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Return of the Malaise: Up to Our Asses in Alligators

 

It’s a sad reality of our day that denial and bullshit seem the most useful talents to getting elected and to govern in America.

Bullshit is meant in the sense used by Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt in his popular book titled On Bullshit. He defines bullshit as language with no basis in truth or fact focused on obtaining power. A liar knows the truth and tries to sell falsehoods; bullshitters simply don’t care what the truth is.

Some of the most popular candidates for the Republican Party (think Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman) are classic bullshitters who completely disdain rational analysis. For them it’s OK to say anything, like Perry and others' denial of evolution and global warming. Reason and responsible history are for the weak.

Even “liberals” like Barack Obama are masters of bullshit. You can’t be elected President of the United States as a “peace” candidate and then run three wars, expand the use of lethal drones and special ops assassination teams and attempt to jail NSA whistleblowers, without being an excellent bullshitter. Obama’s bullshit is less the counter-Enlightenment stuff of Perry and Bachman; his bullshit is the art of seeming to fight for change as he really nestles into the status-quo.

In such a climate of bullshit is it any wonder Americans are living through such unprecedented stress and difficulty? And all indications suggest it will only get worse before it gets better.

Harry Frankfurt, left, Rick Perry and President Barack ObamaHarry Frankfurt, left, Rick Perry and President Barack Obama

The problem is the current raft of bullshitters insist on propagating a master narrative from the 19th and 20th centuries that no longer works for the reality of the nation as it moves into the 21st Century. Master narratives are based on national myths and are found in the nostalgic assumptions of identity that people believe and want to keep alive in the future. The key myth in this context is the Myth of American Exceptionalism that says we Americans are the best of history and humanity -- a super-nation at the pinnacle of global political evolution destined by our affluence and narcissistic assumptions of greatness to be the world’s role model and policeman.

Dig a little deeper and read some responsible history and it becomes clear we’re a complex nation -- like all humanity, a struggle of opposites like good and evil -- founded and sustained by ambition, violence and conquest. Now, in the unfolding 21st century, the whole project is running low on gas. The sense of exceptionalism is becoming more nostalgic, making sustaining the myth more costly and more detrimental to a good future. This means greater and greater amounts of bullshit.

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