The Slovenly Wilderness: The Least Consequential Election …by Stacy Young

[A]s the pace of life keeps quickening
Beneath the bitching and the bickering
When I try to drown my thoughts in gin
I find my worst ideas know how to swim

David Berman

I’ll keep this installment short so we can all get back to our personalized, algorithmically-curated Two Minutes Hate. (If only it lasted just two minutes.) Besides, the only take I feel like offering at this point in time is pretty concise, if extremely contrarian: the 2020 presidential election does not, in fact, matter as much as you’re being led to believe.

Giant Meteor 2020 Just End it Already

How can I possibly make such an outrageous claim? Put simply, it’s because the problems we have, and they are legion, are not political problems in the narrow, electoral sense of the word and it is foolish to expect them to be solved through electoral politics. For better or worse, our problems are much more fundamental than that and their solution will likewise need to be more fundamental. Our troubles, at this point, are cultural, the result of a project spanning decades or longer that has inscribed a host of disordered values onto our personal, interpersonal and institutional identities. I think we’ll find that we can try to drown them with a national election, but our worst ideas know how to swim.

Of course, my usage above is no longer the primary meaning of “identity” these days. As regular readers of this column know, it is a deep and abiding frustration of mine that serious consideration of the material conditions of modern America is consistently avoided in favor of lazy identitarian demagoguery. This criticism applies not just to our political industry, but also to the news media, the arts, corporate marketing, and the way we “choose” to spend our own individual attention on social media, and it is an imbalance that not only distracts us from the root causes of things but divides us along relatively superficial categorical lines.

I vividly remember when I was first exposed as a high school student to the concept of majority tyranny. It struck me as an obvious yet subtle insight that functional democracy is put in jeopardy when political matters are consistently resolved in winner-take-all fashion with little or no consideration of the interests or values of those outside the majority. As most of us were taught as children, might does not, in fact, make right. Call me old fashioned, but I still don’t think “you can’t stop us” is sufficient justification for a given act.

Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

Overlay this insight onto the scorched earth of our current political condition. We can choose between 30 or so types of Pringles, but the market for political representation is effectively limited to a corrupt and feckless duopoly that is incapable of representing anything close to the full spectrum of political values held by the electorate. It’s no wonder that eligible voters stay away from the polls in droves in every election, the practical effect being that “none of the above” routinely gets as many votes as Republicans and Democrats combined.

Rather than require that they lead or at least govern, we have allowed the two parties to systematically collapse all arguments, both real and contrived, into a referendum on which of two tribal avatars each of us will assume. To further this mass, binary sorting, all differences of opinion must be understood as questions of right and wrong, good and evil. Each party casts the other as an existential threat to all that is right and good and themselves as the only thing standing in the way of certain annihilation.

Tired: sowing divisiveness. Wired: sewing divisiveness. One can’t help wondering what Patagonia’s contract seamstresses in Vietnam make of stunts like this.
Photo credit: Fast Company

The catastrophe of an all-culture-war-all-the-time politics should be self-evident. A democratic society is doomed if half its population is simply evil, a cancer to be rooted out and destroyed. Politics, in this context, consists not of collective action to improve the lives of a given population, but only of performing virtue and figuring out which half of the population is in need of cancellation, a sort of mass witch hunt that permeates every nook and cranny of modern American society.

Given such large-scale disaster, it is only logical that our only real hope is likely small-scale. I’m personally convinced that our best odds for a brighter future lie in something we might think of as radical localism. I’ve alluded before in this column to the manifest need to roll back some of the economic ideology, which, as Wendell Berry puts it, boils down to the single principle that “commodities will be produced wherever they can be produced at the lowest cost, and consumed wherever they will bring the highest price.” Drawing from the work of Berry, and others working sympathetic terrain, is a good intellectual start.

More practically speaking, there are many pioneering individuals, families and communities that are busily improvising kludges to navigate their way through or around the system failures that pervade the greater society. I find their stories hopeful and inspiring, even when they don’t exactly look like what we’ve been conditioned to see as progress. Assuming the election does come and mercifully go in the next two months as scheduled, let’s plan to meet back here and pick up the thread at that point.

Stacy Young is a regular contributor to the Zephyr. He lives in Southwest Utah.

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4 comments for “The Slovenly Wilderness: The Least Consequential Election …by Stacy Young

  1. Bob Krantz
    October 6, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    Somebody more clever than me once said something about how Americans are prone to confuse and conflate politics, religion, and sports. The result is the swirling, shouting, stinking mess we see today, which vested interests can manipulate for their desired ends.

    Speaking of vested interests and distorted priorities, I think one specific disconnect is that what might work for winning elections may directly defy actual effective governance. Both parties are fully invested in the “motivate the base” strategy, hoping to harvest more votes not by broad appeal but by putting forth more extreme candidates and positions. That certainly does work during campaigns, but it also leads to ideologically opposed electorates–and representatives.

    What to do? My own fantasies include requiring candidates not to achieve just a majority of votes cast, but a majority of all eligible voters. Or at least a “None of the above” choice on all ballots.

  2. Kathleene Parker
    October 19, 2020 at 2:37 pm

    I’m not sure how the author defines ‘cultural.’ I agree that the election is inconsequential because it’s what I call our “token democracy,” a token election that while the process of “system” (whoever that is) goes on unacknowledged and certainly unreformed.

    First, there is DEREGULATED MEDIA, the most dangerous threat to our democracy–EVER! That earlier regulators felt it was imperative to never turn our airways over to “the few, the powerful, the unprincipled,” it bothered Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton not on wit to blow off and they set to work: (1.) the Fairness Doctrine, which required ETHICS in broadcast journalism, including freedom from bias and that networks could NEVER impose news blackouts was removed. With those standards removed (Reagan), broadcasters are acting to no standards except what serves them and absolutely they blackout entire topics, such as when 11,700 of the world’s climate scientists stated we CANNOT solve climate without addressing population especially in the CARBON-GIANT NATIONS: China, the United States and India (in that order.) Lost on everyone (thanks to news blackouts) is that we’re the world’s 3rd most populated nation and, at 17.5 metric tons per capita, a carbon giant. Multiply our ghastly high 330 million population times 17.5 metric tons and you’ll promptly see why we’re a near carbon/population equivalent of China, this while DEREGULATED media lie and say we’re not growing when we increase by a staggering 28 million to 30 million a decade, 92 percent immigration driven. (Of note, India at 1.8 metric tons per capita can’t compete is not the carbon problem media depict.)
    Then, second, there was Bill Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act in which he decided it was just hunky dory for conflict-of-interest and market monopoly restrictions be removed, meaning that now Big 6 media, just 6 global conglomerates own almost all our media–print, broadcast, internet, you name it–AND control the message because Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, traitorous souls that they are, thought that was okay. We’ve gone from dozens upon dozens of companies owning ONLY media to the Big 6. Look it up!
    Finally, add in the Citizen’s United Supreme Court ruling, which said it was okay for anyone with a large pocket book (including foreign nations) to buy whatever representation they want in Congress, this as corporate media put up the diversion of “Russia interfering in our elections,” the least of our problems and an example of media obfuscation. All that while deregulated media make damned sure not a one of us knows jack about the need to pass a 28th amendment.
    Then, add in that today’s media coverage–to NO standards of journalistic ethics–is clearly crafted to misinform, to incite rather than inform, to clearly keep us distracted so that those who own media can ‘divide and conquer’ to their own ends and I submit that the election is nothing more than a pro forma process to keep us believing we have a democracy which, in fact, is on advanced life support at best.
    But I’m with the author, we need a “none of the above” choice on the ballot, one which–if a majority of voters check it–states firmly that the two failed political parties have NOT offered us the choices our nation need and if a MAJORITY (REMEMBER? That forgotten core value of our democracy?) check it, it would require a “do over,” with entirely new candidates and NOT a years-long presidential campaign (another bit of mischief from deregulated media), but entirely new candidates, if need be, their names drawn from a hat. Hell, we’d be better off with Donald Duck and Goofy that our current choices!
    How can candidates names drawn from a hat be worse than the two sorry excuses for presidential candidates we have on this year’s ballot: Biden and the Bitch or Trump who, if you believe media (and as a journalist, I never do) can’t govern and, certainly, won’t if Big 6 media have their way, EVER be ALLOWED to govern, more proof that our democracy has been coopted and something, if we weren’t all so busy snipping at one another, should really piss us all off. As P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and this year that clearly means those who believes this election means squat!

  3. October 20, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    Kathleene (previous comment(er)) hit one of the BIG NAILS on or near the head when she noted 1,000’s of climate-scientists include addressing population in the “carbon giants.” I’ve been like the lonely voice crying out in the wilderness, that I believe the world-wide Environmental Disaster #1 factor/problem is and has been human-over-population. Until THAT is addressed, it could be that any and every other attempt at “solutions to the problem” will not accomplish much.

    And, (again a big SIGH) — I sometimes envy Europe in that most (?, well many) countries have more than just two viable political parties to choose from. I wish I could be optimistic (like I’ve started to be a few times in the ever-receding past) and believe that the U.S. could someday have at least one viable 3rd party … (Go, Whigs! & Bull-Moose Party!)

  4. Evan L Cantor
    November 30, 2020 at 6:03 pm

    “Biden & The Bitch”? Trump, who apparently just lost an election “can’t govern and won’t…ever be allowed to govern…if Big 6 Media have their way”? Seems like our reader has succumbed to the same sorry state she so sadly declaims. I once remarked at a Thanksgiving party many years ago that maybe we’d be better off with a parliamentary system of government. The resident conservative in the room said “why the hell would we want that?” He also said “You can believe whichever lie you like best.” I can’t help but feel that tilting to the left of the fence is a better option than sinking to the bottom of the abyss on the right.

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