal justice system and make it practically impossible for us to think straight about matters of crime and punishment. 

To fit the agenda of the News Cycle, a "hook" must be found.  It was easy in this case: a non-black shooter kills a black person, and the Florida police and district attorney do not immediately push for prosecution, citing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, another artifact of America's gun-happy, bloodthirsty culture.  (It's always Frontier Land here in the U.S.)  The reason becomes immediately "obvious" to everyone: non-blacks shooting blacks are less likely to be prosecuted, while blacks shooting whites are always indicted.  I heard this exact formulation of the "issue" on our local KGO, as advanced by Ronn Owens, probably the dullest and most cliche-ridden talk-radio disc jockey in airwave history (NorCal Division), but with a huge following, it goes without saying.

Crime statistics certainly bear this bias out: African-Americans and other minorities are disproportionately charged and sentenced for crimes against whites, especially in the South.  However, there is a second question: was the decision by the Florida police and D.A. (at least initially) the result of this bias?  This is the difference between statistical tendencies and the facts of a specific case, and as every lawyer knows, only the latter, the relevant facts, have any bearing on the "truth" of a given event.  This did not stop pundits like Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC from screaming at the top of his lungs, crying for justice for Trayvon, or the President from making an extremely ill-adivsed comment about Trayvon's resemblance to a son he might have had, whatever that was supposed to mean.  O'Donnell and the President were behaving in extremely irresponsible ways in bringing pressure to bear on a matter under investigation (the second time the President has done so: will there be another Beer Garden photo-op?).  Thus, while it would be worthwhile and responsible to discuss the problem of discrimination in charging and sentencing minorities as a general proposition, we don't do Responsible in American media life.  You can't get the public's attention unless you turn the event into the kind of circus, based on a specific act of violence, as Tom Wolfe so eloquently (and searingly) fictionalized in The Bonfire of the Vanities, the lessons of which everyone has apparently forgotten.

So I've learned to refrain from such "advocacy" based on what is always a very partial understanding (filtered through a sensationalist media) of the actual facts.  What is increasingly more interesting to me these days is to assay the State of the Nation from a longer perspective.  We live at a particularly interesting time, here in 2012.  As Thoreau said in Walden, the Now is a meeting "of two great eternities," and we should "toe that line."  There is little doubt that we are living now in the aftermath of the Great American Experiment in Suburban Living, of the Consumer Society, of the debt-fueled maintenance of an expensive and extravagant lifestyle, which is groaning and collapsing under its own weight, as it has been for a very long time, but now the signs and symptoms have become too obvious for anyone to ignore or to hide behind the veil of American Exceptionalism.

Now there's an interesting topic.  To be of a certain age, old enough to have grown up in, and to have had one's consciousness formed by, the decades of the 1950's and 1960's, when there was no doubt America led the way in everything, and only the Beatniks were around to point out that the way we were leading was probably a very bad direction, indeed.  Nevertheless, the Western World (and Japan) followed us, all the way to the edge of the precipice, where we stand today, in an ecologically and economically unsustainable predicament.

As I mentioned the other day, Thoreau himself "toed a line" between the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in force in America, and a bygone agrarian, pastoral history.  Such times can be eras of acute clarity, and insight, into epochal transformation.  Thus, at Orwell's suggestion, I keep this journal of ideas.

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