Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Do Levi Johnston, Evangelicals and Oprah Have in Common? They All Blind Us to What Really Matters

We yearn to stand before the camera, to be noticed and admired. We build pages on social networking sites devoted to presenting our image to the world. We seek to control how others think of us. We define our worth solely by our visibility.

Will Tiger Woods finally talk to the police? Who will replace Oprah? (Not that Oprah can ever be replaced, of course.) And will Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the couple who crashed President Barack Obama’s first state dinner, command the hundreds of thousands of dollars they want for an exclusive television interview? Can Levi Johnston, father of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s grandson, get his wish to be a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars”?

The chatter that passes for news, the gossip that is peddled by the windbags on the airwaves, the noise that drowns out rational discourse, and the timidity and cowardice of what is left of the newspaper industry reflect our flight into collective insanity. We stand on the cusp of one of the most seismic and disturbing dislocations in human history, one that is radically reconfiguring our economy as it is the environment, and our obsessions revolve around the trivial and the absurd.

What really matters in our lives -- the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady deterioration of the dollar, the mounting foreclosures, the climbing unemployment, the melting of the polar ice caps and the awful reality that once the billions in stimulus money run out next year we will be bereft and broke—doesn’t fit into the cheerful happy talk that we mainline into our brains. We are enraptured by the revels of a dying civilization. Once reality shatters the airy edifice, we will scream and yell like petulant children to be rescued, saved and restored to comfort and complacency. There will be no shortage of demagogues, including buffoons like Sarah Palin, who will oblige. We will either wake up to face our stark new limitations, to retreat from imperial projects and discover a new simplicity, as well as a new humility, or we will stumble blindly toward catastrophe and neofeudalism.

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