Friday, November 15, 2002

A First Draft.

I'm tired of simple politics for the moment. I've been thinking about other things, though they spiral back to politics, as most things do for me.
Why is it that America has such an impoverished notion of politics and argument, that our pundits are so culturally illiterate? Why is a sense of style so anathema to politics for us?

I think it comes from the strangeness of our sense of the collective and the individual. According to Libertarians and mainstream economists, both of whom define our lives and value as economic, differing only in what that implies, what we share is a Market, and the market gives us what, as individuals, we want. Science of course, does the same thing- defining our value in terms of a sort of progress for its own sake rather than ours, and similarly downplaying the moral weight of individuals- as the market in fact does by defining the individual as either a buyer or a seller and nothing else. What we share tend to be things that are thought of absolute, as having an almost religious sense of being right or true. And on top of that we toss something called 'style', that is superfluous to the important matters at hand, but still necessary is some way we don't quite get. We don't take it seriously, even as we market to it, but we know it exists.
This amounts to a description of the weakness of most of the political writing I read that is written in the US, including almost every blog I know, even or especially the ones I follow closely.
I think that the emptiness of American political writing comes from the fact that culture and style are products of a collective in ways that the others are not; they are sloppier and less easy to control. This makes people nervous. Science may require collective effort, but it is still technocratic. The rules cannot be changed- outside I suppose theoretical physics, where they are still arguing what they are. Economics is the same since it magnifies one facet of our activities and generalizes about everything else from that single plane.
But this all seems absurd when we are talking about politics, which is closer to theater than to anything else. And the same is true for economics as any literate man or woman who is not an economist will tell you. The best political writers have a sense of style because they understand theater, because they understand, or are at least aware of, something we are now afraid to call human nature -the nature of what it is to be human- whether they can define it or not.
What is interesting about the religious revival that seems to be occurring around the world, is that while things are still changing -'progress' is continuing- the romance with it is fading. The sterility of political writing as it fails to refer meaningfully to other things, and the revival of rhetoric coincides with a religious revival because both are predicated on an activity of collective creation. A good writer follows her ideas about an external ideal of 'good' writing. A witty talker follows, or at least plays with, the acceptable notion of wit. A scientist or a marketing consultant has much less freedom to work with.
It fascinates me how many technocratic liberals worship the cultural productions of fundamentally religious folk traditions. And how many brag about their record collections, without being able to articulate the sadness they are describing in themselves.

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