Skip to content

The Ascendancy of Ignorance: Palin’s Rapture

November 27, 2010

I’m genuinely quite puzzled at the remarks in the Guardian today following the article Rewriting the rules, Sarah Palin-style: how to run for the White House (or not). The thread is dominated by posters despairing of the coverage the Guardian is giving to the Palin phenomenon. Apart from anything else – and before we get to the serious issues – this is news. As the article points out, everything she does defies conventional wisdom (possibly any kind of wisdom at all), and her antics on a stage as large and as globally powerful as the one she seeks to occupy deserve coverage by newspapers – because she is newsworthy (in a car-crash kinda way) and that’s what newspapers do. Surely this isn’t so hard to understand.

Apart from the antics, let’s also consider this matter in context. A poster called oncemanc makes the astute observations that “Palin would never have got as far as she has in a genuinely informative media landscape and with a properly informed and educated electorate…” and indeed, she is in her eccentricity akin to ‘Bedwetter’ Monckton, whose electoral fortunes are determined by the UK’s ability to know a dangerous buffoon when we see one (as opposed to a fake buffoon whose really rather smart and annoyingly likeable and currently mayor of London).

But it’s stacy1904 who (accidentally) hits the nail on the head – well, nearly anyway. She thinks “You hate this woman…”, thus reducing the debate to exactly the emotional level that Palin seeks to exploit. But in fact – and I speak for myself but I suspect there are others who share my view – the fact is that Palin terrifies me. Seriously.

This is why. Capitalism is experiencing some kind of catharsis the outcome of which is very unpredictable. The US in its flag-waving rah-rah glory is going down the toilet while its arch-enemy China (for that’s how I think Palin sees it) grows stronger every day. Relations with Muslim countries remains confrontational and divisive, echoing the intolerance and bigotry of, for example, the demonstrations against the faith centre proposed for the site of the 9/11 tragedy. Meanwhile, the climate is changing fast (irrespective of what’s causing it), we’re running out of energy, the population of the world is growing so fast we will not be able to sustain even a basic standard of living for the majority, and the world’s economy is so entwined, so interdependent, that the butterfly effect of chaos theory probably has more influence on economic stability than the institutions supposed to be running our banks and commerce.

Now, into such a unique, volatile and dangerous situation, put the control of the most powerful military on earth and 8000 nuclear weapons under the exclusive control of a woman who can’t remember which part of Korea is the good part. A woman whose black and white hat simplification of every issue does nothing to foster understanding and everything to encourage intolerance, division and bitterness. A woman whose precepts are governed by fear of the ‘other’, by reds still hiding under her bed like Japanese soldiers on pacific islands still fighting for their emperor, and whose experience – the very thing Obama was so lambasted for lacking when he ran – a woman whose experience is roughly equivalent to mine in terms of running a country i.e. none at all.

We are going to need very wise heads in the coming decades, else another major war will become ever more likely. The last thing we need is an empty-headed demagogue running the (soon to be) second most powerful country on earth, and whose political instincts will constantly veer toward placating the angry right-wing supporters who have no answers but always seek someone to blame. For someone as vacuous as Palin and her tea-party chimps, China fits the bill perfectly.

These are interesting times. We need to be constantly reminded not only how dangerous Palin is, but how close a call it will be whether she self-destructs, or actually gets into the White House. If she does, we may all be kissing our arses goodbye.

However, there is one ray of hope, and for this we need to remember the latter half of the 1990s. Through my close professional association with commercial IT I was constantly surprised at the irresponsible behaviour of the business community. As the investors tried to figure out how to make money from the rapidly growing phenomenon of the internet and e-commerce – a paradigm that showed clear potential but had yet to deliver any return on investments – an astonishing euphoria gripped most of the people I was working with – Venture Capitalists, dot-coms and the like – and we have a rather foolish academic to thank for the rationale that so many believed. I’m talking about Francis Fukuyama and his ‘End of History’. Boy did he, and most everyone else, get that wrong.

I mention this because the Guardian article describes in detail the way Palin and her followers have completely ignored the ‘conventional wisdoms’ of campaigning, of running for office, of garnering constructive media coverage and so on. In every respect, she is ignoring all advice from those she thinks are an establishment out of touch with the common people, in the same way she did when she was running mate to John McCain. Palin believes in another ‘end of history’ and she will likely come a cropper, just like the markets did when reality re-asserted itself in 2000 and the dot-com bubble burst. The establishment is not simply where all the real power and money is, it is also the aggregate knowledge, wisdom and experience of commerce and politics, some aspects of which haven’t changed since senators debated across the Forum in ancient Rome. Perhaps Palin’s chances would improve if she remembered Santayana’s aphorism and learned from history.

Frankly, I really hope she doesn’t, since that seems to be the best bet for some kind of sense to prevail in the US political system. I’d like to see Obama get another term, but only if he was supported by a congress and senate rather less venal, treacherous and corrupt, since their behaviour has largely sunk every good intention he took into the White House. But right now, I’m not sure that’s too likely one way or another, so to the US voters I say this: I don’t care who you vote for, so long as it isn’t Palin. Never trust politicians who offer you exactly what you want: they are the least likely to deliver.

Advertisements
6 Comments leave one →
  1. Birgit Kvarnstrom permalink
    November 29, 2010 10:22 am

    Good morning Graham from a rather cold place. Sometimes I think the global warming can be a good thing!

    This is a good piece, I think. But do you think that sexism also is playing a part against Sarah Palin? Maybe sometimes in US there are prejudices so Mr Obama did not have so big a win in 2008 as was rather justified after this George W Bush?

  2. Graham Wayne permalink*
    November 29, 2010 10:58 am

    Morning Birgit – and I know what you mean about global warming. If only we could just have it on days like this – and only in the cold bits. 🙂

    No idea about the sexism question. Personally, I think that women are in the ascendancy in p0litics in a way they still struggle with in business (glass ceiling etc). There are plenty of women in the US congress and senate, and of course the dems speaker is still Nancy Pelosi, so I don’t think the evidence points towards sexism in respect of Palin. I think the real problem is that she has a very parochial outlook – narrow, bigoted, divisive – and in this she is in keeping with any number of other US politicians on the far right, irrespective of gender.

    The only thing that might contribute to the problem is her looks. She is superficially attractive, and both men and women seem to think her appearance is worthy of comment, which is unfortunate. For me, however, the issue is her politics – and her hypocrisy.

  3. fred permalink
    November 29, 2010 6:58 pm

    “Capitalism is experiencing some kind of catharsis the outcome of which is very unpredictable. The US in its flag-waving rah-rah glory is going down the toilet”

    Let’s just examine these claims:

    This year will probably be the most prosperous on record for the world, mainly because places like China have been introduced to capitalism. It is also quite likely to be the most prosperous year on record for the USA. The population of the USA has risen by 60 million since the Berlin Wall came down. That is to say the US has absorbed a population equal to that of the German Federal Republic in the space of 20 years, much of it as a result of immigration, with hardly a problem.

    “the climate is changing fast (irrespective of what’s causing it), we’re running out of energy, the population of the world is growing so fast we will not be able to sustain even a basic standard of living for the majority”

    The climate may have warmed 0.6 of a degree since industrialisation. This week has seen the coldest ever recorded temperatures in parts of Wales. It doesn’t look to me that the climate is changing fast. It may yet do so, but right now it hasn’t.

    We have enough oil and coal for years to come and plenty of other ways of producing energy. The standard of living of the world is probably the highest it has ever been because of increased specialisation and division of labour and increased use of capital in production. Why on earth should it not continue?

  4. Graham Wayne permalink*
    November 29, 2010 7:54 pm

    OK Fred, let’s examine your claims now…

    This year will probably be the most prosperous on record for the world, mainly because places like China have been introduced to capitalism.

    The US and Europe are broke, printing money like mad, unemployment in the US is very high and national economies keep imploding (Greece, Ireland). Asian wealth is in part predicated on export markets, which are suffering because it’s the same broke developing nations. I don’t know how you are measuring prosperity – is this a GDP forecast?

    It is also quite likely to be the most prosperous year on record for the USA.

    Sorry, at this point I feel some incredulity coming on…

    The population of the USA has risen by 60 million since the Berlin Wall came down. That is to say the US has absorbed a population equal to that of the German Federal Republic in the space of 20 years, much of it as a result of immigration, with hardly a problem.

    Hardly a problem? Sorry, have you been on holiday on some other planet for the last couple of years. I ask because the economic contractions have been likened to the 1929 crash, so severe have been the repercussions. Also, you might have heard that the UK government has just cut the heart out of the UK’s budgets for just about everything.

    The climate may have warmed 0.6 of a degree since industrialisation. This week has seen the coldest ever recorded temperatures in parts of Wales. It doesn’t look to me that the climate is changing fast. It may yet do so, but right now it hasn’t.

    This is straightforward denialism. Do I have to explain why ‘parts of Wales’ can’t be an analog for the entire world’s climate? That it’s winter, for Christ’s sake? And that climate change means disturbances to the climate, not just warming? Polar wind patterns are being changed, which brings in freezing air to lower latitudes. Expect it to get worse.

    We have enough oil and coal for years to come and plenty of other ways of producing energy.

    Well, the IEA, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, Lloyd’s of London, Chatham House and many other authoratative bodies all disagree with you. What they point out is not that we might run out of the stuff, but that it is going to be much more expensive to produce, and quite soon. As for alternatives, it takes time to implement any substantial industrial scheme. We’re doing very little to prepare for the inevitable, as many of the sources I’ve mentioned confirm in various reports.

    The standard of living of the world is probably the highest it has ever been because of increased specialisation and division of labour and increased use of capital in production. Why on earth should it not continue?

    Because we’re using up the finite resources of the Earth. Because it would require 2.5 Earths to keep 7 billion people in the style the developed world is currently enjoying. Because there isn’t enough energy to do this in a timescale the poor think fair, except by using fossil fuels. And because climate change is going to fuck the world up so severely, while the US acts so very stupidly, this paradigm cannot possibly continue.

    Consumerism depends on a trick. The energy it takes to make all this stuff and sell it to us has been too cheap, first because the energy seemed boundless, then because it was subsidised – fossil fuels currently enjoy a global subsidy of around $500 billion a year. Energy prices will be forced towards a level reflecting the scarcity, the demand (ever growing) and the costs of producing it. There is no way consumerism as we currently understand it can really expand to the global scale. Turns out Erlich was right, but got the dates wrong. Usual story.

  5. December 1, 2010 1:45 am

    Graham – I agree with everything you just said to Fred, which was well put.

    Palin is a fool and a populist appealing to a demographic even scarier than she is. However, she is smarter than the media make her out to be (at least on some issues – or she has very effective advice). She has managed to gain and keep the attention of the media for some time, and that is half the battle won. The very fact that she turns off many commentators is enough for those who mistrust those commentators to think that she must be onto something – a dangerous assumption. Her leadership experience is, however, considerably more than yours, having been governor of Alaska, which, although far from the most populous state in the US, is still genuine leadership experience. I am not aware of any national leader who entered their role with experience of being a national leader (except perhaps Putin, and Grover Cleveland and maybe one or two others).

    That said, I share your deep misgivings about Palin. However, I don’t think she is the worst possible outcome. Vote for anyone but Palin? No. I fear two kinds of leaders more than her. First, another Stalin or Hitler to rise from the midst of economic and cultural humiliation (quite possible in the next few years). Palin is dangerous, but does not seem to be deliberately malicious. There is a difference between putting a toddler behind the wheel of a 4×4 or putting a psychopath there. Second, and more immediately, I fear the rise of a smooth talking, reasonable and respectable face of business as usual. Palin has the “blessing” of being a divisive figure, likely to stir up fierce opposition. Worse would be someone who articulately and persuasively defends the corporate status quo and justifies the ongoing catastrophe of our present trajectory for eight more years.

Trackbacks

  1. Tweets that mention The Ascendancy of Ignorance: Palin’s Rapture « Small Epiphanies -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: