Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Thoughtful and the Thoughtless

So, does reality have a liberal or a conservative bias?

My friends Greg and Holly have been working on a comedic debate over this pressing issue. I'm sure it will be very entertaining, as their writings usually are. However, it's unlikely that they're the first to debate the issue; one of the things that I find startling when I wander the Internet is how many random and trivial things have been politicized in the popular imagination (or lack thereof). Those of us who might have thought that "liberal" or "conservative" are fairly artificial categories with little bearing on our existence have a lot to learn apparently. Between the Republican war on science and the Democratic war on corporations, the most minute choices in our lives seem to carry a "left" or "right" label. I suppose eventually we will be asked at the Supermarket: "Are you a right-wing, nutball fascist who wants a plastic bag? Or a bleeding-heart, wacko Commie who wants a paper bag?"

It reminds me of being 19, and living in a commune in Arlington, and watching my very left-wing roommates trying to figure out which sort of toothpaste would be politically correct to buy. The corporate toothpaste was out, of course. But Tom's of Maine gave money to pro-life groups, according to somebody's zine. They didn't want to stop brushing their teeth, and given their high garlic-intake, neither did I. But how could you brush your teeth and remain pure? It was a long night. Again, I argue that there's a soft totalitarianism involved in the need to categorize all aspects of life by what they reveal about party affiliation (a rather meaningless term in America anyway). Sometimes, the personal should not be political.

Besides, it seems more often these days that the political divide is not between the left and the right, conservatives and liberals, or Republicans and Democrats, but between the thoughtful and thoughtless on all sides. The thoughtless have no particular party affiliation- they could be Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Whigs, Anarchists, Communists, or Fascists- but they seem to share a deeply rooted belief that party affiliation is a matter of life and death, or at least, a measurement of moral character. In conversations, they tend to be harried, angry, and impatient. Also they seem to be constantly bored! I'm guessing they drive aggressively in cars that are covered with bumper stickers. The thoughtless believe that all questions can be answered in five words or less, or they aren't worth asking. They have a trite answer for everything, except why it is that others might think otherwise than they do.

The universal drone of the media, mass and otherwise, seems to encourage a certain amount of thoughtlessness, or at least, distraction. It is impossible to discuss matters of deep importance in the 3-5 minutes alloted for them on CNN or FOX News. The sensible thing to do would be to pass over serious issues in silence. And yet, television programs instead reduce important issues to easily-recognizable ciphers, "positions" to be taken in a "debate" in which the point seems not to be to arrive at some sort of truth, as much as to be the center of attention. And for all of their complaints about this tendency of the mass media, independent media and the blogosphere simply follow the media's lead in reducing all matters of life to "positions", endless staking out of little black squares in order to be more clearly heard. It's much easier to be heard if people don't have to pay close attention to what you're saying. So, "you're either with us, or you're a terrorist!" Or perhaps "no blood for oil!"

And more times than I'd like to admit I have found myself on the wrong side of this particular aisle. There's something about blogging that seems to encourage thoughtlessness. It's easier to start a discussion when you make a clear, concise, and not particularly nuanced point. "Marriage is a patriarchal conspiracy. Discuss!" The format encourages boiling things down until they lose all flavor. All too often, I find myself posting something that reads like: "Fundamentalist Christians are stupid. Discuss!" and cringing afterwards. Life is perplexing and mysterious. Sometimes, my daily walk gives me more ideas than a dozen books. And yet there's this constant need to make myself heard- to stake out a position and stick to it, perhaps to clarify my beliefs to myself. However, I'm not sure that a belief isn't the endpoint of an idea.

All of this comes into question for me in the Springtime. My seasonal depression is almost absurd. When Spring and Summer hit me, I feel like I'm waking up after a long winter's nap. On a really good day, I feel like I'm seeing everything for the first time; there's a strangeness to the world that bewilders me. Earth is the alien planet, you know. Most people miss this. I think it's probably fairer to call the thoughtless "distracted" because that's what they are. I'm reading about the 18th century Parisian salonnieres currently and they all refer to their constant struggle to pay attention. It's always been a struggle to be mindful. But it's even more of a struggle now that the world moves at an accelerated pace. Most people don't have any free time whatsoever. It's not fair to blame the distracted for their thoughtlessness. But, if things are going to change, and I have faith they are going to change, it won't be due to a political revolution. Instead, we need to have an ontological revolution.


Jen P. said...

Good post, Rufus. Glad to hear spring is coming!

gregvw said...

Oh yeah, we're supposed to be working on that.... better get to it then.

BTW, if you're a real hardcore lefty, you'll use Dr. Bronner's (Batshit Insane) Magic Soap on your teeth as the label suggests.

Rufus said...

Okay, I'll bite- what is that?

gregvw said...

gregvw said...

Oh yeah... and also: