Please welcome a guest blogger today.
Billmon, on his terrific Whiskey Bar blog, had a fascinating post earlier this week on Al Gore. After seeing Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Billmon begin to wonder what makes Gore tick -- and why, in an increasingly "debased political and cultural climate," Gore continues to assume that meticulous, reasoned discourse will triumph over today's rampant anti-intellectualism. Billmon compares Gore to Willy Loman and pushing the borders of bathos for trying "to speak the language of reason to an increasingly irrational, post-Enlightenment world." In the end, Billmon admires Gore because "like the doctor protagonist in Camus’ The Plague, he’s decided that work -- all that schlepping from airport to airport -- is the only sane alternative to despair."
Impressed, and wishing (again) that I could tap into Billmon's Muse, I sent the link out to make some email rounds. Eleny, a good friend, wrote back an impassioned letter that knocked me out. I asked if I could post her reply on my blog, and she graciously agreed.
Although Eleny is reflecting on Billmon's entire essay, she seems to initially key off this passage:
There’s something deeper at work here than just conventional media bias or capitalist economics, although they're certainly part of it. There’s always been a powerful current of anti-intellectualism in American politics, just as there is in American life. It’s the dark side of democracy: The pressure to accept what the majority, or the most vocal minority, thinks is true as truth – even when the evidence is entirely on the other side. When Henry Ford said history was bunk, he wasn’t taking about the past but about the present, and his ire wasn’t directed at historians per se but at the revisionist historians of the Progressive Era, who were telling him and his fellow know nothings inconvenient facts they didn’t want to hear. Pump Henry full of Hillbilly Heroin and put him on the radio, and you’ve got Rush Limbaugh, still making the same point.
The difference between Ford’s time and Limbaugh’s is that the political presumption against rationality is now shared, or at least pandered to, even at the top of the political and cultural pyramid. It’s curious that people who are paid to think and write for a living, and who, like Gore, attended the “best” schools, are now nearly as susceptible to the politics of ignorance as your average conservative talk show host, but then the elite media ain’t what it used to be. Like academia, it’s fighting a losing rear-guard action against the spirit of the times and the angry, irrational prejudices that go with it.
But even more than academia, the old journalistic bastions of enlightenment liberalism -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek -- are vulnerable to the growing institutional and commercial pressures to tell the customers what they want to hear. And since conservatives are by far the larger and more economically attractive audience, the gravitational pull is perpetually to the right, which these days means the authoritarian right and the artificial reality it prefers to live in.
And here's what Eleny had to say...
Interesting how [Billmon] used the phrase "authoritarian right" in this essay. It's almost hard to escape John Dean's appearances these past few days. I'm glad to see that the authoritarian concept is slipping into writings immediately.
One thought that keeps me in hope is how things change when the rubber meets the road. Everything is getting more costly, not just gasoline. We had a bad hailstorm a few weekends ago. Our roofer mentioned how his materials have gone up in price each month for the past 6 months. People in my working class neighborhood are cutting back on air conditioning because Xcel's prices are skyrocketing. Air conditioners in the windows are sitting quiet. So?
People of my generation are having to cut back and approach lifestyles reminiscent of their parents who grew up when there weren't many cars and no home air conditioning. Fine and good. People can live like that. But when you're forced to compare yourself to what you yourself had a few short years ago, that has to rub. There's no tangible reason for the sacrifices. Not so soldiers can commit atrocities on the other side of the world. At some point people start putting this together. And that includes my roofer.
I figure that the people on the fringes of being a follower of authoritarians might break away. That makes our side's numbers all the bigger. Even if it means they just don't vote. Which brings us back to the last hope for the authoritarians -- the voting machines. My hope is that the administration has pissed off the media so much that we do finally get some news of what's happening in Mexico besides Palast's reporting. I hear that Choice Point is now creating voter lists in Venezuela, too. If not Mexico, then Venezuela may be a Waterloo.
Meanwhile, the rich get richer and desperate. Have you seen the latest Hummer ad? The theme of it is "Get Your Manhood Back." It's about a 30 second spot. They can't sell them and are now going for the socially conscious male. They don't get it that he's probably already on the Prius waiting list.
One nagging thought frightens me these days, though. It's that Americans may soon become irrelevant to corporations. The emerging Chinese market is lucrative to them. We could find our collective self expendable -- even in the way. A nuisance with our bitching for health care, jobs and affordable heat and air conditioning. Corporations have better things to do and juicier places to develop for customers. Like bacteria jumping from a carcass to a fresh young body. It scares me that much of America could slowly but surely look like Flint, Michigan one day.
Which brings me to Billmon's conclusion about what makes Gore tick. I watched Gore when he was making the rounds on TV and talk radio. I tried to catch every interview. And I always wondered what well he drank from for his optimism. Billmon thinks it may be that doing is better than despair. But I think it's something else. Maybe it's not even optimism. I think Gore looks at his kids and grandkids and figures he owes them something. He's doing all this because he, unlike the authoritarians, has some fragment of a conscience along with a healthy dose of ambition.
[Photograph by James Rexroad]
When the shit hits the fan and humanity has to face what it's wrought, it will need some buoy to hang on to. If people can actually make changes it'll be because of people like Gore and Dean who told us the sky was falling and why.
Helping to save humanity and democracy from extinction is one hell of a legacy. Bush says in the deep future he'll be dead so what he does now means nothing in terms of legacy. The ultimate sociopathic atheist. Gore's head is in a different place. Somewhere in that wooden, self-conscious head of his he has the capacity for love so he keeps at it. It might even get him the nomination.
Wouldn't a Gore/Dean ticket both excite and scare the piss out of us? We're going to need some excitement on the Dem side since I believe that Jeb is the only hope the Republicans have of keeping a firm lid on a shitstorm.
Eleny is also a gifted artist -- as you'll quickly discover by visiting Incurable Art.