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“Americans are the best entertained and least informed people in the world.” – Neil Postman.

AmusinghknI still watch football. I’m sorry — mea culpa — but I do. Always have. But it’s different this season. Though my hopes for my teams have always been subject to injuries, something worse gets injured every two years: truth.

Watching the Gophers (University of Minnesota) and Minnesota Vikings (NFL) last weekend, most of the ads were what we’ve come to expect. They sell us products by entertaining ads that create our appetites for what we don’t need.

But there were other well-placed ads during breaks in the action: “information” ads meant to stir my righteous anger by painting Dean Phillips (D) — the candidate running against Congressman Erik Paulsen (R) in my district (Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District) — as an immoral hypocrite. It’s not information; it’s carefully crafted disinformation meant to evoke outrage and fear. The campaign season and football season are a lot alike with one big difference: football has penalties. There are referees and umpires.

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business appeared way back in 1985, years before Citizens United uncorked the tightly secured laboratory vile containing the life-threatening, infectious virus of unaccountable slander, and released the contents into electoral stream of a democratic republic.

We Americans pride ourselves in being a nation “under the rule of Law.” Everyone is equal “under the rule of law.” Citizens United exposed the dirty little secret that we’re not. Slowly over time, the American democratic republic has become an oligarchy. Dark money — big money from unnamed deep-pockets, vested interest sources — was legitimized under the rule of law by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision. The rule of law became more explicitly the rule of oligarchs, who buy presidencies and congresses with their campaign contributions, and who spend big money for ads like the one they hope will keep Rep. Erik Paulsen in the House of Representatives.

Congressman Paulsen represents my district. I know him. Well, I don’t really know him. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him face-to-face. During his eight year tenure in Congress, he never held a town hall meeting before candidate Dean Phillips made an issue of his inaccessibility to the people who elected him to represent us. While others across the country held town hall forums in their districts, Rep. Paulsen refused to hold one. Finally, after increasingly public criticism, Rep. Paulsen offered an alternative: a telephone conference call. My phone would ring at 7:00 P.M. “Hello, This is Congressman Erik Paulsen inviting you to join me in a live conversation . . . Press 1 to participate….” I couldn’t bring myself to press the button lest I contribute to his claim of accessibility. Finally, after his unwillingness became a bigger issue in the Paulsen-Phillips debate, Erik Paulsen held his first face-to-face town hall meeting in eight years.

Yesterday we shared the ads that interrupt my football watching. The Paulsen ads interrupt far more often than the Phillips ads. There’s a reason for that. Money. The Paulsen campaign is well-funded by the unaccountable deep pockets uncorked by Citizens United. The Paulsen ad we posted yesterday is dark in tone and slanderous in content. The Phillips campaign refuses PAC, special interest, or federal lobbyist money. They too are carefully crafted to tell the truth with humor.

Football couch potatoes in MN District 3 are the best entertained voters in the country.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 20, 2018.

The Lonely Blogger and Steve Martin

It’s been lonely. Traffic is down on Views from the Edge. I ask myself why. But I suspect I know the answer. I’ve broken blogging rule #1. Blogs are mostly about entertainment, not serious stuff . People go to blogs to get away from serious stuff. Not that this one is all that serious, but it’s hardly a rendition of Steve Martin’s happy feet.

Then two comments arrive. The first is from Gary who shares the experience of being influenced early on by Ernest Becker’s seminal work, The Denial of Death.  The second comes from Jim, a former classmate. Both Gary and Jim went on to become teachers.

Gary wrote:

The book title Amusing Ourselves To Death by educator Neil Postman comes to mind. Postman believes we have reduced most values to equate with entertainment. Education he says has to be entertaining. We demand constant amusement through sports, films, travel etc. There is a constant search for entertaining experiences to make us feel alive. It is as though our existence is so fraught with escaping death that the only antidote to dying is amusement. Just as everyone uses humor to take the edge off of awkward social encounters, humor has become the background context of existence. Humor is used as a cover for what human nature really is about and that is “Real Politic” or the feeling that what needs to be done is whatever is practical to survive.

Two other books by Peter Gay and Karl Marx come to mind: Gay’s The Enlightenment: The New Paganism and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Gay suggests the Enlightenment led to a loss of traditional religious metaphors to live by, resulting in new forms of paganism arising to supplant the old worldviews. These include everything from “consumerism” to “new age” religions like Scientology. Karl Marx says in his “Manifesto” that “capitalism will destroy all that is permanent”. I think we can say Groucho Marxism seems to be the preferred way to analyze our culture’s ills. Everything has to be couched in humor or it is considered boring. At best we can say humor functions as the sigh of the oppressed as we try to take the edge off of everyday existence that seems to be all about a belief in human society as a survival of the fittest existence. We all want something better but science has been hijacked by capitalism for its own need to constantly revolutionize production to keep novel products arriving to allow us to feel alive when we no longer can see loving people as the real antidote to a preoccupation with fending off death. That was Christ’s reason for sacrificing himself in the face of a pagan Roman Empire. We have come full circle. Hopefully the Coliseum isn’t next as we escalate the need to amuse ourselves to death.

Jim wrote:

Folks get twisted in knots over things which they have neither read nor understood. Back in the days of teaching I had students read a writer who argued that under pure capitalism if profits are to be maximised there are several alternatives: Raise prices; Lower Wages. Then you have a product your workers cannot afford to buy. Because there are more workers than capitalists they will soon suffer. They liked the argument until they learned its author was Lenin.

Thanks, Steve Martin. Thanks, Gary. Thanks, Jim. I feel better.