Page Two: Everybody Plays the Fool

Neither party is sainted, and dominance tends to encourage the worst of political habits

Page Two
To be fair is not to be flat, nor is it to be nonjudgmental. To demonize is to denigrate a person and his or her motives; to disagree, even violently, with others' ideas is not to demonize but simply to disagree. To oppose, even to campaign actively against, is not to exclude, nor is it to ghettoize. Some readers noted that last week's column contained a call for unity in the wake of Barack Obama's election but pointed out that I then went on to castigate certain right-wing radio talk-show hosts, as well as the audiences that believe in them.

Unity is marching in lockstep. Unity is not abandoning disagreement and debate. Unity is not blindly accepting all ideas as being equally worthy. Supporting the president-elect does not mean arguing for mindlessly following the leader.

Not to go into the subject at great length again, but my reading of the Constitution is that its genius has more to do with the process of government than with specifics about the type of government. It seems very much structured to invite debate (even intense and hostile debate) to prize compromise, and to be disposed against one group and/or one ideology dominating all the others while controlling the direction of government.

The very nature of this country's constitutional republic is to insist on a clash of ideas, creating vigorous debate resulting in, it is hoped, the very best of them emerging into prominence. The origin of these ideas – Republican, Democratic, Independent, the people – does not lend them a pedigree; only the quality, reality, and appropriateness of the idea itself does. Obviously, this is not always the case, and all too frequently we see vigorous debate that results in the lamest and most homogenized ideas being translated into legislation.

Unity does not even mean all Americans joining hands, marching and thinking in lockstep, and singing happy songs of Americans together. Unity does not mean that all adhere to a single platform. Any one party dominating all three branches of government makes me extremely nervous, whether it was the Republicans during the first six years of the Bush administration or the Democrats in the coming legislative session. Neither party is sainted, and dominance tends to encourage the worst of political habits.

I condemn equally right-wing pundits and left-wing pundits who indulge in the notion that the biggest problems facing Americans are not very difficult issues that offer no easy or obvious resolution but other Americans with different opinions – many, if not most, of whom are very specifically unpatriotic and malevolent. The left participates in this as much as the right does, though not nearly as successfully. The pundits who encourage such distrust and hostility are doing the country a grave disservice, and those who believe in what they are saying (granted, only a slice of their audience) are equally scary.

This is not to argue for censorship, nor is it an attempt to shut pundits up. It is an expression of an idea that is very critical of them, offered as something to think about rather than with the purpose of instigating any kind of restriction, regulation, or denial of their speech.

To disagree is to disagree; it is not to even hint at legislative solutions. Central to this is that the free flow of ideas should result in disagreements, arguments, and debates. To disagree is not to try to silence, but to invite more voices and more volume.

I really believe most people are trying to do what they think is best for this country. As much as I've disparaged the current administration, I don't think it is made up of evil folks who are trying to do damage. The biggest part of the problem is that these Republicans didn't act enough like Republicans. Arguing that their ideas demonstrate an arrogance, intolerance for discussion, and strict ideological agreement is still not to attack them but their ideas and the execution of those ideas.

Now, thinking something is in the best interest of the country and its being in the best interest are not one and the same. Not only can they be very different, but the very concept of having a firm grasp on what is objectively in the best interest of the country misstates the options.

In my job, there are days where I am making dozens of decisions. Most of the time, one does not chart a detailed biography of those decisions and their consequences, because that is usually nearly impossible to discern. Sometimes, though rarely, a decision is completely wrong or wonderfully right, but the vast majority of the time you move ahead, making ever more decisions, hoping that the vessel is afloat and heading in close to the right direction.

This is a column of ideas and opinions. Hopefully, most of the ideas are reasonably thought through, while the opinions are informed and logical. I do not possess the "truth" or even "truths." It is often shocking to realize how many people offer the "truth," rather than just mere opinions, and how many know that they are not only absolutely right but are, in addition, on the side of good. Especially if one simplifies disagreements by characterizing them as conflicts between good and evil, right and wrong, there is no reason to question oneself or be slowed by doubts. Their pursuit of the truth is pure, neither tainted by self-interest nor restricted by any unquestioned ideology at the heart of their reasoning.

Alex Jones is highly regarded internationally as an expert on the ongoing worldwide conflict between the evil of the new world order and the good of those resisting it: not just an expert but a pioneer, a John the Baptist come out of the wilderness to speak truth to power and encourage all to come to knowledge. Now, on most matters I do not have knowledge and know not the truth, because I have very different ideas and opinions from Jones' and the "truth" movements – which means I'm close-minded, uninformed, and scared of the truth. So be it.

Early this year on one of his shows, Jones explained how everyone had opinions in the same way they all share a body part for defecation, but that he offered the "truth." He had gotten this truth from conversations and interviews, often with important national and international leaders, through extensive reading – often deeply into books and reports that would scare off most by their very density – and by constantly critically considering the news. Finally, he talked about researching at some of this country's great libraries, proudly noting that he had gone deep into their collections, accessing the stacks – the very stacks – themselves.

Given Jones' gift for the dramatic, to me his incantation of stacks conjured up the image of the crippled newsboy Billy Batson going deep into the dark of the subway farther than anyone else dares to venture. There he encounters an ancient wizard, as well as the deities Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. The wizard grants Batson the ability to transform himself into Captain Marvel by saying, "Shazam." I realize that I'm getting carried away here by my own fantasy, certainly not by Jones.

Claiming one has, speaks, and knows the "truth" seems extravagant and grandiose to me, but then I don't. Even most scholars acknowledge that research and reading can lead to viable and logical ideas, but few claim to have found the "truth" as often as currently so many others claim.

I accept that I'm part of the dumbed-down, compliant masses whose brains are scrambled and who have been broken by the state. Still, as I have occasionally pointed out, this is a column of ideas, suggestions, and theses – but certainly not one of truths. Given my druthers, I'd start near every sentence with "I think" or "It might be" or "I've come to believe," but given the amount of criticism my weary prose already earns, it would be even more annoying and less readable.

I hope this column, among many other things, stimulates readers to think, if only to explore the depths of my ignorance and the spectral beauty of their knowledge. It does seem vainglorious to state that this is all about encouraging an exchange of ideas, but that's what I still believe is a critical aspect of its intentions. Often responses are far more strategic and knowing than I am so that, rather then engage in discussion, they deride my very ideas, with their "truths" trumping my opinions. If I play no role except that of the fool, is it still enough?  

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More 2008 elections
Naked City
Naked City

Dec. 7, 2007

More Page Two
Page Two: Row My Boat Ashore
Page Two: Row My Boat Ashore
Louis Black bids farewell in his final "Page Two" column

Louis Black, Sept. 8, 2017

Page Two: The Good Songs We Need to Sing Together and Loud
Page Two: The Good Songs We Need to Sing Together and Loud
Celebrating love and resistance at Terry and Jo Harvey Allen's 55th wedding anniversary

Louis Black, July 14, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

2008 elections, political dominance, right-wing radio, Barack Obama, Alex Jones

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle