Politeness and the New Politique

We do moo and baa together in one or another social or public forum and call it our Ode to Freedom. Can we, though, articulate any sense of freedom other than entries by figures and calculations in the ledger books of state? Have we so relativized meaning that we can no longer say anything about anything anywhere anytime other than Who’s to say? when questions we have been systematically dis-educated to ignore arise. Yes, who’s to say is what everyone says when he wants his invalid assertions accepted without question. This, of course, is rooted in an idiosyncrasy of thinking, or what he confuses for thinking, usually a random passing of images or phrases in the mind. It’s a great advertising ploy, this who’s to saY, to get everyone to accept anything at any time anywhere; all opinions have become equal in weight, in value–mostly because it’s been the ability to evaluate opinions that has come under the greatest assault in our acceptance of semi-literacy as being LITERATE enough; everyone is a genius for fifteen seconds, just as everyone through twelve years of school was special.

If all things were relative, though, there would be nothing for anything to be relative to; so all opinions being of equal weight is absurd. Reductio ad absurdum, more literally a reduction to deafness, which is what the absurd is–a lack of sense or a sense, the sense of hearing, which is what we need to hear an argument–rhetoric being the Greek root word for the Latin oratory, all argument in classical antiquity arising in its forms in orality. Yes, of course rocks must have weight otherwise we would see them floating in the air. But what about feathers? They too must have weight, but what kind of weight in as much as we see them floating about. The steps in the process of inferring gravity can be examined–but we do not want to stay put for any revelation that what we have blurted in opinion is absurd. This is very much where we have arrived, perpetual relativity ad nauseum, ad absurdum. With this, we have reached true nihilism, a nihilism at its purest. Infinite possibility does bury as I have said before. In our mass media culture, saying anything makes it so, even if only, again, for fifteen seconds, but that quarter of a minute is enough to sustain us in our thinking for years, or ruin us for life.

There is no truth, only perpetual topicality. If we lived in Bradbury’s world of Fahrenheit 451, though, all knowledge would be lost, all literature gone, burn all the books–how far from the mob that burned down the library in Alexandria do we imagine we are–not very far. Our Public Schools are reinforcing this nowness and newness as the prime and the last measure of culture, of what we need in what we read. Our Brooklyn Public Library system, where I live, has set its survival, its very existence, on circulation. All funding and distribution of money to the branches depends on circulation. Books are discarded irrespective of their intellectual worth, of their literary value or their historical significance.

As I have said it’s the ability to evaluate that we have undermined. This move toward gleaning the shelves of the branches of books that do not circulate is contrary to a library’s chief purpose, ay least traditionally. It sets the library in parallel position with bookstores. Circulation alone is as close to profit that a not-for-profit institution like the Public Library can come. But libraries are not bookstores although they are supposed to store the treasure house of our civilization, of our culture and the many cultures of the world. The reactionary response to this adopted Psycopathic Politeness has been the right wing trumpeting of rudeness. Ping pong with words and slogans, cliches and received ideas, marketing dogmas repeated and repeated and repeated while we play a game of  hop-scotch with Truth or just what is true . . . the latter suffering from the pervasive and collective delusion that there is no objectivity and that any articulation of what objectivity could be or should be is a lie.

I should have seen the hand writing on the wall, as a friend of mine had said, when over the last two decades slowly, but inevitably, America shifted, en masse, to the right. Wherever you might have found yourself in the linear gradations, set horizontally in our political spectrum, that American political spectrum itself has shifted to the right, relative to a fixed and constant, albeit absolute evaluation.

As I have witnessed in our America shifting to the right, whereby everyone has become a little or a lot more conservative in his or her politics . . . Black America too–yes, even African Americans who had once taught us the lessons and rewards of telling it like it is–a mantra heard most specifically this way from Black America, but not entirely of Black America, as much as it was certainly a particular inevitability in American politics with respect for where the people stood in relation to power–yes, even African-American America has stopped telling it like it is today. What then must we say? It is not that African-Americans cannot be or have not been conservative in some or many of their political sympathies, or that African Americans could not or cannot be political conservatives as we have seen evident on the political stages of America since the days of Reagan; but the historical place of African Americans socially and economically has meant that African Americans traditionally have seen or had to see American socio-political reality refracted through a liberal prism. There has always been one or another band in the liberal spectrum of political options or policies on which an African American eye was going to focus.

I have noted that many Americans might still imagine they tell it like it is–this is sadly not true. In addition to this reversal from the days of my childhood, there has been a shift within a large segment of Jewish Americans, who have also traditionally held sympathy for liberal policies or politics . . . have become more conservative as well, shifting almost en-masse to the right of wherever they were situated on the American political line. Even radicals today are less liberal and thus more conservative.

To be nice or not to be nice has always skirted the acts of foolishness in one evaluation or another. Perhaps there was a time to be nice as we mean nice when we say nice in earnest about someone was to be foolish. Fools are usually nice–business men love fools and their money–flattering customers with ‘nice’ has always been a form of marketing. But just how nice, thus perhaps polite, fits in our pursuit of the Truth or our revelations of truths is a puzzle to me. However, polite has become the new politique, a kind of muzzle put on the people who fear being publicly impolite more than they do the loss of their freedoms and the exercise of their rights that come along with a politique from the people less than straight forward, less than direct, less than honest, less than truthful. We live in a permanent social fog of half-truths and lies; of sometimes propaganda, and always advertising, advertising, marketing. The dogmas of contemporary finance Capitalism rule our ethics and all theories of knowledge, of what is knowable, the limits of knowing.

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