Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mainstream media and the depressed observer

Do you ever find yourself dissatisfied with the in-your-face wholesomeness of mainstream news commentators?
Night after night, we are bombarded by the concise insights of clever, fit people. Invariably, they carry themselves as if they were wrapping up the last ten minutes of a spectacular job interview, with just enough time to pick up the kids at karate class. None appear to be minutes away from a dry martini. If they weren’t on the air they’d be air traffic controllers.
It’s not that they offend us, per se. Indeed, you’d be delighted to have any one of them coach your junior hockey team or meet your closest unattached friend. But still—something is missing now and then.
Thanks to Will Wilkinson’s essay on the poor mental health and literary genius of David Foster Wallace, we can see our frustration in rather high-minded terms. All those fresh, prime-of-age public intellectuals aren’t all that’s out there.
“There’s some evidence that the moderately depressed are less self-deceived. ‘Depressive realism’ is said to leave us less disposed to happy illusions about our abilities or our degree of control over our behavior. It’s easy to see how an unblinkered sense of the self could be an asset to a novelist. Moreover, an unshakable sense of dissatisfaction and hopelessness in the face of the forces that control us, even if muted, can act as a powerful prod to serious contemplation of the conditions for happiness and autonomy. Of course, if depression can make seeing the truth about some things easier, it makes doing everything more difficult. And Wallace appears to have adopted, by choice or chance, demanding standards both in literature and life, and these standards seem not to have been unreasonable. He could, sometimes, live up to them.”
Contemporary events offer much to be depressed about. In truth, much that we call news should upset us and should certainly not be background sound over dinner. Maybe we’d be less tolerant of the dogged mediocrity and cruelty of modern life if the depressives also had a little airtime to seize our attention.

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