Saturday, March 18, 2017

The State of the Zeitgeist

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My beautiful muse (right shoulder) and back scratcher 
Iggy -- Designated Sticky
Dana -- Designated gentlereader (left shoulder)

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies,

We interrupt our series on the cardinal virtues to bring you this zeitgeist update.

The Donald's reality show has been running for a couple of months now -- all day, every day. There's no getting away from it unless you're a self-sufficient prepper living in the wilderness with a broken short-wave radio.

"All politics is theater." I went a-googlin' and couldn't discover anyone to attribute this to, but it's a very commonly used expression and it rings true to me. I think the expression requires updating to all politics is showbiz. The word showbiz more accurately expresses the spirit of our time. Showbiz implies cutting edge flash and fakery, with a tinge of sleaze. The word theater is too dignified.

[Warning: possible excessive use of metaphors ahead.]

P-T., (pre-Trump) American politics was, and by many folks still is, viewed as follows. Politics is hardball (again, unattributable) and most politicians can't be trusted, it's the nature of the beast. However, it's only the truly corrupt ones, the ones that are only in it for the money/power, that are a real threat.

The rest are sausage makers, and while you might love sausage, particularly the All-American hot dog, most of us wouldn't want to take a tour of, much less work in, a slaughterhouse -- but someone's got to make the sausage.

We're not naive. We understand that a sausage maker is going to get some blood on their hands. Sausage making (and democracy) is messy. We're cool with that, as long as the butcher doesn't add too much fat and keeps his thumb off the scale.

The blood, or at least enough of it, will come out in the wash, that is, at election time. Also, we pay for full-time, lean and hungry, impartial investigators, the fourth estate (what we used to call the press, more commonly now referred to as the media), to monitor the sausage makers, 24 x 7 x 365.25.

At election time, proud, well-informed Americans, meticulously prepared by a world-class education system, upon which we lavish an ever increasing amount of money, carefully and rationally choose the best man person for the job.

In my semi-humble opinion, the three paragraphs after the metaphor warning above, are accurate. After that, not so much. The media, in general (like politicians, in general), are viewed unfavorably by the public for a reason. Many of us find many of them to be biased and/or condescending. Many of us find many of them to be ratings and profits chasing infotainers.

As to why people keep (re)electing the wrong people, that is, anyone you wouldn't vote for, the reasons are legion. Schools are an easy target since overall they seem to keep getting worse. "There's too much money in politics!" is a perennial favorite. That's a good one since it enables us to not only demonize the candidate we don't like, we can also demonize the source of their money.

You may have indeed gone to a crappy grade/high school. You may have gone deeply into debt to attend a crappy college. Even if it wasn't crappy, there's a very good chance you picked the wrong major. Hey, you were 18, you didn't know, well, crap. Your parental units telling you that you would regret your choice later convinced you that you had made the right choice.

Man... if you knew then what you know now. Wouldacouldashoulda. You know, if...


Fact is, many people are not all that well informed. Fact is, many most people, most of the time, decide (emotionally, intuitively) first, rationalize later. Gut first, brain later. Not you and I, of course, but most people. This is bleeding edge science,

Anyway, not being well informed can be the most rational course of action. You constantly feel overwhelmed and exhausted because  _______ , and there ain't much you can do about that right now. And statistically speaking, your opinion/vote is insignificant anyway.

The Donald knows this. The Donald is the P.T. Barnum ("Without promotion, something terrible happens... nothing!") of politics. The Donald's not so secret secret is that he speaks directly to your heart, not your brain. Your heart may reject him, but it can't ignore him. The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference.

Who do you know that's indifferent to the Donald?

[Dana, my imaginary gentlereader, speaks. Oh yeah, what about Obama? He...]

Barack "no drama" Obama was elected to be the POTUS in spite of having less executive experience than a convenience store manager (not an easy job by the way) because the American people calmly and rationally considered his carefully thought out and logically presented positions and made their choice, right?


The housing bubble exploded and America was knocked on its ass. Some people are still trying to get up. Iraq was a sorta/kinda win but Afghanistan wasn't/still isn't and many were wondering/are wondering if both had been a bloody and expensive mistake. A frenzy of finger-pointing broke out (that's still going on) and Mr. hope and change could, and did, blame everything that's wrong on planet Earth on Dubya. And continued to do so, years after Dubya moved back to Texas and picked up a paint brush.

So America voted for the other major party, and not the party that offered up John McCain who also had a very thin resume. Another professional politician, with decades of experience -- who had also never actually run, anything. If H. sapiens make rational decisions, why is the phrase, "I voted for the lesser of two evils" so commonly used? Is this the best a rational people can do?

Which is why, when I become king, only former state governors will be permitted to run for president. I know it sounds harsh, but it's for your own (irrational, emotional) good.

Now, if you still think that H. sapiens are rational creatures, consider the following. I'm not smart enough to have figured out that we're subject to what I call gut first, brain later on my own. I simply read about the opinions and discoveries of other people. I particularly credit Jonathan Haidt and Scott Adams.

If I'm aware that the Donald's not so secret secret is his gift for going straight for the gut because that's how you actually influence people to do what you want them to do (how they vote, for example). And if I'm aware that the Donald's often (seemingly) irrational statements, tweets, etc. are part of his game, then surely the highly educated, highly experienced, worldly-wise, cynical media have figured this out as well.

And yet... Instead of pointing out the game to the public when he says something outrageous or crazy, instead of pointing out he's a master of emotional manipulation, most can't help but jump on the bait like starving jackals.

"OMG! how could he say such an obviously untrue/crazy/ignorant/etc. thing? We've done a fact check and... "

Who is acting rationally? Who keeps reacting irrationally? Poppa loves you.

Have an OK day.

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©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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