Elegy for a Tired Nation
Rest your bones, you weary ones
with downcast hearts and bleeding sons
So long as the machine refuses to die
They serve us facts that serve the lie
A central thesis of mine is that facts are important, vital even, but without context, they are only neutral and unwitting robot soldiers who march for political masters of all stripes. Facts matter. Arguably, facts are the sole element of any discussion that comes out unscathed, but their neutrality allows them to serve virtually any ideology and any narrative, therefore rendering them useless.
So, why not simply give facts the context they need?
One reason that I can think of, is that context is hard to sit through. It's long and takes time and critical thinking and consideration. Who, outside of information junkies, political geeks, and armchair historians and economists, has the time for that? Maybe more people need to make time to be more informed. Maybe that's the real problem we face on this country. Just a thought.
While most people consider wading through historical or social context a chore, today's political theater, made that much more insane and cacophonous via the cable news circuit, has made us immune to it. We've been trained to respond to the sound bite, the meme, the picture gallery, the top ten list, and the zinger. No wonder a candidate can stand up on stage and tell lie after lie and not be called out on it. We're not conditioned to even spot lies from facts any longer. They all look the same, because we're too focused on how they're being delivered, and judging that instead.
This impatience for and immunity to context has rendered many facts useless, since without it, facts are merely impressive surrogates advancing whichever narrative they happen to serve at the time.
Overwhelmed by a glut of information on the internet and cable news (among other things), we have a tougher time sifting through information. We stand at the pile of information - budgetary policy analysis, complex foreign policy issues, half-redacted documents on torture, drones, murder of innocents, realities behind social welfare and health care, domestic policies toward women and immigrants and teachers and banks and entrepreneurs. Gasp! It's a lot to take in. We know there's bullshit all through that big pile, bullshit in some of the way facts are assembled, in the stories they may tell. But, after a time, we get exhausted and stop caring if it's bullshit. From here, we either walk away, or we start scooping up stuff, knowing full well that some of it is just plain false and well, bullshit.
Given how useless I make it all this sound, one might interpret from what I've said that facts, on their own, don't always possess the kind of political power they should. That may well be true. Maybe, maybe not. It's just a thought.
However, there is something out there vastly more powerful than a fact, and that's a lie. A big, full-throated, from the gut lie, repeated often enough until it becomes true. It's referred to famously as 'the big lie.' You want to know what can supplement a lie like this? Confusion. With confusion, you may even need fill your coffer with lies. You might just toss out disparate elements of your worldview, make sure you've stuffed it full of generalities and platitudes masquerading as specificity, and hope that people won't notice that you're not making any sense.
So, that's what people get away with. Not just politicians, but any outspoken person pushing a narrative. We narrators are unreliable. We can be full of shit - all of us. Don't trust us. Sometimes we do it unwittingly. Sometimes we are so married to a worldview and a general philosophy that we no longer care what facts we mangle or twist in the service of that worldview. But if you for a moment believe that 'one side,' or one particular end of the ideological spectrum has a monopoly on truth, you're kidding yourself.
What I'm left with, after all that exhaustion - and it is exhausting to follow politics - is how I feel about people I share the world with. No one can impeach my emotional and philosophical feelings about how we should treat each other. Those aren't facts. Those are convictions. Yes, this is the same stuff that Bush got so much flack for. His gut convictions ruled his policies, and his policies, in turn, were disastrous for this country. I've previously referred to Stephen Colbert's coined phrase 'truthiness,' the sense that something is true, making it true. So yes, in a sense, I think that convictions were Bush's way of telling us that the truth was too exhausting for him to sift through. All he had was his gut. In that way, he was just 'one of us.'
My convictions are many, but when it comes to my social contract with others, I feel that my fellow travelers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and love and tolerance and compassion. My Libertarian friends and my Republican friends believe so, too. They believe what I believe, with every fiber of their being. We do have that in common. Virtually none of us - with some exceptions, of course - wishes for the bottom to drop out under anybody who works hard, does their best, shares our space and our resources with us. I want people to succeed, and most of my adversaries can probably say the same thing. Of course, that's often where the similarities end.
Some believe that respecting others means letting them make all their own choices. Other believe that loving and showing compassion to people means making sure they don't wallow in learned helplessness brought on by too much Government dependency. That's what Mitt Romney believes. That's what a growing majority of war weary, soul sick Americans believe. These beliefs aren't in themselves evil, but they are not governed by circumstance, or context, and therefore the facts that support them are merely unwitting autonomic players for a narrative.
Romney is not a villain. He is merely a man who is a product of the breadth of his worldview, his 'bubble,' if you will. He is informed by what he knows, and what he knows tells him that helpless people, if given a map, can climb out from destitution and make their own way.
In a sense, I find much of this to be true. I think the Mitt Romney who governed Massachusetts was a more pragmatic (yet soulless, cold, crass and lacking in empathy, as any experienced harvester/efficiency expert will be) in his managerial approach to balancing welfare with personal responsibility. The man who stands before me now, this candidate Mitt, is someone whose platform, whose party, whose running mate has taken such an extreme bent on social and collectivist welfare and such an intransigent bent on revenue, that I cannot in good conscious stand behind it.
I get the feeling that these two men - Romney and Obama - are bureaucrats whose empathy chips have either malfunctioned or been poorly installed. There are two other candidates - Gary Johnson and Bill Clinton, one who is being ignored by mainstream media and the other who is legally unable to run for the highest office - who, I think, have tapped into peoples sense that yes, they are weary and tired. Yes, they are hurting and outraged and nervous about the future of this country. Their voices resonate in the minds of voters (and in Johnson's case, in the minds of voters who have been informed of his existence) far better our two official challengers.
And yes, I do think Hillary Clinton should run in 2016, regardless of who wins in November. I think it's about time we had a woman in the White House. She's a better candidate now than she ever was in 2008, and with her foreign policy experience, and her well-liked husband, she's probably the party's best best in four years.
Until then, try to catch a nap from all of this madness. God knows I will. Grab a beer or a soda or whatever and kick your feet up, and meditate on whatever you damn well please. You've earned it.