September 05, 2012

Charlotte's Web, or the Riddle of the Major Parties

One must not engage in "false equivalence" between the conventions of the two major parties; I have been preemptively warned off such a course by the growling arbiter of all things ethical, Paul Krugman of the New York Times.  The Democrats are good people, the Republicans are evil.

Yet how can one call the party of the White Christians evil?  It seems like a contradiction in terms.  I think what works better (and this gets us past made-for-controversy Manichean dualities such as those indulged in by Krugman) is to look at it this way: the Democrats are the party of Human Perfectibility; the Republicans are the party of Humans After the Fall.  Democrats, in their official outlook, tend to see humans as inchoate saints who just need the support and help of society to become fully realized.  This is an Enlightenment ideal.  On the other hand, the GOP sees the "help and support of society" as the main problem; it tends to produce a nation of dependent, lazy, handout-chasing slackers.

In reality, neuroscience and anthropology (basic biology, for that matter) would not support either of these views of Homo sapiens (although it might be closer to the Republican view).  Human beings are animals which, in very recent times historically speaking, have organized themselves into complex civilizations with interdependent functions.  What we are learning now is that this is not actually a "human" way to live at all.  It's just that the human life span is so short in terms of the epochal transformations of civilization that we have no individual frame of reference by which to judge whether this manner of living is "normal."  There are all kinds of signs that it is not, such as population overshoot, destruction of the natural habitat (i.e., Earth), global warming, oil shortages, alienation of the populace from one another, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and gross worldwide obesity in all the "modern" civilizations. 

Thus producing the "Age of Anxiety" as the chief characteristic of modern life in an advanced culture. The Democrats and Republicans do not deal with such issues in their platforms or in their speeches.  That is because these two political behemoths are fully vested in the continuation of a top-down, bureaucratic Big Government as the solution to everything, continuing an approach based on the "organic society" in which the very basic things (food and energy) are produced by a tiny sliver of the overall population, while the rest of humanity engages in some "specialty" that earns money through which to participate in the "consumer economy."  As I say, we've gotten so used to this that we can't see that human beings have any alternatives, and none is ever offered from the dais of either the Donkeys or Elephants.

Thus, the two major parties simply engage in fables, literally "fabulous" tales of rags to riches that recount one period of historic dominance (post-World War II to about 1973, when the first oil shock hit) which happens to coincide with the cultural memory of most of the old pols still running the machinery of the Big Two.  This is an instance of the Parallax of Nostalgia (trademark forever pending).  The speeches of Ann Romney, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Julian Castro and Michelle Obama all fit into this matrix.  I have no doubt that Barack will not disappoint.  I get the sense that the speechwriters are all using some proprietary software called SpeechMaker 2.0 which tells them exactly where to put the tearful pause when talking about the sacrifices of Mom, just before mentioning that the speaker was the first in the family to go to college, just before casually dropping that the college in question was Harvard.  It all seems like some strange hybrid between Dancing With The Stars and a Chautauqua Revival tent.  The production values are all from Reality TV, and the "scoring" by the panel (Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, et al.) are all based on the quality of the "performance."

Granted, the speeches need to be performances to get anybody to watch these things; but the curmudgeonly question that remains for me is, what does any of this have to do with anything? How does it address any of those urgent questions listed up above?  And one other thing: if we're really honest, hasn't the fantasy of the "American Dream" had as much to do with producing that string of nightmares as any other cultural force in history?  What the GOP and the Dems want is more of the same, only on steroids, as the U.S.A. throws open its doors of opportunity to the world at large and becomes the Cesspool of Last Resort.

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