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The first post-modern campaign. Pt 1 The Situation

Sep. 9th, 2008 | 12:16 am

I admit it.  Four years ago, I was just learning how to define post-modernism.  How could I comment on whether that presidential race was post-modern or not?  While my philosophy may be amateur, and I'm trained in doing history rather than political science, I have absorbed political and current events for several years now.  And like many other people around the country, I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning to see just which way Ohio would go.

But I believe this election is very different.  There are, of course, the obvious reasons.  The reasons every commentator says this is a historic election.  We have our first potential African American president.  Two women took the national political spotlight in presidential and vice presidential races.  The demographics of the candidates alone shatter the mold of what presidential politics can look like. 

Still, if you look past these (very significant) social distinctions, there is something more that sets this campaign season apart from those that came before it.  If you listen to the candidates and the commentators, there is something deeper at work.   If you listen to voter reactions, there is a desire for a new kind of politics.  What lies beneath the surface of all this, I believe, is a collection of post-modern ideas, filtered down from the academy and into popular culture.  Popular culture, that is, in so far as politics and news outlets can be considered popular. 

Barack Obama has fashioned himself to be "post-partisan" and "post-racial."  I have a feeling he is rather sincere in these hopes.  Whether or not he has been successful in these aims deserves a fuller analysis in a later post.  By "post-partisan," he means looking beyond the traditional party lines whether in being negative towards opponents on the campaign trail, or in voting without ever crossing the aisle.  Such a stance is not alien to the GOP, though it has not been expressed in so blatantly "po-mo" terms.  John McCain and Mike Huckabee both vowed during the primaries to stay away from negative campaigning.  John McCain himself likes to be known as the "Maverick" when it comes to party loyalty.  By "post-racial," Obama means that his campaign has had significant success, as one person said, "not because of his color but with indifference to it."  While the Republicans can't really provide a counter example on this score, we can perhaps also speak of a "post-feminist" culture with Senator Clinton and Governor Palin.  It was hardly until January that we heard much talk at all about Hillary Clinton being a woman.  And while it, strangely, has party pundits somersaulting over their normal positions, Sarah Palin has become a successful woman (even before the Veep nod) and remains the mother of a large family to boot.  Perhaps this all gets back to the fundamental social distinctions mentioned above.  More than that, however, it suggests to me an attitude by political establishments and voters alike to look beyond traditional categories and to find other defining characteristics by which to choose their leaders.

Which brings us to reactions by the general public.  I do believe, at some level, Senators McCain and Obama have a disdain for negative advertisement.  But their pledges to such can be construed as politically motivated as much as anything else.  Now, popular disdain for negative ads is not a new trend.  I don't know that it can really even be considered part of the "po-mo" movement.  But on another level, I believe that it can be.  Part of this whole thing is "trying to understand the 'other'."  Personal reservations aside from the logical implications of this, i think the general public has developed adverse reactions against taking ideas and comments out of context and putting a derisive or false spin on it.  On the one hand, Democrats downplay McCain's "Maverick" status by saying he has voted consistently with the current administration.  This ignores the major issues where McCain has disagreed with the conservative base such as with immigration, ear mark reform, and campaign finance reform.  On the other hand, we've heard much in the past week about the merits of being a "community organizer."  Remarks at the RNC snidely overlooked both the political impact this can have in inner-city Chicago, as well as the social improvements such work can bring.  Generally speaking, voters are tired of this aspect of politics.  It is a tried and true method.  To build your guy (or gal) up, you must tear down the opponent.  The attack dog is a difficult member to jettison from the political establishment.  The candidate with a clean campaign will run the successful one. 

Finally, the post-modern mentality has broached the punditry as well.  One cannot sit through a half hour of political coverage without hearing the word "narrative".  However it happened, news commentators became aware of the fact that we can shape our own stories.  That can mean either the story of where you came from, or the story of where you are now.  The pundits became aware that the way you tell the story really determines the way in which people will interpret your actions and position.  This is true both in the general story of the candidates and their campaigns, as well as the specific issues and topics that they have to face.  On this specific level, the terminology gets switched to "framing the debate".  If a person, or their staff, can get to a topic first, and set the parameters around which the topic is discussed, the ball is already, so to speak, in their court.  Perhaps more literally, a journalist who moderates an actual debate gets to choose the questions that are asked.  By asking certain questions, to one certain respondent or the other, the moderator can quite easily put a frame around how and when the information is delivered.  In this age of information glut, and accusations back and forth of media bias, the chance to "frame a debate" can be priceless.

Such is the basic situation.  This analysis is probably both too general and too technical.  I have perhaps expounded longer than intended, but it is necessary for understanding where we are and the possibilities for where we might go.  I maintain that such rhetoric is new to the political stage on a national and popular level.  Commentators like Chris Matthews have made post-modern remarks before this, but they have not been echoed across the board.  The 2006 congressional elections hinted at some of these issues but did not force the doors open.  Whether this was because the ideas were not so widely developed or because congressional races do not carry equal weight with their presidential counterparts is hard to say.  In any event, it is safe to say that the post-modern philosophy has infused the language of the American political stage.  What the implications are for the actors both in the campaign bus and the voting booth is the subject  of my next post.

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Reflection and meditation

Aug. 5th, 2008 | 10:43 pm

The poem written last night was nothing spectacular.  I had to think too much about it, and I'm sure some of the lines are clumsy.  I'm not particularly worried for two reasons,  First the motivation was to just get back in there and write something creative.  Which I did with finished, if debatable, results.  Secondly, the spiritual twist came as a surprise to me as is so often the case.  It's possible that religious vocabulary is just such a part of my life that I can't get away from it.  On the other hand, I like the idea, very reminiscent of Lewis, that God is the poem and indeed Poetry itself.  That the Muse should be Him all along should not really be all that surprising.  Again, to draw on Lewis, it's even possible that there are lower spirits who specialize in artistic expression (sort of classical Muses), but if they're approached in the appropriate manner, the real movement comes from on High.  So directly, or indirectly, to write Good poetry, one should be in tuene with its source.  Just like in everything else. 

(Side note:  I am quite aware that really excellent poetry has been written by people who have no intention of fostering a personal relationship with anything close to YHWH.  Examples from the classical world abound, and the Decemberists demonstrate a current example of tremendous poetic insight without an inkling of care for the Spiritual.  The point, marked as a capital (G)ood, is that poetry in its truest form will honor its Source.  God willing, this also means avoiding cheesy "positive hit music" verse as well.)

But what does it mean for God to be Poetry?  Obviously the neo-Platonist answer should not be trotted out yet again.  The exception to this, of course, is that the proximity of God allows for some comment.  If God is poetry, and one is trying to write a poem, and yet finding difficulty, what does it say of the nearness of God?  This is what the poem ended up capturing for me, without any intent of my own.  While I had originally set out to try to capture the awkardness of getting reacquainted with an old friend as a metaphor for reconnecting creatively, I discovered the more I just let the creative mood be, the esier it was to write.  When I thought about it harder, the lines came with more difficulty.  It seems as thought Poetry was waiting for me to let it do its thing the whole time.  And so while the poem was supposed to be a metaphor for poetry, it turned oiut to be a meaphor four our relation to God.  The more we think about it, the more we try to do it "right"  the harder it is to actually do it.  It turns out God's been waiting all along for us to let him do it for us.  If we let the poem enfold us, it will come.  Otherwise we struggle in vain.  And that's grace.

But it's also proximity as in transcendence and imminence.  This is Poetry Itself we're talking about here.  He fills the universe, makes the moon glow and the stars twinkle.  He gives Hue to the clouds  of a summer's sunset.  He  makes the waves race to shore, only to thirstily drink up the sand and run back ut into the deep.  And yet, he has a poem written just waiting for us.  And when we live in the poem it sweeps us up out of ourselves and into the greater song by which the rest of the Universe dances.  We are important enough for him to say, 'You-- I have a part written just for you.  Come sing it and round out the symphany which I'm conducting."  And when we sing it, when we let our notes come out and blend with all the others, sometimes even being brought out above all the rest, we truly find ourselves.  The identity given to us in that music  gives meaning to our lives.  We become who we were truly meant to be when we become who we give up our own discordant invented melody.

And that's the other factor.  As we go about trying to sing our own song we get distracted by it's dissonance as well as the various strands of the song  around us.  It's as if listening to just the bass line of a song  and thinking it really marks the time of life, and in the process forgetting exactly what it's marking the time of.  We get so caught up in the strands, we don't even realize there's a larger Song being played.  The music has fallen apart by then in our lives and everything's out of order. 

Let it not be so.  Let the forest not be lost for the trees. May I not praise the delicacy of a pot when the potter is right in front of me to be honored.  Let the Creator be exaclted and his creatures bow with humbly ordered lives.

*Edit coming tomorrow

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Old Friend

Aug. 5th, 2008 | 12:13 am

I sit here at the table, coffee mug in my hand,
I savor the vapors as we pick up the strand
Of old conversations between you and I.
I don't quite remember, but I might as well try.

Moments of silence are marked by the clock
As the thin hand pounds its metrical mock.
What else did we talk of so long long ago?
What else did we dream of in one 'nother's glow?

No other soul has done what you've done
By taking me places from which I'd have run.
Grateful I am, for a debt left unpaid
Here, I feel awkward for not having stayed.

And all of a sudden the air seems to clear
And all of the tensions are found in my fear.
It's not that you've left and deserted this ground.
The poem left unwritten would rather be found.

There is no more duty, no task  to perform.
You wait for me here, midst internal storm.
And patiently wait till you've caught both my eyes
And set me at ease despite failed tries.

And now the song sings and the poet proclaims
Meter and verse as if loosed from the chains.
And nothing impedes our friendly discourse
Our time together removes all remorse.

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Writing Project

Sep. 27th, 2007 | 09:23 pm

As though iI don't have enough to do, I'm challenging myself to compile the emails between me and certain friends.  I know its a bit arrogant for someone to collect their own letters, but in some of those correspondences there's some pretty weighty stuff.

More as it develops 

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New and Improved Friar?

Sep. 8th, 2007 | 12:05 am

I'm back.  (Not that I have any kind of readership, due, most fundamentally to my poor posting habits.)  But after nearly six months of silence, I'm bck.

It's interesting coming back to the "blogosphere."  Looking back on previous entries causes a self examination.  In some ways I've grown.  (Some of) my philosophies and attitudes have matured and become more nuanced.  I feel more at home generally in my skin and in my adult life.  While six months may not be a long time, it can be significant.

Yet, in many ways, I'm the same Friar that sign off for a prolonged intermission back in March.  If previous posts are examined, I still have many of the same desires anxieties and worries that I always have had.  Even though this last winter helped me learn to relax and foster a healthy romantic relationship, I still yearn to be that "real life lover."  To live in a moment, or series of moments, where emotional fantasy and idealism can be realized.  Where intensity does not necessarily drown out (but could possibly even foster) affection.  

I thought I had it figured out.  Maybe i have more of it figured out than I once did.  But because I am still anxious, because I still screw up, I am being reminded that I have a lot still to learn.  I'm going to try to post more regularly, and, perhaps together, we can figure it out.

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The Lighthouse

Mar. 21st, 2007 | 12:11 pm

I wandered down to the seaside quay

And scanned the far horizon
Closer still the ships at bay
As I watched the waves arisin’.
None of these ships bore what I sought.
No peace of mind or heart.
Not bringing with the fish it caught
A joy for morning’s start.
I had been well acquainted with
This sea for all my life.
Full well I knew its tranquil beaches
Its tempest and its strife.
And in the tumult of the sea
Sailed on a man I knew
Far better than the rolling waves
Loved deeper than the blue.
The absent man was father mine
Husband to my mother.
We shared him with the sea sometimes
And horded him at others.
And on those days, just like today,
I waited his return
Remembering those strong safe arms
And for embraces yearned.
I’d wander to an old lighthouse
And ponder on a whim
How just like he had guarded us
This beacon guarded him.
And so I’d climb- and climb some more-
Those stairs did never end!
I touched the sky and scanned the sea
And strained to see my friend.
And at the center was the light –
How fitting it was there!
So anyone from land or sea
Could see from anywhere.
Without excuse are sailors we
Swallowed by the sea.
The light shines forth and pierces hearts
And calls us home to be.
So give us light and bring us home,
Oh Lighthouse be our guide
And be the Guardian of old
Safety from the tide.
When we search for your far off shore
May your Light unite your crew
And bring us safely to our home
Through the perilous deep blue.

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Spectrum of Dishonesty

Jan. 17th, 2007 | 11:25 pm

Ever thought about a spectrum of dishonesty?  It came up in a conversation this evening.  The punchline was delivered perfectly.

Ellen: is there a downright dishonest line?  like a number line, but instead for dishonesty?  ha ha
Friar Dave (: haha
Friar Dave): hmm
Friar Dave): so at one end at infinity you'd have God, Truth Himself
Friar Dave(: (= numerical infinity)
Ellen: and the other end you have bill clinton
Ellen): haha
Ellen): oh that was mean ellen
Friar Dave): LOL
Friar Dave: but so well played

Sadly, the joke had not even blpped the radar of your humble correpsondent.  But kudos to Ellen for the quick thinking.  Really.  The jokes there should write themselves.

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December Fools!

Dec. 15th, 2006 | 11:59 am

Apparently the first of April is not the time to pull off a major hoax in the small northern European nation of Belgium.  Rather, accofding to Fox and BBC, Belgian state broadcasters decided the middle of December was the perfect time to fool a country.  The state run RTBF interrupted normal programs Wednesday to break a news story saying the country had been split in two.  Citizens, reporters, and diplomats were sent into a frenzy trying to deal with the sudden loss of a country.  The broadcasters did not report for a full half hour that this was "fiction."


Seriously though, let me give two responses.

A)  This is a hilarious joke gone horribly wrong.  You can MAYBE get away with a stunt like that in high school broadcasting class.  State-run television is a different story, however.  The broadcasters should have known better and been more responsible.

2)  Have we learned nothing from Orson Wells?

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Take my life

Nov. 17th, 2006 | 10:26 pm

I stand
And lift up these dirty hands.
Asking for washing
Your mercy and grace again.

And I know
I'm not worthy of what you require.
But I know
You cleanse me through holy fire again.

Take my life.  Take my heart.
Take my whole.  Take every part.
Here I kneel down at your throne
Lord, take my life as your own.

I come
Weak, blind deaf and dumb.
Strengthened by glory
Born in the kingdom

And I know
I'm not worthy of what you require.
But I know
You cleanse me through holy fire again.

Take my life.  Take my heart.
Take my whole.  Take every part.
Here I kneel down at your throne
Lord, take my life as your own.

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Nov. 15th, 2006 | 02:03 am

My love is a thing that cannot be grasped
A phantom that cannot be held
It lies somewhere else, off in the distance
A longing that cannot be quelled.

I imagine embraces that stir up the heart
Cuddles that soften the pain.
When I bring them to life, they all disappear
For they only exist in my brain.

So write me a sonnet and sing me a song
Because poetry's all that I've got.
Waves break on firm ground, the same as my heart
And a real life lover I'm not.

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