20 January 2009

The Awkwardness of Apparently Entangled Opinions

MLK, BHO, and Moral Progress

Now, I’m cynical about the romantic personality cult around Barack Obama because I am cynical about the romantic personality cult around the American presidency, which, because it is contemptible and stupid, demands cynicism. I think I’m not being cynical about liberal democratic politics when I concede that it is a very advanced, civilized, and relatively peaceful form of organized coalitional agression. But I’m definitely not cynical about what Barack Obama’s election means in light of the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” I’m admiring, I’m proud, of that.

Because I intend to be pretty hard on Obama, the politician, and his starry-eyed, mush-headed followers, I think it’s important to note that it’s not only possible, but morally recommended, to assume a posture that ought to be comfortable, but is in fact culturally awkward. One should both recognize in Obama a real symbol of morally meaningful cultural change and attack the romance of democracy and the cult of the presidency — because that is the direction of further moral progress.

I've found it extremely awkward the last few weeks every time someone asks me what my plans are for inauguration. (And yes, the question is almost always what my plans are, not if I have plans, because there is a presupposition that I must be doing something to celebrate this Brand New Day.) I've resorted to just telling people I need to catch up on work and don't want to deal with the crowds because if I try to explain that I find the entire event overly theatrical and pompous and absurd they look at me disdainfully and barely manage to conceal their view that I must be an angry racist.

It's simply impossible to get people to believe that contempt for of the office of the presidency does not mean I am contemptuous of Barack Obama the man, or his achievement vis-a-vis race. There's just no convincing people that inaugurations in general do not interest me. No matter how fervently you tell people that "No, really, no matter who was elected I would not be interested" all they hear is "I don't want to celebrate {because/even though} he's black."

I find it hard enough to get people to accept that I just don't like pomp and spectacle generally,* even when it's not paired with something as distasteful as colossal amounts of power being wielded by one man. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've lived inside the Beltway for a quarter of a century and never once been to or considered going to an inauguration. I don't watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I don't watch the half time show at the Superbowl. I spent a summer in London and never once went to the changing of the guard. I've never bothered to watch American Idol or the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was incensed enough when John Jenkins spent half a million dollars to throw himself a week's worth of parties and ceremonies when he was inaugurated as the president of the University of Notre Dame. Spectacle is not my thing. Crowds of people are not my thing. Celebrating the state is especially not my thing. Please, please, just accept the fact that I'm not interested in the inauguration, I did not go, I did not watch, and I did not care. It's just a ceremony. It has nothing to do with how I feel about racism, America, historical legacy, god, man, life, the universe or everything.

* Actually I confess to liking it as long as it's in Britain or the Vatican or somewhere far away and historic. In that way it's kind of like farming and nuclear missile submarines: I'm happy they exist in the world, but I don't want any part of them personally and I'd prefer it if they were not near my home.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. Finally someone articulated why I was so uncomfortable with all this crap. A ten man member who shall remain nameless asked me if I watched it and I said that it made me sick watching the second biggest ceremony I've seen covered on TV since Princess Diana/ Prince Charles wedding (granted I was too young then). I don't think I need to explain all the reasons why that is disturbing. This isn't a Kingdom. This isn't the Vactican. This isn't North Korea for that matter.