Sunday, May 20, 2007

Al Gore and Jerry Falwell

Phew. I confess some relief! Since here I am scribbling away in the vast public space, and I was actually afraid someone might have been reading. Glad to know I can continue to hide out in my corner. It's really hard to know how the numbers work -- among the billions on the planet, and then among the millions online, etc, you might think it almost inevitable that there's something for everyone. But I can lurk yet.

I did just read the Time magazine cover story about the "Last Temptation of Al Gore", and it sparked a couple of thoughts. (My whole goal here is to start writing, on the theory that for a hermit it might have a salutary effect similar to actual social engagement, and that I might be able to develop thoughts beyond the mere having of them.)

I found it quite credible that Gore does seriously not consider running for president, since he is pretty convincing on his read of the state of the American political system (one doesn't gulp poison once having identified it!). Part of the argument he seems to be making in the book excerpted in Time (The Assault on Reason) is echoed in the Time headline. The headline represents the kind of bonk-over-the-head poetics which is all that has survived the television age. This is what you find in Grey's Anatomy on TV - Life shadowing art shadowing life in ways which feel literary in the same way Applebee's food tastes like real food (when compared to fast food) since it might be more artfully prepared than what you eat at home. Or perhaps even the way movie renditions relate to the book on which they're based. The feeling is very much related to what you would feel while reading actual literature, were you trained and un-lazy enough actually to read.

So, Time magazine does keep itself a cut above, in a way, with fairly literate copy, but can't resist the cartoonish allusion, requiring at least as much literacy as a subscriber to Time would have, though not enough actually to have read Kazantzakis. But surely the implicit comparison to Christ is vulgar? Well, maybe no more so that the Spiderman efforts.

Anyhow, Gore knows fairly well from the inside what's wrong with the political system, feels some actual pain -- more authentic in scope certainly, if not in depth, for his realization of what might have been -- and would no more plot to jump back in than would anyone who'd escaped with his life some undervalued force of nature, jump back into that maelstrom. I think he's actually found religion on the subject, and knows that he couldn't win without losing, so to speak, and that there is no power in the world great enough to change that equation. Well, except for Christ, which Gore decidedly knows he's not (even if Time wants to tweak him).

So, you don't cloak yourself in the skin of the enemy and expect to be able to shed it upon victory. Which brings me to Falwell. I've long struggled to justify my conviction that the likes of Falwell do the bidding of the devil, in their own terms. I've thought it has something to do with accepting a formula for faith (and then relinquishing all and any obligation to renew faith through actually contending with challenges as they occur).

So, these lazy non-thinkers confront difficult issues like abortion, or the challenges of scientific discovery (Creative Design) as if there could be actual guidance elsewhere than in the living confrontation about what the right answer is. And they rattle off a kind of canned theology, which surely reduces the beauty, subtlety and potential depth of the Christ story in much the same way that Applebees (sorry Applebees, you were convenient, and McDonalds is overused for the purpose, and well, I kind of like your food, just as I like Grey's Anatomy) reduces good cooking to a frozen deliverable.

So the feeling of true religion is, in this argument, sort of like the feeling akin to reading literature that you might get from a movie, or of actual intelligence while reading Time. It rehearses something which might have been true once, and might even still be true, but somehow the very security of the brand name is what makes it a fraud (the thinking and feeling went on once, long ago, and far away). So the chef in the lab once did cook with something like love, and what you are eating at Applebees, reduced though it has been by various lowest common denominators, still at least echoes that chef's art . . .

The information age, so called, has, in its summary effect, centered all value-creation back in the central office, and rendered all actual creation the product of machines or machine-like drones. So that the incremental cost of any particular widget or digitally mediated copy is approximately nil, and the capitalist model has reached its logical end. There is no ownership of anything outside the grasp of the new robber barons, even though we the people hold title through the pensions, tax subsidies to the military industrial etcetera, free market choice and, in theory, our vote.

Apparently, Al Gore remains incredibly optimistic about the internet, providing as it could the means for individuals to counter the prevailing tsunami in the other direction. Keeping in mind that this is the very technology which powers things which, tsunami-like, destroy the democratic power of civic anything. This is why we have only Walmart at which to shop, and really really cheap stuff made elsewhere where hands cost ten cents an hour, and get our politicians marketed to us in the very same way. How can there be democracy in such a perfected marketplace? There can only be manipulations, when the scope of choice has been reduced before the questions even get asked.

Al remains buds with that proto-fascist Steve Jobs (seems like a nice guy). And Jobs swims in the soup with all the other techno-enthusiasts (have I mentioned my trite observation that Kurzweil tells the same tale, Propp-structurally speaking, as does LeHaye?). But then Dr. Seuss has long since established that Mom is a fascist (Mothers' Day was nice, thanks!), and so it's not all bad. Anyhow, of course they are optimistic, and maybe, just maybe, there is a moment left for great masses of somehow liberated individuals to make their choices and make their choices known. There's always suicide bombing, apparently, against which absolutely nothing can be done. But short of that sort of final logic to Jerry Falwell/Jonestown numbscullism, where the rote formula justifies literally anything, there just might be thinking back against the machine, as mediated by the very technology which masters us.

Well, I hope so. I like Al Gore. I like the very picture of his working life, and its oh-so-stark contrast to our leather-gloved bush-whacker in celebration of un-thinking exercise of cartoon mythology enacted. That's what I hate about Jerry Falwell and ilk. They cannot help themselves from saying right out what the logic of their beliefs leads them to, and ironically enough, if they were as marketplace-important as, say Don Imus, it would destroy them, and should, but doesn't.

But it will. Just as Karl Rove has (unwittingly?) exposed the flaw more surely than Al Gore ever can, and thereby provides the ground on which Gore's actual thought can take root. So, I think Gore is right and true in his sense that he has more actual power now than he would have had as president. This Gandhi truth force thing. Or maybe actual Christ's power. Maybe we don't really need all that much. Just a few tweaks here and there. Net neutrality. Unionism's resurgence. Genuine revulsion at torture committed in our name. Pity for ignorant suicidists, and even understanding of their stakes, instead of supposing them to be our evil selves. Awakening from the drunken stupor of our oil binge. Democracy can be reclaimed a soon and as simply as people awakening to give a damn. And that's what the Falwell people have already caught on to, though there is no truth-force on that side, thank goodness. Now if only the secularists would stop being so enamored of technology. Cool as my i-pod is, it's not as nice as a real live concert, and I'd love to hop on a hay-wagon to get to it, so long as I didn't have to brave traffic every day to make me living . . .

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