If I were an adolescent today, watching and listening to the public discourse about how “shame” and the power to inflict it, taken together, is running rampant over some, while leaving others seemingly exempt, I would be confused, a little shocked and greatly drained of energy and hope, at the kind of world my generation is inheriting.
Some people attempt to purchase their exemption from the shame and the guilt and the embarrassment of their own indiscretions: witness the taxpayer-funded silence payments to staffers in the United States Congress. Others, with the help of evangelical fundamentalist “Christians” find a modicum of escape from guilt, responsibility and shame, as they are buoyed by the “he is a man of God” chorus swelling up around his Alabama campaign. Others issue public apologies, (Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Marc Halpern and now Matt Lauer) some in an attempt to begin their road back to “redemption” and acceptance in the public eye and mind, innocent perhaps of the indelible stain on their reputation.
And there is the “groper-in-chief” who sits in the Oval Office, busily issuing moral edicts and attacks in 280 characters, grateful to Twitter for the expansion of his opportunity to spread his kind of darkness and innuendo and castigation of others, completely oblivious to the maxim that “he who lives in a glass house ought not throw stones.” He sides with his own party’s Alabama candidate for Senate, by deriding his Democratic opponent as a disaster, indicating that policy options appear to take precedence, if convenient, over the morality of the candidate as attested by several women, from encounters four decades ago.
The chief executive himself is also the master “blurrer” of the lines between fact and fiction, so as to suit his own depraved, deprived and decimated, yet ever tyrannical, ego. The latest battle of the genders, on top of the already deeply and emotionally engaged battle for political power, through the selling of images, mixed with a healthy dose of exaggeration, dissembling and outright lying, has left the policy issues muted, except for the occasional outburst against the character of another leader, or even occasionally in support of an already infamous leader like Duterte. Forbes magazine features a story whose import is, “the new American religion is ideology”.
On NBC’s Meet the Press this past Sunday when Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, being interviewed by Chuck Todd, was forced to attempt a last-minute interjection of her objections to the tax reform bill that is before Congress. And that was the topic on which she based her agreement to appear on the show in the first place. Of course, however, sex took over, and dominated her time allotment on the show which had been built, of course, to generate the highest ratings, not to provide the best vehicle of government oversight and fourth estate critique.
Just as facts have morphed into “alternative facts” (courtesy of Kelly Ann Conway, the president’s image-maker), so too has much of contemporary journalism morphed into tabloid journalism, so too has much of public debate morphed into “’locker room” talk (courtesy of the chief executive), as the race to the bottom of the public gutter gets faster and less inhibited. Just Monday, a scurrilous person, acting as an agent of Project Veritas, a right-wing nut-job organization dedicated to discrediting the mainstream media, told the Washington Post that she had been raped by Moore who then wanted her to have an abortion, the ersatz Republican candidate for Senate, to replace the now Attorney General Sessions in Alabama. Her story was found to be a hoax when Post reporters dug deeper.
Fortunately, for the public, those who work as professional journalists at the Washington Post found her story was another “smeer” job on the media. Just imagine the extent to which these people will go to re-invent a universe that is more to their liking, given their contempt for a political and cultural universe which they do not and cannot, and must not dominate and control!
Alice in Wonderland, the 1865 fantasy novel written by English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, seems to be a legitimate foreshadowing of the world of 2017, with all of us living in that same rabbit hole. Only trouble is the novel was intended as literary nonsense, playing imaginatively with logic whereas what we are witnessing and having to live through is anything but literary nonsense. Satire, today, would fall on deaf ears, as does irony, and all forms of literary language that express the imaginary world of either wish-fulfillment dreams or avoidance dreams.
We are being flooded with millions of archeological, anthropological “digs” into scraps of evidence, mostly in the digital universe, and all of them steaming forth from the new smokestacks of a digital world where no one is a reputable authority and everyone has his finger on the trigger of political influence. Many propagandists, however, have not been trained or disciplined into a respect for the “public” and “wider” truth, that concept having become the sacrificial lamb of the pool of narcissism in which we are all swimming. Theirs is the universe of manipulation, and in the case of the white supremacists, even scurrilous defamation of character, with a kind of impunity that those of us living outside the United States simply do not comprehend. The American courts have found and ruled on a very subtle nuance between what comprises “hate speech” and what does not. In short, a statement like “All Muslims (Jews) or whatever group must be banished,” since it does not target a specific person, is not considered hate speech. If a name were to be inserted as target into such a statement, then the statement would qualify as hate speech.
Those of us who are mere generalists, neither legal experts nor linguistic scholars, find this ruling to be a distinction without a difference. If one is advocating the banishment of any ethnic group, then it follows to smaller minds like your scribe’s, that one has the intent to carry out, enable, support and perhaps even enact such a banishment goal.
And hate is at the core of the statement. To argue “irony” as the modus operandi of such a statement and sentiment and intent, simply does not hold water. Therapists, when faced with a client expressing the wish to commit suicide, are trained to take such a statement of intent very seriously. The alternative is, in a word, unacceptable and perhaps lethal. A similar caveat needs to cover the hate speech issue.
This space has referred, above, to the Narcissus myth and archetype. Unlike Narcissus however, we are not merely fawning over the image of our visages on the surface of the water; we have, collectively in effect, drowned in that pool. It is not only that legal protections against defamatory statements have yet to keep pace with the technological opportunities to spew them around, in the manner of the “twitterer in chief”, taking aim at anyone who might have a different view. His kind of “leadership” is simply not worthy of the name; it ranks as the latest version of chicanery that has been practiced for centuries by midway hucksters barking out sales of tickets to a freak show.
This time, however, the barker and the freak are one and the same. And as the world watches and listens to the smoke and mirrors coming from the "trumpstack," mocking the science of global warming and climate change so venomously and defiantly that all wonder what other security threshold he might cross, under the pretense of this own pardon.
The dung pile of mixed metaphors above, normally unacceptable as they constitute the extremely pervasive and noxious stench of linguistic insouciance, are finding what might be considered a normal place amid a current mind-and-spirit “stew” of angst, confusion, fear and not a little hopelessness.
What has been unleashed is not merely the democratizing of information. Unleashed now is the range of human evils from Pandora’s Box, that previously sealed vault of human depravity from Greek mythology. Now there is nothing left in the vault; everything including plutonium, poison, libel, pubescent and pre-pubescent pornography, unlicensed character defamation, money-laundering, corporate malfeasance and the impunity that denial, deflection and huge sacks of money can “buy”.
After all, when human interactions are so debased as to be reduced to nothing more than just another transaction, like buying another package of sausages in the supermarket, how can we expect anything more substantive than pork left-overs wrapped in some kind of slick skin. We have only to question the “expiry date” and the “brand” name on the label, in order to determine whether or not to make the purchase.
Such superficiality of the consumer renders both the consumer and the producer mere agents in another commercial transaction. And only if and when the meat is infected with listeria, or salmonella, e-coli, or worse, botulism is there a blast of public anger, disgust and withdrawal of consumer confidence. Meanwhile, lives could have been lost; certainly humans have become ill through no “fault” of their own. And those who imposed their defective product evoke an instant recall, issue a proforma apology, and try to re-market their product as the new champion of healthy food production and consumption.
In politics, however, once elected, it seems, the political botulism continues to wreak its havoc on everything it touches.
For this kind of bacteria, there is no official “court” and no official “inspector general” and no penicillin to combat the effects of the self-inflicted cultural disease. Even Mueller’s charge against Flynn, the disgraced National Security Advisor for 24 days in this administration, and Flynn’s guilty plea, are only the early steps in what so far is a “closed door” legal investigation.
And, with respect to public anger, frustration and push-back that ought to be overflowing the streets of hundreds of American streets:
· over the bellicose rhetoric on North Korea,
· on climate change denials,
· on a tax “reform” package that robs $5+ billion from the poor and middle class, while moving that tax benefit to the top 10% of income earners
· on the support and enabling of white supremacists, quite literally home-grown terrorists
· on the denials of collusion with Russia in the election
· on the refusal to staff fully the State Department and
· on the massive list of unqualified candidates for the judiciary
· on the rejection of the application of the emoluments clause, while continuing to gather millions from private business interests
I am still a highly confused, disappointed and disillusioned “adolescent” growing impatient with the kind of world my ancestors are leaving to my generation.