17 September 2015


I didn’t watch the Republican debate last evening. The previous night I didn’t watch the Viking football game. The spectacle was the same: grown ups crashing into each other, air pumping a superb tackle, crowd cheering an end run toward the goal post, and a great deal of grunting. As it happens (or as Bokonon says, as it was meant to happen), the Affordable Care Act, as imperfect as it might be, has allowed millions more to acquire a health plan not quite as generous as that enjoyed by the contenders on stage last night; the economy recovers from the unregulated conditions that obscenely enriched the already wealthy while at the same time robbed cruelly from the poor; and same sex marriage became the law of the land over the protests of too many of the candidates on stage at the Reagan Library. I hold them all in contempt.
            And then I read the following during my study this morning in Soren Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Irony. I thought of our modern times and I was comforted: “Our age,” Kierkegaard writes, “demands more [than a stance in irony]; it demands, if not lofty pathos then at least loud pathos, if not speculation then at least conclusions, if not truth then at least persuasion, if not integrity then at least protestations of integrity, if not feeling then at least verbosity of feelings . . . [our age] will not allow the mouth to be defiantly compressed or the upper lip to quiver mischievously; it demands that the mouth be open for how, indeed, could one imagine a true and genuine patriot who is not delivering speeches; how could one visualize a profound thinker’s dogmatic face without a mouth able to swallow the whole world; how could one picture a virtuoso on the cornucopia of the living word without a gaping mouth?”  And I thought, what could better describe the tenor and direction of last night’s exhibition? Discussion of issues? Honest debate? Presentation and elaboration of ideas? Appeal to the intellect and concern of the voters? Ha! As I read about the debate in the newspaper this morning (because, as I have, said I will not spend my time on such vain and senseless display; and even so I waste my energies), the event seems all blustery storm even before the advent of winter, though the blast coming from the stage was wintry enough. Either everything said last evening was ironic and in the words there was silence, or no irony existed at all in the debate and the words were dung-filled.  My response to all of this derives again from Kierkegaard. He writes, “When it comes to silly, inflated, know-it-all knowledge, it is ironically proper to go along, to be enraptured by all this wisdom to spur it on with jubilating applause to ever greater lunacy, although the ironist is aware that the whole thing underneath is empty and void of substance.” And so for me it is on to the next debate with ironic anticipation and little hope.


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