Friday, October 22, 2010

I Despair, Part III


It's been my experience that most people who habitually refer to themselves as liberals or conservatives are the kind of people who, when presented with a new problem or obstacle, prefer to address it with ideology rather than intelligence. This is not to say that either liberalism or conservatism, in their naked forms, cannot add a useful dimension to intelligence. Surely they can. Or, that a thoughtful, intelligent liberal will always arrive at the same solution which a thoughtful and intelligent conservative will. They don't, or at least, don't often.

In any case, I think you will find that any solution, thoughtfully and intelligently conceived, should be as workable and inoffensive to the liberal as it is to the conservative. Politics however, has become nothing more than the art of not having to admit to this elementary fact. In politics, liberals and conservatives are taught to portray each other as stupid, or heartless, or for that matter against anything which improves the human condition and for anything which corrupts it. What hogwash that is!

We all know that most men and women of the same time and country generally share the same aims and values in their day to day lives. To be sure, some may favor red meat while others are vegetarians. But even then they usually have the aim of a good meal. Most of us want safe neighborhoods, good schools, smooth roads, honest jobs and decent paychecks. Few, if indeed any of us like paying taxes - and just about everyone believes they are taxed too much while the other guy is taxed too little. Finally, except when behind the wheel of a car, most of us are reasonably courteous to one another and disgusted by those who aren't.

With all of these things to unite us, why are we then so confused by the illusion of politics? I mean, if one is convinced that candidate "A" is a scoundrel who burns orphanages and eats babies for lunch, it necessarily follows that any person who votes for candidate "A" is by inference a person who favors burning orphanages or eating babies - either that, or is a blockhead, which is nearly as bad.

Recently I watched a political ad on television where the candidate, a man himself of uncertain dignity, accused his opponent of voting for a bill, the object of which was to furnish Viagra to convicted rapists. You've probably seen it yourself. I then imagined this opponent rising up in the Georgia State Legislature and announcing a bill to address, swiftly and effectively, the problem of erectile dysfunction among known rapists. And what a tumultuous session that must have been! I suppose that as a means of securing the rapist vote, such a gesture would have no equal, but still, strategically unwise.

Now I doubt if this man's opponent is running ads of any greater honesty or credibility.

One day, just once, I'd like to see a political ad whereby a candidate admits to having some faults as well as some strengths, and yet also to the decency of his opponent. In such an ad he or she might even claim their opponent to have some good ideas, but that his (or her's) are a little better and more numerous. I assure you I would leave the funeral of my best friend to go and vote for a person like that - regardless of what their ideas were or experience consisted of. I'd vote for that person if their central motive was to ban alcohol or college football - all the while rejoicing that here, for maybe the first time in American history, was a candidate who prized my intellect over my prejudice.

And thereby we arrive, by way of a meandering road, to my point. Frankly, I can't think of any profession, licit or not, which is as dismissive of intelligence as politics. Even among ditch diggers, one imagines that all things being equal, the smarter ones would be preferred. Yet in politics, intelligence is not only to be avoided, but has become a thing routinely despised.

Most voters accept that a man is perfectly capable of legislating effectively on matters affected by law, history, science, philosophy - even religion - without having any verified knowledge of these arts, so long as he owns a backbone and a good heart. Lately, even this limited standard has been reduced to the point where we only trust leaders with whom we conceive we would enjoy having beers with at the neighborhood bar.

Thus, pity the man running for office who can demonstrate an early and passionate interest in law, history, science, philosophy, religion, or all of them, by producing a record of academic achievement in any of these fields, since none of that matters when confronted by an adversary who understands, by osmosis, "the real world".

Pfah! Isn't the academic record of law, history, science, philosophy and religion nothing more than a patiently accumulated and analyzed account of the "real" world? I mean, what planet, exactly, do professors at universities teach the history of? Mars? Jupiter? And for that matter, even if they do teach the history of Mars and Jupiter in place of Earth's, how can anyone who relies on the local bar or the race track for wisdom be expected to know the difference?



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