by Geoff Olson
One of my late father’s favourite expressions was “never lose an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” I’ve tried to source the quote online, only to learn it’s as “old as the Egyptian Stonecutters’s Union,” as one wag put it.
In the Fourth century AD, The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu prefaced his book Tao Te Ching with the caution, “The Tao that can be explained is not the true Tao.” He then spent the rest of the work trying to explain it. Not to be outdone, in the same era Gautama Buddha supposedly declared, “what I have to teach cannot be taught,” yet continued to instruct followers for 45 years.
Centuries later, the Austrian analytic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein ended his influential 1921 treatise, The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, with the memorable proposition, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” In other words, there are subjective experiences beyond our ability to effectively communicate. Of course, Wittgenstein only came to this conclusion after 55 pages of deep dithering.
As Guardian contributor Oliver Burkeman recently observed, “Human interaction is a matter of yelling between mountaintops, through driving rain, in different languages, with socks over our heads.”
Yet these Babels of babble shouldn’t stop us from trying to communicate effectively. The problem is when we mistake quantity for quality in our personal and public conversations.
Consider the unlikely ascent of reality TV fixture Donald Trump as Republican presidential candidate. US voters tired of politicians reciting talking points like overpaid parrots have been both entertained and appalled by a man working without a script on a xenophobic high-wire. If he contradicted himself, that’s because the Combover King contained multitudes of supporters, from the Harvard-educated quant on Wall Street to the life coach/app developer in Orange County to the squirrel-frying coal miner’s wife in West Virginia.
In the yammermouth pandemic, Sarah Palin was the first blemish on the body politic. Donald Trump represents the full-on, biohazard level 4 outbreak.
It never mattered what nonsense, non-sequitur, or racist sentiment Trump mouthed; while other politicians spoke in banalities for fear of alienating some part of their voting demographic, the wildly inconsistent Trump simply opened up an id-to-tongue expressway. Plenty of US voters appreciate that; he seems to voice their rage at a system has failed to deliver for decades to all but the very rich.
In the most interesting Mobius Strip maneuver of all, a rich man with a jaw-dropping succession of failed business ventures has positioned himself as an enemy of the establishment, even though he’s a spawn of that very system. It’s just that Drumpf hails from hypercapitalism’s rentier and mass entertainment divisions rather than the oil sector, or official Washington.
Our motormouth premier is a somewhat similar breed of politician, having made the transition from right-wing politics to talk radio and back into politics. (The problem with Clark, one retired high-level politician told me a few years ago, is that she has difficulty restraining herself verbally – although he put it a bit more colourfully than that.)
What used to be fatal flaw for a public figure – talking spontaneously or too much – is a personal boon in an era of information overload. If you’re caught lying or claiming something outrageous, just drop another whopper into the gears of mass media. While the pundits are still examining the first statement like the spoor of some endangered animal, squeeze out another one.
(Words still have real-world consequences. Eton schoolmates Boris Johnson and David Cameron bloviated from opposite sides of the EU membership referendum. But the ex-mayor of London and the expiry-dated British Prime Minister are both likely horrified at the wholly unanticipated result.)
Politicians have long known that appeals to emotion, rather than reason, are the way to reach the electorate. That’s why those who hail from mass media – talk radio, film, and the darker corners of reality television – have become electable material from Ronald Reagan on. Entertainers arrive consumer-tested into the electoral market, some with their tongues waving like auto mall inflatable Skydancers.
It’s all par for the course for a zeitgeist that just can’t shut up. I will await Kanye West’s 2020 presidential run with both dread and a bucket of popcorn.
The Vancouver Courier, June 30
by Geoff Olson
Libertarianism has always left me dumbfounded, like some kid on a ham radio picking up transmissions in broken English from an unidentified country. I understand most of the words, but the overall sense eludes me.
I’m sure Libertarians would insist there’s no confusion in the source or signal, just in the receiver: a snarky newspaper columnist on the infrared portion of the political spectrum.
Libertarianism is an umbrella term for a body of political beliefs that intersect on one major point: the primacy of individual freedom over state intervention. American Libertarians want the state out of the boardroom, the bedroom, the gun cabinet, the computer cache and cupboard stash. And for good measure, out of the hospital, the schoolhouse, and pretty much anywhere else big gubmint sticks its giant, red clown nose.
Donald Trump is not a pristine Libertarian option, but he’s now closer to Air Force One than former Republican Congressman Ron Paul ever managed.
There are policy positions in the movement that have won over many millennials and disaffected lefties. For example, Ron Paul wants an end to CIA-backed coups and foreign wars, along with domestic surveillance of citizens. But he also wants the state footprint reduced to the enforcement of business contracts and and not much else. It’s not just throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it’s gutting the nursery as well.
It may not be an exaggeration to say US Libertarians would prefer to see remaining government services run like a volunteer fire department.
This brings me to my concept for a reality TV series, “Living Libertarian.” A Canadian couple heads down to the US with the intent of living for a full year like “freemen on the land,” unencumbered by all government connections and responsibilities.
I imagine the results would be less Big Brother than Big Bother. The couple would soon discover they could not eat in restaurants that go without irregular health inspections. They also wouldn’t be able to drive a motor vehicle, since road construction is state-subsidized and all big automakers other than Ford received post-08 bailouts. And forget about cruising the Internet, that spawn of a seventies-era federal initiative to connect the computer departments of government-funded universities.
The two would have to find an off-the-grid cabin, as utility companies are heavily regulated at the state and federal level. At this point the dispirited duo might be tempted to drink themselves to death, but alcohol is also regulated and taxed south of the border, so that route of escape is out, along with FDA-approved drugs.
Opting out of the gene pool by holy handgun is also out, since the firearms industry is directly subsidized through mammoth Pentagon and law enforcement contracts. Short of holidaying in that Libertarian paradise, Somalia (which has been without a recognized government since 1991) the couple would have to find more creative ways to off themselves. Having opted to travel south of the border without extended Canadian health insurance, they’d have to get it right the first time. There’s no way they could end up in a US hospital under Obamacare.
At least they would be able to smoke as much weed as they want as Libertarians – as long as they didn’t purchase it in Colorado or Washington, where legalized marijuana is taxed at the state level.
The reality TV series would highlight how pervasive government is in the average American’s life, in ways valuable to some and vice-ridden to others. But what about Soviet Canuckistan? Prior to tracking their freedom-seeking couple’s adventures in the US, the series could arrange for them to visit with the leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada.
Rick Moen is the guy who campaigned in the 2014 Fort McMurray—Athabasca by-election by saying he wanted “gay married couples to be able to protect their marijuana with guns.” I have no doubt he’s sincere and that a lot of Canadians would champion that sentiment (I’m onside myself, at least three quarters into the statement).
Alas, the Canadian Libertarian Party, originally founded in 1974, has yet to elect a single representative to the House of Commons and “has never received more than 0.25 per cent of the popular vote” according to Wikipedia.
Perhaps the ungarbled, unscrambled transmission of “Living Libertarian” could raise that figure eightfold, to two percent.
The Vancouver Courier, June 15