Monday, March 12, 2018

Republicans, Democrats, And Other Usavory Life Forms

So there have been a number of you out there (the exact number is, I believe, two) who have been wondering where I've been of late. A few weeks ago I explained that I had taken some time to put the finishing touches on a play I was writing (you can find my article on this process, and why nobody with the sense of a bucket of gravel would ever do it voluntarily, here). That wasn't the entire story.

The main reason I stepped away from politics and current events -- reasons, actually -- has more to do with my mental health than anything. See, I found myself getting sucked into "debates" that were nothing of the sort, and I have reached the conclusion that voicing my opinion -- and, more to the point, trying to to get someone with an opposing viewpoint to engage in thoughtful debate -- a quixotic enterprise at best. It had become apparent that civic discourse had, of late, descended into nothing more than name calling and propaganda. On both sides.

This was taking its toll on me. Between the seemingly willful ignorance on the part of some, and outright hostility from many, it became very clear that one of two things was going to have to happen if I was to avoid sinking into a pit of despair from which there was no return. Either the tenor of online dialogue was going to have to change on a very fundamental level, or I was going to just have to step away from it all. Since I don't have enough influence to change hearts and minds at that (or pretty much any) level, it became clear that I just had to bow out and admit defeat.

Which I have done. I have gone so far as to limit my consumption of current events to headlines I see online every once in a while, weekly doses of Bill Maher and John Oliver for topical comic relief, and occasionally telling friends of mine "You know what? I'm kinda done with that for the time being."

However, as I have since discovered, civic discourse had not descended to a new low ... it has always been there. The only difference between the trump era and the pre-apocalyptic times before that is that, in the past, there had been sort of an unspoken agreement to not expose this lack of rational thought as anything systemic. So for this, I guess trump might actually deserve some credit for exposing this ... being as corrupt and dishonest as he is has shone a harsh light on everybody else in Washington who is as corrupt and dishonest (if not more). On both sides of the aisle.

I am rapidly discovering that Democrats and Republicans are birds of a feather. Both parties are less interested in governing and more interested in maintaining the divide between the governors and the governed. The Legislative Branch legislates based not on what is best for the country as a whole, but what is best for members of Congress. The Executive Branch maintains a distance from governing and seems to focus more on legacy. The Judicial Branch, long considered impartial arbiters of dispute, is being exposed as nothing more than just a slightly different flavor of partisan hacks.

And in popular discourse, the ostensive goal of using debate to present a point in a thoughtful manner has been openly dismissed in favor of shouting matches in which the only goal is to prove that the other guy is wrong. Fox News trumpets proudly an action taken by donald trump, even when the same action taken by Barack Obama was seen as a catastrophe for democracy. MSNBC does the same thing -- castigating trump for doing something that garnered praise for Obama when he did the same thing.

Over and over I see the same arguments repeated by the right: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are criminals; donald trump is making America great again, and on and on. And on the left, the narrative is that Hillary actually won the election and it was only a quirk of the Electoral College that handed it to the ignorant philistine trump, Barack Obama will go down as one of the greatest presidents in history, etc.

In absolutely none of these cases are any attempts made to actually present supporting arguments in the hopes of swaying undecideds to that point of view. Instead, it has become a contest of who can shout the loudest. News has been replaced by propaganda. Debate has been replaced by argumentative shriekery. Thoughtful, civil disagreement has been replaced by accusations -- of mental illness, incompetence, weakness, corruption.

I want no part of it.

Therefore, this will serve as my formal announcement that I will no longer be commenting on current events, except -- perhaps -- in unusual circumstances. Instead, I will be offering up gentler commentary on less divisive topics -- the process involved in writing a play, for example, or meditations on scientific questions (such as this article in which I offered a possible explanation for what dark energy actually is), or musings on the sociological and psychological underpinnings of the lack of civility in our current debate.

I will not be doing any of the following:
  • Commenting on trump's incompetence. There are plenty of people out there, almost all of whom are better qualified than I, who are willing to take up that mantle.
  • Debating Republican vs. Democrat anything. It's kinda like arguing about the difference between bad steak and really bad steak.
  • Getting into any electoral weeds whatsoever. Quite frankly, if treason charges were darts then Washington would be a dartboard with nothing but bullseyes in every direction, and to be honest I have not seen very many challengers out there (with a couple of notable exceptions at the local and state level) who look to be any better than our current crop of hacks.

I gotta lie down.

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