This post was not sanctioned by Michael Burawoy
In the aftermath of the recent presidential election, many of us are trying to forget about the result, and are doing so with a remarkable diversity of strategies. For some, this means lots of alcohol, for others a carton of haagen daz, for still others it has meant extra playtime with the kids. For me, "trying to forget" has largely meant going to my happy place. (For more pics like that, though not actually of me, check out Sorryeverybody.com. It's pretty cathartic, but I digress...) Yet, in trying to forget about that election we are also trying to shove all of the campaign rhetoric out of our minds. In most cases that's a good thing, since the Bush campaign's "You should be constantly fucking terrified" platform was fairly unpleasant, not to mention insulting to our basic intelligence. Yet, still, there are some things we should not forget. One of them is John Edwards' argument that there are two Americas: one that enjoys increasing prosperity, and one that is suffering under worsening poverty. Indeed, for all its Marxist overtones, this seems to be an accurate reflection of what has been happening in the United States for some time. Yet, given the most recent election, I no longer find this representation to be satisfying. If our country were splitting into two halves on economic terms, wouldn't our political parties split the same way? Wouldn't the poor be uniting against the rich, and vice versa? Since that isn't happening, indeed the concern over "moral values" argues that poverty is lessening in importance for voters, I think what we need is someting a little more complex. We need to find the second dimension, besides just economics, that divides voters into "conservative" and "liberal" categories. And no, before you start yelling out suggestions, I don't think it's that conservatives like drowning puppies, or that liberals like to get high. Certainly those things may be true, but I doubt they are the main distinction.
To achieve a new, more complex model of voter behavior I am going to construct something that sociologists in general, and Michael Burawoy in particular, really adore: a two-by-two table. See, Burawoy will be the first to admit that he loves 2x2 tables- after all, he actually constructed one during his ASA speech. So, it seems perfectly appropriate for me to follow his sterling example. You might even say that I am going to construct a theory of the 2x2 Americas. If you did say that, though, you'd be guilty of telling a really crappy joke. Let's just leave that to me, shall we?
For this new conception of the U.S., we will retain John Edwards' distinction between the "haves" and the "have-nots." I think this is a legitimate distinction, and one that we would do well to attend to. So, take out a sheet of paper and make two columns. Label the left column "Have-Nots" and the right column "Haves." Ok? Ready? Good.
Next, we need to decide what our other axis will be. Well, here's the thing: there are haves and have-nots in each party, so some other factor must split us up into parties. Wanna know what I think it is? It's simple: the ability to laugh at oneself.
Now, don't dismiss this right away: think about it. I'm arguing that what distinguishes the political parties from each other isn't just how much material wealth their members control, but how seriously they take themselves. Since taking oneself too seriously is a sure route to humorlessness, this argues by extension that one party should be funny while the other one is not. I mean, are leftists funny? Hell yes! We have John Stewart, Michael Moore, and George Carlin, just to name a few. Can liberals laugh at themselves? Well... I think it's safe to say they can. What about the conservatives? Well... there's... um... Rush Limbaugh? Do they have anyone else who is funny? Maybe Dennis Leary, but he's not so much conservative as Libertarian. I suppose we might count Jeff Foxworthy and some of the other "Blue Collar Comedy" guys, but I've never been able to decide if they're really politically engaged. Hell, if you need proof that liberals are funnier than conservatives, just check out the right-wing answer to "Sorryeverybody.com." (FYI: as of this moment the site appears to be down, but I'm hoping it'll be back later) Would you really label any of this funny? Maybe, but probably not. Especially not the scary people with the firearms. Seriously, folks, we understand you have guns so there's no need to brandish them in front of
Given the above, let's just go ahead and assume that I'm right, and add our second dimension to the 2x2 Americas: funny. In that upper row write "Not Serious" and in that bottom row write "Serious." So, our upper-left cell is for Have-Nots who don't take themselves seriously, our upper-right cell is for Haves who don't take themselves seriously, our bottom-left cell is for Have-Nots who take themselves seriously, and the bottom-right cell is for Haves who do take themselves seriously. Or, in the same order, "Urban Poor," "Educated Elites," "Christian Fundies," and "Capitalists." Seem overly simplistic and crude? Good. That just means it's appropriate for a blog of this caliber.
So why does this matter? Well, simply put, taking yourself too seriously is just plain dangeorus. It makes you more rigid and less willing to concede the possibility that you did something wrong. On the other hand, not taking yourself seriously makes it easier to acknowledge that you might have done something stupid. Taking yourself not-so-seriously seems to be strongly related to humility, whereas taking things too seriously is related to arrogance. What seems to divide our country is not economics, not yet, but the willingness to concede our own falibility. Liberals are aware that we can be wrong, it is this knowledge that is our greatest strength as well as our greatest weakness. It is a strength because it allows us to be flexible when flexibility is needed, altering our beliefs when they are clearly shown to be in error. It is a weakness because it tears us apart with disagreement about what we should do, and how. For conservatives, with their faith in god (Be it a wrathful Christian god, or the god of Capital), there is little room for flexibility and change: what is right is simply right no matter the circumstances. This is, of course, a logically weak stance but one that allows little division within the ranks. In short, then, the ability to laugh at oneself is akin to open-mindedness. Or so I, the crazy left-leaning moderate, would argue.
I bring all this up because I think we in the blogging world can play a useful role in encouraging humility. If some people take themselves too seriously, then it is our sacred duty to help them over this hump. In other words: we need to mock the sons of bitches a little bit. Hey, if you take yourself too seriously, clearly you need someone to show you how to laugh at yourself. I, as you will no doubt believe, am quite willing to assist you in learning.
It is towards this end that tomorrow's blog will be dedicated. Tomorrow I will take on a guy that has been begging for a little deflating for a while now. It should be fun, it should be educational, it shouldn't cause an itchy rash. Be sure to join me tomorrow for it! And, in the meantime, just... uh... stay away from the woods.
Seriously, people, not funny at all.