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Post-Reality

Liberty's picture

I study art. This means that the prefix "post-" appears a great deal in the things I read and write about. This is because great landmarks create a wake, and every critic or artist often wants to argue that everything is different. Either because the artist or art work or moment that they love has changed everything, or because the thing they hate the most should be consigned to the closet of obscurity, or because they want to keep some things about the revealed word they were taught, but not others. We have post-minimalism, post-modernism, post-impressionism, post-holocaust, post-video, postwar consumer culture, post-depictiion.

So I get the desire to post- something. So let's call Washington DC what it is, the center of the post-reality movement.

Every movement needs a signature medium. For impressionism it was painting. For Dada it was collage, for modernism it was metal sculpture. While art movements of course try and work in all of the range of media available, there are always a few that are uniquely their own. Defining.

The post-reality movement's two signature artistic forms are the talking head video broadcast, and the op-ed. One wouldn't think of these as being art works, as in carefully crafted fictions, but really, you have to see news in the post-reality movement's view point. It isn't about news, or facts, it is about how those facts are presented. Like a portrait, the idea is to flatter the consumer, not to present a realistic depiction. Real-esque is closer to the goal. If the patron looks at the portrait and likes what he or she sees, then the artist keeps getting to make more of them.

Seelye gives us a fine example of the post-reality movement at work.

Now this is red meat to the post-reality movement, which wants to see themselves as unbeholden to the past, indeed "post-ideological." Post-ideological is the belief that there exists a simple average compromise between two positions. Such as say the world is created in 4004 BC, and Science works.

This is because the natural home of the post-reality movement is the cocktail party, and anything that would create friction at a cocktail party has to be compromised to the point where people don't throw drinks in each other's faces. That's because that would be performance art, and the post-reality movement doesn't like anything so unscripted as performance art.

One of the other important aesthetics of the post-reality movement is silence. The silences are important. One example is if they don't talk about a candidate. The silences are pregnant. Another one is creating chasms of silence. For example if 43% of Americans say that the Economy is a priority, and 41% say Iraq, and 40% say terrorism, even if many of the people who are saying terorrism also mean Iraq, because about half of Americans believe in the conspiracy theory that says that Saddam had a hand in 9/11, then "Iraq is no long an issue." And so Iraq disappears. The pregnant silence.

Seelye shows how these two important considerations work together. First she does not look critically at the following sentence:

“I think it’s fair to say that the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10, 15 years, in the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.”

I did some googling. Back in the early 1980's you can find Democrats and Liberals saying that the Republican party had become the party of ideas. This was over 25 years ago. It is a talking point echoed by right wing commentators:

What has happened to the Democrats over the past few decades is best captured by the phrase (coined by Kevin Phillips) "reactionary liberalism." Spent of new ideas, they have but one remaining idea: to hang on to the status quo at all costs.

This is true across the board. On Social Security, which is facing an impending demographic and fiscal crisis, they have put absolutely nothing on the table. On presidential appointments -- first, judges and now ambassador to the United Nations -- they resort to the classic weapon of southern obstructionism: the filibuster. And on foreign policy, they have nothing to say on the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq or the burgeoning Arab Spring (except the refrain: "Guantanamo").

A quarter-century ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted how it was the Republicans who had become a party of ideas, while the Democrats' philosophical foundation was "deeply eroded." But even Moynihan would be surprised by the bankruptcy in the Democrats' current intellectual account.

I can definitely see the appeal of a Democrat who is willing to admit that the Republican "brilliant" ideas of Iraq, massive increase in wealth for a few, and putting Bob Jones University in charge of the day to day operation of government would be a huge relief. Why argue over things where those annoying facts get in the way? The post-reality movement would much rather change what we are arguing over because it is so much easier to argue over a new thing every day, where yesterday's failures vanish. That's the post thing. Every day in the post-reality movement is a new day.

One example is how the argument over whether we are winning in Iraq is whether Baghdad is more peaceful. The question of when Iraq will be a stable country is no longer at issue.

Again a pregnant silence.

Instead, Obama isn't "challenging" the conventional wisdom, because, instead the "conventional wisdom" is that Repbulicans are the party of ideas, and Democrats are not the party of ideas. That Ronald Reagan was the President that inaugurated the era. That's conventional wisdom, and if challenging conventional wisdom makes one a man of ideas, then Obama is, self-admittedly, not a man of ideas.

The other brilliant post-reality touch is in this statement arguing for post-ideological America:

"Basically, he gives voice here to a post-ideological world view. While the liberal blogosphere has chastised him for revealing himself to be a centrist, Mr. Obama seems to be espousing no ideology at all."

Because, of course, the ideology of the people in charge isn't ideology. It's "what works."

But this is exactly where post-reality comes in:

“I was the most-requested surrogate to come in and campaign for people in districts that were swing districts, Republican districts, where they wouldn’t have any other Democrat, and that was based on their read of the fact that, you know what? This is somebody who can reach out to independents, and Republicans, in a way that doesn’t, doesn’t offend people.”

But his comments did offend people. But in the post-reality movement, these kinds of contradictions are support for the thesis. That some people are offended by something is proof that it is an idea, and if it is an idea, then no one who disagrees with it matters if they are offended.

That the statement is manifestly untrue, in the post-reality movement, is absolute proof that it is true. That means that the more we find that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, the more it offends the people who predicted that we would not find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. The more they are offended, the more there being Weapons of Mass Destruction is an "idea," rather than a fact, and therefore it must also be true, or at least we must be able to compromise on it to remain post-ideological.

The last touch of the post-reality community is to use silence as proof itself. Consider this golden touch:

It is not clear how much a focus on Reagan could hurt Mr. Obama, at least with the Democrats who will be voting in the upcoming primaries. The most recent New York Times/CBS News poll is from more than 10 years ago, before he died and received generally glowing obituaries.

However, there is evidence that Obama's remarks have hurt him with voters who describe themselves as very liberal or liberal, who are, generally, people who vote in Democratic Primaries, in the form of his declining share of the very liberal vote from exit polls. But, this what is lovely about being post-reality, if it isn't in the Post, it is not reality.

So "it is not clear" really means, it is clear. And as I mentioned before, if you say something is not clear, when it is, then you've turned a fact into an "idea" and something we all have to compromise on at the cocktail party.

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Comments

Submitted by lambert on

... well, I was going to make a joke about post-it notes, but...

Surely post-partisan is in there?

I love post-reality -- it's an imperial posture.

Great post.

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

...with all mammals (except 'roos???). No matter how wacky each one of us is, we are all post-partum.

Turlock