Thursday, December 31, 2009


Kellerman: I hate New Year's Eve.
Pembleton: Everybody hates New Year's Eve.
Brodie: Yeah. Another year older and deeper in debt.
Munch: Like having a birthday, only nobody buys you any presents.
--from the episode "The Documentary" of the series Homicide: Life on the Street; teleplay by Eric Overmyer

Most of my internet reading falls roughly under the heading of cultural criticism; earlier in the decade it would have been 90% politics. That younger self would have berated me for the following statement, but nowadays paying attention to and caring about politics is an exercise in soul-crushing futility. Keeping up with the details of Obama's plan to--liberate? democratize? bomb the shit out of? what's the right word for our important mission there?--raise the death toll in Afghanistan, let alone the almost comical uselessness of the oligarchy we call the Senate that the health care bill has made (once again) obvious, I feel fine telling people that I don't really have a political ideology beyond a strong belief that a nation of 300 million people is fundamentally ungovernable in a just manner. The people or organizations tasked with doing so will inevitably decline into a variety of bad ends: ubiquitous corruption, systemic injustice, and a foreign policy of violent imperialism necessary for maintaining one's power, whether political or economic, and, less obviously pernicious but corrosive to the soul: a nauseating culture of moralizing hypocrisy and self-love (The. Greatest. Nation. On Earth!).

I'm sure some people reading this will write it off as cheap cynicism, but clinging to a belief that America is a functioning democracy, guided by any kind of moral force, and worth investing a part of your soul in looks a lot like insanity to me. Please understand that I'm not claiming a different, evil kind of American exceptionalism: that Americans are uniquely or inherently corrupt, unjust, and violent (decades of American hegemony makes it harder to resist these conclusions, but only an idiot or a fraud would pretend there aren't historical precedents or comparisons), but that in this particular moment in history the bad vastly outweighs the good and that two full decades of reading bathetic exhortations such as this has made me realize that not participating in or even following the empty fantasy of empowerment that is national politics is simply good mental health.

Anyway, this isn't at all what I intended to write about--this was meant to be a segue into how culture has become increasingly important to me as both a refuge from the blood-stained realities of the world and as evidence that humanity can create wonders as well as horror. But because the bitter part of my soul couldn't bring itself to just delete this part of the post, I'm isolating it from the happier reflections on the year that will appear soon. Think of this as a misguidedly bitter first course!

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