Smoke and Mirrors and the “Realists”
December 4, 2014
Recently, a “thought” crystalized in my mind that goes like this. Some time in the past, a person who presented himself as embarking on a radical departure from previous views about politics, both pagan and Christian. The essence of his departure was to make the language, say, of Aristotle outmoded and he replaced it with a new language of politics.
This new political language would revolve around the word and the phenomenon called “government,” a word and phenomenon we take for granted today, without realizing its roots. Other words would follow from the prevalence of this word, words like “liberal” and “conservative,” which would replace such words as “democrat” or “oligarchy.” And words like “constitutionalism” or “representative republic” would come into vogue and replace words like “law” or “popular rule.”
But, here is the thing: What if these new words and new phenomena merely disguise what it actually going on in the political world? That is, what if the older, now unused words actually describe better than the new words what I will call “real reality?” And what if this was the intention of this “radical,” to disguise “real reality” because he thought this would make the world a more accommodating place for human beings? What if?
Here is a reason to raise this question: When you look, actually look at how people think, talk, and act, you can see that the words “liberal” and “conservative” are inadequate for describing these people and their actions. For example, some “pro-life” people favor the death penalty, while some who oppose the death penalty support extensive accommodations for abortions. And besides, which side in this regard is “liberal” and which is “conservative?” As is evident, these words have a kind of slippery character as well, with “liberal” at times seeming “conservative” and “conservative” at times being or seeming “liberal.” As some one once pointed out, for example, one of the most “conservative” groups in the U.S. is named “The Daughters of the American Revolution.”
Suppose for a few moments that the older words, say, Aristotle’s words, provide a better guide to what is actually happening than these other, newer words. That is, suppose the conflict that characterizes our politics is not between “liberals” and “conservatives” but between “democrats” and “oligarchs,” or that our economic conflicts are not between “free marketers” and “socialists” but between the wealthy, who tend to be oligarchs, and the rest of us, who tend toward democracy.
Insofar as this is the case, then it is fair to say that what we take to be our conflicts are little more than parts of a play or drama, which like all plays and dramas is constructed by those who are directors and are, as a result, not “real.” But in this case, the play or drama of our politics is a cover for the real conflicts that are taking place, as it were, “off stage” or behind the curtains. Now for this disguise, this ruse, as I might call it, to be effective, it must please its audience or at the very least keep them engaged. One way to do this, of course, is to have a lot of “drama,” and “scandals” are always a means of increasing the “drama.” This is especially so when these “scandals” involve, as they often the “high and mighty,” because the many always enjoy seeing those folks brought down and because these scandals give the impression that justice is being done. And justice is always at the heart of political conflict, with the many being more attached to justice than the few.
Also, it is necessary that some benefits actually flow to the many. Otherwise, they will become dissatisfied and they might start to wonder why it is that the few seem to be benefitting while they are not. We might call this “trickle down politics,” although for us the phrase “trickle down economics” works better because it makes it seem as if “the economy” is doing the allocating and not those with political power. When you lose your job, it is to be blamed on “the economy” which is in a “recession,” and of course a “recession” that was unwanted by those with political power and that can only be ended by those with political power, which of course they desperately want to do! And often these power brokers are stymied because “the economy” follows “economic laws” which cannot be successfully manipulated by those with political power.
Now, here is the thought I had: Insofar as this is our “real reality,” then our self-identified “realists” are merely those who engage in the business of preserving the illusions we, the many, take to be, are told are “reality.” And insofar as our “realists” don’t realize this, then it is fair to say that they are delusional because they mistake our “reality,” our play or drama, for “real reality,” which is bound to lead to repeated failures when their dramatized reality comes up against “real reality.” In our current lingo, our “realists” are merely “conservatives” in that they serve the existing order or drama. But they are also “extremists” in that they pursue an agenda that is anything but “realistic.” And their extremism shows whenever they fail, as they must, to achieve their objectives and have to embrace ever more extremes of power to try to succeed. This seems to make sense of a common phenomenon today, which I will illustrate by recalling that Sarah Palin, as vice president nominee, was said to be a “rogue,” making her “a conservative rogue,” a label she seemed to embrace. But as former – and “conservative” - colleague said to me, “When did being conservative become compatible with being ‘rogue?’”
It is an interesting situation.