Not too long ago, my sister and I engaged in a text conversation in which she called out my inability to think of pretty much anything in unironic or non-sarcastic ways. I have been thinking about this, probably too much, ever since. I have come to the (hopefully temporary) conclusion that I have no idea how to address such thinking. David Foster Wallace and other people smarter and better at writing than I have attempted to tackle this subject, in ways I typically agree with. The problem comes down to something very fundamental: to be left emotionally unguarded by way of acting sincerely in all things feels terrifying and unfathomable. As such, I function in a way where even feeling outrage at things where outrage is justified makes me extremely uncomfortable and the only way I can imagine creating change is to be louder and angrier than that which angers me [see: previous 5 posts]. I do not consider it ridiculous to be angry at the mess that is U.S. politics, or, more specifically, to blame it mostly on the GOP. The question I cannot find an answer to is how to compete with the noise in a way where my [any other] voice can be heard.
The real problem is, despite its many benefits, the internet. The internet allows for ignorance, from all of us. In the same way liberals scoffed at Karl Rove raving on Fox News about Obama winning re-election and how the Republican base was so incubated by its unwillingness to watch anything other than Fox or listen to anything other than Glen Beck, Rush, et. al, liberals do to themselves by reading left-leaning blogs, etc. I do not claim everyone does this, but I will claim it is easy, all too easy, to read things which we agree with, further insulating ourselves in our own opinions. It’s a human tendency, really, just on a vast, technological scale: we want to belong; we want our opinions to matter; our opinions matter most to those who think like us.
The biggest lie America has told itself is that we are Individuals, all capable of making independent decisions because we are rugged, solo warriors who allow nothing and no one to influence us. And yet: commercials. And yet: trends. And yet: memes. And yet: music/movie/book/tv/etc. criticism. The truth is none of us are without notions of ourselves and the world around us that have been created by the shows and movies we watch, the ads we see, the things we listen to, ad nasuem. We like to believe otherwise, and that’s because we have been told that by advertising. The entire modern concept of the United States has little to nothing to do with the Individual and has everything to do with the Manipulation. We are all willing participants in the Manipulation–without it, the U.S. no longer exists as we have grown used to seeing it. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; the problem occurs when we start believing the advertisement as a cultural foundation upon which we construct our social and moral order.
Again, the main culprit in this is the internet, especially in how it has destroyed print journalism. While there is no point in arguing about whether or not the “media” is bias one way or the other [quick sidenote rant that I can’t help: how the hell can conservatives rant about the “mainstream” media when Fox News is the most watched cable news station? Does it get more mainstream than that? I mean, honestly?], it is important to see that by giving the freedom for anyone with an opinion [yes, I see the kettle, and it is black], the internet has turned journalism into an ability to create site hits. So much of our interaction with broad public policy has to do with what site or headline grabs our attention. It makes fiscal sense to say something like “Obama is HITLER!” or “The GOP Hates Vaginas!” because people will click on those things. The actual article matters little after that because the hits create [supposed] financial stability. Newspapers made money from advertisements, and could charge more for those ads based on circulation–that’s simple economics; however, a newspaper was not beholden to the quick attention among a billion voices. A newspaper, as an entity, requires time and thought, and, in turn, its articles were supposed to reflect that. A failure to do so meant lost readers. It’s a fundamental change not just in how we obtain information, but what we want that information to do for us as readers.
I, clearly, as easily indicated by the title of this site, am bias. I will admit, however, that I try to read and / or listen to opposing views. I try to understand policy as thoroughly as possible, and what I realize, above all other things, is that not being ignorant is incredibly exhausting. This is not because of the work involved; it’s because, at this point, I find it impossible to truly know what the facts are, what polls really tell us, what opinions are authentic and what ones are paid for–facts are often, at worst, lied about and at best merely manipulated to give the numbers said person wants; polls are so easily manipulated by simply changing wording that anyone can get the responses that are desired; when the leaders of Malaysia are discovered to be paying conservative media members to start saying nice things about them, it becomes hard to imagine that such a thing is an isolated event. Increasingly it is clear that powerful lobbies have the ability to determine what information is released to the public; as such, it is impossible to know what to believe which makes it so much easier to just read what I already agree with because I don’t have to question it [despite the fact that I should]. This is the common citizen plight.
The ability, then, to obtain so much information means that we really don’t know anything. In the same way we don’t have to know who the 14th president is because, hey, Google, we don’t need to know what Kenseyian economics is because, hey, Wikipedia. We can know and do have access to every single piece of knowledge in human kind, but that doesn’t mean we are equipped in any real way to handle it. This means we feel we have the right to know anything, yet don’t feel the pressure to actually study it. It’s a lopsided and self-absorbed state of thinking.
This self-absorption doesn’t just allow ignorance to become more pervasive, it demands such. And ignorance means less critical thought, of the information and of oneself, which means it’s that much easier to be a raving lunatic because you are no longer capable of performing self-analysis wherein you would recognize that you are, at best, under-informed. The combination of the American Individual and the Internet means people have access to spew their vitriol and then believe they have the right to do so. It’s, on some level, delusion, and delusion is, at its heart, insanity.
People claim they want answers, but in reality they want verification. Facts only work as verification if they serve our opinion; otherwise, they get in the way. There is no better example of this than Paul Ryan’s most recently proposed budget, a rehash of previous Ryan budgets, including the one he and Romney ran on and lost on. Losing does not inherently discredit his budget approach. However, numerous studies, like this one discussed in The Atlantic, indicate his emphasis on tax reduction does nothing to actually promote growth for the country as a whole:
Analysis of six decades of data found that top tax rates “have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.” However, the study found that reductions of capital gains taxes and top marginal rate taxes have led to greater income inequality. Past studies cited in the report have suggested that a broad-based tax rate reduction can have “a small to modest, positive effect on economic growth” or “no effect on economic growth.”
Now, such studies mean nothing to many people because the studies don’t confirm what those people want to say/hear. The other problem goes back to the idea that information cannot be trusted, that we have little to no idea where information comes from and how much of it we can believe has no bias. As such, even fact checker websites get accused of liberal or conservative bias; the world of information stagnates in its own ability to question itself. The questions no longer create in-depth analysis of the problem at hand, but actually enable the problem at hand to split into pure ideology.
The Republican line is, “Cut taxes, promote job growth.” The Democratic line appears to be, “Raise taxes, invest in job growth.” Clearly, I disagree with the Republican model, and all anyone has to do is look at Europe’s austerity measures to see such draconian actions are ineffective. How the right wing deficit hawks can shout about the evils of socialist Europe while copying their exact model for recession recovery has become such a mind-boggling oxymoron that I don’t even know how to address the idiocy. However, I don’t believe in the Democrats either, but not because I disagree with their message, at least on the surface, but because President Obama, for all of the GOP’s “Hugo Chavez-Stalin-OH MY GOD LOOK AT GREECE-HE’S A COMMIE SOCIALIST RED MUSLIM WHO HATES AMURRRICA” shouting, is damn clearly, outside of wanting to tax the wealthy, a moderate Republican.
What I hate most about U.S. politics is the Republican stance that if you don’t agree with them that you hate the U.S. I don’t understand this at all. The GOP is not just the party of No, but also the party of Defensiveness. Any disagreement with them is an “attack,” on America, on money, on “freedom of religion,” on and on. They have positioned themselves to disagree with everything by way of a two-year old tantrum: the world can only be as I see it, and anyone who disagrees or interferes with such shall be forced to endure my screaming and crying until I am pacified with exactly what I want.
And the Democrats placate them. There is constant talk of a Grand Bargain; nobody does anything to stop the dismantling of the Electoral College by states who want to go Red in presidential elections except to hope that such talk gets squashed by “clearer thinking;” both sides act like the 2014 mid-term elections are more important than the current state of things because who ever wins those can get their way, but somehow such thinking ignores that the Republicans have found a way to filibuster anything and everything and even if they were to win the Senate, the Democrats would just follow suit. Nothing will get done because getting something done risks one’s job in 2014 and onward. Apparently, the constituents whom these politicians work for have no problems regarding work, money, health care, etc., so it’s good that the politicians can prioritize their own.
For those of you who blindly accept Obama as better simply because he’s a Democrat, then you are just as silly as the people watching Fox News. Obama has made moves to liberalize certain aspects of our society, and for that he should be applauded; however, he rarely, if ever, actually takes a strong stand on anything, except for higher taxes. His presidential transparency is opaque at best. Gitmo is still open; drones are horrifying; he says we need to work on green technology but hasn’t denied the Keystone XL project that wants to carry the dirtiest oil on the planet, instead, he keeps finding a way to step around it; there has been no real movement to truly stand behind marriage equality and gun control–just enough talking points to make it clear he thinks it’s probably a good idea, but does anything happen? I know, most of the liberals will say the Republicans won’t allow any of it to occur. That shouldn’t matter; if Obama truly believed in progressive causes, then he shouldn’t just stand behind them, he should be leading them.
In the end, Obama has some liberal social notions, but very few of which he will actually look to make happen; and, fiscally, all you have to do is read Matt Taibbi’s ongoing journalistic take-down of Wall Street and banking industry to see that the president doesn’t actually give one god damn about fiscal justice. Piles and piles of proof of jail-able offenses by banks and bankers exist, and yet no one goes to jail. HSBC pays a fine that amounts to about a month’s worth of business for them, and it’s lauded as being a victory, but if you the average citizen had accepted any money from a terrorist organization or drug dealer, you’d be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Here’s a solution instead of saying jailing bankers would destabilize the economy: instead of allowing the very people who destabilized the economy continue with their horrendous money practices, you put people in jail and install individuals in their place. The bank keeps functioning and the new people in place will be expected to behave accordingly or the process of jail/replacement continues. The bottom line is both parties are subject to Big Money. Just go here: How Congressional Democrats Spend Their Time. That’s the Democratic side, and if you don’t think that the Republicans follow the exact same schedule, well, you’re delusional. This should have been the biggest news story of the year, yet it’s basically buried on Huffington Post. Welcome to the democratic process where raising money for future elections is more important than knowing, discussing, and determining solutions for America’s problems.
The GOP has won the media battle in terms of delineating sides: they alone are the defenders of American Individual Liberties and Rewards of Hard Work; Progressives are the party of Giving Away All That We Work For and Everything America Stands For. The question is, how are conservatives so much more successful at the media game than progressives? Why, for instance, does Paul Ryan’s budget proposal garner so much more attention than the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ budget proposal? The answer is simple: page hits.
Being angry makes it easier to create headlines. As the Defensive Party, the GOP has entrenched itself as the place for the self-righteous to congregate. They control political talk radio; I can name three huge conservative talk radio hosts–Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity [sidenote rant: I hate Sean Hannity. Hate him. It’s hard to put into words the level of hate here; it’s on par with Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets talking about having to take pills.]–whereas, I can’t name one progressive talk radio host; I’m certain they exist, and those on the right would probably just say something like, “NPR, duh,” or, “the whole media empire, duh,” but, No. Progressive talking points don’t have the immediate headline grabbing impact that conservative ones do; therefore, they don’t lend themselves to modern society’s stance on getting information, and, yes, we can thank Nirvana for their prescient and psychic notions: I want to be entertained! Despite, in general, being a party of outdated old white guys, the conservative movement has successfully built itself into the cultural landscape by providing for people the page-hit-attention they crave. Anger motivates people to get loud, and if you’re always defensive, it doesn’t matter how angry the other side gets, you can always be angrier about their anger, a cycle that doesn’t even break when one is proven wrong because, hey, facts aren’t necessary in this “post-fact” world. Facts do not equal attention; not having attention equals not having money; not having money means your voice has no reason to be heard.
People like to say the internet has freed us; to an extent this rings true. However, that freedom has fundamentally changed how we think, not in terms of what we believe, but in the actual, physical way in which we create and consider thoughts. I read an interesting article not too long ago (unfortunately, I don’t remember where, so I can’t link. My apologies.) about how countries who don’t suffer through winter have, in general, an inability to do long term planning because they’ve never had to long term plan about food as it is always growing season. To the average American citizen, this seems ridiculous, and, yet, our current political process is entirely built on short-term thinking. The truth is this: the United States cannot continue to think of itself as a significant world leader when it cannot find a way to even take care of itself. Our infrastructure is a mess; our reliance on fossil fuels is short-sighted; no matter what the climate deniers want to yell, climate change is occurring at a rate even faster than scientists predicted; the amount of money thrown at Defense is nothing more than the U.S. entering a penis-measuring contest–look at us, we got huge dicks! You can tell because we got a zillion missiles!; there’s a lot of talk about how the deficit is taking away from our “children,” but very little talk about how lack of planning, in terms of energy/health care/technology/grid and city planning/education/etc. efficiency, threatens all future U.S. residents; there is plenty of waste at the government level, but that doesn’t mean reduction has to be made based on ideological lines–how about instead we locate the waste and find ways to streamline it? We are at the mercy of fear/class/war -mongers because they, again, have found a way to be the loudest. Just like my sister pointed out to me, if you’re always angry or sarcastic or ironic, that means you don’t feel anything or don’t want to feel anything, and if you can’t/don’t feel anything, you can’t be concerned with anything other than yourself. It’s short-sighted to think that U.S. is special enough to never fail; it’s criminal to allow that short-sighted view dictate our policies.