Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 2012 Presidential Election

I try to write this blog's contents "for the ages," i.e., for audiences at some point in the indefinite future with all the advanced content-assimilation technology at their avail.  As such I don't care to focus much on the short-term, the ephemeral, the insignificant-in-the-long-run.  I don't think the outcome of the 2012 Presidential election - whether it's Obama who wins reelection, or Romney who wins - would make much of a difference to the long-term well-being of Americans or of the world polity.  Life will go on pretty much "as usual" regardless of the outcome.

This wouldn't matter the slightest bit to those of you reading this in the year 2112, but in one of the recent presidential debates there was a verbal gaffe/oddity from Romney when he referred to "binders full of women."  This tiny little unimportant (in the grand scheme of things) event caused several days of fascinated commentary from TV pundits and bloggers (and blog commenters with nothing better to do with their precious time, apparently).  My only interest in this is a socio-cultural one: why would people be so fascinated by something that no one in ten years' time - much less a year's time - will care about?  This verbal whatever-it-was told those folks-who-have-a-clue nothing they didn't already know about Romney or his policies.

This was nothing more than fodder for that curious phenomenon known as the News Cycle, which is a big "thing" in our culture because the majority of viewers have ADD or something, and have little capacity to isolate what is important long-term from the noise - hence the oft-observed short-lived memory among the citizenry.

Then we have this endlessly-fascinated day-to-day focus on Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog.  Is Obama's projected chance of winning 70% today, or 73%?  This is a big deal to some people.  The important question is, Why?  How does it affect the living of one's life, one's character, one's destiny, one's sense of meaning and purpose?  What the fuck difference does it make?

If and whenever the American people need a political sanity check on a daily or semi-daily basis, they can always head on over to Glenn Greenwald's column for ongoing reminders that The System is deeply structurally unsound and changes in personnel do little to affect that.  One could point out that the political system has become a corporatocracy (become one? was it ever not one?), but that hardly explains why the bulk of the American citizenry with its partisan in-ground cognitive biases finds the torture of out-group-members acceptable, or why (as Greenwald constantly harps about, hoping some people might get a clue) the current adminstration decided to grant full and final prosecutorial immunity to officials who (merely short of an official acknowledgment of such) murdered detainees under their control.  Not only that, we now have a president who has a secret, unaccountable, due-process-free "kill list" with American citizens on it.  You can be sure as fuck that had Obama campaigned on this rather than "Hope and Change" in 2008, he'd have been electoral toast.  Or perhaps the American electorate wouldn't care and would prefer ignorance.  That appears to be the case now, after all - with a "binders full of women" gaffe commanding so much more enraptured attention.

America doesn't have leading lights such as Franklin and Jefferson these days, no examples of great political leaders to emulate.  We have a crumbling national infrastructure - not just physical infrastructure, but educational, social, cultural, fiscal.  In 300 years, Snooki will be a footnote at best - does anyone remember the name of her equivalent in ancient Rome? - and yet for some reason very foreign to me (maybe I need to prick up my sociological-analysis antennae more?) she is important in enough people's lives to be a "household name" in 2012 USA.  Speaking of ancient Rome, are we repeating that history?  Americans are, on average, so historically ignorant that they couldn't tell you.  So there you go.

Then we have this long-running mythos - it's a myth especially with our McPrepackaged two-party American political system - that voting for candidates neither of which will fix any of the nation's fundamental problems is somehow an important act, even expressively or participatory.  As to how one's activity of casting a statistically-insignificant vote for deeply flawed candidates in a deeply flawed system somehow contributes to one's well-being, sense of meaning, character or destiny, there is no clear answer that I can fathom.  If it were a choice between Jefferson and Franklin in a non-insane polity, I could see the "civic participation" angle carrying some weight; I would be proud to cast a vote in such an election even understanding the statistical-insignificance aspect.

So that leads to the question of the 2012 Presidential Election: just who would I vote for on the assumption I consider this corrupt, cynical and ignorant system worthy of my grudging participation?  Or at the minimum, which candidate would I endorse?  I don't have a good answer there.  I don't even know how to answer whether - if we're limiting the question to the two candidates with a realistic chance of winning - Obama or Romney would be the better choice for president in the next four years.  I really think it all comes down to the public character of the American people, to whom the leaders are still accountable (to the extent that they still have to garner a majority of electoral votes).  Greenwald's column pretty much tells the story, I think.  For the time being, the situation is grim.  It's a good thing that I don't have to vote for or endorse either of the two McCandidates, given the alternatives.  I'd prefer some combination or other of Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green), but that's out of the question practically speaking (if only because it's two persons, not a hypothetical fusion into one; also, I have little idea as to their qualifications).  That basically leaves the write-in option.

Among well-known public figures with the character, ability, and any remote inclination to preside over our executive branch, who is there to write in?  Would Greenwald himself have any such inclination?  Chomsky?  Krauthammer?  Kurzweil?  Dennett?  Wales?  Gates?  Buffett?  Howard Stern?  (Drawing a blank here.)  Assuming I'm eligible for the office, should I just write in myself?  I'm all for self-government, after all.  Given that it would be a symbolic write-in anyway, does it even really matter?

Does it?

In any event, I think the more significant election issue, long-term-wise, concerns the cannabis legalization initiatives on the ballot in a few states. Carl Sagan would be encouraged by that; the American people could use what cognitive boost they can get.  (Being staunchly pro-self-government - this is supposed to be a free country, right? RIGHT? - I have to ask how it is anyone's fucking business whether I choose to toke or not.  Those of you reading this in 2112 realize, of course, how amazingly stupid our drug laws were ca. 2012, but you do realize, I am sure, that some of us did not stand in the way of reaching the technological singularity ASAFP.)  There is hope yet.

UPDATE: This has come to my attention.  It's President Obama saying something about a philosopher, and fucking up with the usual caricature stuff.  I don't know how many times I have to point out how the understanding of Ayn Rand's philosophy you see on display in such (extensively-researched!) works as Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Sciabarra's Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, or Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist, is wildly at odds with the various "understandings" of her core messages you find out there in the popular media (and, evidently, among our political leaders).  So, rather than going on and on about that again, I'll essentialize my observation thus: Thomas Jefferson is one President of the United States whose grasp of philosophical ideas would not have been so superficial and pathetic.  There's just no disputing this point.  If it's any consolation to whomever it may concern, at least he's not a dingbat.  UPDATE #2: That link with Obama's answer about Rand - the whole link - quite perfectly captures current American popular culture in a nutshell, right down to an asinine meme-posterization of Rand in the comments section.  I'll just leave this (UPDATE #3: and this) right here.  Jefferson and Franklin would be deeply saddened.