"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nearly Half of Americans...

think that the US is in a recession, according to this CNN poll. Gee, I wonder why?

When I teach democratic theory, I'm often tempted to try and structure a class with the expressed goal of convincing my students that democracy is a bad form of government. Instead, I usually just have a class or two on some of the more profound critiques (Plato, mostly) and usually offer my "Britney Spears" critique as well. What's the "Britney Spears critique"? Well, it's pretty simple: lots of people thought that she was talented and interesting enough to make her fabulously wealthy, wealthier than I will ever be. But in fact she's a no-talent hack who made lots of money basically by playing up the naughty/innocent schoolgirl routine and conning millions of Americans (and folks worldwide, I'm sure) into forking over their money. Why in the world should we trust those same people to govern themselves if they can't even choose decent music or entertainment?

3 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think Britney made it because we demand a proper amount of mediocrity from our idols, so we aren't threatened by them. Britney is neither overly attractive nor talented. Perfect.

We also seem to be more comfortable with certain levels of mediocrity in our leaders---we need to identify with them, so we can trust them. The leveling egalitarian impulse is stronger than our admiration for the best and brightest.

In fact, "best and brightest" describes only Obama and Romney among the current crop: Obama being black helps, Momney being Mormon doesn't.

Of the rest, I shudder to admit but must, that Mistress Hillary fits the description of "best and brightest" most. Homework done, a fleet of gold stars on her collar. Which means even her friends hate her guts, human nature being what it is, and it'll be the only thing that could prevent her election.

John H. Watson said...

Not to worry, soon science and education will lift the teeming masses to an unprecedented level of learning and enlightenment.

Michael said...

Re: being tempted toRe: being tempted to convnce students democracy is a not a good form of government. This wouldn't be a bad discussion in an academic environment. But you couldn't have an honest discussion without comparing democracy to other forms of government and the obvious downsides to those as well. The fact is that this has been a question for centuries now and is still unresolved.

Regarding the Britney Spears agrument, I'm somewhat skeptical. A top 40 pop star is, almost by definition, a trivial (though lucrative) profession. Nobody picked Britney to be their leader or to make decisions on their behalf. You could come up with countless theories to why she was chosen to be the "it girl" for a couple years, and none of them are serious.

Picking a politician or a President has it's share of triviality, but it still quite different. Britney Spears couldn't have run for office. It's still a requirement for a candidate to appeal to the people's sense of the large factors shaping their lives. A candidate can manage to avoid substance as much as possible and attempt to please the lowest common denominator. But even that is far easier said than done. This doesn't mean the state of politics is particularly good right now, but comparing them to the pop charts is a significant overstatement.