Politics: Soap Opera Politics (Part 1)

Someday, it will be obvious that all the content on our information platforms converges on this theme: there is no important difference between fabrication and reality…Some people refuse to believe that reality has become indistinguishable from fabrication. But beliefs are crude reflections of the psychological processes that actually determine how we function. Fat people believe that they are on the stocky side. Abject drunks believe they are poetical free spirits. Malicious prudes believe they are selfless do-gooders. And a lot of people still believe that, with some obvious exceptions involving hoaxes and errors, we know what’s real and what’s not.

~Thomas de Zengotita, “The Numbing of the American Mind-culture as anesthetic,” Harpers, April 2002, pp.33-40.

And how are we to determine on the political landscape what is real and what is mirage? That is my concern as I write. To be able to discern what is an accurate reflection of events and words and conviction is becoming increasingly vital even as it becomes more elusive. Pontius Pilate’s question may have been simple, but it was profound: quid est veritas? Indeed, what IS truth?Mark Twain said, “Its name is public opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it is the voice of God.” American politics lives in a media environment. It is shaped by public opinion. Political handlers, pundits and spin doctors know that the key to winning the popular vote is to discover popular opinion and make it your own, or at least make it sound as if it is. So, what is truth? What do our leader/candidates—they are virtually the same thing, particularly when up for reelection—really believe? How do we determine who’s who underneath the cloak of public persona and the carefully crafted finery of official opinion? When public opinion molds the aspirations of our leaders; when leader/candidates have consulted the pollsters and the focus groups and by them determined which foot is the best one to put forward, how much of the real person is left? And even if what we see really is what we get—the genuine Mr. Deeds in Washington—how would we know him when we saw him without fearing he was too good to be true?

We are experiencing the erosion of credibility. We live in a world where things are nearly never what they seem. The result is a version of the “cry wolf” scenario from the old fable. When things turn out to be other than what they seem often enough, then we begin to expect that things are not what they seem…ever. The jarring reality is that we are living in a culture that has made skeptics and cynics of us all. It is how we avoid feeling like credulous dupes when we actually accept as reality the mediated world (to borrow a term from de Zengotita) that we live in. I’m struggling with a question that I never imagined I would ask. Is it possible to be an informed voter? Or are we merely “mediated” voters, analyzed, objectified, idealized and curried for our favor? I fear it is the latter, and if so, I have begun to doubt the democratic process—not the process, really, but what we have made of it. I have begun to question our ability to filter out the truth from the distilled information that is carefully dispensed to us amid the mind-numbing stream of sound and image.

De Zengotita titles his essay, The Numbing of the American Mind and then adds the thoughtful subtitle, ‘Culture as anesthetic’ followed by a quote from Nietzsche: “…the massive influx of impressions is so great; surprising, barbaric, and violent things press so overpoweringly—‘balled up into hideous clumps’—in the youthful soul; that it can save itself only by taking recourse in premeditated stupidity.”

I think there is another way. I think the follower of the Jesus Way has been offered asylum from the asylum, a place of peace between the worlds if he will choose to live there.

More about that soon…

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