Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the Public's Preoccupation with the Inconsequential

Hearing people talking about the new president's charisma and inspirational speeches, as well as his gaffs, leads me to suspect there's something wrong with our political discourse. I'm sure the problem is as old as democracy and as ingrained as, say, farting, but its still worth criticizing so that we can at least try to be a little less ape-like in our collective decision making.

I would suggest that focusing on inconsequential issues like these is dangerous because it distracts us from talking about things that do matter. One such thing, in my mind, would be: "He's a Keynsian!" Of course, so's everyone else in power these days, so I can understand how that realization might come to loose its character of shocking urgency and appalling reality.

I'm reminded of a quote from the author's preface to Slaughterhouse 5. He recites an incident that goes something like:

"While I was trying to get the book written, I ended up in a conversation about it with a full Colonel. He asked me if it was an 'anti-war' book, and I replied that I supposed it was. He said: 'you know what I think about anti-war books? You might as well write an anti-glacier book,' by which I assume he meant that war is impersonal and inhuman and there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. And I suppose I agree with him."

So why quote Vonnegut here? Because I'm getting the same feeling about the coming depression (and, pessimistically, the war its likely to bring). Are depressions as impersonal, inhuman, and unstoppable as wars? I would argue that they are, and for many of the same reasons.

Here, I suggest, is something worth talking about.