June 01, 2013

Saturday Morning Essay: Attention Deficit Democracy

Brought to you by Peet's House Blend...

Unfortunately, the line is not original with me, but I wish that it were so.  Someone came up with that little gem, and it's stuck in my brain.

Maybe it's just the natural evolution of a society living in the post-McLuhan age of electronic media.  We extol the wonders of "access," but the sheer volume of information available in digital format, such as the Internet and cable television networks, finally overwhelms the very limited capacity of the human brain to process multiple sources of information and differentiate the trivial from the vital.  With the end result being: everything is trivial.

I've often thought, and probably said here, that Watergate never would have gotten "traction" in our day and age.  Richard Nixon would have served out his full two, sleazy terms, just as George W. Bush did, and the nation would have survived, and the general process of degeneration of our political ethics, now much advanced, would have been accelerated just a little.  The Vietnam War would have ended at about the same time, probably with just one or two additional incursions into adjacent countries in violation of international law; that is, with just one or two other war crimes as defined by Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson at the Nuremburg Trials.

But these days: what's a war crime among friends?  It should not stop us from building a commemorative library with all living Presidents in attendance, should it?

Since it's the second term of a Democratic President, the Republicans are doing what they usually do: manufacturing scandals concerning the Obama Administration and hoping one of them goes viral. It doesn't seem to be working.  Benghazi, IRS/Tea Party, FBI spying on the press - we get the titles, but 99% of the populace would be unable to provide any detail whatsoever about the relevance or importance, if they have any, for any of these rubrics.  Somehow they're "bad" for Obama, but very good for MSNBC, Fox and CNN, who can take various sides in the "debate" and use the boring facts to stir up a controversy for a couple of weeks, and then parlay the spittle-flecked fulminations of various talking head experts into the sale of cars, dog food, and anti-depressants.

No one can care enough about the Obama "scandals" for them to matter, and the Republicans, having gotten the face time they were after (which helps with attracting lobbyist money for their next campaigns, and also reminds the voters back home in their districts who it is that represent them), they can let this faux-outrage die its natural death and wait for the next barely-understood "issue" to come along; and then they can work themselves into a lather again once more, with the grateful cheerleaders Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly leading the fight songs for the Donkeys and Elephants.

I think the current batch of Obama Scandals never had a chance because video-wise they stack up poorly against the Oklahoma tornadoes, with their mile-wide vortices Weed-Whacking entire towns into kindling.  Now that's TV!  Indeed, increasingly, as global weirding keeps advancing in its ominous, unnoticed way, the Weather Channel will be the go-to outlet for the American Monkey Mind.  We just love those reality shots of maniacs driving SUV's into funnel clouds!  How am I supposed to pay attention to Benghazi when that's on the next channel? Did you see that cow hit the windshield?!!

Paradoxically, Attention Deficit Democracy proceeds on the bizarre premise that the same video-stars in the District of Columbia who spend their time dreaming up controversies to justify more hearings (steroids in baseball, Benghazi, Bankers Behaving Badly, whatever), in order to garner that all-important Face Time, can be trusted to keep things running smoothly and government functioning. I think the government probably runs as well as it does because there are many hum-drum bureaucrats who just show up in one of the thousands of agencies at the federal, state and local levels, put in their time, update their pension calculations, and pay no attention to the Drama Queens yearning for national stardom.

The Power Elite, however, do use the inability of the national consciousness to focus on any one particular point of reference as a cover for: illegal wars, violations of the Bill of Rights, over-reach of government power (shutting down an entire town so they can find one terrorist suspect, for example), running torture black sites, maintaining concentration camps (Bagram and Guantanamo), spending way too much money on a bloated military; while, at the same time: doing nothing, or close to nothing, about the rather more urgent problem of the increasing uninhabitability of Planet Earth.  The voting populace, or at least those who vote, are bedazzled and confused by the quintillion digital bytes of disorganized and undifferentiated noise filling the very air at every moment, jerking their attention first this way for a nanosecond, then back that way for the next scintilla of focus, then to the tornado, then to someplace called Benghazi, then to whether Brad treated Jen badly, then - what, another bunch of tornadoes in Oklahoma?, and then finishing up, as always, with Kim Kardashian's butt implants.

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