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The "Awakening" When Coming Back to a City

I have written before of how thought-provoking it can be to come into a city after a lengthy spell in the backcountry. The greatest difficulty in doing a good job at this is to belittle it right from the beginning: "Oh this is just some kind of thought experiment. It isn't practical. I don't want to waste time by acting like a kook, in his own little mental playground..."

Recently I experienced a special version of this. I was visiting a small metropolis that was big enough for a tumescent growth of big box retail stores on the edge of town. The Republican party's debate was in the news. As tempting as it might be to throw mud-pies at each specific runt in the debate, it is more important to ask something more fundamental: if Democracy were so great, and if Americans were so suited for it, how could a country as large as the USA and with all its achievements and deep pool of talent, produce such a pitiful list of candidates?

Something is fundamentally wrong with our 'system.' You only think of things like that when you come in from the backcountry. But here is the hard part: try to hold onto this fresh and independent thinking as long as you can. Keep looking at the situation like you are seeing it for the first time. 

What would Washington, Jefferson, or Madison think if they were stuffed into a time machine, and watched a modern debate of presidential wannabees? In what ways have Americans changed from what we started as?

Try as you might, in a couple days you start to backslide into 'normal' thinking.

Have you ever watched the movie, "Awakenings", made in the 1990s, starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams? It takes place in a long term mental hospital which had a lot of people whose central nervous systems were damaged by a childhood disease. They were apparently doomed to live out their lives in a catatonic state.

But a researcher-turned-clinical practitioner came to the hospital and began experimenting with large doses of a new drug. And it worked, spectacularly! But then the patients starting slipping back into their catatonic non-existence. It was a real heart-breaker to see that happen.

It feels somewhat the same to see it happening to myself on the second or third day back in civilization. In regressing to normality, real human life decays into a template that makes little sense. But, as a consolation, you can appreciate this relapse as something Thomas Hardy would have called "a negative beauty of tragic tones."

But if Hardy is too dark for your taste, then focus on the upswing of this kind of "Awakening", and hope that it becomes more frequent or more intense.

The most cheerful attitude is to switch metaphors, and see this type of experience as one that permanently transforms an individual. Consider its similitude to Arnold Toynbee's "Withdrawal and Return", in one of his chapters of "A Study of History." (Extra credit to any reader who finds the chapter.)


XXXXX said…
Another option is to consider that Lincoln, Washington, or Madison weren't as heroic and wonderful as history would have us believe. Perhaps they would strike you much in the same way as the current wannabe's do. It's a different world. Can you imagine that world of no recorded or televised speeches? A candidate could easily get away with saying one thing to one audience and the exact opposite to another audience. Many people couldn't even read the newspapers to check facts.

When one is off by oneself, one can live in the perfect world of his/her own creation. Even the luxury of a fellow traveler would make a difference.

It was the side effects which required the experiment to stop in "Awakenings". Based on a true story. Perhaps that aspect fits into your metaphor as well.
I don't deify historic personages because it would be grade schoolish naivete. But I can't believe they were comparable to the runts currently in the running.

"...couldn't even read the newspapers to check facts..." Oh George, sure you don't believe there are any 'facts' in the newspapers!

Indeed there can be side effects to being off by yourself. And one must be on guard.
XXXXX said…
Why do you think anything you read on the internet is any better?
Or in any history book, for that matter, given that history is written by the victors?
You're skirting on the philosophical question of what is real and what is perception; what is real and what is illusion.
Is your experience when you are alone for long periods of time more valid, more real, than when you are not?

Ed said… could a country as large as the USA and with all its achievements and deep pool of talent, produce such a pitiful list of candidates?"

Comparing this cycle of Republican candidates to what was offered, and what received the nomination, in 2008 and 2012 I would say that the current list is replete with talent.

There is the chance that there will not be an election. The situation in this country may be so dire that President Obama will be compelled to suspend any voting and remain president for the good of the country, for the children and for national security.

'internet any better?' I see what mean if you are talking about averaging all the ghastly stuff on the internet together with the good, resulting in an average that might be no better than traditional media.

Or if you compare with CNN cable TV news, perhaps the online version is no better.

But not EVERYTHING on the internet is owned by three large corporations.

Furthermore, an amateur "journalist" is free to tell you what he thinks of government policies or any other subject in the world. He may have limited experience with the subject. He may not be a careful reasoner. Hell, he may not be reasoning at all! But at least they CAN be his opinions.

In contrast, the professional must maintain friendly relations with government officials, or his sources of news will dry up, and somebody else will take over his job. He must also keep a close eye on his "applause-meter", by suppressing any opinion of his that is unpopular.

About 'perception and reality': I think Ayn Rand is at her best in "The Fountainhead" when she steers clear of alienating the reader with her strident political opinions, and discuss the syndrome of being a "second hander," that is, somebody who takes their thoughts second hand from other people.
Oh that is no fair! Comparing anybody to Dubya or McCain is too easy of a comparison.

Theoretically I believe you are right about postponing a presidential election based on some CRISIS!!! But there would be no need to postpone it unless the president is a lame duck, which is your example. Otherwise the American people are so "follow our mighty Caesar" in their mind-set that they would automatically reelect a one term president, or stick with his party.

'Rally 'round the President' is much more American than apple pie.
John V said…
There will be no third term. Barack Obama can't wait for his presidency to end. Then he can get on with the important life work of becoming a billionaire superstar who flies by jumbo jet around the world with his entorage to give standing room only speeches about global warming and meaningless, feel good social issues.
John V, Indeed, it is easy to visualize Obama doing just what you said. Perhaps he will win a second Nobel Peace Prize for his astonishing success at bring "affordable" health care to America, ending gun violence, and vanquishing the great global bogeyman of global warming -- not to mention a world of Peace.

Besides, it would look better for his legacy if some other sucker was in the White House if/when some serious sh** starts hitting the fan.
Anonymous said…
Oy veh! Where are Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter when you need them?

Anonymous said…
John, I understand the source of the sarcasm of your comment, but I am curious as to what "meaningless feel good social issues" you had in mind?

John V said…
KB: Bingo!

Anonymous/Chris: Too many "meaningless feel good social issues" to discuss in a blog without highjacking the forum. It would require an evening long fire and some good bottles of wine to cover them all! Not that I disagree with the President on everything, but I do believe he prefers to use certain issues to deflect attention from the major issues. Rome is burning while he fiddles.
Alan Oak said…
I think you've got this backwards, unless I'm misreading you. My "Awakening" happens when I get *out* of the cities.