Friday, September 26, 2008

A Bit of Optimism Best Expressed Before I Come To My Senses

Ah, our financial meltdown. Could any crisis be better contrived and timed to elicit every unbecoming, cut-off-your-nose, dig-your-own-grave tendency in our national character?

It bodes not well.

However, such crises also seem to produce their own opportunities for redemption. Opportunities like anti-matter in a crap-strewn universe, and every bit as elusive.

We'll get to that in a moment. But first, let's spend some time on the ledge.

Collected in the window frame behind us, quietly chanting "jump, jump, jump," is every negative influence ever isolated in the laboratories of self-help science. Fear. Fury. Bewilderment. Vindictiveness. Selfishness. Hate. All the impulses we should strive to hold at bay when it's time to make life-or-death decisions.

Evidence that our most rash and counterproductive urges threaten to win the day is everywhere.

The blogs are alight with cries of "let them fail!" Never mind that the "they" in question are holding your retirement.

In the recent Senate hearings on the crisis, Senator Sherrod Brown informed Treasury Secretary Paulson that not one of the torrent of calls to the Senator's office was in favor of the bailout plan. I suppose we should be pleased that looming disaster has rekindled America's moribund interest in civic affairs. Thanks to all those who paused their Wii's long enough to contact their representatives. But too bad our idea of constructive criticism is a collective wail of hysteria.

Garbage in, garbage out, says an old rule of thumb, meaning bad information produces faulty conclusions. And in the political sphere, our national hissy-fit ensures that we'll get more fluff than substance from the legislative sausage grinder. For example, capping Wall St. salaries is about as important right now as turning off the bedroom lights before fleeing a house fire.

Anyway, relax, I say. We'll all be taking a pay cut soon enough.

This is the allure of all our worst instincts on display. How do we respond? Do we boldly push them away? Do we resist their corrosive attraction? Of course not. We drink them down like shipwrecked sailors gorging themselves on salt water.

Stupid, stupid us. In penny romances, there is a moment when the protagonist recognizes their mistakes, is filled with regret, and sets out to make all well. They've traveled through a dark tunnel but come out to light.

Life is not like that. In real life, we come not to the tunnel's opening, but to a dead end where we realize we're inhabiting a disaster. But before we can set anything to right, we must first hack our way back through the recent track of our own dysfunction, blaming everyone but ourselves, lashing out indiscriminately, and sowing every bit as much misery and pain on the way out as we did on the way in.

Aren't we delightful?

So the question is, where on this trek are we right now? For several years now, polls have shown that most Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Perhaps then it doesn't require rose-tinted glasses to think this economic collapse is more of a final comeuppance than a wake-up call.

One other observation justifies optimism. I believe that there is an almost Newtonian physics to two-party politics. That a period of anomalous extremism can involuntarily generate its own antithesis. That out of the reeking, toxic decay of Republican depravity is coming some kind of exotic, mysterious particle of unsuspected positive potential. And its name is Barack Obama.

Look, I have no illusions about what the reality of an Obama administration is likely to be. In all likelihood he will be beaten to a political pulp by the problems he will inherit and will forever be tethered to Jimmy Carter in the revisionist worldview of the 12 consecutive Republican administrations his disastrous tenure will ensure. And who knows what unexpected failings of character he will display. He's as human as the rest of us, and if you think I have an inflated opinion of humanity, well, you haven't been reading very carefully.

And yet one can hardly deny that he is a very different quantity than any candidate to come to the brink of the Presidency in the last 40-odd years. And that his viability is a product of our 8-year-long national catastrophe. Were it not for the lies, the pointless war, the corruption, the disdain for competence, the indefensible use of torture, the disregard for the rule of law and constitutional democracy, and now this great hundred-year-flood of our financial system, is there any chance we would be on the verge of electing a black man whose middle name is "Hussein" President right now? Any chance?


So I think something different is about to happen. Something special. We are on a cusp that has the potential to be transformational, rather than just a slow, dreary crawl back to mediocrity. And it's happening not in spite of the calamity that envelops us, but because of it.


PJ White said...

Glad you're back. I so look forward to your epistles. Afterwards, though, I have to drink a quart of scotch to recover. When are you going to write that damn book? I want to read it by the feeble light of streetlamps as I huddle in my cardboard box, sheltering from the drifting snow.

Mark Lazen said...

PJ--Thanks for visiting and thanks so much for the kind words. I've been trying to find more time to do this, and I can't overstate how much it helps to know that there are just a few folks out there that get some enjoyment (though perhaps in a dark vein) from it.

I swear I am NOT a depressive. I promise you a post before long that proves it!

PJ White said...

Actually, I have been shining your light. More than a few of my friends have become your fans. I realize it is a grueling process to become known in this milieu; however, you are one of the gifted.

jk said...

I'll second that. I came over a while ago when C&L linked to a post.
Now I very much look forward to your posts and tell all my friends to check it out.

What do you do when you're not blogging?

Mark Lazen said...

Klipper--Thanks! When I first started doing this I set the modest goal of developing a cult following. The thinking being that anything more than one = cult.

So success! Much tequila tonight!

As for what's on my plate besides this, it's one of those damn distracting day jobs. That and a need for occasional exposure to sunshine, a need other bloggers don't seem to share.

Otherwise, O how prolific I might be!

jk said...

Maybe what's so good about your posts is the time you take to create them. Or not, maybe you just bang 'em out 'tween shots of Patron. Either way, sign me up.

I read your profile and noticed you're in South Orange. I too reside NJ, having moved back to Passaic County last year.

Maybe I'll see you around.

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