Keep it Live like Bleeding to Death
Presidential elections as catharsis; recommendations for more efficient cathartic experiences.
Wednesday, 2004-11-03 | Classic Gin, Politics, Social Studies
I could free political prisoners, but I leave 'em alone.
You'll recall that before he would allow William Wallace to court his daughter, Marin's father required that William demonstrate his resolve to stay 'out of the troubles.' The troubles, of course, were the myriad political (i.e. martial) conflicts caused by the English occupation of Scotland (i.e. Scottish resistance).
William, as the film shows, could not stay out of the troubles. Marin's father knew that William was destined to get involved in the troubles; he also knew that if his daughter became involved with William that she too would become involved in the troubles. Marin's father, a man to whom we are supposed to learn to accord wisdom because of power of discernment, knows that certain people cannot avoid conflict because of their nature.
I, like William Wallace, have such a nature. I had resisted commenting on the election until now. I had done so mostly for practical reasons; while I've got plenty to say, it's much easier for me to remain silent. Political virtue is difficult for me to describe and my musings on it generally lead to either a.) flippancy or b.) bitter and sarcastic rebukes of people who have honestly done nothing wrong. Commenting on politics, elections, candidates and so on generally results in a difficult and unfortunate situation for me. Hence, I generally avoid it.
Tonight, I intend to make one point and one point only. I've been rehearsing it in my head all day and I feel like I can say it simply and without lapsing into the affected nastiness of, say, Tertullian or Oscar Wilde. My point is about catharsis.
Voting in the American popular election is ultimately a moment of catharsis and nothing more. In the course of our lives, we American citizens see ourselves as affected by political events and are confounded by out inability to do anything about them. 'I live in a democracy,' we figure, 'but, contrary to what I learned in school about democracy, it doesn't seem that I personally have any say in what goes on--things that affect me cannot be affected by me.'
We are generally correct when we say these things. Where we err is the moment in which we configure our ballot as meaningful. We imagine that once we've pulled the lever and punched the card that we've had our say, whether or not it is ignored, and our opinions have been marked for official notice by the powers that be. This is incorrect.
The institutions and legislation that guarantee nearly universal suffrage in this country are analogous to that button on fancy keg-taps that allows you to release the accumulated pressure. Not all kegs have these buttons. These buttons are totally superfluous--they are not needed. They do, however, allow for the concerned keg administrator to feel as though he is able to affect change in how the keg and tap are functioning. He thinks, 'If I feel that to much pressure has accumulated from over-pumping and is resulting in foamy beer, I can release the pressure at the touch of this button and attempt to achieve the proper level of pressure by pumping until I am satisfied--I can directly affect this situation.'
The fact of the matter is that pressure has almost nothing to do with the foaminess of beer from a keg. Froth and foam are consequences of warm tubes and a lack of coolness at the point of junction between the tap and the keg. Pressure within the keg, as it has been 'amassed' by the pumping of the tap, merely affects the speed at which beer comes from the tap. The popular vote in America is much like this.
The electoral college and unnoticed voter fraud (carried out by candidates and their supporters) combine with gerrymandering and unethical-cum-illegal practices designed to exploit or encourage certain ignorances in the voting population like Voltron in order to render the popular vote completely useless. It is, however, a terrific moment of catharsis for many people. The popular vote, having been systematically reduced to a meaningless expression of opinion, is nothing more that a figurative purifying or cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear.
One mulls over his positions, debates them with his peers, begins to identify himself with his political leanings, cites precedents and accords merit to certain events in the political history of man and becomes, in short, an actor in the grand travesty (farce, etc.) of man's political history. He then, completely unable to do thing one to alter this history, soothes his bruised ego when he enters the polling place. 'Here,' he thinks, 'I shall finally be able to begin to affect the changes that I have decided are necessary.'
But the popular vote, particularly the popular vote in national elections, has nothing to do with the political process locally or globally. It is in place to allow those who regard themselves as having been aggravated and affected by political forces beyond their control to release some pressure--to feel as if they've asserted their will (however marginally).
For a better catharsis, one that truly purges and cleanses the emotions (especially pity and fear), I recommend washing dishes.
When one is confronted by his sink full of messy dishes, he is confronted by the messy necessities of his biological life. He must eat and excrete and, in order to do so, he must prepare food and dirty dishes. When he sees these dishes stacked resolutely against them and sets himself to the task of cleaning them, he is, with his very hands, recreating order where the messy necessities of biology have created chaos. Man redeems himself as an intellectual entity when he washes dishes; his triumph over the abject messiness of a sink of dirty dishes is the triumph of intellect over biology.
When the disorder and messiness of biological necessity have been completely undermined and order has been restored, man can reflect upon what he's done and understand himself as an intellectual being--one fully of capable of conceiving of an order to things and asserting it over the disorder that he himself has begrudgingly created.
As my mother used to say: try it, you'll like it.