Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Other Narratives

I've just spent 20 minutes reading this article, an interview of journalist Mark Danner by blogger Tom Englehardt, which was reprinted in Salon. It reaffirms that everything these days is exactly as terrible as you think it is. The quote from Danner that's getting me to blog about the article, though, is this:
When I look at the pieces on the inside pages of the papers about the stealing of funds in Iraq by American officials, when I realize that no one is likely to be punished for this, I think of the novels of [Milan] Kundera, of his vivid descriptions of what it was like to live in Eastern Europe in the 1950s and '60s -- in the Soviet system where everyone realized the corruption, the abuse of power, the mediocrity of the government, the yawning gap between what was said and what was really going on, but no one could do anything about it.
If we have a refrain these days it's that there is, quite literally, a new administration scandal every week; then there's no investigation and no one is held accountable. No one seems to care, there's no backlash, and nothing changes. It's not quite true--a lot of people care. But caring, along with writing about it, holding strategy meetings in your living room, standing in the streets protesting, and/or giving money to the opposition party doesn't seem to have much effect.

My own thought on the subject, which I've mentioned before in this and different contexts is this: this is the way They get you (where "get you" = "get into power and stay there"). They get you because when It actually happens to You, It's Different. Presented with the statement, "the US today is like Kundera's Czech Republic under Communist Rule in the '50s," You (the titular 'You' for whom 'It' is 'Different') are going to dismiss the statement out of hand. That was a different time and a different circumstance. They were under the thumb of Totalitarians. We live in a democracy (which we don't, we live in a republic, which is an interesting distinction both technically and linguistically these days, but whatever). "Sure," 'You' will think, "we've got a few problems, but we are safe from the kind of blatant looting, lies, and naked power grabs that afflict Them. God help 'em, though, I'm glad I'm not their shoes."

Psychology is often described as the practice of trying to get someone to actually take the advice that any sane person would give them after five minutes of listening to that person's story. When it's put like that, it sure sounds easy. Yet there seem to be plenty of Psychologists working these days.

Next: The political is personal!
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Sam said...

I'm not so certain we live in either a republic or a democracy, but it quite certainly the case that the founders wanted to create a republic and that they loathed democracy with every fiber of their bodies (Patrick Henry is a minor exception, but his arguments for democracy came in opposition to the Constitution).

At any rate, I also agree that our self-congratulatory approach to democracy allows us to debase the actual practice of democracy. We forget Jefferson's most famous quote, 'eternal vigilance is the price of democracy', precisely because we no longer have any skepticism about democracy.

sageblue said...

Well, I love the current debasement of democracy: US/us undermining the Palestinians after they "democratically" elected people we don't like. Tee-hee.

Given all of the polls of late, I don't know that the American electorate aren't getting fed up with how debased our government is getting. We might all be surprised come November at just how pissed off Americans are.

I think the shiite will truly hit the fan when Roe v. Wade goes bye-bye and L can't drive through South Dakota for fear of a state trooper taking possession of her uterus. Then perhaps the silent majority will be less silent.