February 19, 2009

I want to believe.

For most of my life, I have lived under the governance of those whose beliefs were firmly anchored in Max Weber's divinely-sanctioned meritocracy, conveniently justifying their own current power and any actions undertaken to retain that power. For most of my life, I have lived under the governance of those who believed, consciously or subconsciously, in trickle-down economics: since what had maximally benefitted their own success must, of necessity, benefit all. I have watched again and again as the rules of the game are subtly co-opted to shift outcomes and reinforce those beliefs.

I have watched how the media, mass or blogosphere, shapes attitudes and then is shaped by those attitudes in turn -- but only by that part of attitude which improves profit, be it bottom-line corporate profit or ideological profit. When uncomfortable truths raised their heads above the water, I have watched as the denial machine spun into action, claiming to empower people and the individual free will to make an educated choice for oneself at the same time as it undermined the educational tools to make that educated choice.

I have watched as a thousand and then a thousand thousand voices muddied the waters, no longer skeptical analysis or even a will to truly understand but the determination either to reject blindly or support equally blindly, based on whichever authority is to be trusted without understanding or question, and to drown out all opposition through repetition and repetition and repetition again. I have watched those ripples surface in television show and videogame consumed casually and without thought. Especially I have seen them surface in the increased focus on staying on message, be it the soundbytes of a political platform or the determination of customer service to answer only the existing FAQs, regardless of what question had actually been asked. And to further fog out the relevant details, I have seen how investigative reporting increasingly shifted toward celebrity non-news, amid a popular determination to drown out reality in personal entertainment and a personally customised environment.

(But I cannot seek comfort in escapism. How would that improve in any way the things I see?)

Most recently, I watched as the political machine of what is still arguably the most powerful representative democratic government in the world finally reacted against the legacy of the past two terms, a squandered good will born of tragedy, and a growing economic crisis that could no longer be completely irrelevant to the powers of the world. I watched as the political net fished up two candidates who, each in their own way, were reactory expressions of the popular will against the looming shadow on the horizon. And because I guessed wrong by a year on the exact timing of that crisis, thinking it would come fully to light only after the greater part of the campaign had already ended and the opposing ideologies had already folded in their loyal supporters, I guessed completely wrong as to who those two candidates would be.

I say what I see -- and then, since I will engage neither in manipulatory tactics nor in preaching to the choir (and thereby engaging that vast potential of reification through repetition), I mostly keep silence. I talk to the people I talk to. I don't use their agreement or non-agreement to make my points to the audience instead. Without intending it, in doing so I have chased away more than one reader of this blog, who had sought Wisdom and had looked here for Answers.

I have observations, and thoughts, and speculations only. I try to see things as they are, and not as I would have them be. I am as ruthless toward myself as toward any other, more so: and the closer a person comes to me, the more I expect of them and the less gently I treat them. Sometimes, what I see suggests a course of action which might resolve one or another particular issue -- but I don't wrap either the problem or the solution in tissue paper. And because I see things without a comfortable fuzzy lining, I often dearly want to discover I am wrong.

But, I want to believe.

I have seen a campaign based on the vision of change, of Yes We Can: but that was only words, and words are cheap.

I have heard so much genuine cheering in the course of that campaign and afterward, but the cheers are ringed with desperation.

But now I see a president who has gone beyond words into action so immediate that it still continues to startle the pundits, never mind that the situation is such that immediate action is needed. I don't agree with all the positions he holds or actions he has already taken -- although a part of one of those actions might simply be to lay the groundwork for the freedom of action he will need in future -- but how long has it been since a newly elected politician has hit the ground running?

Above all, I see a president who seems to have opted out of the three great mythos of our time: that there is a natural ruling class whose fortunes are purely deserved, that our destinies and our fortunes can be built solely upon our own individual actions, and that if someone falls into poverty, it is always their own fault.

Maybe it is only from outside that such an opting out is even possible. I abhor the self-illusion which allowed the earlier self-congratulation -- but maybe the racial barrier could only have been broken with someone from outside the existing black culture. Those in a position of authority within it have already expressed their resentment of him, when they thought the microphone was off. I think that resentment is still very close to the surface. I want to believe that people might still be willing to accept that solutions to problems which have been generations in the making will not be painless -- yet at the same time I know that most people naturally don't want to feel pain, even the pain of a potential healing.

How long has it been since economic policy has been based on a belief that the wealth of a society can only ever trickle up? How long has it been since there has been a president who has remembered that a country is built on responsibility not only for self but within the context of community, and that community is built upon every one of its families, not only those who fit an "ideal" mould? How long has it been since there has been a president who invoked the blessing of God not only on an abstract nation ideal, but upon its people?

I want to believe ... but with the growing sense of possibility comes also a growing fear. One reason I never take political platforms at face value, even those which seem genuine, is that I know the extent of the established governmental, partisan, and corporate infrastructure; and I know too that changing the status quo which has raised it to such power is never in its interest.

Above all, perhaps: I know at what cost people will cling to their illusions.

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