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)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Brain Candy on Uncomfortable Rhetoric

“I have been consoled by Arthur Schopenhauer’s delightfully morbid pessimism in  ‘The Wisdom of Life.’ It’s a mistaken prejudice of our times to think that the only way to cheer someone up is to tell them something cheerful. Exaggerated tragic pronouncements work far better.”

In an interview in The New York Times Book Review, January 27, Alain de Botton, author of "How to Think More about Sex" promotes a book on philosophy that he’s recently read.

Tricky advice.

The rule in Western politics is as hard as the land we think we’ve tamed: if you’re selling words to a hungry politician, keep your messages positive. Keep relief within reach. Keep the rewards well worth the bother.

In desperate times, we look for a way out. Accordingly, hope wins; otherwise, we might not be here. But, in political markets of unprecedented affluence and with endless distractions, happy talk about staying the course or getting back on track is boring and, after a while, losses our attention.

On the other hand, tragic messages don’t even get to the client. Evangelical audiences are too positive and the rest of us are just too unsophisticated to settle for unrelieved disappointment and mistreatment.

Nevertheless, there’s worthy alternative.

Between Mr. Fix It and despairing rhetoric, there’s the riveting oratory of approaching danger. It’s not especially hard to write. Context, however, is critical.

The 90s were too sunny. Bill Clinton was a fabulous actor who never had any great excuse to forewarn and rally the nation. While the catastrophes of the Miserable 00s hit the entire world the very moment they hit George Bush and Barack Obama.

As the clouds keep clearing, Paul Ryan and the Neo Cons hope they can find fresh traction by warning America that its drifting just above the falls. Promising approachif we’d take their graphs and three-decade-long projections more seriously. 

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