Liberal meant freedom-loving once. Conservative meant upholding time-tested values. Their “competition” could be seen, within the noise brought on by corruption and bad-faith, as a way to work out differences held for laudable reasons, a balancing of perspectives. This may never have actually been true, but it was the way the struggles were portrayed, the way young recruits were brought in to populate the ranks. The cynical, either outsiders lacking in a sense of trust whether with cause or only as a reflex, “knew better.” But most felt these were “ideals” to aspire to in principle if not always in fact.
The situation today is different I think, substantively so. As with so many of our institutions, even our habits, no one actually believes in the primacy of an ideal. Perhaps the most glaring symptom of this is the amount of energy spent denouncing the other side. When people gather with a guiding force they actually believe in, they focus on its accomplishment, not on pointing out the hypocrisy of their enemies. There are many other symptoms, but this one is left out of most such lists. It’s inconvenient. It puts the focus and the onus on “our” side.
When we are awash in futility, a futility that extends to include the entire concept of any ideology as a blueprint for action that will do anything other than bounce the rubble, it is difficult to fight the deep organism-level repulsion we feel so as to stay “loyal to the fight!” Anything that helps maintain a semblance of the comfortable old habits seems worth any price.
Calls for “bipartisanship” or “reasonableness” are just as disingenuous. The level of cognitive dissonance we face in any attempt to unpack what a bipartisan or reasonable position might entail sends us reeling back into the fog desperate to hold onto the vaguest sense of “rightness” such an attitude “should” support.
This state of fog, a self-induced retreat into a type of confusion we find preferable to disillusionment, is the place from which we act out whatever still passes for a public life. Those of us who have reason to believe this is happening fall into a bewildered state of embarrassment over our inability to break through. Those attempting to maintain faith in the old teams find themselves wrapped in the symptoms of futility without necessarily understanding why they feel they must unnaturally rev themselves up to manufacture a fervor they do not actually believe in. Much of that fervor comes out of this focus on the hypocrisy of their “opposition.” All of this at a time when the entire premise behind seeing the world as a series of opposites is crumbling away in its own irrelevance within a spiraling futility that reaches to the heart of the broader collapse of a modernist, even a “civilized” framework.
Whenever we stray into a healthy acceptance of the futility of maintaining these postures, we tend to recoil at the discomfort, even simply the discomfort of having to have a serious doubt. Like the “leader” on a fish trap, whose mesh isn’t enough to prohibit a school’s passing through it, this discomfort sends us turning into real trouble as the exercise of a reflex on facing a barrier sends fish away from shore into deeper water. Of course the rest of the trap, its heart and bowl, do present them with ever more insurmountable difficulties until room to maneuver has been stripped away. As with a fish trap, it doesn’t matter whether our political trap is confronted from the “right” or the “left.” In both cases, we turn away from discomfort only to fall into increasing difficulty.
At the heart of their trap, schools of fish continue to circle. Their eagerness to escape is funneled into an activity that may be calm and measured or frantic and panicked. No matter, it’s all equally futile because they continue to conform to the habit of swimming away from discomfort. Who knows, they may even work themselves up into factions and entertain varying platforms concerning the right and wrong way to swim in a circle!
“Yeah, but! Have you seen what those idiots are saying! How can you ignore such patent lies!” That’s usually all it takes to restore us to our habitual condition if we start to flag in our feigned enthusiasm. Anything to avoid the discomfort of looking at the lies and willfully misunderstood “unintended” consequences at the heart of what our team claims to believe.
If this statement leads you to stare blindly in disbelief that such a thing might be possible no amount of my laying out a list of grievances will have much affect.
What I will say is that the discomfort of having our world-view fall into a shambles before our eyes is both temporary and necessary if we are to break these bonds of futility and find a way to live instead of spending all of our energies propping up lies, lies we no longer even believe.