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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Holograms, eye-candy and candy floss, the political answers to an existential crisis

Neil MacDonald, in today’s column (September 17, 2019) on CBC’s website, argues that the Canadian election campaign is a “hologram”…”make-believe tensions over miniscule differences”…

Later in the piece, he writes these words:

The campaign is a hologram, the result of an agreement  between political parties, the news media, corporate entities, the chattering classes and, to a certain extent, the voters themselves, although the voters are often the l east important participants—they remain an abstract entity, variously patronized, cited and ignored by the big players, until the one day every four years when they get to be very important indeed. For a set period, we agree to pretend that old is new, vapid is substantive, and make-believe is reality. Out journalistic institutions’ definition of “news”—a dodgy notion even in normal times—warps into something undefinable….
But the campaign is a totem. Democracy itself. It provides the news media an opportunity to pose as referee and watchdog, and voters, most of whom are already decided, a moment to imagine they are thoughtfully considering the leaders’ pitches and closing arguments.

And to reflect on MacDonald’s thoughtful piece, one wonders if we are not living in a hall of holograms, where images flash before our eyes and ears, loud, phosphorescent, metallic and overwhelming, essentially much sound and fury signifying nothing. We recall the prophetic words of Shakespeare’s Mac Beth:

“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, fully of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Shakespeare’s imagination needed no technological device, like a hologram, in order to paint the picture of his central character’s interiority. And there are so many lenses through which to bear witness to the essence of both MacDonald’s and MacBeth’s perspective. We all participate in the fascination that is the theatre of the public square, whether that theatre sinks into the “weeds” of the miniscule differences between the political parties and leaders (in both the U.S. and Canada), or into the fog of verbally armed warfare of ideology, or into the slipping and sliding into and out of various positions by the politicians depending on the mood, the perspicacity and the venom of the audience, or into the braggadocio of a trump’s “thousands waiting outside, because we could not find a bigger arena,” or into the sweeping and seductive ideological propaganda of the “populist- supremacists” or the “egalitarian-socialists”.

Obviously divided by “platform” and ideology, we seem to be able to “unite” around some of the more creative and insightful metaphors…perhaps shining a light into the darkness of the political process, out from which those politicians worthy of our votes and our serious consideration. Tony Blair made famous the political phrase: “politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”

And it is reasonable to posit that the divide between the poetry and the prose, exploding the “mountains of hope and promise” into the iron filings of legislation, a process in which no sentient human finds fulfilling, that leaves the voters terminally exhausted and disinherited. Any magnetism that previously lived in the mountains of hope is dissipated into the filings of laws. Further, the process of the pursuit of the votes needed even for the most minimal legislative improvements, including the wall-to-wall campaigns, the talking heads, the intrusive, vacuous and too-often insulting political advertising and public relations “sound bytes” from the archives of the digital “cloud” flows like a cloud of “weed” over the consciousness of the masses.

If Marx considered religion the opiate of the masses, perhaps today it is the politics of the current iteration of western democracy that serves as another of the many opiates of the masses. Drugged into fatigue, detachment, disillusionment, hopelessness and distrust, the “people” are marching to a different “drum” than those in the political class. And the chase for boxcars of cash, both with and without “strings” of manipulation, continues to provide the fuel burning through the corporate trust accounts and the investor dividend packages of the advertising and media moguls…and on into the lobbyists, the “political puppets” and the chattering classes where “the public” is congealed as a barely understood “public opinion” barely noticed and valued in the political decisions of the legislators.

Looking into the “sky” of the planet as if it were our “crystal ball”, we can all see the multiple landings of torrential winds, rains, droughts, fires, hunger, disease and displacement…all of these sirens pleading for attention, for address and for survival.
And yet, the drum-beat of “tradition” and “convention” and “mediocrity” and “small-mindedness” and the processes and models of at least one or perhaps even two centuries past continue to be revered by the political class, while they all know they are implicated in a sabotage of existential dimensions.

It is their apparent self-serving narcissism, and their embeddedness in long-ago atrophied and exhausted processes and language in service of themselves, that plagues both their futures and ours.

Like candy floss, holograms cannot provide nourishment, except as eye-candy. And we have all noticed the epidemic of undernourished, starved and vacuous eyes from decades of eye-candy, not to mention the hollowed-out expectations of the people, projected onto the political class, both entwined in a gordion knot needing both forces to untie the knot and disentangle the enmeshment of this hologram.

And the zero-sum approach, not having served either politician or voter, it has to be burned on the funeral pyre of ideas, processes and ideologies that serve as components of the political opiates we consume at our peril.

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