Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Philosophy and Punditry, Part Two

Today we present Part 2 of Terry McKenna's piece on spin, action, and understanding in an era of vapid punditry. And just to assure readers that Terry and I don't quite agree on everything (see our commenting duel on Sunday's post), I'll have a response tomorrow. But first, Part 2 of Terry's "Philosophy and Punditry":


If the beliefs of hardliners like John Bolton have been discredited, then what about the opposition? Well, sadly, the left also has lots to account for. I’ll just note a few concerns: a misguided reliance on the UN; a similar misjudgment of US strength (think of Darfur – we worry that genocide is going on – forgetting that we can’t stop it anyway); and a blind spot regarding arms control – which works with members of the nuclear club, but not at all for those on the outside who want to join.

No matter the issue, an attempt to secure a deeper understanding of the current day yields the same frustrating dualism. (Pick your topic – I suggest that you start with the environment!) To sum up, we are left with:

  • An era that devalues the search for meaning

  • A plethora of valueless voices (the bloviators)

  • Dualism in all spheres

  • So what to do? Maybe the composer Beethoven, expressed it best in his Ninth Symphony. Composing in the traditional sonata form, his search for musical meaning led him to conclude by switching gears altogether – by moving to a vocal composition. His gear switch was abrupt and self referential – that is, he used words to comment on the change about to take place in his own piece. Beethoven recognized that he needed to move outside the constricting box of the orchestral symphony. He used this introduction (first in German, then in English):

  • O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere!

  • Oh friends, not these tones! Let us raise our voices in more pleasing and more joyful sounds!

  • The search for information brings us to the same dead end that we find when art reaches an artistic end point. To begin with, none of us can be experts at everything, and then we have the limited value of specialization. For example, I give money to environmental causes, but the more information I try to gather on the topic, the more enveloped I get in minutiae. My question to myself becomes, do I really need to become an expert in the fire threat to western coniferous forests in order to understand current day US policy?

    Faced with the short term and the trivial, maybe what we should go after is the search for the same genuine meaning that has been discredited. Of course, such a search is life long; it should start by examining the following core values: honesty, integrity; loyalty; gentleness; earnestness; and an openness to new things.

    Note – these “values” look nothing at all like the values expressed by some of our politicians when they discuss values. (By the way, how in hell did opposition to gun control and gay marriage morph into being part of the consideration of “values”?)

    If you want to see how these values are useful to an analysis of the present state of affairs, let’s try a simple exercise. Let’s examine a few men in terms of genuine traditional values: George Bush II, Jerry Falwell, John McCain and Bill Clinton.

  • George Bush: he fails on all but loyalty.

  • Jerry Falwell: he is certainly not open to new ideas, he’s also a thug if not a liar.

  • John McCain: he’s loses on honesty, integrity and earnestness.

  • Bill Clinton: loses on honesty and loyalty, but has genuine openness and earnestness – and maybe, despite some dishonesty, he has integrity after all.

  • And regarding policy: Maybe if we elected people with strong core values, we could rely upon them to be the representatives that their constitutional role implies.

    —T. McKenna

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