What to Wonder Now

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”

— Socrates

We now seem divided into the exasperated, the fearful and trembling, the threatened, the vindicated, the feisty, the victorious, the confident, the despairing…. I have been more set to wondering than anything else.

Wonder arises from startling difference; eradicate the difference, explain it away, and you eradicate the wonder. Right now, some senators express a mind boggling wonder when faced with the views of other senators regarding a rewrite of the House’s “Trumpcare.” The same sort of wonder that cannot find its way to a reconciling understanding saturates the American landscape, most observable in our politics.

Wonder then may ideally lead to wisdom, or a mutual understanding that is fertile, but it also may be a kind of pre-reflective emotional state, a kind of enduring tantrum episode, that does not progress to anything like wisdom. Prolonged wonder can lead to anger, to amazement that somehow “the other” remains impervious to your truth, your way of knowing. On the dark side of wondering, we reserve it for what doesn’t fit into our worldview. We are deep into wondering how these other people live, think and act. And I do not reserve this for terrorists only. W are as much stuck at the amazed and wonder stage regarding the followers of Trump or they with the anti-Trumpians as we all are with the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi. I call this a dumbstruck wonder. It ends the path to wisdom before the path can open.

President Trump’s tweets leave me a state of wonder that I cannot seem to move beyond. His words, which others, most pathetically, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, must bring to meaning never put me on that path. I cannot get beyond a look, not a thought, but a kind of mind numbing, jaw dropping reaction. Is there some kind of thinking behind the words? Some coherence and continuity of language I cannot parse? What happened to the U.S. Presidency? What happened to language? What happened to sanity and sense? What, in short, is going on? I ask these questions but I cannot seem to progress beyond my wonder. How could this be?

The perfect path of wonder is to incite exploration seeking explanation and understanding but we now seem in every way caught in a wonder that freezes the mind, fixes us in place like Edvard Munch’s character on a bridge in his painting, “The Scream.” My reaction to Trump makes me that screamer, mostly discombobulated by a Mad Hatter and Humpty Dumpty takeover of words and meaning, reality and truth. How do you attend the Hatter’s Tea Party sensibly beyond remaining in a state of wonder?

Standing on that same bridge opposite me is another screamer, also in a state of wonder, wondering how I cannot see Donald J. Trump as the one who will upend the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party arranged by the administrative State and facilitated by the Dark State. I can’t get beyond wondering where this person is at and this person can’t get beyond wondering where I’m at.

A mutual inconceivability here does not permit us to represent each other in any mutually agreeable way. We are stuck on the stage of wonder, almost a fascination that is definitely not leading to wisdom. I wonder how anyone can listen to Rush Limbaugh; my counterpart wonders why Hillary is not in jail. I wonder how anyone would not respect Nancy Pelosi; my counterpart wonders why Nancy Pelosi is not in jail. I wonder why everyone doesn’t recognize the dangers of human caused global warming; my counterpart wonders how gullible I am to believe in this Liberal hoax. And so on.

The lives of “the lower orders” are inconceivable to us for many reasons, most especially because we are of a different species. Americans in the U.S. are so divided that we can only stand in wonder at each other, each stunned by the presence of the other, a presence that has become inconceivable.

I can explore such division and see what an astounding wealth divide reveals. Our division is rooted in the axiomatic play of “free” market enterprise that presents no criterion of worth beyond profit.

There is a reasoning whereby the Losers should remain invisible, without any social or political leverage beyond voting, which their depreciated status has slowly dissuaded them from exercising. When conditions fail to change a trajectory downward, there is little inclination to believe a vote will bring a change. Those, however, who thrive under present conditions, do not seek change; those who do, are a wonder to them.

The wonder is not reciprocal. The economically distressed have no wonder in regard to the Winners or the economics that makes them so. Instead, they are wondering why anyone is a Liberal or why anyone would vote for Bernie Sanders or why Obama was not impeached.

It is not inconceivable to me why a TV celebrity who is not a politician and says he wants to bring government and politics down would attract wage earners who have been left out of the wealth pie distribution since Reagan. It’s not even inconceivable to me that they remain loyal to President Trump who is certainly stirring things up in Washington, in the nation, in the EU, and in the minds of Liberals.

What I find inconceivable, call it my main wonder, is how the plight of so many has not led them to an economic system that undermines democracy, promotes oligarchy, and calls a trashing of lives that results, a “creative destruction”?

In a culture of narcissism, which is a culture of the personal, ideas, concepts, systems, ideologies do not play half as well as talk of this or that person, this celebrity, that devil, this savior. You can demonize Hillary and Obama easily, viscerally, but there is nothing easy about entering the deep weeds of globalized semio-techno capitalism and its ties to politics. And then the even deeper weeds of how it all freezes you and isolates you in a wonder that brings no wisdom.

“Don’t Panic”

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Don’t Panic,” the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mantra is “back in the day” advice. Then again, those below the poverty line, about 14% of Americans, don’t panic the way the gentrified class panics. A day to day fear of winding up on the street is a different kind of panic than the one Donald J. Trump instills in Liberals, who fear that President Trump will reverse their victories in the culture wars.

If I don’t panic and I don’t remain frozen at the wonder, aka the “WTF! dumbstruck, stage, various issues and debates lead me to wonder what can possibly happen. In other words, I struggle to find a line of communication that bypasses our mutual WTF! shock.

For a starter, how anxious are dividend/interest recipients in getting rid of Trump before his term is up? I mean will a President Pence hand a trillion dollars of infrastructure improvement money to the privates, as Trump is sure to do. Or will a President Pence let public funding get in on the act, thus curtailing the profits of the profiteers? President Pence may question as to why the U.S. needs to involve private money when municipal bonds exempt from federal taxes are available to tap with a borrowing cost of zero.

This questioning lead me to think that no one in the presidency is more likely to nourish the mogul class and those who feed at the stock trough of the high risk taking of unfettered moguldom than Donald J. Trump. He is primed to outdo Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as avatars of the wealthy and powerful.

The showdown that is looming will disclose whether a Liberal’s investments matter more or less than the cultural cocktail party politics they have been mouthing since Clinton.

It really doesn’t matter to the rise and fall of the Dow if Liberals are screaming about bathrooms, abortion, guns, immigrants, climate, the death penalty, poverty, health care, student loans and so on. Nor has a Liberal politics in any way been able to upend the economics that created Donald J. Trump or his tenure in the presidency. It’s a lot of “resistance” on the outskirts of a machinery, Blake’s dark satanic mills that grind on, heedless. They have been resisting everything but the ten ton Mogul in the room.

I wonder then whether Trump will do four and maybe eight years as president if his tenure continues to reap good returns for the wealthy and powerful in our duopoly party politics.

I wonder whether President Trump can add enough to the riches of the wealth class, say, the Koch brothers or Google or Amazon or the “gig” economy, to offset exposures of his greed and his trammeling of the formal and informal apparatus to a long running functioning-without- revolution democracy? Or more to the point, I wonder if Trump can keep the bitterness and anger of a cheated class, his followers, corralled away from the emolument increase to the wealth class that he is arranging?

We can already judge by the lightness of reaction to the Russian tampering with a presidential election that any investigation, whether of that or whatever Trump will do next, must come up with indisputable facts and evidence. Not only must the Republican Congress be forced to act but also Trump’s supporters must be, if not convinced, at least neutralized.

Given the already existing state of affairs regarding what is a fact, what is truth and what the reality of anything may be, we now require condemnatory evidence far beyond what was required in the Watergate hearings.

I wonder if this country can ever come together in a general agreement regarding Donald J. Trump as it did regarding Richard M. Nixon.

I wonder whether any kind of proof would neutralize a squawk radio and cyberspace social media barrage of confusion, a very effective muddying of the waters of any issue. It’s effectiveness derives from its targeting of visceral emotions, demonized people and festering bitterness, all of which has little patience or aptitude for Bernie Sanders’ “cerebral” diagnoses, or beyond 140 character wordage on CounterPunch.

I wonder why the worst that President Trump could say about Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was that he was a Loser. Winning and losing in the U.S. is a matter of financial success, of fame and fortune and so all those who have not so succeeded are deemed Losers, placed in the same company as Abedi. Financial status then replaces any prior moral distinctions, the moral categories of good and evil reduced to winning and losing.

I wonder why we can’t be smart about the threat of global warming and figure out it makes more sense to mitigate its effects than to augment its accelerants. If it turns out that 99% of climate scientists are wrong about disastrous effects and the two paid employees of the energy industry are right, we might regret our mitigating efforts but we would still inhabit the planet. If we follow President Trump’s plan and kick up our use of fossil fuels and this is wrong, we have created our own extinction.

I wonder why this is not transparently clear to those who will be alive to reap this whirlwind. I wonder why we cannot get beyond our dumbstruck wonder and wonder to wisdom regarding this truly apocalyptic problem?

I wonder what the next platform of human communication, one that descends from literate and informed representation to texts and tweets and then to emoji and video clips will be?

I wonder if all future elections will be a contest not of candidates but for eyeballs on Facebook, Twitter and other exemplars of the new Fourth Estate? How easy is it to sell a thought, a view, an opinion, hatred, anger to those who expose their own lifeworld of opinions on social media? I wonder in a culture in which everyone esteems his or her own unique individuality and personal autonomy whether there is any individuality at all. I wonder whether the personal is what has already been chosen for us.

Maybe we are astounded, lost in wonder, at each other’s knowing because we have lost our sociability and any sense of the social, of our bonds with others, and replaced all that with the illusions of our personal autonomy.

More articles by:

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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