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Monday, December 13, 2004

Discourse? I barely know her!

I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday trying to find something to get, when I came across the "Current Events" section. As I looked at book after book blaming either the "right" (which I'm not sure, in tangible terms, exists) or the "left" (again - who are these people? Libertarians can be either right or left as can most classical liberals.) for all of the problems of America. Obviously, both of these categories of books are ridiculous on face - to pretend that there's a vast conspiracy which is making children want abortionpops or something like that is patently absurd. What I actually found kind of sad is that I had come to the section to find a book on education.

Now, before the Deweyphiles get riled up - yes, I checked the "education" section, which was chalk full of books on how to teach autistic nine year olds to read about animals and one or two pretty poorly written tomes on the state of teaching. And yes, I checked "social issues" where, save for Kozol's Amazing Grace, there was nothing reall on topic. What disturbed me is that I'm pretty sure the bitter political divide has produced more discourse on fewer subjects than anything in recent history.

In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky makes one of the only good points I've ever heard him say (leading me to believe someone else made it first), which is that the way to stifle opposition isn't to suppress discourse. People have tried that throughout history - it's something which is virtually certain to forment underground revolution. The way to prevent opposition is to encourage dialogue, but to exclude from consideration certain modes of thinking. That is - don't argue that socialism and reappropriation of wealth is bad, just incaulkate a populice to believe that the word "socialism" is synonymous with "baby killing." By propagating vast amounts of conflict over an exceptionally narrow band of issues, two things happen; first, the subconscious assumption is made by people that other issues are secondary, regardless of practical consequences. For example, if we howl at the moon over the technical consequences of the Patriot Act, or the detention of six or seven American nationals at Guantanamo, then nobody will notice that we're quietly imprisoning half a million black men unjustly for drug crimes with targetted enforcement. Second, the assumptions that inhere in the types of arguments which go on are considered a necessary step towards the participation in said discourse. If it is assumed, for example, that markets are good and are divinely solvent, then the range of disagreement is basically limited to the method by which markets are best implimented rather than any predilection towards a disagreement with the economic system itself. Another rather important one is our country's assumption that strict, three-R education is a panacea towards social ills. Thus, we ask if we should have vouchers, whether we should have local or state or federal control, but never if the education track we presume everyone ought to have is actually the most beneficial. In recent years, this has deteriorated somewhat - our society has begun endorsing, in small measure, vocational programs within the public school system. But it's hardly a break from the basic presupposition.

It seems as if this war, and this presidency, while allowing such hacks as Maureen Dowd and Ann Coulter to get a level of prestige that they never could have really gotten ten years ago (readership level, probably, but did you know that Dowd is a respected journalist?), has moved domestic social issues to essentially a tertiary class with respect to public interest. As it stands, New York uses second grade literacy scores to determine the need for prisons in fifteen years and to earmark funds. California is more progressive and waits until fourth grade to use those scores to determine how many cells the'll need. Wage gaps, unemployment, racial profiling, real issues that affect tens of millions of Americans are used at best as ammo against the group being attacked. The only issue which seems, by itself, to grasp the imaginations of people is whether or not we ought to be providing assault weapons to civilians to defend their homes against, I suppose, strike force Zulu. But the best anyone does is target the problem. There are no real discussions about fixing the problem, the causes of them, and so on. They are simply lamented as a sad byproduct of the Liberal Media/Conservative War Hawks/etc...

The effect has been, of course, that billions of dollars has left the public coffers towards private industry (which has not, as Reagan would have told you if he were alive and able to remember where he left his keys, been reinvested in such a way as to create more domestic jobs) without the public taking note. Bush has been able to cut benefits to veterans and military personel (silly things like "schools" and so on) while still remaining the ostensible military supporter, and there has been no dearth of domestic policy which people should really probably take note of.

I finally gave up, by the way, my search at the book store and instead contented myself with a Don DeLillo novel. I assume it will be less surreal than the actual world.

cranked out at 2:13 PM | |

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