Thursday, November 04, 2010

A couple more observations on politics and discourse

First: if we're going to try to get this "well-informed, balanced discourse" thing going after the Stewart Rally and the election-day fisticuffs, we can start with some worthwhile articles from reputable sources that address some of the myths echoing around popular discourse:

Here's one on how Obama saved Capitalism, to his own ultimate political disadvantage.

From Bloomberg Businessweek, Obama is meeting his legislative objectives, and very few people are noticing.

And now a more personal response to these unstable political days.

After the Comedy Central rally, I happened to pick up one of my old Media Studies sourcebooks, Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy. It argues an elaborate theory that for two thousand years, Western civilization conditioned itself into being an extremely visual society (which he also associates with being individualist, linear, chronological, and structured in our thinking)... he asserts that the Gutenberg press brought about the apex of this form of culture. He then argues that for the past 100 years, we've been reverting into an auditory culture, which he associates with spatial, non-linear, and simultaneous ways of thinking.

And he says that panicked, terror-stricken behavior will be a product of this shift in perceptual mode, if we're not prepared for the changes. His description of this rocky transition is strikingly familiar:
And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. It is easy to perceive signs of such panic in Jacques Barzun [a cultural historian/philosopher] who manifests himself as a fearless and ferocious Luddite in his The House of the Intellect. Sensing that all he holds dear, stems from the operation of the alphabet in and on our minds, he proposes the abolition of all modern art, science, and philanthropy. This trio extirpated, he feels we can slap down the lid on Pandora's box. At least Barzum localizes his problem even if he has no clue as to the kind of agency exerted by these forms. Terror is the normal state of an oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the same.
So, M.M. offers warnings of anti-intellectualism, and a prophecy that our culture will be engulfed in panic and terror, a knee-jerk reaction to the sudden explosion of our mutual awareness (aka loss of privacy, high visibility, and ubiquity of trivial information). And now here we are, scared of terrorists next door, homosexuals infiltrating our childrens' heads, and rats with human brains. It may be a little late for this world, Marshall, but if you can see this from the next, I hope you're saying, "Yup, that's what I figured."

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