Monday, November 23, 2009

On Second Thought


There's a good piece by David Sirota that's making the syndication rounds right now in which he takes aim at the dumbing-down of America as a nation; specifically, he ties it to what may eventually be remembered as the most inadvertently prescient not-very-good movie in history: Idiocracy. Sirota's contention is that while we've known for some time that unapologetic stupidity is steadily gaining an at one time undreamed-of respectability within our culture -- to the point where we're now besieged by it in politics, on cable TV and talk radio, and wherever Sarah Palin's new book is sold -- a couple of things happened recently to either pick up the pace, or at least significantly mark a sudden downward plunge, on the "de-evolution" of America as a society of people with brains at least slightly larger than a couple of Chicken McNuggets.

Last week, two of the Washington Post's top columnists -- White House press corps "dean" David Broder and the Post's foreign policy guru Jackson Diehl -- penned articles that slammed Barack Obama for not moving fast enough on making a decision whether or not to deploy more troops to the increasingly intractable war in Afghanistan. Broder's point was just plain fucking staggering:

"It is evident from the length of this deliberative process and from the flood of leaks that have emerged from Kabul and Washington that the perfect course of action does not exist. Given that reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision -- whether or not it is right."

Meanwhile, Diehl's point seemed to hinge on the belief -- proffered without evidence, merely speculation -- that even though NATO, the Pentagon and Congress are supposedly unanimous in the opinion that we need more troops in Afghanistan, Obama just can't bring himself to commit, and that should be cause for concern among the electorate.

Sirota's response:

"As leading opinionmakers, Broder and Diehl are paid to carefully ponder issues and then offer their considered thoughts. That's not part of what they're supposed to do -- it's what they are singularly employed to do. It's how they earn their living and credibility -- indeed, it's their entire raison d'etre. And yet, these leading lights of the intelligentsia are overtly preaching anti-intelligence, insisting the president must avoid taking time to think through his actions.

This isn't interpretation -- it's what these Beltway sages are literally saying. Broder is explicitly demanding Obama make a knee-jerk decision -- any decision -- even if it has catastrophic consequences. Likewise, Diehl is calling for Obama to immediately risk thousands of American lives simply because that's what Diehl believes the establishment wants.

Let's be clear -- these are just two of many similar examples. Today, screeds calling for leaders to prioritize lightning-fast decisions over measured deliberations are increasingly commonplace in the Washington intelligentsia, even after an Iraq debacle brought on by the same ideological know-nothingism...

When the supposed guardians of political cognition and empiricism begin publicly flaying leaders for taking time to fully evaluate potential decisions — it's a sign our country is becoming the ignorance-deifying Idiocracy we should all fear."


While I agree with Sirota that calling for a president to make a decision to potentially risk the lives of American soldiers without first really thinking it through is reprehensible and the definition of anti-intellectualism -- unfortunately, I think the problem is even worse than he describes. The reality is that this course we're on -- this downward spiral -- is likely irreversible. The reason is that the ever-increasing speed with which we communicate these days has made introspective analysis not only seem antiquated but downright intolerable. We just don't have time for things like stopping and thinking anymore.

Through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter -- and, yes, even through texting, e-mail and blogging -- we've removed the need for context and contemplation as a prerequisite to opening our big mouths and can now spout an opinion to each other or to the world, occasionally with dire but all-too-avoidable consequences, without giving it, literally, a second thought. We've fractured and fragmented our communication skills to fit the new model of speaking -- one that only requires 140 characters, with as few vowels as possible. Our brains haven't evolved as quickly as our ability to express ourselves. We're officially a nation of knee-jerks.

And by the way, I'm the first one to admit that I've both fallen victim to this trap and have sung the praises of the Brave New, Hyper-Connected World that created it in the first place.

Admittedly, there is such a thing as overthinking -- becoming paralyzed by your own ability to analyze the potential effect of every choice to the point where you become perpetually lost in minutiae and unable to act. Barack Obama is certainly wonky enough to get hamstrung by his own intellect, but have we really regressed to the point where we can't tolerate a few weeks worth of careful consideration before our president makes a choice with such potentially devastating ramifications? Have we already forgotten the last time a U.S. presidential administration, filled with hubris and certitude, barreled headlong into committing American lives to a war before trying to discern any clue what they hell they were doing?

Just a decade ago -- maybe even less -- the notion of taking a little while to think things over before rendering a decision still seemed like the wisest course of action, an action in and of itself. Now? Take even a day or so to measure your options and it's considered glacial -- because 24 hours, one full news cycle revolution on cable and in talk radio and the span in which 850-gazillion tweets were fired back and forth on Twitter, is like an eternity to us. While you were sitting there analyzing, Mr. Smarty Pants, everyone else was actually doing.

But in the end, really, who's doing the right thing?

12 comments:

Garth said...

"The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections."

Chez said...

It's such an average movie, but such a brilliant idea. And the first ten minutes or so of the movie is pure genius.

SteveR said...

I'm concerned by the posture of helplessness we adopt in the face of technology.

We *choose* to fall into the trap of the Brave New Hyperconnected world. And we can *choose* to climb out of it.

We just don't want to. Because it's *cool*.

Whiners. Switch off the iPod and go for a walk. I'm going to the gym right now. Bye.

Mart said...

On cue, Lou Dobbs is listening to advice on whether he should run for POTUS.

Chez said...

He and Sarah Palin.

Shaping up to be a batshit crazy next couple of years.

Shannon from Saskatoon said...

Very good point and one that acknowledges the lack of self-introspection, humility and modesty in all media.

I don't have any answers, but I do know that as I have grown older, I am no longer capable of nor interested in being the first kid with his hand up in the air. Many people have this reserved nature and are actually in the majority. It is the show offs, the self promoters with big mouths that take up so much space and just plain tire everyone around them into relative silence.

I find it sad that thinking and discussion has been replaced by vociferousness, competition, and the win/lose mentality.

So my preference is for leaders with the patience to take time to think.

Tracer Bullet said...

Diehl's bullshit argument isn't even true: Congress isn't unified in support of sending more troops, the Democratic party isn't even unified in support of sending more troops. IF Obama is going to increase troop levels, he's going to have to crack skulls to make it happen.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Obama is stalling for time. The two opposing poles of the Afghanistan spectrum are (-)withdraw and (+)escalate.

Obama will be mercilessly, unrelentingly attacked as surrendering to terrorists if he decides on withdrawal. This is why he will choose to send more troops while realizing that it won't be a game changer.

brite said...

It simply astounds me that NATO, the US, Canada and the UK are even considering sending more troops to Afghanistan.And it is really Big Oil's agenda...they want a pipeline there and will willingly sacrifice countless men and women to achieve their goal.In this case, it is a lost battle and has been for decades. Ask the Russians, ask the British, ask fucking Alexander the Great...you will never 'bring democracy' to this country, you will never undo centuries of tribal warfare...and if you don't believe history, go read this article:
http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/12/0082754

Chris said...

Sometimes I think the right to vote should require an IQ test. A certain level of intelligence should at least be a prerequisite for running for office and holding a position in the civil service.

That isn't fascist - it just makes sense. Who wants an idiot in charge of major political issues?

Oh. Apparently 47% of us. Ouch.

Le Penseur said...

There is no such thing as a small fuck-up when you are POTUS. Act in haste, regret in leisure.

Alanna said...

"It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way." - Rollo May