It’s like a drug. I keep promising to quit, and then I go ahead and write almost exclusively about politics. But if you have noticed, I have been fairly silent over the past few weeks, and one of the main reasons is that I am simply exhausted by the total lack of seriousness and intellectual rigor in our political dialogue.
From bogus and doctored outrage on things like racism, the environment, socialism, and the urgency of immigration reform (no one has yet to articulate that there actually is an immigration problem), I have grown less interested in weighing in. We elect a change president who turns around and does everything possible to maintain the corporate and political status quos: with each celebrated/hated (watered down) reform pushed by the White House, the regulated industry in question has seen its share prices skyrocket; and with each opportunity for transparency and the rule of law and with the Nobel Peace Prize in his belt, the President repeatedly argues in court for and puts into practice more expansive and less transparent executive powers and has bloated the military budget to historic records. Not to mention the ever increasing dependency on non-uniformed military contractors and the arguably illegal use of the CIA as a paramilitary force in Afghanistan and Pakistan (if not also elsewhere) to take care of business.
And then you turn on any serious news outlet and listen to the serious commentators (like the serious and moderate sounding David Brooks) with their delusional punditry and we are told that “the people are very suspicious of the increase in spending and the increase in the role of government”. Not because we have spent the last nine years building a radically clandestine, billion dollar/year shadow government, but because of Obama’s weak health care and tepid banking reforms? It is always the deficit that keeps us from spending on the people, but there is no shortage of resources to fight interminable and unwinnable wars. Next stop Iran. It all borders on the psychotic. I used to enjoy watching This Week and listening to Left, Right and Center, but now I dread the mere anticipation of how they are going to fabricate the irrelevant and skim past the real issues. For example, is it any shock none of them even alluded to last week’s story on “Top Secret America“? Of course not.
It is almost as if the more important the story, the less likely it will be discussed with any scrutiny. As NYU professor Jay Rosen writes in relation to the Post exposé and the Wikileaks Afghanistan leak,
I’ve been trying to write about this observation for a while, but haven’t found the means to express it. So I am just going to state it, in what I admit is speculative form. Here’s what I said on Twitter Sunday: “We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs.” My fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect— not because the story isn’t sensational or troubling enough, but because it’s too troubling, a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget.
Last week, it was the Washington Post’s big series, Top Secret America, two years in the making. It reported on the massive security shadowland that has arisen since 09/11. The Post basically showed that there is no accountability, no knowledge at the center of what the system as a whole is doing, and too much “product” to make intelligent use of. We’re wasting billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not work. It’s an explosive finding but the explosive reactions haven’t followed, not because the series didn’t do its job, but rather: the job of fixing what is broken would break the system responsible for such fixes.
The mental model on which most investigative journalism is based states that explosive revelations lead to public outcry; elites get the message and reform the system. But what if elites believe that reform is impossible because the problems are too big, the sacrifices too great, the public too distractible? What if cognitive dissonance has been insufficiently accounted for in our theories of how great journalism works… and often fails to work?
So let’s leave politics there. At least for a while. Yes, I may still write about a few topics that may be arguably “political”, but I am going to give the pundits and presidents and war-mongers a rest. Let’s call it a summer vacation. On the wagon.