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Friday, June 2, 2017

The Last Politician


So I did not win the Nine Dots Prize which is a bit of a bummer. On the other hand, I thought the piece I wrote warrants me sharing. So... it is titled:

The Last Politician

Excuse me. Is this seat taken? No? Good. Do you mind? I’m a bit tired,
and all the other benches seem occupied. Sometimes I walk farther than
I intend. You could say I forget my age. What a truly gorgeous day it
is, eh? What’s that? The election didn’t turn out your way? I suppose
you have quite a lot of company in that regard, my friend. But for me,
I’m pretty much apolitical. Sure, I keep up with the news. And of
course, I voted. Well, for who doesn’t matter so much as for what.
Wouldn’t you agree?

Yes, digital technologies are changing the political landscape but
making politics impossible? I tend to disagree with that assessment.
Well, it’s only my opinion, of course, but I would hazard to say that
this interconnectivity we foster with one another via social media and
wrought by the rise of digital technology is certainly cutting out the
political middle people. Oh, you know, those charged with telling us
who to vote for and why we should.

Yes, the journalists are prime suspects. Oh, you disagree. I
understand. It’s easy to see why. We’re inculcated with the notion of
fair and impartial reporting. But I think if you closely examine this
past election you’ll perhaps start seeing telltale cracks in that
fa├žade. Honestly, I didn’t notice it myself. At least not in the
beginning. I have my preferred newspaper that I read each morning.
Yes, online. No more hunting in the bushes for this old man.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have certain columnists I favor. I
don’t take what they say as gospel, but on the other hand, they seem
well-informed and so yes I base many of my opinions on what they tell
me. At least partially. I do play one against the other at times just
to perhaps winnow my way in between prevailing sentiments. Maybe
that’s why I consider myself apolitical. On the other hand, is there
such a beast?

Sure I have a smartphone. Ah. I’ve heard that argument, yes. We’re all
too connected to the extent we’re disconnected. So that’s the cause of
your discontent. I’d beg to differ. Oh, I see them too. Even here in
the park. Everyone is so busy staring at their phones they’re
oblivious to those people sitting right beside them. I notice that
just about everywhere I go. I nearly got run down by an errant mother
fixated on her screen as she navigated the crowded aisles at Trader
Joe’s. Luck was with me that day, let me tell you.

No, I haven’t seen that show. I never watch television. Why? I learned
long ago what a great eater of time that occupation can be. Sure.
Social media can be quite draining in the same way but you have to
admit at least there’s a sort of interactiveness to it that isn’t so
with television. Well, I write. That’s why I gave it up. I discovered
much to my consternation that if I had a television, the first thing I
would do would be to turn it on.

I doubt you’ve ever read anything of mine but thank you for asking.
Novels, mostly. Articles for online journals, though most of those get
rejected. I like to think because a good deal of my thinking is
outlier compared to your common scribbler, but it could well be that
I’m simply not much good. Yes, there’s no accounting for tastes. Plus
we all perceive reality through the lens of our personal histories. I
mean to say we seek out that which we know rather than that which is
outside the format. Even highly intelligent people, sure.

A for instance? I have a little time yet. You? Yes, it’s good not
being chained to that infernal clock. Too many people are. Have you
ever seen a green sun? No? Nor me. At least until I read an article
about how often times people close to the water sometimes make note of
it. No, really. A green sun.

So I happened to be visiting family on the Atlantic coast. I spent a
week not doing anything in particular. Oh yes, I enjoyed myself
immensely. Since I’d never been there, they were gracious enough to
show me around. Sure, we took in the beach. Well, that afternoon I
glanced up at the sky, and there it was. A big green sun hovering
right overhead. Sort of like a go light, yes, but not exactly.

Did anyone else see it? Truthfully, I felt so nonplused I didn’t
bother asking. Would it make a difference if they had? Ah, the myth of
objectivity. Repeatability. A scientifically falsifiable hypothesis. I
understand completely. But still, I’d have to counter that even if
they had seen a green sun like me, or hadn’t, whatever the case might
have been, we’d still have to fall back upon personal history and ask
if they’d ever heard about a green sun or not.

Well, pardon me, but it seems to have quite a lot to do with your
assertion. Yes, about digital technologies making politics impossible.
How? We are ruled by objectivity. Personal history should have nothing
to do with what it is we perceive. But you have to admit, it does. Oh,
you still object. No, that’s completely understandable. I have failed
to properly state my case.

That stop sign on the corner. Good, you see it too. What does it mean?
To stop? Of course, it does. No argument here. Common sense, you say?
Well, let’s imagine between the two of us we rudely wrestle that sign
out of the ground, convey it down to South America by convenient
means, and hire an amenable soul to plant it in the middle of the
Brazilian rainforest. What would those natives think that stop sign
means?

Why, yes, I too doubt they’d know a thing about it. Why is that?
Exactly. Our culture informs us what stop signs mean just as it tells
us that the sun is yellow, not green, as well as how the reality we
perceive is entirely objective—how anything subjective is
automatically suspect. In other words, our personal histories have
little or nothing to do with how we see the world.

You still don’t understand. Forgive me, please. I’m an old man prone
to conjecture, and I can see I haven’t stated my case with enough
lucidity. Entirely my fault, believe me. According to the myth of
objectivity, when we consider things like digital technologies, we
tend to think of them as something apart and separate from us as human
beings. Would you agree? Good. Now perhaps we’re making a bit of
progress despite this heavy headwind.

How about politics? Ah. So politics is a part of the human equation.
Sure. Politics is something we do. So what we have is a sort of war
brewing between them and us. Why, digital technology is the enemy,
right? No? You think you were mistaken? How so? Digital technology is
part of the human equation too? Oh no. That’s quite all right. I in
fact agree. But tell me, is there anything you can think of that isn’t
part of the human equation?

Oh, I know it’s a rather tricky question. Me? Well, I speculate there
is nothing whatsoever outside the domain of human experience. So what
does that do to objectivity? Why, I suppose if you consider it with
care, my hypothesis shatters that myth. Oh, you thought of something?
The fossil record? But aren’t the fossils we dig out of the ground
like that stop sign? How so? Fossils exist as things in themselves?

You do know that for the longest time, people believed fossils were
the bones of dragons. Oh yes. Not millions of years old at all. In
fact, there are people alive today who insist dinosaurs and humans
were contemporaries living only a few thousand years ago. Well, the
fact how their beliefs do not conform to ours has little to do with
the matters we are explicating here.

Why, the dominance of cultural mores. How new ideas come along and
upset the applecart. Ah, you’re starting to understand. I knew you
would. I’m inexplicably drawn to intelligent people, you know.
Speaking of stop signs, was there any need of them before the advent
of the automobile? Of course not. Horse-drawn buggies didn’t travel in
a manner that warranted stop signs.

Well, the same thing is happening today. A new technology is changing
our culture in unpredictable ways. Let’s imagine we two are partners
in the buggy business back around the turn of the 20th century. Things
are going exceedingly well for us. We prosper, in other words. But
then one day this newfangled contraption appears on the streets. Yes,
an automobile.

Oh, it means nothing. A fad, certainly. Just wait a few years, and
you’ll see. Gasoline? Where on earth will they get gasoline? All a
horse requires is grass. But then, we notice how some of our coveted
buggy customers begin showing up behind the wheel of a Model T. Oh,
just a few at first, to be sure. And losing that contract with the
Army to supply buggies, well, sure, it hurts, but we’ll manage.

What? You think we ought to forsake the buggy business and begin
selling automobiles? Are you insane? Those things are making our buggy
business impossible.

Good. So you do see the similarities. Ideas can at times kill
culturally entrenched organizations. In that sense, I agree with you
how digital technologies really are making politics impossible just
like the introduction of the automobile made the buggy business
impossible. Oh, I’m equivocating? How so? Apples and oranges? Sure, I
can appreciate that even though I believe I am using apt metaphors.

The answer is evolution. No, not exactly Darwinian, but rather
cultural. The same? Yes, that’s the common sense point of view, I
agree. Let me ask you this: can you see an idea? No? How about a
society? Really? A society is simply a group of people? Sure. That’s
why it is commonly believed that a society evolves in Darwinian
fashion just like animals evolve over the course of eons.

What becomes of society when the people die who make it up? Others
take their place? Of course. So what we’re talking about is more a set
of rules handed down through the generations than strictly people.
Yes, the people follow the rules but in effect, they do not make up
society. The rules do. Otherwise, society would die with the people.

Yes, I know it’s a bit unconventional. Now perhaps you can understand
better why my articles are often rejected when I submit them to online
publishers. Oh, just because they are working in the digital
technology field doesn’t mean those publishers are cutting edge. To
the contrary. They are for the most part an extension of the
deep-rooted culture prevalent for a hundred years or more.

Exactly. That’s why I claimed journalism is part of the political
middle that is being usurped by the rise of digital technology. By
using social media, politicians are discovering they can connect
directly with the voters they require to be elected. Yes, some are
more adept than others. Good point. Celebrities? I’d agree they have a
leg up. But then again, politicians have always been celebrities.

Well, yes, even before the dawn of digital technologies. Think John
Kennedy and his televised debates with Richard Nixon. Franklin
Roosevelt and his fireside chats via radio. Those men understood the
power of celebrity in a visceral fashion and exploited the media
available to them during their reign of power. Plus, they knew they
needed journalism to further their ambitions.

Now, though, with the introduction of digital technologies and the
social media that goes along with it, that interaction is no longer as
one-sided. The notion of journalism as political interlocutor is being
subsumed by a more direct connection between the politician and the
citizen and of course the journalists don’t like it. Oh yes, the same
thing occurred in our little buggy business. Thank you. You are too
kind.

But let’s consider this aside for a moment: though they are sometimes
thought of as such, journalists and journalism are not synonymous
terms. The one refers to people while the other references the rules.
Yes, just like what we discussed concerning people and society. For
that matter, politicians and politics fall into that same type of
divide.

Well, think about it. Yes, I’m aware they call it politicking but that
in no way obviates the distinction. Because politicking refers to the
rules, not the person. A politician politics? Well, yes, but doesn’t
that substantiate my point rather than yours? You’re right. Things do
tend to get confusing on this level. But look at it this way: the
politician comes and goes while politics remains much the same.
Politicians are actors in a play that repeats ad infinitum. Now, new
scenes being introduced by the rise of digital technologies are
affecting not only politics but a host of ancillary professions.

Relativism? No, I can’t say I am a proponent. Well, because the term
relativism is difficult to define, for one. Also, most forms of
relativism suffer from various weaknesses that render the philosophies
behind them untenable. Examples? All is relative tends to negate
relativism itself. But yes. I have touched upon cultural relativism to
some degree.

The stop sign analogy, sure. I can understand how that might lead you
to believe I’m an advocate of relativism. However, I think if you
investigate this avenue you’ll soon discover limits arising from the
outside-in research tendency modern anthropology tends to adapt.

Objective scientific studies, yes, exactly. Students of anthropology
are taught to study peoples as independent objects as if interacting
with foreign cultures will somehow subjectively skew the results. Yes,
I agree. The only way to learn about another culture is to become
immersed within it, not surreptitiously peeping into their windows.
However, those researchers who do dip their toes into foreign cultures
are often considered to have gone native and thereby lose any
scientific standing they might once have held.

Universal absolutes? Actually, yes, I do believe there are tendencies
common in all societies. Perhaps we can touch upon that in a moment.
Well, in that regard, instead of studying the individuals, it might
behoove researchers to study societal networks. You are correct. To do
that requires giving up the myth of objectivity. In fact, I think if
you look into the digital revolution you’ll discover this is exactly
what is occurring within society. And this more than anything disturbs
the political status quo.

Your politician is going out of style, becoming an anachronism. Okay,
our politician. No, not any certain person I can name, but rather the
actor. Oh, there will be some last fitful gasps, certainly. And
remember, we are merely in the early stages of this revolution. No, I
do not believe recent elections are indicative of these changes that
are being wrought by digital technologies. Rather, I think they are
reactions of a dying culture.

The culture of the politician, of course, but no, not politics.
Remember, we’ve differentiated between the two. So in effect, digital
technologies are making politicians impossible. We’ve brushed up
against that theory already. The commonality of certain tendencies in
all cultures.

In a word, art. Well, yes, painting portraits is a part of art. But
the term itself issues from much deeper far more ancient recesses that
include caring and excellence. Artful pursuit unites the sciences,
religion, and animism. Yes, politics too. But not politicians, at
least not as we currently understand that pandering sort of activity.
And that is precisely why politicians are destined to extinction.

They can’t compete in the interconnected world that we are building,
that’s why. And so yes, it is easy to rail against digital
technologies and make claims that politics are becoming impossible.
But as I said, it isn’t politics so much as politicians that are
becoming useless. You see the distinction better now, I trust. Good.

Politics will evolve. That’s hard to say. Prognostication isn’t my
strong suit. But I think not in the survival of the fittest fashion
that Darwin postulated. No, that was regarding biological organisms,
not societal networks. Rather, ideas will propel politics into
unforeseen arenas. Yes, I too thought the automobile analogy was
particularly apt to this situation we’re facing today.

Politicians and car salespeople are kissing cousins. They both tend to
make unsustainable claims while appearing to be that which they are
not. There is a reason many people don’t trust them. Right. They have
their own agendas which are in no way geared toward art. Oh, but you
misunderstand me. They can still be good at what they do. But the
fundamental bedrock of caring is lacking, the excellence. That’s what
separates artists from racketeers.

Harsh? Yes, perhaps I am. That’s why I began this discussion by saying
it isn’t so much who one votes for, but for what. Well, I suppose I
would posit artful engagement as a start. Oh, you flatter me. Thank
you. I too enjoy sharing high-level ideas, and it is, I must say,
unusual for me to encounter, at least in person, an individual as
perceptive as you.

I admit in the beginning I thought social media might bring more
people of our ilk together though so far I am sadly mistaken. Oh,
don’t get me wrong. I’ve met some wonderful folk online. However,
there is also a general underlying meanness. You’ve noticed that too.
So it isn’t just me.

Yes, I come to this park nearly every day. A man my age needs his
exercise, or so my doctor tells me. Well, let’s put it this way: you
could be my granddaughter. But yes, perhaps we might have the occasion
to speak again.