On Wisdom and Satire (from 2010)


The most effective form of education is marketing. And the most effective form of marketing is disguised as wisdom. I write “disguised”, there, as though “wisdom” is an absolute, and absolutely positive, value. But what is it? It’s not a stable body of knowledge, it’s a subjective, essentially conservative category of opinion. “Wisdom” was Ronald Reagan’s shtick; the presumption being that, at his age (and position) he just knew certain things… don’t worry, I’ll take care of it: you’re still too young to know. Reagan was beloved by Americans on both “sides” of the Left/Right pseudo-dichotomy.

The concept of “wisdom” isn’t amenable to critical analysis, but, clearly, the “wisdom” of a 19th-century plantation owner of Georgia would have diverged somewhat from the “wisdom” of one of his elder slaves. Not always, of course: in a perfectly-run plantation, there would have been a unity of “wisdom” visions between master and slave. And there often is, to this day.

Critical analysis means ignoring the debate-foreclosing, inviolable aura of “wisdom” (conventional and otherwise) and breaking the arguments down to basic, foundational elements we can then use Fact and Logic to test. We aren’t trained to do this. If we were (if all of us were), it would be Marketing’s end and the end of Politics. Which is why critical analysis is taboo (example: one of the classical arguments against critical/forensic analysis at the scene of a possible False Flag operation in which many are killed is the “wisdom” of letting the “healing process” begin instead of, you know, digging up all that hurtful evidence-muck).

Which leads me to my second point: in the false dichotomy of “Left” and “Right” in American Political Theater, the most conservative force is not “Wing Nut” but “Normative Liberal”. Wing Nuts (eg, bellicose chubby radio personalities) actually promote a kind of debate by being (for the “Left”) so clearly racist/hawkish/wrong and thereby providing sanctioned targets for passionate criticism. A Normative Liberal, on the other hand, supports an arbitrary (comfort zone) boundary on discourse… a line beyond which a line of thinking or complaint can’t go. The punishment for crossing the line is ostracism. The Normative Liberal is a quasi-bourgeois mindset (I say “quasi” because the “middle class” no longer exists in real terms; only on Credit): it wants to keep things largely as they are while also, somehow, at the same time (impossibly), “improving conditions” for the Lesser Orders… the goal of which, of course, in the end, is more about improving conditions for the Normative Liberal by absolving him/her of Guilt. Guilt is ruining the Normative Liberal’s ability to enjoy the Goods and Services that are his/her credit-based birthright. Think “Hillary Supporter” c. 2003.

A Golden Avatar of Normative Liberalism is Jon Stewart, of the Daily Show. As I pointed out to a close friend (an academic) during yesterday’s walk, using Satire on Monsters only works to bring the Monsters back into the tent of the Human and the acceptable (ie, it normalizes monstrousness). To laugh at Karl Rove or Dick Cheney is to turn these monsters into your merely wrong-headed or eccentric or irascible grandfathers. Satire is only appropriate (and effective) against a politician who is no worse than inept. To rehabilitate a Mass Murderer (this is fact, not impressionism: check the figures on Iraq, for one example) from a deserved spot in Beyond the Pale to a much-more-huggable place in the breakfast nook of the Crotchety… is not exactly a service to humanity. Cheney, Rove, the Bushes, et al, should be repulsive to us as We are to them.

Far from challenging the system, Stewart does his part to keep the whole thing from blowing up. Not that he’s intentionally-complicit… he’s a structural collaborator: Stewart just wants to earn a good living at something he does well and what he does well is, necessarily (to sell it to the target-demo of Normative Liberals), packaged misleadingly as a form of Dissent. Stewart wants to earn a good living while also doing “good”… for structural reasons, it’s not that simple. Doing “good” in [name your favorite example of a rogue state] is a bad career move. Those who do “good” often suffer catastrophic reversals in career trajectory (a possible euphemism for plane crash). If you Do Good they Hunt You Down.

Structural Collaboration has to be widespread for the system to work. It is.

UPDATE (10/2017): Jon Stewart is no longer relevant, but how about twinkly-glib Normative essayist Meghan Daum? In her recent collection of essays (“The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion”) she pays homage to idol Joni Mitchell, but dismisses Mitchell’s radical politics (this was during the final years of the Dubya Regime) with a wink and a pat on Joni’s head:

“Joni said no one had ever asked about the time signature changes in the
middle section of “Paprika Plains.” This pleased me immensely. Then she said
that the political and social climate of the United States currently was a lot like
Germany in the lead-up to World War Two, that Americans were not aware of
the atrocities being committed by their own government and that the rest of the world was powerless to do anything but watch. She said people didn’t like
hearing this kind of thing but that as a Scorpio she could never help but speak
her mind.

“Interesting,” I said.

How condescending, cowardly, trivializing, unserious, disingenuous and totally effective is that “Interesting,” eh? That’s how they do it.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR [letters are vetted for cogency and style]

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s