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A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind

“Just because a country elects a smart president, doesn’t make it a smart country….Ignorance has life and death consequences…We should forget the town halls and replace them with study halls…”

— Bill Maher, “New Rules”

What I call “The Stupid” is not a personal entity, although it is difficult at a time when only the personal rules to present such. The Stupid can be self-manufactured or manufactured for you. You will not find it in Nature among the lower orders. It can produce a profit, business and political wise, for those who market it directly to your brain. For those who self-manufacture, aided by a chosen enclave of friends on social media which seems to have kicked up the dissemination of The Stupid, it is nurtured yet unidentified. Whatever its origins, The Stupid seems to be on the rise, speaking loudly and often, in this electoral season.

The Stupid would be involved if we were facing a life threatening event we failed to understand as life threatening and went on as if the threat did not exist.

Let us call that the global warming end of a human habitable planet threat.

The Stupid would also be involved if the appearance of a horrific destructive force challenging our right to exist appeared and then reappeared and we said Satan was behind it and we saw no reason to “reason” beyond that.

Let’s call that the Islamofascist threat, ISIS in the lead but Al Qaeda still kicking.

The Stupid is fully operative if in a time of such peril you decided that a megalomaniac whose megalomania pushes him to ever greater heights of public recognition, a TV show not being sufficient, whose response to the Paris attacks is to say “We’ll bomb the S out of them!” should be the next president of the United States.

Let’s call this The Stupid of the Viscera, or The Stupid of the “Gut.”

Finally, The Stupid is at work if we failed to see the connection between our actions and our scenarios of stupidity. But seeing the connection would not be enough, although it natoligulliverwould be an intelligent start; it would be necessary to trace our contribution to each and every scenario.

In what way are we the cause of the effects we see? Because we as Americans are deeply lost in the illusions of personal autonomy grounded in an unassailable “freedom to choose” and because the real threats we face overspill and overwhelm those personal choice borders, our threatening scenarios must therefore become, in our initial reaction, of no personal concern.

We are so deep into our personal determination of everything, politics included, that anything of no personal interest can gain entrance. When we look up and around, either because of fear of what Donald Trump called “bad” Mexicans, or Syrian refugee terrorists, or another 9/11, The Stupid has us looking for a rescuer, a savior, a leader who will end the threats to our peaceful personal sovereignty. The Stupid has us looking for the person we can identify with, the person most like us but not in what are crappy circumstances have made of us. No, The Stupid has us looking for the person The Stupid assures us we are shortly to become. The Stupid reminds us of an American Dream tailored to our personal fame and fortune requirements.

The Stupid has us looking for that bloated illusion of our own selves. Enter Donald Trump.

The Stupid assures us that our personal opinions, freely chosen without Big Government/Obama obstruction, pave our road to Truth and therefore there is no need to be informed about anything. You set your opinion vehemently against all others because the guiding mantra of The Stupid is that stupidity is always a possession of others. The Stupid prefers a “visceral way of knowing” and leads you to candidates who display that kind of “knowing,” a special kind of knowing that eschews knowledge, especially political. George W. Bush won a second term in office because he practiced on a Zen level The Stupid’s visceral way of knowing. It did not matter that by 2004 that indisputable evidence had made clear that a powerful coalition of The Stupid had built a house of lies to start a war. In this case, The Stupid was worked by psychopathic friends of President Bush who needed to have a war in the same way every psychopathic serial killer has to do what he has to do.

The Stupid, like greenhouse gases and nuclear fallout, has a never ending lifespan. Our attraction for leaders who share our affinity to “gut” response, our illusions as to a personal “will to power,” and fulfill in their own lives our dreams of fame and fortune is set up to be a fatal attraction. The Stupid gets in the way of our seeing any of that. The Stupid invades both voter and candidate alike. The candidate cannot win the presidency by taking a high ground of critical reflection because The Stupid keeps voters from getting to that ground. What is needed in American politics, according to The Stupid, is to take a low ground that appeals to visceral response.

The worst part of The Stupid is the fact that, by definition, we have not reasoned ourselves into it. We do not get to The Stupid by informed, rational argument. Because The Stupid alone will deliver victory, the rational argument candidate, like Bernie Sanders, is applying a faculty that is unrecognizable, one that is not even in the game. When The Stupid is in charge there is no doorway to restructuring this unfortunate game and neither are there awakening and liberating messages from the media because, as absurdist as the politics of The Stupid becomes, the media’s interests lies in stretching out every absurd moment, every new move of The Stupid. The Stupid, like illness and war, is set up to make a profit for those in a plutocracy positioned to make a profit.

The media follows us in our fatal attractions to the most flamboyant buffoons, playing each for every ounce of The Stupid they put on display. We are now fatally attracted to political “outsiders” because they, like us, want to kill politics, as well as the government that it institutionalizes. Enter Dr. Ben Carson.

He’s a different act altogether than Trump because rather than appeal to a bloated bravado “will to power,” Dr. Carson conveys a Beatitude delivery but the message nonetheless is straight out of The Stupid. He is not the warrior slayer of the dirty game of politics as is Trump but the One who rises above politics and takes us with him. We do not defeat unscrupulous politicians. We transcend them. Jesus has laid a hand on Dr. Carson’s shoulder (which is in fact a painting Dr. Carson has in his home) and anointed him to lead us out of everything The Stupid prevents him from naming. What Dr. Carson asks of us is a faith in his gentle ways of recuperating threatening situations, situations in fact that he does not have to convince us he knows anything about. The Stupid reminds us that we do not reason ourselves into our faith in either him, Jesus. Allah, or the “Invisible Hand of the Market.” Faith happens when reason comes to the end of its path. The Stupid places that end at the entrance point.

The wealthy have a business stake in The Stupid. They use it to make a profit. Our present state of plutocracy places about 20% of the population where 80% of the population wish to be. That “wishing to be” is the deconstructing gesture made against Bernie Sanders’ call to dissolve serious economic inequality. The Have Nots and Have Less Than Before will not strike against their own dreams of imminent fame and fortune. A failure to realistically assess a situation is The Stupid at work. The Stupid also prevents us from seeing that the socialist inspired sharing mentality that Bernie Sanders advocates would be the start of dismantling a plutocratic order that arises from severe economic inequality. Once wealth returned to the middle class and the working and underclasses had a viable ladder to the middle class, the sway of capitalist elite power would be displaced by a vastly wider spread of political, economic, moral and social interests. The Smarts of the past emerged from this strong, relatively economically secure 80%. The Stupid of the present blinds us from seeing this.

What could you expect if The Smarts returned and The Stupid went out the door?

You could expect that degenerated social values shaped by the interests of profit alone would not only be less easily manufactured and maintained but would give way to a pragmatic realism, what a naïve Obama imagined as operational when he first took office.

When you are truly family and progeny oriented and not committed solely to profit to shareholders, a planet too hot for your children to inhabit becomes an issue you get smart about very quickly. This means that those concerned about the future well-being of their children will call upon our unbridled, financialized capitalism to back up on their greed visions of unlimited “growth” of the economy, the Dow Jones and their stock portfolio. A politics that ensures that will very soon develop.

The threat of ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorism also would prompt us to first, stop allowing that same unbridled financialized capitalism to run our foreign policy. Either the need to create new market frontiers or the need to protect those we had already put in place have led us to inhumane non-involvement, anxious cold war détente or an acquiescence to “perpetual war.” The fear of Communism was always kept churning by a fear of state ownership of private enterprise, thus a loss of profits. That fear transfers to any form of socialism because The Stupid keeps on the burner the idea that socialism is always state control of everything and a loss of political and personal freedom. Even if Bernie Sanders could expose The Stupid in study hall sessions, informed reasoning once again would not be the operative medium. However, a dismantling of a plutocratic order that conducted foreign affairs according to the interests of Market Rule would put the well-being and security of the Many in that place where the profits of the Few presently trump the well-being of the Many..

The Stupid prevents us from seeing that the Islamic world, in all its variety, does not accept the New Testament guideline of rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s but seeks, as every socialist does, to kick Caesar’s butt in this world if he turns this world into a moshpit of greed. The militant, invading force that every fledging jihadist is taught to see is the Blitzkrieg advance of globalized techno-capitalism that subordinates everything to the pursuit of profit. What we now face is the distorted, angry face of those madly hoping to erect a caliphate to replace the secular force of capitalism but can, in truth, do no more than imprint upon the whole world the collapse of their own humanity and the clear evidence that they are very far from the Quran commandment to “do good to others,” very far from the moral kingdom on earth they seek.

A sad and tragic aspect of allowing Market Rule to lead our advance into the Middle East and elsewhere is that ancient antagonisms, mounting hatred and increasingly heinous acts of retaliation have created the Frankenstein of ISIS. The zero sum game that we play in the economic sphere has always been transferrable to the political. That transference has produced something other than a “creative destruction.” The Stupid has us now in a survival game against ISIS terrorists. The saddest and most tragic aspect of this is that an inciting Market Rule and its profiteering minions are not at risk but only those who fight for them, who risk life, limb and mind in the deadly destruction of war. ISIS are themselves led by The Stupid to suicidal bombings and random street massacres as not a ” dark descent down to Chaos and Eternal Night” but a recreation of caliphate that somehow Muhammad would bless.

Bernie Sanders is right: once we recognize the usurpation of an economically mobile egalitarian democracy by plutocracy, and recognize our complicity and acquiescence to this engineered by our own illusions, we are capable of unthreading the transnational stranglehold of Market Rule. We can never end the role The Stupid plays in creating our problems and how we go about dealing with them, but we can do much to cut off the incentives of a plutocracy to maintain for its own preservation the Many deep in visceral responses and illusions.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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