Clear seeing

L_ Superior SunriseHow  can we contribute to a renewal of political discourse? A large hazard for 2016 is that we end up countering  anger, false certainty and hatred with their mirror image, and in so doing fuel a downward spiral. Clear seeing as to the way things actually are offers an antidote to these Gramscian ‘morbid symptoms.

Late last year, spurred on by the truly appalling tone of discourse in the Republican Party’s nomination contest, I wrote three United States-centric blog posts on the ways in which we talk about government. Each of the posts explored one aspect of the theme:

The first post explored the Great-Gatsby-like carelessness of the discourse: “….careless people….. who smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The second post used the example of the Washington DC Metro to show how carelessness can undermine the performance of public agencies. It described the ways in which  a combination of hubris and inattention resulted in a downward spiral of dysfunction – and offered some thoughts as to how this might be turned around.

The third post used the example of Obamacare to expose the “good governance high standards shuffle” – in which superficially appealing benchmarks of perfection are used cynically to undermine any sense that government can contribute to the public good, even when real gains have been achieved.

(In case you’re interested in a parallel exploration in a different context, in a set of posts earlier in 2015 I detailed how South Africa’s sour, conflict-prone discourse seemingly is destroying Nelson Mandela’s remarkable example of reconciliation and leadership.)

Antonio Gramsci’s famous quote from his Prison Notebooks, written in the 1930s when he was imprisoned by Mussolini’s fascist regime, captures perfectly what seems to be happening in so many parts of our contemporary world:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this inter-regnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

In 2016, may the wisdom that comes from the effort to see clearly help us to turn away from anger and polarization, and thereby renew the possibility of looking to the future with hope, rather than recrimination and despair.

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2 responses

  1. Brian – this is an excellent collection of essays on the theme of governance, aptly described with vivid illustrations. The essays do let us see more clearly some of the reasons for the strangeness in the electoral debates in the U.S. How does such Gramscian morbidity get resolved ultimately?

    • Hi Anand,
      How does social learning happen? I am tempted to borrow from Martin Luther King and assert that “the arc of political discourse is long, but bends towards truth”. But many things can happen between here and there. (See: Germany in the decades following 1932…..). The 2016 American elections will teach us a great deal about the power (and hopefully limits) of the ‘big lie’…..

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