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)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Walter Kirn’s problem with crowds

After two days of laughing out loud, crying out loud, and thrilling release—after four years crouching in the shadows of conservative rage—liberals woke up this morning to discover that author Walter Kirn felt disoriented at the Democratic National Convention.

In his piece “Slouching Towards Charlotte: The Alienating Spectacle That is the Democratic Convention” in The New Republic, Kirn confessed how little he liked Michelle Obama’s sweet renderings. He found he was alone, even among his press colleagues. Instead of turning to Hunter S Thompson’s favorites, he wrote quietly about his alienation.

“To disagree with the conventional wisdom even as it’s being born around you—and even as you’re trying with all your might to anticipate and even shape it—is a profoundly disorienting experience. It makes you wonder if you were there at all, or if there even exists a there to be at. Ideally, a convention would be a ground zero of factuality, an objective reality in a shifting universe of spin and opinion and second-order commentary. But the further you get inside one, I’m discovering, the more deliriously lost you feel, particularly to the self that you came in with. How does one both enter the group mind and stay inside one’s own mind? It’s a challenge.”

He’s getting next to no sympathy in the social media. That’s fine; he can get back at the herd—and make millions more—by writing another funny, filmable novel.

What’s funny is that Kirns’s piece is causing offense simply because his expectations were too high. He allowed himself to sound naive about American politics, much like that other author who was the star at the Democrat’s last convention in Denver.

An American political convention is what Washington would be like if its responsibilities, its experts, the laws of science, the lessons of history, the loners, and the snobs (like that homebody Barack Obama) left town.

The ground zero of a political convention is almost exclusively about promiscuous and easy emotions. It’s a pseudo-event and can reasonably be judged by the rules of any other spectacle. The decisions have already been taken, and being away from decision-making makes most people, including most people in politics, happier.  


  1. Don't begrudge some hardworking scribe his millions!

  2. I didn't mean to leave that impression. Money in my hand always feels very consoling when I'm out of sync with the crowd.