Monday, November 1, 2010

The Post-Rational World

Over the weekend, one of my Facebook friends asked this question in light of the rally to restore sanity/fear this weekend: To whom can we look for rational political discourse these days?

I sense the answer is that we’re now living in a post-rational world.

We’ve been in that world since the implosion of the Democratic Party in Chicago in 1968, since the proto-nomination of Pigasus the Pig as president of the United States that same year in that same town, and since the proto-Silent Majority elected Richard Nixon as president in 1968 as well.

In that year we saw it all: A political party that took itself down in flames because two rational factions within it couldn’t see the ends of their own noses past their own rationality. A gruntled electorate that chose its own rationality over that of the minority and continued to choose that rationality even with the specter of high crimes and misdemeanors having been committed by those they trusted to be rational. And a disgruntled electorate that decided since the parties and the politicians and the whole freaking system were out of order that they’d all be better off if they chose an alternate rationality and elected a pig as president, amidst the pomp and pageantry meant to mock the process they knew they were powerless to win and thus felt powerless to participate in it.

And, of course, we had the national media, suddenly realizing the import and impact of their power and coming to realize that they, too, could become part of the story and help frame the outcome with their own rationality.

So there are a lot of parallels between 1968 and 2010. We don’t have Pigasus the Pig, but we do have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert whoa re rallying the disaffected who are – let’s face it – pretty much in the Democratic camp. They look askance at the Tea Party – the conservative answer for the disaffected on the right – with the insanity and fear Stewart and Colbert, as comedians, use as their fuel.

Both sides place the blame on, as Time magazine puts it, “a politico-media industry that feeds on conflict.” Maybe they’re half right. But I think most of the blame has to fall on we, the electorate, gruntled or disgruntled, who look at that conflict and base our political decisions not on rationality but on the conflict as mirrored through our own rational lenses, which rightly or wrongly focus on the vague notion that it’s the politicians and the media who are to blame, we’re just the helpless rabble of victims who are acted upon, rather than the actors. We’ve stopped wondering if what we perceive as reality is real or the shadows of reality on the walls of that cave and are instead reading the graffiti on the walls for the entertainment value while the shadows and reality go on about their business without us paying much attention to it at all.

If we stopped listening to the 24-hour news cycle, we’d be better off.

If we stopped reading all the political slop on the Internet, we’d be better off.

If we just up and listened to each other, rather than finding pundits or comedians who share our disdain of the body politic, we’d be better off.

Instead, we’re all off in our little corners, waving our “Don’t Tread on Me” or “OMG Snakes” flags, pretty much like these fellows:

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