09 July, 2004

Dogma (Fahrenheit 9/11)

Sorry for the lack of updates... life has sucked recently, between strep throat and finishing revisions for a journal submission. I'll try to be more on the ball, now.

Anyway, I recently had a conversation with a bunch of old men (my dad and two of his friends). The topic was the inevitable failure of growth-centered capitalism as it runs up against the wall of resource constraint. It ranged pretty broadly from there, running across concentration of power, human nature, the purpose of society and, of course, postmodernism (after all - I was involved in the conversation!).

I've long been skeptical of one of my dad's friends. He's a very nice guy, a real decent human being, but he drives a Lexus SUV and spoils his kids quite a bit. I never imagined him as a thoughtful person, since I have apparently reached the conclusion that no one could possibly drive an SUV and yet have thought about the world. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he did ask himself questions about society, purpose and the direction we're all going in.

I guess this is what excites me about people; not their devotion to some particular ideology but their willingness to ask questions. In fact I'm becoming increasingly annoyed with the stark ideological divisions being made in this country.

Let me clarify the distinction: both I and my dad's friend are in essential agreement about the nature of capitalist society and its inevitable failure. The difference between us hinges on his perception of human nature as fundamentally driven by self-satisfaction, whereas I believe that drive is largely socially constructed. Yet this apparently small distinction results in radically different lifestyles.

The sharp political lines we see being drawn today are the same way - we are aligned on the basis of who we hate, not why we hate them. And debate centers around action, not motivation - who bombed what, who killed how many, who lied about what - not why they did it.

In the end it doesn't matter whether you support Bush or you support Kerry or you support neither; what matters is -why- you support them. Because Bush and Kerry are just individuals. They will eventually die, or get caught in a sex scandal, or fall prey to a neurodegenerative disease, or otherwise fall off the map. But their disappearance will not change the great currents of modern history. Powerful as George W. Bush is, he doesn't move the world - it was ideas that brought George Bush to power. It's ideas that we should consider, and answer, and argue about.

The recent Michael Moore movie is an excellent example of this failing in contemporary discourse. It's a laundry list of complaints about George W. Bush, but it has no train of thought. It complains about all the terrible things George W. Bush has done, but it does not make any coherent appeal to principles. Why make such a movie? Is Michael Moore ashamed to project his vision, to expose his ideas and beliefs to other people's examination? Can he only present them obliquely in the object of his hate, so that we must reconstruct his soul by staring at its shadow?

In fact I worry that we become so caught up in the game of ideology that we no longer HAVE principles. Hypocrisy is the rule of the day; we lambast Bill Clinton for infidelity but look the other way for Newt Gingrich. We hope that Saddam and Osama won't be caught because it would look good for Bush if they were.

The subtext is there, begging to be exhumed. What is all the shouting about? What is this "America"?

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