Whither the "No Politics" Rule?
There is a profound political metaphor hidden within this amusing anecdote.
I've been writing and foundering on this topic since last week Friday, when Joe Doakes commented:
BRB - please, reinstate the no politics rule, quickly.Your wish is heard and granted, Joe. The No Politics Rule is now back in force.
I realize now that we come here for a level of creativity and intelligent discussion not available elsewhere on the web; this is turning into the same drivel I get from the Huffpo, Daily Kos or Free Republic.
Okay, you were right - point made. Turn it off, please.
Understand, I do this with some reluctance and misgivings. It's clear that writing about politics, especially in an election year, is a great way to attract lots of attention. Then again, so is playing the bagpipes at dawn.
Expressing highly inflammatory political opinions would also seem to be an effective strategy for stalking the elusive book deal. Americans apparently have a nearly insatiable appetite for profound, mature, and thoughtful political analysis, as a quick glance at the front window of your local bookstore or any online listing of best-selling books confirms. Printing presses run night and day to bring the reading public such meaningful insights as:
Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat, IdiotOh, Give Me A Break.
Maureen Dowd is a Nasty, Bitter, Dessicated Hag
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans
Republicans Are Stupid, Mean, Poo-Poo Heads
Wait, that last one is the title of John Stossel's book about... John Stossel.
Part of the problem that prevented my finishing this essay last Friday is that it kept growing and spreading, like some nasty mold in the back of an off-campus refrigerator. Initially I set out to write, not about politics, but about the hazards of writing about politics, and it proved difficult to keep the discussion apolitical. When you lay your personal credo out there for all to see, just as when you puff up the bag, get the drones going, and put your fingers on the chanter, you more than anything else make yourself a highly conspicuous target. Most people, it seems, are incapable of separating the political from the personal, and what might start out as a trenchant discussion of one issue or another quickly decays into a critique of the way the author cuts his hair and his possible sexual identity issues.
As cases in point, on Friday, I started out writing about two books: A Republic, Not an Empire, by Patrick Buchanan, and Treason, by Ann Coulter. Both books are well-researched and well-written works of significant scholarship, Buchanan's about the broad sweep of American history in general and Coulter's about the 1950s McCarthy Era in particular. Both books are highly recommended reading.
Both books are completely obscured by the squalls of personal adoration and hatred that swirl around the authors.
This is acceptable, I suppose. If your objective as a writer is merely the masturbatory pleasure of stroking your own ego, then you can score becoming "controversial" and being "talked about" as a win. If, on the other hand, your objective is to get readers to think about ideas...
Anyway, as I said, on Friday, I started out writing about Patrick Buchanan and Ann Coulter — and George McGovern and Jim Hightower as well, but we needn't pursue that now. By Saturday morning I'd worked through the McCarthy Era, the New Deal, and made it to the Progressive movement and Herbert David Croly, and by Saturday afternoon I was onto Paula Mitchell Marks, And Die in the West, and the War of American Unification. By Saturday evening I'd bulldozed through the Enlightenment, made it back to Hobbes and Rousseau, and was in the midst of doing a chainsaw clear-cutting job on the "noble savage." Sunday morning, I started in on Leviticus.
Somewhere in there, sometime Sunday afternoon, it finally occurred to me that a.) this whole thing had gotten completely out of hand, and b.) the labels I was using had become meaningless. Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, reactionary, progressive, capitalist, socialist, roundhead, royalist, libertarian, authoritarian — all these labels are transient, not trenchant, and the Ur-polarity turns out to be the dichotomy between those who want the absolute freedom of chaos, and those who seek the ultimate consistency of order.
From this realization, in my mind's eye, I began to envision the world's first political meeting:
THARG: (whispering, to son) Now listen closely, Son-of-Tharg.
CHIEF OG: In this tribe, we have rules. Not know how many because
we not have numbers yet. Most important rule is, no go
poo-poo in cave where rest of tribe all sleep.
THARG: (to son) Got that? No go poo-poo in cave.
CHIEF OG: Other rule is, no go pee-pee in water hole where rest
of tribe all drink.
THARG: (to son) Got that? No go pee-pee in water --
SON-OF-THARG: NO! F*** YOU, I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME! YOU CAN'T
CHIEF OG: Tharg? Explain again to Son-of-Tharg, okay?
THARG: (hefts stone ax) Okay.
SON-OF-THARG: OH! OH! HERE WE SEE THE VIOLENCE INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM!
HELP! HELP! I'M BEING REPRESSED!
THARG: Hold still. This hurt me more than it hurt you. (looks
at ax again) Or maybe not.
THARG'S WIFE: STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! PUT DOWN THAT AX!
THARG: Aw, sweet-sticky-stuff-that-bees-leave-in-trees --
THARG'S WIFE: DON'T YOU 'SWEET STICKY STUFF' ME! YOU LEAVE SON-OF-THARG
ALONE! HIM NOT KNOW BETTER! HIM BARELY OLD ENOUGH TO GROW
THARG: But --
THARG'S WIFE: WHY YOU ALWAYS BE SO MEAN TO HIM? JUST BECAUSE HIM TAKE
MANY SUMMERS TO LEARN NOT TO GO PEE-PEE ON SLEEPING FURS!
THARG: But --
THARG'S WIFE: I SWEAR, IF YOU *TOUCH* HIM, YOU NEVER GET LUCKY AGAIN!
THARG: (grumbles, drops ax) Yes, animal-with-antlers-that-runs-
OG'S DAUGHTER:(sidles up to Son-of-Tharg, whispering) That was so cool,
the way you stood up to those old fossils.
SON-OF-THARG: Huh? Yeah, I guess I *am* pretty cool.
CHIEF OG: (looks at his daughter with Son-of-Tharg, shakes his head in
disgust) This not good. Whole species go downhill from here,
And sadly, Chief Og was right.
...to be continued...