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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Elections 2010: A Requiem for Reason

American reason should not be an oxymoron, and irrationality should not be the flame that powers our politics. We are smarter than that.

It is hard not to feel, that in a year where candidates use fictional beheadings, claim there is shariya law in American communities, and make hay about some stupid, bong-induced college prank, all in an effort to rile up people to vote for them, our ability to reason has gone into hibernation.

Imagine you are watching a magician perform on stage, and he has just "levitated" his lovely assistant. As she floats horizontally in front of him, her gown draping from her long legs toward the floor, the magician dramatically runs a hoop around her body, from head to foot and back again. He performs this maneuver because he wants to convince you that what you are witnessing is real, that the beautiful woman in front of him is actually floating. You know it cannot possibly be real, that this is some kind of trick, and still, you let your mind suspend reality for just a moment or two, and allow yourself to entertain the notion of, "But, what if it is?"

That moment of cognitive dissonance gives us a buzz. Serotonin, that lovely neurotransmitter, makes us feel we fit wonderfully and perfectly in this moment of universal time, validates us for who we are, what we are, and with whom we associate ourselves. There is no such thing as unsound judgment, because by allowing ourselves to suspend reality, we can believe that everything we think, feel and hear is actually happening. A woman is floating, ungrounded, in mid-air. Headless torsos are rotting in the Arizona desert. People in Dearborn, Michigan, are having their hands chopped off and being stoned to death. There is an anti-Christian cult of students at Baylor University that ties up young women and makes them bow to Aqua Buddha.

We believe these things because we want to, or don't in the case of the Aqua Buddha story. (The funny thing is, that even though Jack Conway's story about Rand Paul is the closest to a real event, it backfired because the Democrat's insistence that this was a legitimate campaign issue jumped the shark. Ahh, irony.)

That brings us to Saturday's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the National Mall, in Washington, DC.  There was a bittersweet air about the crowd, at once poking fun at this year's insane political discourse...

[caption id="attachment_409" align="alignleft" width="143" caption="Photo by Annie Parker"][/caption]

while at the same time, lamenting the power it had over a frighteningly large amount of the electorate.

The craziness of this election, as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert pointed out, played out under the shimmering lights and fog machine clouds of 24-hour cable news, all helping us get that cognitive dissonance rush, because like a magic show, in order for a medium like television to work, we have to believe - even if it's only for a moment - that everything we are witnessing is real.

For Stewart, reality is the give-and-take, community mentality that gets people from different backgrounds and beliefs through the Lincoln Tunnel. He's right that sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel is not the Promised Land, but New Jersey. The thing is, the rational, sane way to look at life as part of our American community, is that the light at the end of the tunnel may never be what we want or expect or think we deserve. But it's the light in which we live.

Don't forget to vote, and make that light just a little brighter.

- PBG
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