Sunday, January 07, 2007

Atrios hates me

Atrios has created a list of the types of people he finds most annoying and Chuckling is #1!

The Defeatists - Doom and gloomers who know it is all hopeless, who know that we can't win elections, or that if we do win elections nothing will improve, and who think that people who bother to try are just wasting their time. Why these people spend so much time paying attention to this stuff if there's nothing to be done I do not know. If you really feel that way go do something else with your time, otherwise I expect you're just addicted to the sweet thrill of self-righteous outrage.

Yep, that’s me. And it’s unfortunate he feels that way, since I like and respect Atrios and the work that he does. Nevertheless, perhaps I can be of some help by answering the question of why we poor chuckling dead-enders spend so much time paying attention to politics when there’s nothing to be done.

It’s really not so complicated. Watching politics is like watching sports. Politics, football, basketball, lacrosse -- they are all just games and our potential for influencing the outcome is just about the same. We watch them because we find the games interesting. Plus it’s fun to root for your team, to revel in their wins, to suffer through their losses. And there is also the flip side, the schadenfreude, the relish of seeing the opposing team suffer.

So thank you very much Mr. Atrios for your advice on how I should pass the time, but if I like to watch games, and perhaps talk about them over a beer or two, well, that’s nobody’s business but my own. Certainly not yours.

And since I’m in a communicative mood, perhaps I can allay his suspicions that I am addicted to the sweet thrill of self-righteous outrage. It’s nothing so eloquently or existentially interesting as that. I can’t speak for any of my defeatist brethren, but I, at least, do not find self-righteous outrage sweet. I know that Mr. Atrios interacts with many more people than poor chuckling, but I wouldn’t classify those gloom and doomers I know as self-righteous. Realistic is the more accurate term. The sorry state of our body politic is not something to be happy about, much less self-righteous. That’s just the way it is. Sad.

Yes, it is sad. But what can we do?

Recent neurological studies, which will remain un-cited, indicate that such attributes as optimism, pessimism, or realism are hard wired into our human nature. Thus, those like Mr. Atrios who are optimistic and believe they can change things are in no way morally superior, nor are the more realistic among us. We were all just born that way.

Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that the optimists are largely responsible for the strides we humans have made from our chimpish beginnings and I respect the efforts of those who go beyond opposing the current body politic and actively try to change it for the better. Of course it would be unrealistic of me to fail to note that the conservative morons who have actively created this mess, or at least nurtured the environment in which it could develop, are optimistic go getters as well. Optimism about the possibility of changing the world for the better is not a universally positive attribute. “Better” means different things to different people.

Another study, or perhaps it is the same one since I am referencing memory, found that the best decisions were arrived at when different types of personalities were involved. As is so often the case, the aphorism “it takes all kinds...” is not far from the truth. It’s worth noting that the United States’ founding fathers, as well as the architects of the western European social democracies were more realistic, if not outright pessimistic, than optimistic. The societies they crafted were arguably designed to keep the optimists in check. So if the realists and pessimists among us took Mr. Atrios’s advice and left the optimists to their machinations, the world would not be a better place. It would likely be more of a bloody hell than it already is.

And it is not such a bad thing to recognize that on the grand scale there is little hope for the body politic or that life ultimately has no meaning. There are currently about 6.5 billion humans on earth living 50 or sixty years on average and human history goes back about 40,000 years. By contrast, the universe is 17 billion years old and there are at least 125 billion galaxies each of which contains about 200 billion stars. When you consider those numbers and their significance, it is obvious that our little lives have no greater meaning in the grand scheme of things than the lives of ants. And we’re not as different from ants as we’d like to believe. Our cities are like anthills and we spend our days building, gathering food, reproducing, and moving around with no apparent purpose. We are all just earth creatures, evolved from the same distant ancestor. I doubt an observer from a distant galaxy would see that much difference.

That’s not something we like to think about, but the realists among us cannot help but recognize the unavoidable truth of the proposition. But just because our lives have no ultimate meaning in the vastness of space and time doesn’t mean that they don’t have meaning within our limited existence. My life means something to my parents and my children and, if I live well, to a good number of other people as well. And many people’s lives have meaning for me.

And there are some people whose lives unquestionably have meaning, for good or ill, beyond their immediate circle of acquaintances, and even beyond their own time. People who get involved in politics can, obviously. change the world for millions, if not billions of people. But it’s a dangerous proposition and I think the founding father types had it right to try to hobble them.

I wish Mr. Atrios and his coterie well in their quest to better our lives, and I have even thrown a dime their way on a couple of occasions, but I am not an optimist. The fact that he is already creating an enemies list exclusively made up of people “on our side” bodes ill for the future. Power corrupts those on the left as surely it does those on the right. As the left ascends, it's likely they'll follow the same pattern as the recent right. Talking points will be distributed, the loyalists will repeat them, those who don't will be attacked, then purged.

The nonsense about surge/escalation is an early harbinger of that dynamic (it's clear that all the liberal bloggers have gotten the memo) and demonstrates how hopeless our prospects are on several levels.

First, the fact that nobody in America is capable of calling a troop increase a troop increase is distressing. As far as I can see, the entire major media has adopted the word surge for troop increase without so much as a quibble, unless you consider putting quotation marks around it a quibble. And the opposition media, the Daily Kos, other leftist blogs, Atrios, rather than call a troop increase a troop increase dig up the old propagandistic wussy-word escalation, a word designed, like surge, to avoid calling a troop increase a troop increase. What the fuck is wrong with you people?

I’m generally okay with using language intelligently to frame the debate, but using escalation instead of troop increase is not an intelligent use of language. An escalation sounds reasonable. Nearly everyone is against a troop increase. Just say the fucking words.

If, for whatever reason, the liberal bloggers can’t call a troop increase a troop increase, they should at least drop the wussy-words and come up with a good snarky substitute. Bush is reportedly going to ask for sacrifice as well as a troop increase. Perhaps we should refer to his plan as a troop sacrifice? Try it out. Bush’s plan to sacrifice more troops? Personally, I think calling a troop increase a troop increase is as effective as it’s going to get, and very effective at that.

It’s issues like these that make me doubt the literal existence of the Democratic party. So often it seems like they are the political incarnation of the Washington Generals, the faux basketball team that is paid to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters. When they can’t take something as unpopular as a troop increase and slam dunk it in the Republican’s face (give them a facial, in popular terms), you have to wonder if the game is fixed.