Today Joan Didion takes down American democracy. (NY Times books; register! register!)
When we talk about the process, then, we are talking, increasingly, not about 'the democratic process,' or the general mechanism affording the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals, to those who manage policy and those who report on it, to those who run the polls and those who quote them, to those who ask and those who answer the questions on the Sunday shows, to the media consultants, to the columnists, to the issues advisers, to those who give the off-the-record breakfasts and those who attend them; to that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.
That's right, Joan, show the bastards what's what. I'm belligerent today, but in an oddly passive way. Like that Catherine Wheel song "Eat My Dust You Insensitive Fuck," which their singer once explained as that feeling you get near the end of the day when you're lying in the bathtub and thinking yeah, screw you all.
As long as I'm looking for things that piss me off, here's a boneheaded screed from some guy at the Hoover Institute, which is the conservative think-tank occupying the shaft of the great white phallus that is Stanford's Hoover Tower. While I'm about ready to throw in the towel on orthodox liberalism and start calling myself, I don't know, an empathetic libertarian or something, this kind of thing still raises my hackles. Briefly, it suggests that the West represents the Hegelian end of history and that Third World resentment of the West is fueled by envy at the pinnacle of enlightened development that is our culture. Oh, and the West is hamstrung by its perpetual guilt-ridden apologizing for that enlightenment.
Now I like America and all. But if you take your Hegel seriously, think about what it means when the dialectic is over. Without an antithesis to work against you lose aim; you devolve into petty bickering and the sort of instant-gratification consumerism that's only a few steps away from the rat pressing the lever to electrify its pleasure center. One could say that the United States is great because of its persistent and earnest application of high-minded Enlightenment philosophy. Or one could say that it's great because of its abundance of natural resources and the economic/political powerhouse that WWII allowed it to become, given that all the fighting happened oceans away. Most likely it's a combination of the two, sure. But let's keep in mind that your average Joe in the Third World envies not some abstract idea of "freedom," but the absurdly high American standard of living, guaranteed in part by the ruthless tactics of the multinationals; and the fictional media-driven eternal-beach-party America that he picks up on his satellite dishthe beach party that deadens and numbs and frustrates us who actually live in the United States because we understand how ludicrous it is. We get ennui, sure, but ennui is reserved for those at the end of history, once the basics of existence are guaranteed. It's a luxury most don't have.