life as understood

by jeff carr, master of the arts, -------------------------------------------------------------------------- presumably from a couch

I guess I need to figure some things out, for my own sanity.

So, they say that history repeats itself, and that ideals of cultural identity and the political climate in America swing around in cycles. I, for one, am too young to have witnessed many, or any, revolutions of said cycles, but I'm sure it's true. Correct me if I'm wrong, though, but I have to assume that a few scary things that I'm witnessing in the political world today are brand new. They're new due to the evolving nature of the media, which is itself new.

If I was writing a dystopian novel (and I may someday), I think I'd spend quite a bit of time studying the precise rhetorical methods of mainstream media today. Heck, an overly manipulative media was Orwell's greatest fear, and that was in the '40s. Now, I don't like bringing up the subject of media bias anymore, because the issue turns immediately to Fox vs. CNN, left vs. right, yada yada yada.

Ironically, the fact that the discussion immediately turns there encapsulates what actually scares me: Compartmentalization and oversimplification of inherently complex and vital-to-life issues. And nowhere is this more evident than in the infantile pitting, in the media, of the two major American political parties against each other.

It seems like people have woken up to the pitfalls of cable news stations like Fox and CNN, but I wonder if many lessons are being learned. Obviously, the two parties have opposed each other forever, which has resulted in idiotic outbursts for decades (see Preston Brooks). But what's the purpose of the intense polarization that's taking place now between the two parties? No informed citizen could ever honestly say that they believe in every policy of a certain party and loathe every policy of the other. The party stances are completely counter-intuitive to their perceived philosophies on a lot of things. And it's not like one's good and one's evil. As Thomas Jefferson said, "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle." The parties themselves aren't that simple, so our responses to them probably shouldn't be either. But I digress.

So why the drama, then? Why are the parties drifting irreconcilably apart? As far as I can tell, it's for the lofty ambition of selling advertising space. Perfect archetypal battles between good and evil are the most gripping stories on TV, and in this case, you can even choose which side is which! The media, for better or for worse, is a business. Each year, in order to accommodate our impatient lives, complex arguments are reduced to smaller and smaller soundbites and simplistic party assignations to the point that no actual knowledge is disseminated on the news. Then we get this:

Dude 1: "The Republicans' health care plan is terrible!"
Dude 2: "What part of the plan?"
Dude 1: "Uh, you know, prices are too high, and they want us to pay for it ourselves."

As if that's the entirety of the issue. MAYBE we understand 10% of it, but no more.

The print media, thank goodness, doesn't always follow suit, but in all honesty, dramatic magazines and newspapers sell better than boring, accurate ones as well. Of course, it's not like this is the media's fault, per se. As a business, they pander to the interests and pocketbooks of the consumers. This phenomenon, to me--the oversimplification and lack of focus on real knowledge and solutions--seems like a product not of the media, but human nature (but what isn't, I guess?).

I guess the scary implications to me is this: that such a culture will continue to affect the way actual politics are done, i.e. increased emphasis on party solidarity and antagonism rather than actual attempts to solve problems collaboratively. Please see this hilarious recent Onion article as a satirical, but all-too-sadly-true example of the same. (PS--you could substitute one party for the other in the article--it doesn't matter.)

It seems to me that it's because of this oversimplification that choosing ultra-adamant opinions has become no longer the extreme, but the norm. Saying something loud has become an acceptable substitute for reasoning out a measured response. This, I suspect, is not entirely new, but I fear that with our technological capabilities at this point, the media isn't going to become any more attentive to those measured responses anytime soon. We're not getting stupider as citizens, but I fear we trample on our own beloved democratic rights by limiting our thinking to only two possible options for each issue--the liberal or the conservative--as if the spectrum really is that one-dimensional.

But then again, what do I know? I'm subject to the same soundbites as everyone else, and this progressive-sounding cynicism of mine doesn't make me any more knowledgeable than anyone else with opinions. When someone says "Hillary Clinton is a ______!" and can't back that up with a single quantitative piece of evidence, it's easy to say they're ignorant. But aren't all of us who aren't on the senate floor or in the intelligence meetings pretty darn ignorant about the actual implications of these issues we care so passionately about? The existence of a whole spectrum of opinions, including a center, is what makes democracy work, and keeps us from the brink of destruction. So why are we so adverse to the idea?

My often-cynical buddy Blaine came home from a congressional internship last year with a renewed faith in the people that actually make our decisions. I've always had a probably-unwarranted faith in our politicians and the fact that they're the right people for the job, but it's a faith I continue to cling to. They know the issues, and due to our own apathy, we only pretend to. One one hand, it's good that they know the issues more intimately than others. On the other hand, though, doesn't increased knowledge and participation on the part of the populace theoretically lead to greater freedom and prosperity? I fear we may never know.

These are extremely nebulous and fairly simple issues I'm treating here, but to me they're fascinating. And I suppose they're issues I don't hear talked about a lot, so I thought I'd try to help fill the void, at least to a small degree. But I'd love to hear your opinions on these things. What is to be done about the oversimplification and shrouding of real issues in America? Should anything be done? Do these things affect real politics already, or just cable news politics? Am I crazy to be worried about this? Please weigh in and let's talk about this--if for no other cause than my sanity.


cliche hospital story

courtesy of Jeff |

I've been thrown off. I haven't been writing as much lately, and I've been wasting time in the interim. This is a sorry state of affairs for me, and one that can be attributable to one thing and one thing only: one of my organs has exploded.

Yes, nature's li'l whiner, the appendix, paid me a nasty visit last Saturday. It decided it was done doing whatever it is it's been doing for 24 years, and it burst, sending toxic fluids into my abdomen and onto the benevolent residents thereof. This was, by far, the worst pain I have ever felt. For you ladies out there, the level has been compared to that of childbirth, so you can hold your high horses about that. Anyway, fortunately, this occurred at home on a Saturday afternoon, and Sarah was home, so she was able to take me to the emergency room.

Between throbs of screeching pain, I asked her to take me to InstaCare instead, since my health insurance ran out a month previous, after a lifetime of expensive inactivity. (In fact, I'd never had any health problems to speak of in my entire life--no broken bones, no stitches, hospital stays, or even unscheduled doctor visits.) Had I been in my right mind, however, I would have recalled that InstaCare is worthless. I brought in my buddy Erik who was near death when his lung collapsed, and all they could figure out was that his rib was broken. Anyway, at about 1:00, Sarah drove me to the emergency room.

At about 5:00, I was informed that Mr. Appendix was in fact the culprit, and it was removed (with lasers!) about an hour later. They didn't know it was the appendix, or even particularly suspect it at first, because I had zero pain on my right side, where the little turd is known to hang out. It turns out mine was in the middle. So anyway, they took it out, yada yada, I can't wear pants now.

I'm sorry, I can't do this anymore.

I hate hospital stories, which is possibly because I never had one. I've been obligated to relate this one numerous times over the past week, but I am done. I'm ok now, and that's all that matters. My printing of the story here signifies the end. Sorry if I bored you with it. I realize its complete lack of literary merit. If I was a freshman, I'd make this my personal narrative for English 1010, thereby confessing to a totally meaningless existence, but fortunately, that stage has passed (inside joke). Maybe that's what made me a good writer in college--I never had any stupid hospital stories to fall back on. I had to flail about for meaning when being a frightfully austere WASP with no injuries and a loving family quashed my chances for an easy out.

So here's the question: is my writing going to get lame now that I've been an inpatient? This posting isn't exactly a harbinger of doom for the future, but it's not real promising, either. This was pretty much just a series of ad-lib Dave Barry-esque jokes and simple, fairly obvious observations. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but...

Having an excuse for laziness sucks. It's actually breeding more real and abiding laziness. There's something to think about.