It’s November third and the eve of what is supposed to be the most socially relevant day of the year: Election Day. I’ve done the right thing, meaning that I have enough liquor to see me all the way through Wednesday if I’m frugal. I’ve also got deoderant and chocolate and a full tank of gas. Should I need anything else when the country implodes, I’ll go and get it, but I feel covered.
I’ve had a series of interesting conversations with both friends and family about this year’s election, which is touted to be “the most important” one of all time. This, I contend, is utter bullshit. Forward from here it will slowly but surely become clear why I feel this way. Don’t worry; I’m not a(n): anarchist, nihilist, athiest, Fascist, Communist, Socialist, Marxist, cultist, or any of the things that I’m about to poo-poo. I feel more moderate now than anything, and it’s not so much that I don’t believe in Capitalism; it’s more that I have looked around at people who’ve tasted its fruits and have sampled them myself and have, when I’m not loving them (free speech, etc.), come to feel like I’m being taken.
So, about these conversations: The first was with my folks, who at this point in their development are wholly Republican. I stopped by their place last night and the first thing that I shuddering said was “…Lotta McCain votes around here…” because, being more Liberal than Conservative I knew our most shining difference would become a conversational centerpiece; it always does. From there, we sat down to some spaghetti and garlic bread and had it out for two hours over the election. We love each other, so there’s no lingering animosity over this. I learned something about myself though, through our discourse. I learned that we as a country are being fucked point-blank by the presidential campaigns we so fervently support one way or the other.
My parents threw at me a slew of accusations against Barack Obama that I had never heard: he’s not American, he’s the most liberal of all senators (may as well be socialist), hangs out with a bunch of terrorists and anti-semetics, he can’t speak without a teleprompter, he is an angry man, and that America as we know it will end if he get elected. I don’t have television or radio (seriously, this computer is worth roughly twice what my car is worth, or more) so I get all of my information from internet sources. I read Reuters and National Geographic for news, and nothing else. My parents, however, listen to Republican talk radio (Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly) and watch nothing save Fox News when it comes to news programs on television.
They both acted polarized to the point that they exhibited emotions like surrender, anger, hopelessness, and grief at the prospect of being an American under a Democratic President. This I couldn’t understand. Why couldn’t I understand it? As I was waving my arms and barking frantically at them to bear witness to their own statements, I tried to parse just what was happening to us.
This morning, I had an interesting conversation with my friend Patrick, a Cognitive Science major and Liberal born of radically Liberal parents. He confesses to reading “Slate”. He couldn’t list a single reason why a person wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama over John McCain. He cites Obama as cool-headed, centrist, a smooth talker, and the only choice for America’s survival of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves in. Now, I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you can smell the discrepency between these two points of view. They are polar.
The spread so far is this: a pair of flaming Conservatives and a center-left and a flaming Liberal. I would like to take a look not at what we believe about these candidates but how we come to believe what we do. My folks watch only Conservative media sources and tend to shy away from the Internet. Pat harvests knowledge primarily from publications, both online and otherwise, or so he says; he doesn’t listen to the radio. Let’s first take a look at television.
Temporally, radio came before television and the Internet came after television. Is it mere coincidence that the average Conservative is much older than the average Democrat and that the majority of talk radio audiences are Republican? Is it also coincidence that younger Liberals devour web news like electric chocolate? I don’t think it is.
My point is that we have voluntarily divided ourselves along arbitrary lines etched for us in the concrete by our media outlets. Conservatives don’t want to listen to news that seems to discount their core values. Neither do Liberals. Because we yearn so much to stand out from some anonymous crowd, we fold into one party or the other and media is prepared for us that satisfies us and reassures us that what we believe is totally rational and that if anyone were to believe anything else then they are not only wrong, they are the enemy.
We can all agree that the spectrum of information that blasts through the television screen is far narrower than that which is available online, and the radio offers us even less. Imagine for a moment that you are a marketer for say, anything, and it’s your job to make money for your company or you lose your job for being incompetent. Who are you going to market to over the television or the radio? Will you choose to focus on the moderate few on one side of the aisle or the other or will you market to the lowest common denominator? Will you market to the bluest Democrats? The reddest Republicans? You bet your ass you will. Why? Because among any focus group there will emerge only a few willing to bear the yoke of leadership and the rest are to be led. Do you market to the free-thinkers who tend to lead or do you market to those more likely to listen and fully digest your message? You market to the sheep and you keep your job.
This sort of marketing mentality has served us not at all. Your average voter isn’t only alienated from the opposite party’s candidate, they are treated to sensational, deific images of their chosen hero such that for another voter to insult that candidate is to cast a slight against the whole voter base. We hiss and spit at each other from across party lines as if we aren’t even citizens of a common country. Why? Are we really terrified that if a candidate that isn’t “ours” is elected that we won’t be adequately represented? Republicans: do you feel adequately represented now? Democrats: when was the last time you felt adequately represented? If you hesitated for a butt-fucking second in answering that question, then you should maybe think about your political position relative to how you treat people who don’t think just like you. Know this: we do not argue over representation; we argue over “My Team vs. Your Team”, honoring some preternatural gladitorial blood lust that we only exercise anymore in non-lethal sports and politics (on all levels).
I propose that we drop our moral pretense and just let radicals into a great earthen bowl where they can openly war upon each other. Surely plenty of idiots get fired up enough to wish harm to someone that they interpret as a threat to the things they’ve been told they ought to believe in. Surely enough to people armies. Let’s build it in Utah, somewhere near enough to heavy cultist population that they might get sucked in, too. Give them flails and tridents and shaky-wheeled chariots, swords and nets. Place them on opposing sides and erect walls on all sides of the arena. Here’s the trick: give them no leaders. Take away the cancerous images that have been braided into their thoughts and tell them all they are puppets of richening special interest groups and see who sticks around to fight it out. If both sides enacted a full forward charge there would be enough widespread petering out to keep the casualties pleasantly down to only the fiercest radicals. Would we miss them and their bobble-heading? Would we, really? Have them meet Bill O’Reilly face-to-face. Have them meet Keith Olbermann face-to-face. Let those two be the appetizer battle. Would they fight each other? Sure they would, but not out of conflicting ideals: they’d do it only for the right price.
Quit the plutocracy. Throw away your television and pick up a book. Read your news instead of having it told to you over a narrow channel. Do some research and keep in mind that we, all of us, are storytellers. We want things that are interesting, and when we get bored we do crazy things just to amuse ourselves. Are we so bored that we idolize a decrepit war-prisoner and a wide-eyed law grad? Are we really? Go find yourself some real heroes.