Sunday, September 14, 2008

back when i was in college, my area of concentration was something i called critical studies, which revolved, mostly, around the application of post-structuralist semiotics to the meta-narratives of western culture and history, broadly conceived. what that involved, mostly, was taking apart ideas and narrative structures as if they were machines, breaking them down into their component parts and seeing how those parts fit together, and also conceiving new ways of fitting those parts together in order to construct new idea-machines.

this may explain why i take my lattes with soy milk. well, that and the fact that cow's milk makes me sick and gassy. but i digress.

the point i'm trying to make is that it was heady stuff, the kind of stuff that, presumably, makes you a wine-track, latte-sipping coastal elite, aka the opposite of a real american, at least as conceived by the movement-conservative election-time noise machine. and, to some extent, it's true, as i learned when, after college, i moved to the colorado rockies and worked on a roofing crew for a while.

one of the reasons that i made that move, away from academia and towards the real world, was precisely that headiness. i realized at some point, or maybe i knew all along, that what i was doing was just a game, that, taken to its logical conclusion, one could only conclude that nothing was real, that everything only existed in relation to everything else, morally and ideologically, and that, in the end, there were only just competing power structures and differences in opinion.

sound familiar?

it should. back in the day, conservatives and republicans used to excoriate the left for precisely that. moral relativism, they called it, and it stood for everything wrong with the limp-wristed eggheads that wanted to take over washington and make everybody gay-marry aborted fetuses while bending over for our enemies at home and abroad. if nothing was true, everything was permitted, and all kinds of unsavory characters would do what they wilt as a result. it was the duty of all red-blooded, two-fisted, right-thinking americans to oppose such insidious undermining of all that was right and true and just and good.

but i guess that doesn't focus-group so well these days. or, rather, it does, but the bad guys know that not enough people have the time or inclination to do more than scratch the surface. we've all got lives to lead, after all.

when i read about john mccain's presidential campaign, i'm struck, over and over, by not only the sheer mendacity and the bald-faced lies, but more importantly by the mindset behind it all, which is the very same moral and ideological relativism that once upon a time stood for everything they stood against. obviously the media plays its role as well, with its pathological addiction to 'balance,' but what blows me away is the sheer cynicism and hypocrisy of it all, the win-at-any-cost mentality that allows people to convince themselves that they can knowingly do evil in the service of what they call good without irreversibly soiling both their souls and that which they hold dear.

i don't know. maybe it's just hard-wired into some people. i read of a study once that concluded that moralistic people (not moral people, who look to themselves and their own actions and try and do right, but moralistic people, who are more concerned with what other people do and think), who spend their time and energy seeking to monitor and police the actions of others, are more likely as a group to allow themselves some wiggle room, morally speaking. they're more likely to steal, more likely to cheat on their spouses, more likely to abuse any authority they manage to obtain. i suppose they tell themselves that they've earned it, that since they do so much to make other people conform to their own personal morality that they don't have to themselves. so maybe there are some people in whom hypocrisy is hard-wired, and for them, lying and cheating and stealing can be done with a clean conscience, since they serve some greater good (or at least conceive themselves of doing so).

me, i can't understand how anybody could be that way. guess i'm just wired differently.

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