Updated: Nov 10
When much of the population, not just small children, take an active interest in comic books, and anime, with their puerile, simplistic discourses, you know that something is wrong. When the hottest ticket in town is Comic-Con, where half the attendees are dressed up like it's Halloween, you know there’s a problem. The problem is that as children the lack of experience available to a child is compensated for by a more expansive imagination, oftentimes causing the individual to blur the lines between reality and make-believe. Children like to think, and are often told, that they can be anything they like and do anything they want once they come of age, hence, the tendency to dress-up and emulate those they admire. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; it’s a part of growing up. Most of us can remember our own childhoods and the dreams we all had. As we age, however, and childhood advances into adolescence and the teenage years, our realities become more expansive and begin to conflict with the childhood imagination; and as a result, for many, those pre-adult years produce conflicts with our identity as we look to establish ourselves in what in many ways is a new and foreign world. At a certain point, the adult world is supposed to take over, and where before hope and beauty were once products of the imagination, they can now be found in the interactions and experiences which constitute reality. But what happens when adults never grow up, and the imagination which characterizes youth becomes the default reality of adults? In many ways, it’s a sad spectacle, but also very dangerous, because this childlike behavior involving individuals we interact with daily intrudes on our reality.
A newcomer, exposed to the American political scene for the first time would be dumbstruck by the inarticulate mess which presents itself before his eyes. Groups from both sides of the political spectrum marching and assaulting each other, talking of revolution, and the destruction of the “other” through any means necessary. Very rarely in history have wars been undertaken with the goal of the complete destruction of the enemy in mind. Even our very own Civil War contained a quantum of respect between the soldiers and commanders on both sides of the conflict. That respect has disappeared in today’s United States. What at the moment hasn’t degenerated into a shooting war has all the hallmarks of a verbal war, often a precursor to the death and destruction of an actual shooting war. From the Left, cries are often heard of “death to the fascists'' often making no attempt to accurately discern whether their opponents are fascists or not. Fascism is portrayed as the greatest evil ever to manifest itself in the modern world- it is almost by default the most damaging accusation which can be thrown at somebody. The accusation of “fascism” can ruin not only political careers, but personal lives as well. By making the accusation and having it stick, moral ambiguity is thrown away, and battle can be waged with abandon against the other side. The Right is often no better than the Left, but instead of using "Fascist'' as a pejorative to dehumanize the other side, the term "Communist" is used instead. Often carrying an equally odious stigma, "Communist" when used in name-calling, has the same intent as the Fascist pejorative, to deny humanity to individuals, to make them an easy target and make sense of an otherwise complicated reality. It is not only these two terms which are used in such a malicious fashion but the entire political vocabulary, which characterizes our politics. Political discourse has degenerated into a vulgar, pathetic, facsimile of a comic book, with the words and phrases characteristic of children trying to impersonate superheroes, the telltale sign of a society full of adult children.
I’ve mentioned before in previous articles that for the most part, people are not dumb. As our economy has become more technical in orientation, it has also become more specialized with work consisting of usually nothing more than one specific skill. Bankers and lawyers would have difficulty working in more menial trades which require less analytical knowledge. Most would acknowledge this is not a reflection of lack of intelligence, but of the specialized skills needed to survive in today’s economy. The previous model which still lingers in contemporary thought, the ideal of the self-sufficient individual through necessity being competent in a variety of skills, no longer has relevance as a real economic niche, but as a desire.. The idea of a popular government, i.e. a government where sovereignty is lodged in the citizenry, is derived from this idea of the self-sufficient individual, who at least theoretically has a basic knowledge of everything, even government, at least enough to make an informed vote. Whatever reality this idea was based upon has disappeared; as society has become more specialized, the government has kept apace by also becoming more complex and specialized as well. With the changing social landscape reflecting the dominance of economic values, education has been transformed from an institution dedicated to the idea of producing individuals capable of thinking, to producing ones trained to be obedient workers. Consequently, the content of education has become more specialized and geared toward work than knowledge construction. Lacking the educational background, the rationale of an informed citizenry perfectly capable of exercising their franchise is no longer a reality; the continued pursuit of this ideal has produced the consequent anger and frustration of an unresolvable contradiction, the plague upon the body politic of the metaphorical knight.
Knowledge, while being a product of individual construction, is also socially created. It is not possible for individuals to conceive of reality outside of our experiences. Our concepts are formulated using the words we know and the order in which we connect events, recognizing patterns and laws at work. It would be impossible for someone to quote the works of Shakespeare without first reading from the man. Likewise, poetry would be impossible to write without coming into contact with the works of poets. Similarly, political philosophy would be incomprehensible to anyone whose knowledge of politics comes solely from cable news networks. The notion that some people are just bad and should be shut down is not based upon reality, but a reflection of the problem we face.
Having it drilled into our heads from a very young age on up; we individuals believe that we have an obligation to vote and to engage in the political process. Refusing to do so invokes the wrath of condescending, self-righteous pieties designed to shame people into doing what they feel they should not. Accordingly, at a young age the tendency of our society to cut speech short, to dispense with rationalizations for the sake of simple answers begins. Attempts to convince people to vote, even as we age, never overcome these simplistic innuendos. The simplicity we grow up with is only reinforced by the world we encounter as an adult. Because the obligation to engage politically is, to many, an article of faith, the work needed to actually engage effectively with the political process (with the exception of a few) fails to even begin. The act of engagement is viewed as a good in itself, regardless of the knowledge and preparation which goes into the act. Why read Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, and Locke; in many ways the founders of political philosophy, when you can watch cable news for five minutes and then engage yourself in the political process, i.e. engaging in an act which is “good” in itself? In all aspects of our existence as Americans, we’ve come to view act and knowledge as being separate events instead of different manifestations of the same act. When emphasis is put on the two as being separate, then so is the appreciation or lack thereof. A knowledgeable act is not a thing of value, but knowledge or act is given value in themselves. Accordingly, a cable news network or internet site knows that to keep viewers engaged, they must keep advertising revenues coming in; it’s not to the intellect that appeals need to be made, but to emotion and passion to reinforce the dogma and innuendos that have been ingrained since childhood. Depending on the ideological orientation of whichever news source someone engages with, they will come across stories with short clips of this or that political figure blaming the other side for poverty, illnesses through lack of affordable health care, or the death of American soldiers overseas. Lacking is any reference to context or the history of the issue being discussed. Put yourself into the shoes of an individual who all he/she knows is that which they engage with on the airwaves or the internet. The anger and hatred which is so often the product of political action become more understandable. Hatred doesn’t produce hateful speech; often it is exposure to hateful, simplistic speech that produces hatred. The words that we come across that define the parameters of our thoughts is our reality; it’s the world we work and live in.
As I broached in the first paragraph, the problem of our times is not so much that individuals refuse to grow up but of a society which defines the parameters of thought in extremely simplistic terms, producing individuals who feel more at home with the crudeness and vulgarity of comic books and superhero movies, who choose not to abandon the imagination of youth.
The political action we see, the violence, yelling, screaming, and even fatalities, is not a self-induced paranoia but a socially-induced paranoia. With the lack of any reasoned thought in our political outlets and the emphasis on politics-as-warfare between the forces of good and evil, the confrontations we see become easier to understand. Each side understandably considers itself to be the knight attempting to slay the dragon and rescue the princess. In reality, both sides are composed of grown-ups who refuse to accept their realities and become adults, instead of embracing the fallacies of youth. I for one am tired of seeing so many knights; it’s time to start cheering for the dragon.