Sunday, November 23, 2014

Make the World Go Away

What a song Hank Cochran wrote.  It has been sung by many, perhaps too many, from stars to bands in bars.  Some of these bands no doubt had to put up with annoying listeners like me, who once began to sing "Make the Band go Away" after their version of this sad classic finally reached its conclusion.

But I have no wish to write more of the song, except to note its claim that it was the world which caused the heartache expressed in such a maudlin fashion.  The world did it, not the one with the broken heart.  He should not have....what, exactly?  Succumbed to the charms of the wicked world?

Regardless, I wish the world to go away for different reasons.  I find the world annoying, or rather the people of the world, or most of them.  Those we see and hear about in any case, and their number is growing. 

This makes me sad.  I should not be annoyed.  I strive to walk the Stoic path (has nobody yet written of the tao of Stoicism?), and so should be indifferent of that which is not within the control of my will.  But I find myself irritated by so much of what transpires in the world I see, and sometimes wish that the irritating components of it would kindly go away.  Or unkindly go away, it matters not to me.  At least I'm indifferent to the manner in which it would go away.

We see, and hear, too much of the world and those people who inhabit it these days, as I've noted before in this place.  I've maintained that the deluge of information and opinion we suffer encourages thoughtlessness and thoughtless response to thoughtlessness.  I suppose I'm indulging in that now, thereby proving my point, to me at least.  How does the world annoy me?  Let me count the ways.

The politics of our Glorious Union irritates me tremendously; all aspects of it.  Most recently, I scowl helplessly at the (most recent) calls for impeachment of the President for taking executive action on immigration.  I can't help but wonder at this, given the long history of such action taken by Presidents in the past and given the enormous discretion it seems has been given to the President and the agency by the law and regulations.  There is also, of course, the consideration that the House has refused to legislate, out of what I assume is what it seems primarily motivates our politicians--the desire to be elected and fear of not being reelected.  The seemingly deranged reaction of those opposing the action leads me to wonder, once again, why it is this President provokes such rancor.  More and more it seems to me to be fundamentally irrational, and contemptible.

But unreason is present everywhere, not merely in politics.  It seems we flaunt our unreasonableness around the globe.  Surprisingly, there seems to be a kind of reaction against reason.  We see it and have seen it for some time in the guise of postmodernism, perhaps the most futile of intellectual pretensions.  Futility indeed seems to be what it seeks, everywhere.  At least, it revels in what it conceives to be the futility of everything but postmodernism.  Unfortunately, it provides no hope of anything but futility; it simply claims to provide us with a means to establish that all is futile.

I pause to wonder, though.  Is this my age talking?  Am I becoming, or have I become, an old fogey, like Alan Bloom?  Perhaps.  But what might distinguish me from other old fogies is that I think of reason as a method; I don't think that what was then and is not now is necessarily better than the present.  I don't long for good old days or good old ways.  I don't think the use of reason will result in a return to things as they were.  For the most part I think, and hope, it will not do so. 

But it seems that thinking is something we're not interesting in doing.  Perhaps we never have been.  Perhaps we've always acted on impulse and irrationally, and simply have more opportunity to do so now, in new and different ways, and this is broadcast instantly to the world at large.  It may be that technology has merely enhanced our irrationality, provided a means by which circumstances which previously served to blunt our impulses and stupidity (provided time to think or at least to be less excited).

Certainly, we've found ways to make ourselves appear ridiculous to more and more people.  Also, our sins may be forgiven but if we're not careful they'll live on forever, somewhere on the Internet or some smart phone. 

The likelihood is we're no more stupid (and no smarter) than we have ever been, but our stupidity is less private than it has been in the past.  One would think that would make us long to be less stupid, or at least more careful.  Perhaps it will, in time. 

We can hope that our technology may save us.  Because it emphasizes our faults and failings, it's possible that we'll eventually feel so shamed or disgusted with ourselves that we'll learn to exercise restraint.  Perhaps it will make this world go away by forcing us to think about what we do.

Well, it's good to dream.  But I see another future, one born of our tendency to assign blame to anyone, or anything, but ourselves.  The fear of technology has been with us since at least the last century, what with Heidegger and others whining about what it does to the world and to us.  If we find ourselves so disgusted with what we see and hear, the inclination may be to prevent ourselves from being able to see and hear what disgusts us.  It would be so much easier to regulate media and the Internet than correcting or regulating ourselves  As we have so many times in the past, we may seek to prohibit people from using technology in certain ways, regulating the content of what can be seen or heard or sent or broadcast. 

That would not work of course, but would result in a different world, which we then would wish to go away.

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