Suspension of Disbelief and Politics
A long time ago, as I was working on my college minor in “Speech, Communication and Theater Arts” (a rather wordy description that allowed the University of Minnesota to patch together a group of courses for people with interest but few personal aspirations in any of the three areas – people like me) I learned about “suspension of disbelief.”
This is a critical element in drama, as the audience must be willing to go in whatever direction an actor’s lines take them. If you hear “Ah, the trees are alive with dew and the crisp snap of fall,” you must be willing to suspend your disbelief and pretend, along with the cast, that you are in a forest and that it is fall, not in a theater chair viewing a stage.
Suspension of disbelief is a technique that seems to sum up Fox News and many of the candidates currently usurping the fine name and traditions of the Republican Party. Statements are made that are simply beyond comprehensible discussion, and eliminate debate because there is no basis at all in fact or common sense or sanity to them.
Fox News recently labeled Warren Buffet as a “socialist,” and while not by any means the only example (oh that it were!) this is probably the most egregious and likely to drop the jaw of anyone with a 3rd grade vocabulary. One of the richest men in the world offered up a reasoned treatise that the top 1% of the income earners in our country, including him, are paying far less than their share of income taxes because the tax codes and laws have been created by greedy people who are wealthy themselves. He mentioned that he pays a lower percentage of tax than the majority of Americans, including the woman who cleans his house, and he thinks that he and others of his ilk have been “coddled” for far too long.
Fox News labeled his position as “socialist” and opined that the 700 BILLION dollars his proposals would garner over a ten year period would not amount to much. According to the “Daily Show,” that 700 billion amounts to 50% of all the worldly wealth of the “bottom” 50% of the population!
There is no debate here. Debate occurs when a proposition can be argued for or against on its merits, but the root foundation is a proposition that can be understood and is based in reality. You can debate whether or not we should have the death penalty in our law code, for example, but you cannot debate with any seriousness the merits of increasing the taxes on people who for the most part will not even be aware of it to stripping the working poor of ½ of their assets. This is insanity.
You see the same things in many of the pronouncements of Palin, Bachman, Perry, and others. Statements which can be proven to be factually incorrect, but upon further examination make absolutely no sense at all.
There is a place in our lives for belief and for fantasy. Some adherents choose a particular belief system based on faith, which is their right, and we call that religion. All of us have a fantasy life that varies from mild improvements we wish we could make in our personal situation to wild escapades of sexual or economic excess. Neither of these is particularly harmful, if kept in their rightful strand of the fabric of our lives. But politics is neither a belief system or fantasy.
Politics is often described as the art of compromise, or was until recently. You cannot compromise with devout adherents of a religion on their view of the world. Their minds and hearts are set, and that is that. You also cannot rule a country based on fantasy, although history shows many examples of failed attempts. The Roman Empire in its final days was a house of cards built on fantasy, and it collapsed. The Third Reich was a particularly cruel and disastrous fantasy that enslaved and murdered countless millions, and still creates eddies of anguish more than half a century later.
It needs to be repeated that there is a disconnect between traditional Republican philosophy and the ideas espoused by the media mongers currently posing as “Republican candidates.” The Republican Party has a long and storied history with chapters full of good ideas, failed but plausible concepts, and honorable leaders. There is nothing wrong with advocating a conservative approach to spending, with urging smaller government, or espousing whatever is meant by a “conservative lifestyle.” In fact, I think I qualify as meeting the undefined terms of the latter.
I’ll admit that for most of my adult life I have voted for candidates who were by and large said to be representing the Democratic Party, but not exclusively. I have voted for Republicans from time to time, and might do so again for someone whose positions made sense, and who appeared capable of dealing with others who hold opposing points of view.
What has happened recently is the wholesale kidnapping of philosophy by people who confuse what works in religion for what works in politics. A darker view would be that they are not confused at all, but cynical opportunists using the techniques of strict religionists in the political arena to amass power and money, not necessarily in that order.
In religion, absolutism is not only allowed but dominant in all “organized” religions. They all seek to spread the word of the “the way,” which is of course “their way” and only one of the many ways you can choose to make sense of your world and life – this one, the next one, or all of them according to your beliefs. Organized religions must have a degree of absolutism for believers to cling to, lest they attend a different “brand” of service every week and dilute the flow of money necessary to maintain that particular church.
Actually, attending the service of a different religion each week is a very fine idea I recommend. I did so for a time in my teens, but that is another article.
What we have today are absolutists commandeering the good ship Republican and offering inanities that many people vote for because they want so desperately to believe in the simple labels and absolute truths uttered. The problem begins when absolutists win elective office, because they’ve painted themselves into a corner of illogicality by the time they take office and cannot possibly reach agreement with those holding other views because their own views do not work in the real world, and were never designed to. Huck Finn said “You can’t pray a lie,” but in the modern world we see that you can’t negotiate one either.
We live in a democracy. Voters will, at some point, either determine that the government services they expect, and in fact demand, have to be paid for by taxes, and that those tax burdens should not be shirked by the extremely wealthy and a few corporations, or voters will continue to place their trust in fantasy and statements of egregious excess.
If the latter, our country is doomed, and a noble experiment in democracy will, after centuries of glory, have failed. In this fashion the strength of democracy, the individual vote, will ultimately serve as its destroyer, to the detriment of … the individual voter
Have a nice day!
Copyright Dave Preston 2011