October 4th, 2010 10:22 EST
Remember The Flip-Flop Issue? The Press is as Silly as The Politicians It Reports
Can you believe the press took it seriously?
Do you remember all the foolish talk about flip-floppers and wimping out during the 2008 elections?
It startled me, and I`ve been wondering why it didn`t strike more people as unusual. I`m often odd man out, so at first I took it as one more sign of my contrarianism. But over time I`ve come to think of the flip-flop issue as a facet of the way our politicians have polarized us in order to handle us.
It is a wicked game that perfectly suits the press`s impetus to substitute trivia for news. In a saner society it would be difficult to believe that the refusal to change one`s mind in the face of new facts or persuasive argument could be taken as anything but ignorance and even mental disorder. The entire purpose of education, lest press and body politic should forget, is to learn how to learn, and learning involves changing one`s mind.
We don`t go to school to learn, we go to school to learn how to learn. After passing each course, each grade, we should say to ourselves that now we know a little more about how much we don`t know. But instead, it seems to me, Americans revel more and more in being sure about who is wrong. It`s no wonder our educational system is failing. If we believe we`re all right and everybody else is wrong, there is no room for education. Education is about being open-minded.
Have our schools imbued us with this ideological cockiness? I doubt it. I think our politicians have played us. They know how good self-righteousness feels, and so they encourage us not to examine and reexamine issues, but rather to subscribe to assumptions that suit our particular brands of ignorance. The conviction that everybody else is wrong is like fast food and cigarettes "bad for our health.
Instead of thinking how exciting it is to explore all we don`t know, we seem more and more inclined to revel in what little we do know. I doubt this is the path a great society follows. It seems to me it`s like walking backwards, retracing our steps to find we were right after all.
A truly great society, it seems to me, eagerly ventures into the unknown, faces up to what it doesn`t know, and resolves to learn more. Instead we accuse each other of changing our minds, of flip-flopping. A leader who can`t or won`t change his mind is bound to cause death and misery. He is not a hero but a boob. Heroism cannot be defined as a refusal to change one`s mind.
Self-righteousness is closely akin to certain kinds of craziness. It`s unhealthy. But it characterizes our politics.
We seem to think that not flip-flopping is about honor, integrity, reliability, patriotism. What it really is about is a hardening of the arteries, a self-righteousness and ideo-illogic that might well mark someone as ill-prepared to lead others. Changing one`s mind according to developments and new evidence is not flip-flopping, it`s intelligence. That`s why we call the new facts intelligence.
Adolph Hitler was no flip-flopper and his intransigence and blindness destroyed his armies and his people. Osama bin Laden is no flip-flopper. He`s also a murderous ignoramus. But, by the lights of a press that takes accusations of flip-flopping seriously, Bin Laden is a hero. He`s not going to change his mind. He wants to murder us. If we keep on electing people to office who won`t change their minds, who won`t compromise, who won`t negotiate agreements with people who hold contrary beliefs, who won`t meet others halfway, we will lose this democracy to whoever shouts loudest and bullies best. It`s up to us, because we`re not getting any sense from the press or the politicians.
Much of our press, particularly the television news people, turned changing one`s mind into a moral issue. Instead of speaking about greed, which actually is one of the seven deadly sins in Christendom, they spoke of flip-flopping as synonymous with moral turpitude. This nitwit aspect of our national journalism serves the ratings competitions well, but it doesn`t serve us. It implies that we should keep on electing fools with handed-down ideas, people who use received notions as missiles to throw at others. We already have a Congress that acts like children throwing paper airplanes at each other, and soon enough, with a big hand from the press, we`ll have a Congress of bullies punching each other.
It is this sort of mindless, unexamined practice that divides our society. It implies, without saying it, Don`t examine your assumptions, don`t change your mind, don`t be persuaded by the evidence, don`t examine new evidence, just stick to the story you like best and call everybody else dumb asses. And perhaps what it says most of all is, Don`t give a damn what the other guy has to say. Why hasn`t the press collectively asked itself if a democracy can thrive in such a culture and what its responsibility is to nurture a better environment?
Is this really the kind of society we want? Who is it good for except liars and con men? How can we say we want a first-rate education for our children when the purpose of education is to teach them how to learn? It`s not to teach them assumptions, it`s to teach them to examine assumptions. If they`re going to live by unchallenged assumptions why send them to school at all? And if school is to teach them how to learn, are they supposed to stop learning when they come of voting age?
When they see the press taking the flip-flop flap seriously what are they to think? Well, that`s the point, they`re not supposed to think, just believe. That`s what the politicians want. Why do they want fellow ideologues instead of a thoughtful, inquiring electorate? Because a thoughtful person is hard to handle. Americans take great pride in being hard to handle, so why are they letting themselves be handled so easily by their politicians?
Americans should be hard to handle. That is how we started, by being damned hard to handle. How is it that we have consented so sheepishly to being easy to handle?
To be hard to handle we have to question what politicians do and say. Not just the politicians we vote against but the ones we vote for. We have to start from a ground zero and reexamine issues in the light of new facts. And if there are no new facts, it`s because the press isn`t doing its job. In that case we have to do it for ourselves, invading our town halls and following the paper and money trails. In a democracy we must refrain from bludgeoning each other with beliefs to make something together out of ideas, even conflicting ideas.
Are we up for it? Or will we continue to find it easier to sign onto a bunch of assumptions about each other and stick with them through hell and high water? That`s what not flip-flopping is all about, and it`s also what ignorance and stagnation is all about. Before we answer the question of whether America is in decline "65 percent of our people believe it is "we should ask whether there is any other choice besides nodding in unison with ideologues.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999. He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com