Sunday, August 26, 2007
The Politics of White Noise
President Richard B. Cheney with unidentified assistant.
My post description mentions politics, which means exposing the contents of my brain matter on this matter, which resembles nothing so much as extra-finely ground sausage derived from all the animal parts of all available species. In other words, you really don’t want to know everything that’s there, believe me: “Why does Hillary Clinton sound like my mom telling me to clean up my room?” "Yes, if I were a girl, I could take Barack Obama home to my parents, but would that make him the president we need?"
I long ago shunned any association with political and religious extremists and fanatics, long before the rise of President Cheney and Lord Bin Laden but no matter how I stiffen my arm and supplement it with a ten-foot pole, their voices, strident with righteous certainty and bruised with resentment, seem to dominate the discourse, especially in this medium of the Internet: this playground for digital nihilism.
How do I write about politics without sounding like I’m merely murmuring assent to something I scanned from Keithiana Huffpolbermann or Stevjon Colwart? How do I avoid sinking to crackpotism, all cross-eyed passion and self-ennobling, but murderous purpose. With many of the blogs and comments I review—though not all of them-- real worldisms like gravity, death and the air we breathe start to look like mere opinion: there are people who never die, objects that never fall and the astronauts float in space, free of even oxygen.
Take the war in Iraq (please): there are numerous positions a mind can take. Supposedly, the more educated one is on this matter, the more solid the ground the opinion stands on. But then there's the supposedly well-educated expert William Kristol of The National Review. Being not at the center of events, either in Bagdad or Washington D.C. myself, but in desolate Emeryville, California, I’m forced to form my opinions from the experience and expertise of those who stand closer to the fire. I feel like a short man in the back of a large crowd, dependent on the whispers coming in from far away. Even so, no matter how hard they try, the war’s supporters continue to sound more and more unhinged with every passing casualty. “We now seem to be on course to a successful outcome,” declares Kristol (Modern conservatives: the new crazy-hippie potheads).
I don’t have much confidence, even in the people I agree with and, especially, in those, who both fiercely love and passionately hate them, whether it be President Cheney or Cindy Sheehan. In the online world, on its many blogs, wrath and resentment is what fuels most discourse. Anyone can turn into a troll—yes, me, too. And I’m ashamed of my trollness, but here, this environment of uninhibited voices, regrets sound as loud as a flower’s breath. It is too much nuance and it indicates a surrender of power.
The digital world is made up of ones and zeros, eithers and ors and so, it seems, are most of the
minds that occupy it. Nuance is missed altogether or regarded with suspicion. “We need to take al Qaida real seriously” can be read as code for “I love President Cheney!”; “Impeach President Cheney” becomes “Yay al Qaida!” My real point of both those original propositions, which I firmly believe, seems to have a better chance registering in traditional print. Even “President Cheney” to most blog readers, is evidence of ignorance and not the dour satire I intend. I say “one;” You say “zero.” I say “zero” you say “one.” That’s how it is. Maybe I should leave. Or maybe I should see if anyone has the brains and balls to throw me off. But that would take too much thought and work, wouldn’t it? Better to keyboard “asshole!” and hit “Send.” That’ll show me!
Don’t believe everything you think: Considering my reality-based experience, words of wisdom.
ORRRRR: Isn't it really just an elitist attack on the already damaged self-esteem of the disenfranchised and the powerless? Who am I to challenge the beliefs of others? After all, wasn’t it so-called “expert” scientists whose decisions led to both space shuttle disasters . . . why, they might even have done it on purpose! If you can think it, it’s true. And once you say it in public, it can become even more true. Paranoia is therapy. The most reasoned, evidence-based argument cannot penetrate the armor of a deluded certainty.
The Internet seems to like nonsense memes. Where this commons is concerned, Yeats is right. The center cannot hold, because, in this case, there isn’t one. Some of the blogosphere’s most ardent supporters believe they are supporting the vanguard of some sort of village square democracy, a true conversation among people that will lead to progress. But Cheney supporters, Matt Drudge, al Qaida and other tyrants and totalitarians believe something else and they all use the Internet, too: Very well, from what I understand. The Internet works better as soapbox for the mad than as a forum for serious thought, useful ideas and sly, subtle wit. I will continue to read The New Yorker.
The Internet is amoral. Not only does it, in itself, lack any kind of moral content, its consequences are both good and bad. Like hammer that can be used to build a house, or for murder, it’s indifferent to good intentions. From where I keyboard, this battle has no end, until, at least, the power grid that civilization so deeply depends on melts down and humans creep back to our fire-lit caves.
The liberal blogosphere’s belief in the power of good to overcome the Internet’s core amorality is based on the, sad-to-say, false assumption of Universal Human Goodness. This amorality, and its consequences, cannot be explained away anymore than al Qaida can. Especially here, on the Internet, this commons, where every comment has equal voice and it all adds up to a sizzling fury of white noise.