Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Weaver Fever postscript

James Stewart as George Bailey in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), via.

Actually I do have something further to say about David Brooks today that popped into my head over the teaser line (which he may not have written himself) that is appended to the headline, as is The Times's custom in recent months:
The social renaissance is happening from the ground up.
It struck me at last that the formulation exactly captures the deception in the classic way of Tory prescriptions when they're trying to be thoughtful and kind, in that the "ground" here is, as usual, the squire and the vicar, as I always like to say, the local gentry, and you could include the justice of the peace, and the headmaster of the local school, and the master of the hounds maybe (in New Jersey anyhow), and that nice young George Bailey who owns the bank (unless, as is more likely, it's Mr. Potter); and the "up", the ones who are last to catch on to the Brooksian message, are the more or less democratically elected representatives of the people.

What I'm saying is, that formula is a reference to the Tory reality of dictation from the tiny upper class to the unwashed masses, disguised after the fashion of Burke and Disraeli as dictation from the weak and cute village to the powerful and inhuman nation. Don't you guys think you've fooled me!

But in that light, I notice something about his opening:
I start with the pain. A couple times a week I give a speech somewhere in the country about social isolation and social fragmentation. Very often a parent comes up to me afterward and says, “My daughter took her life when she was 14.” Or, “My son died of an overdose when he was 20.”
Their eyes flood with tears. I don’t know what to say. I squeeze a shoulder just to try to be present with them, but the crying does not stop. As it turns to weeping they rush out of the auditorium and I am left with my own futility.
I've noted before how much Brooks's idea of learning about the trials and tribulations of the small folk involves going around lecturing at them instead of listening to them, and here we see that what happens when he is forced to listen is that he can't, can't even begin to do it, and they end up fleeing the premises. Brooks's sentimental presentation

Which leads him to conclude that he ought to be running the whole show of telling everybody what they need to do, and that's why he's taken this gig with the Aspen Institute.

And, enough snark, that's exactly the opposite of what's needed. The "we" of the actual decision-making élite need to have a clue what the "they" of the majority (not of the white male slightly better-off plurality) think, and I don't mean what they think about Trump when they're enjoying a diner breakfasts. I think the members of the unwashed majority don't need to teach the movers and shakers what they want someone who-is-the-boss-of-them to do. I think they need to participate in being-the-boss and accepting the responsibilities that entails. There's too much view of democracy as choosing the oppressor you think is the coolest or funniest, which our media encourage, and too little of the people taking charge and demanding that their representatives represent them, where I think everybody, given the chance, would be more conscientious and intelligent than voters encouraged to think they're the audience in an episode of American Idol.

I don't know if it's possible to practice democracy in the sense I have in mind. I know, comically enough, that the last politician I'm fully aware of trying to be a democrat in this sense is Hillary Clinton (in the "listening" of the 2000 Senate campaign, not the presidential campaigns of 2008 or 2016, which is not to say I think she was bad in those years, just that she wasn't successfully doing this thing that nobody else was doing either). But if it is to be possible, it has to be at that very big scale, where numbers have a chance to dominate socially confirmed authority. Forming a four-piece guitar band is missing the point too. It's a very radical idea, democracy, that has hardly been given a chance.

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