"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Dec 8, 2010

No Title

When I was younger, I wrote thorough, adequately documented, cited and corroborated positions papers, sometimes for politicians whom I liked in person but with whom I had intellectual disagreement. Because the challenge amused me. Because I believed that some sort of compromise promised to remind people with power that they were beholden to their own liabilities.

I was also young and believed I had something to prove.

I believed in persuasion.

I don't think I believe in the efficacy of persuasive reasoning anymore, in part because the continent spanning ideological superstructure in which I lived is gone. I "grew up" when there were clearly marked boundaries (the loss of the which I do not lament) between the world which assumed a right to my loyalties and the world against which I had to least nominally express disagreement. Us good, Soviets bad. Political and ideological persuasion tended to work within this superstructure, so that persons who disagreed fundamentally about how to be us still had an anchor in their expected agreement to not be them. The stable adversarial environment provided those within it with a fulcrum for their arguments, whether or not the were aware of it.

I think, in part, this may explain the manichean virulence of the Tea Party and similar movements - the enduring urge to recapture a stable fulcrum about which adversaries may disagree, but against the necessity of which they rarely argue. A shared loyalty. I've seen perhaps innumerable attempts to recreate this condition by persons arguing for a host of moral fulcrums which they believe, honestly I think, should be established and then just left alone: an attitude towards Islam, the necessity of deficit reform, or Wall Street reform, the need for universal health care or full employment, an anodyne faith in the goodness of "America," Judaeo-Christian values, et cetera. For the angry conservative, and the disappointed progressive, something is missing in the ideological environment, something which allows them (and us) to agree, something that places them in an agreed to context, so that they can believe they are on the same team with their current political and moral adversaries.

Because, without that context, their adversaries may very well be mortal ones. People have a difficult time persuading each other, if they believe in their own enmity.

I don't know if this angst is or can be experienced by the younguns, especially those who have come of age in the last decade or two. I have my suspicions, but no real way to confirm or refute them. So I guess I'll leave it at this: all that self-regard and digital solipsism might be explained as the moral autism of the unpersuadable.

You can sell to them - in fact, I cannot imagine a more perfect consumer - but can you really persuade them?

I don't mean to suggest that they cannot reason and draw conclusions based on arguments made - but that they just might be immune to argumentation, especially in an adversarial dispute, because the assumed anchor to a commonality - that fulcrum which can be moved, but not abolished - doesn't exist. 

How can you appeal to the logic of a shared universality if one of the parties doesn't know or care that it might exist?

And this isn't akin to disagreements between angry conservatives and disappointed liberals, who accept the faith in a commonality over which they must dispute but would not abolish, and so can therefore find points of agreement, but who have begun to feel the loss of it and have subsequently started to hunker down in moral bunkers, reinforcing belief with a hardening of temperament, until agreement and persuasion become impossible and contest becomes war.

I could be wrong, and I am fact writing these words with a perfect surety of my own error.

But what the hell, I'll die sooner than later and my past now casts a longer shadow than the landmarks of my possible futures.

I watched "Scott Pilgrim against the World" last night, with my wife snoring gently behind me. The first film I've ever watched, after which I felt old.  So dice, meet table, I'm aging and I'm ready to be wrong in the view of others again...


Randal Graves said...

Shorter Jack: get off my lawn.

I kid, I kid, heh.

You can sell to them - in fact, I cannot imagine a more perfect consumer - but can you really persuade them?

This is something I've occasionally ruminated on, and haven't come up with anything outside anecdotal evidence, but I definitely tend to agree with this.

Most everyone feels at some point in their life that they're living in a Very Important Time with all the attendant repercussions for the future, but just how thoroughly society has become interconnected and digitized over the last few decades is fucking monumental, says Captain Obvious.

So I wonder how humanity's inherent tribal tendencies are going to be altered as these younguns become olduns and no one remembers a time where there wasn't so much commodity in *everything*.

Us and them is going to be more and more difficult to codify and I wonder if that's part of - surely a very small part of in comparison to others - the Wikileaks hissyfitting by state actors.

Easier to control via technology, but more difficult to infuse a hardline stance. Of course, again, anecdotal. Everyone was kumbaya kill the Ay-rab on 9.12.01.

Solar Hero said...

Nothing persuades like hunger.

AlanSmithee said...

Certainly the nature of mass persuasion has changed, though I'm not sure how much that has to do with the collapse of the old "West vs Soviet" world dynamic.

The old style of mass persuasion depended, for the most part, on appeals to reason and emotion. In a political context, appeals to reason were usually ideological and appeals to emotion were usually nationalistic.

However, beginning more or less in the '80s, the language of brand marketing began showing up. Now, brand marketing had been used in politics as early as the '20s, but it's language had largely been confined to ad execs, political flacks and other sub-species of the weasel family.

But some time during the Regan years, terms like "packaging," "segmentation," "brand architecture" and the like began leeching into our public discourse. And along with the terminology, they brought all the toxic values of corporate marketing - shortsightedness, dis-ingenuousness and manipulativeness being some of the more benign.

Well, okay, that was tl:dr! Anyroad, a good place to start is Adam Curtis' "The Century of the Self" which you can catch on google video or youtube if you've got a few hours to spare. There's a few good books on the subject too. I'd recommend just about anything by John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, such as "Toxic Sludge Is Good For You" and "Trust Us, We're Experts."

Jack Crow said...


It's why I introduced the idea of the "fulcrum." It's position is not permanently fixed, but its existence is assumed to be permanent.

That fulcrum was very often nationalism and it was generally pervasive - even socialists and the more radicalized trade unionists argued as if the national superstructure was worth preserving. The disagreements were not about the existence of the nation, but about who constituted and it what their purpose ought to be.

The collapse of the Soviet Union erased the prevailing rationale for the conception of the nation three generations of Americans had come to expect. [I belong to that third and final generation.]

American nationalism underwent a rapid transformation, deviating from the course TR wanted; he'd engraved it in a mettle that had less durability than he imagined.

Whereas it had previously resembled the by-neddie-jingo of its British forebear (tempered by the Indian Wars), it became something entirely unique, even solitary, after the American elites fixed their gaze on the Soviet bugbear.

Without the bugbear - and we are living the first consequences of these new initial conditions,right now - the fulcrum was abandoned.

Our children have not been raised as denizens of one of two (seemingly) monolithic world orders, locked in a stable equilibrium of mutually assured destruction. I think we really don't understand how different they are, because of that.



AlanSmithee said...

Yeah, the old nationalistic appeal doesn't work so well since the USSR collapsed. These days, political appeals are based on "brand identity." Emperor Sparkle-Pony didn't get Ad Age's "Marketer of the Year" award for nothing.

Mr.Fundamental said...

all we do is hiss

Jack Crow said...

Your words had to have meaning, even eschewing platonic formality and assuming syntactical value only, to communicate that we have no meaning when when we communicate, Mr. F.

Makes me smile.