Thursday, December 1, 2016

A culture of cameo artists?

Maybe it is the media’s obsessive compulsive magnetic enmeshment with every Trumptweet…

Maybe it is the scientific and medical fields’ attraction to the microbiology of pathogens….

Maybe it is the ticker to which the eyes of Wall Street and Fleet Street and King Street and all other financial markets area glued….

Maybe it is the insatiable compulsion humans have for each and every sound on their smart phones, or emails….

Maybe it is the attention paid to headlines, without  regard to the details of the story that comprises much of the public discourse…

Maybe it is the stream-of-consciousness parade of merely headlines, without sentence structure, without narrative, without context and without the need for any of these in Trump’s vacuous mind….

Whatever IT is, we seem to be far more fixated, if not addicted to the micro-world, and ready and willing to accept a detached version of each impulse, almost as if our outer world, the world of sensations, conversations, relationships and even our understanding of the universe is no longer premised on our perceived need for a deeper, more complex and more challenging perspective on all issues in our lives.

We seem quite ready, willing and able to accept a “dogmatic” and reductionistic sound byte as sufficient for our capacity to manage our lives. Do we have cancer or not? Do we like spinach or not? Is Putin another czar or not? Is Trump another Napoleon or not? Is the future clouded in apocalyptic fires or not? Will OPEC limit production or not? Will we be buried or cremated? Will this pill fix my pain? Does she love me or not? Is he capable of being loyal or not? Is the marriage subject to sexual abuse or not? Is there a God, or not? Is the Islamic threat existential or not? Is the female boss more enlightened than all those men or not? Is this probiotic more effective than that probiotic? Will this MRI tell me what is wrong? Are we really victims of weak leadership in the out-sourcing of industrial jobs? Is China waging a cyber war against the west, right under our noses or not?

Maybe it is not Trump’s bombast, and his “weaponized testosterone” campaigning style that is the agent of our deep and profound dis-ease. Could it be that we have slipped into a mode of both communicating and thinking, of perceiving and forming attitudes that renders us both vulnerable to and cynically disposed to whatever the latest “drug” of the moment happens to be? Could it be that the spiking of deaths from drug overdoses in many countries and cities around the globe is another of the symptoms of a culture that no longer “hangs together” the way a novel or a concerto, or a symphony, or an epic poem once did. Could it be that our interactivity with the immediate, at such an intense level, giving the ‘instant’ a kind of gravitas it once did not deserve, in our compulsive grasping for adrenalin, that we have sabotaged those very human qualities that once commanded a more reflective perspective? Was the perspective of our ancestors a perspective that sought out and celebrated the nuanced relationships of men and events, that pondered the more subjective and unconscious and more long-term truths and realities without being so driven by the moment?

Literate cultures, given an in-depth understanding of both history and literature, might have rejected Trump’s sloganeering, his vacuity, his transactional greed, his manipulation of the masses, the media and the political establishment. Is that the pipe dream of a romantic idealist of the liberal studies department? Is the demise of context and the removable of critical investigative reportage, simply because no one will read it, and therefore no advertiser will support its publication, underlying the recent Alt-right political movements that,  based on bigotry, fear and a vacuity of history?

Are we participating in a cultural tsunami that, without a single shot or bomb or missile being fired, has the potential to wipe out our collective memory, our collective consciousness, and our conception of a collective future. Has this tsunami foreclosed on an intellectually framed world vision that includes a significant look back into our history, and the history of major civilizations, and a look forward not only to how are we going to survive but also what kind of future are we prepared to stand up and become proactive to leave to our grandchildren?

We have collectively watched over the demise of hundreds of Liberal Arts faculties in North American universities, as we permitted our higher education institutions to morph into little more than “trade schools”. We are witnessing a wipe-out of the shared skill of spelling, grammar, and an interest in  complexities, and in their place, without ever adequately replacing those given foundational stones for a culture that can understand itself, others much smarter than we are, and that can critically evaluate the propositions being put forward by hucksters like Trump.

And he is not the only huckster: there must be a school for hucksters, charlatans, shill ‘artists’ and those willing and able to deceive using whatever tricks are at their disposal. (Just today, Princess Cruise Lines was fined $40 MILLION for secretly pumping waste from its ships through a hidden pipe for decades! The hidden pipe made it possible for their ships to escape failure on legitimate environmental tests! Anyone ese wondering if the executives at Princess are clones of the executives at Volkswagen?)

There is some evidence that books are not going to their grave anytime soon. (Just a hunch, many of those readers are above fifty, raised on some intensive reading courses in their now “antediluvian” education.)

W seem to have fragmented our attention span, our need for instant gratification (from working to achieve a goal as a reward for the hard work) to a collective and shared OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Of course, intimately buried in this culture is the predictable frustration that all of our petty, micro and silly “desires” are not and will not be met.

There used to be a kind of attitude among athletic coaches that a game of basketball or hockey was a lot like life, and could teach the participants important life lessons. Well, there may still be some truth in the aphorism.  However, in a professional hockey game, for example, players take only 40-45 second shifts and their speed, the number of their shots on goal, the number of ‘hits’ and the number of goals and assists they accomplish in that very tiny window is recorded for posterity, as well as for future negotiations come contract renewal time.

Sadly, that picture is not applicable to one’s seven or eight or perhaps even nine decades on the planet. We simply cannot sustain the kind of pressure, scrutiny and obsessive need for detailed accomplishments from every ‘shift’ in our professional life or in our relationships. Demanding such accomplishments from others, too, will drive both parties in the absurd equation to madness.

And yet, there is a reasonable and credible argument to be made that that is precisely what we are doing, to ourselves, and to each other.

There is a theory about “cameo” art (painting) that allows the painter to have complete control of the work, given the miniature size of the project. Is this analogy representative of the kind of thinking, reporting, discussing, and more recently campaigning to which we have agreed to be subjected.  A culture of cameo artists, propagating more of their own kind, will generate a generation or two of young people who believe that in order to be “successful” and to fit into the world around them, they must become “cameo artists” like everyone else.

What would become of the visionaries in a world in which cameo artists and their clones in most if not all academic disciplines, professions, including the political class are running things?

Or course the obvious answer is that  metaphoric trains will run off many tracks, previously considered because as the Auditor General says, the military tragically missed judging the cost of maintaining our F-18’s, as well as the cost of keeping the fleet of submarines sipping through the oceans….There is a real price to the kind of culture that is becoming normalized and a fix, if there is to be one, is going to be increasingly problematic. Finding those who think that a balance between micro and macro thinking, planning, envisioning, imagining will be difficult if not impossible.


And while now repressive culture, even one worshipping at the altar of cameo’s, cannot and will not repress the poets, the eccentrics and the visionaries. However, their ilk will be more and more needed in the public arena, and the supply of their kind will be so depleted that we will continue to have to pay a huge price for what some call political correctness, and others call “covering your ass.”

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