In the beginning was the Word. Words soon followed as humans got into the habit of exchanging thoughts. The Garden of Eden orchard scene likely had something to do with it since Adam and Eve surely felt an urgent need to tell their friends all about the awesome thing that had just happened. Language was the natural accompaniment. Speaking extended the range of bonding and permitted civilizations to form. The pageant of human progress took off – eventually reaching its modern zenith albeit with some turbulence along the way, aggravated by the awkward Tower of Babel effect.
Today, communication is celebrated with fanfare as the spate of innovative electronic means to speak/write mounts. Never before in human history has there been anything like this ease in reaching out and touching someone; and that means just about anyone anywhere - whether you know them or not. Even whole masses of them at once. People communicating with people is more than the lifeblood of society – it is now life itself. The act of communication itself is paramount. That does not necessarily mean actually connecting with another being. It is the self affirmation that has come to count above all else. “I speak, therefore I am” is the idea behind the compulsion to express whatever is passing through our heads. We know the phenomenon in our daily lives: a party of 6 with 4 (at least) talking at the same time. Nothing learned but 6 gratified egos for having their share of ‘self expression’ time. From bar to barber to broadcast studio, it is pretty much the same.
This social malaise is now perverting our politics. The numerous Republican aspirants, along with a President who has turned the Executive Office into a campaign headquarters, produce hundreds of thousands of words weekly. Pundits and commentators compound that number several fold. Yet the public’s knowledge of who they are, their true convictions, what they might do about the country’s problems – and of those problems themselves – is flat lined. Why? For one thing, few expect to hear coherent views expressed and issues explicated. That is not what all this political “communication” is about. It’s a reality show, American Idol in neon, the longest playoff season in history – a mongrel mix of light entertainment and group therapy. A Tower of Babble. This is what the American populace has been conditioned to accept as public discourse. It is the outcome of a culture that has erased the line between actual reality and virtual realities.
We the American people are both sinners and sinned against. Too immature to make the effort to sort things out on their own, we are easy prey of all those who have reason to exploit their lazy ignorance. Politicians, of course. Also the vested interests whose machinations go unrecognized. Then there is the main stream media and the punditocracy of the so-called think tanks. Their contribution is vital. They are the ones who package it all as a game, who use the language and imagery of sporting events, who zero in on the form while ignoring the content, who conjure phony theatrics where genuine drama is missing, and stir up contrived emotions where revulsion is the one healthy reaction. We prize political trash talk that is no more enlightening or elevating than what passes for communication on an asphalt playground. Perhaps, so as to see through the car board paper posturing, we should strip all debate participants of their dark suits and replace them with baggy long shorts – withthe obligatory patriotic pin worn as an ear ring.
· These practices of the mainstream media are universal. Does Newt Gingrich speak out of character and actually says something decent about the humane treatment of illegal immigrants? Well, The New York Times headline is that “Gingrich courts danger on immigration issue.” Gingrich earlier loudly calls for a repeal of child labor laws in the name of “fairness.” Blazing headlines, outraged op eds, righteously indignant editorials? Not on your life. It gets a bare mention – just another item of life on the vaudeville circuit. Mitt Romney missing in action on yet another serious policy matter (immigration), well, there’s this to distract you “Image Expert Shapes Romney (His Hair, Anyway)” – 3 columns on the front page. Ron Paul argues for guillotining FEMA on the grounds that its actions get in the way of what otherwise would be effective state and local efforts. His No.1 exhibit: the Galveston hurricane of 1900 which killed 10,000 people. The mainstream medium give him a bye; it’s just Paul being Paul, i.e. the man with far-out ideas about getting out of Afghanistan and other quagmires of the ‘war on terror.”Michele Bachman, behaving true to her persona, outs some supposedly classified information that she picked up, and misunderstood, as a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Well, talk endlessly about a ‘blunder’ but refrain from asking the question: is this feckless person an appropriate representative to be selected for such a sensitive Select Committee? by whom? on what grounds? Has Barack Obama announced that he is not going to intervene in the legislative disaster created by the collapse of the Super Committee which he god fathered – despite the profound dangers created for every part of our government and every program on which the nation’s well-being depends? Well, bury it among the Thanksgiving week ads and put on the front page something about what three key states Joe Biden will be camping out in until election day a year off. ·
· As for the meaning of the Super’s collapse, the refrain is all about conflicting claims as to who is to blame. There is great, even historic significance to what has happened. One, the constitution had been circumvented in a bizarre ploy to turn political and intellectual base metal into patriotic gold. Its failure was preordained. The automatic, across the board cuts that are stipulated mean that the country’s future thereby has been jeopardized on every front. All based on flat earth economic ideas about the virtues of austerity disproven 70 years ago, a reactionary dogma swallowed whole by Obama who force fed it to the Congressional Democrats. The second notable feature of this fiasco is that it is a hidebound Republican Party wedded to a radical set of long disgraced, reactionary ideas who bear the responsibility. Passive Democrats led by the White House already have ceded huge swaths of ground. In fact, they now support policies that place them well to the ‘right’ of Richard Nixon on environmental protection, Social Security, Medicare, health care, financial regulation – and, yes, civil liberties. Yet to utter this obvious truth is to “play the blame game.” So the millions of words that wash over us do not inform of us of the epochal events occurring before our sightless eyes. Objective truth has no place in the virtual world where nothing has a claim to truth and nothing counts more than anything else.
· This is the coverage of a mainstream press thereby habituates us to see the abnormal as normal, the unnatural as nature, while denying the citizenry reference points for making sense of what is going on. This is the same media that feels no compunction about instructing the rest of the world’s governments how to behave responsibly.
Talleyrand has been quoted as saying that words were invented in order to hide our thoughts from others. Today, it is perhaps more accurate to say that words were invented to hide the truth that our words are literally thoughtless. That words are used to hide the truth – even from the very persons who utter them.