Friday, August 12, 2011

The Baroque Sensibility and Looking Upward for Hope in Cultural Crisis: Why Super Congresses Fail

As Thomas S. Harrington reminds us at Common Dreams today, the people who do the talking on whom all of our lives depend occupy a very narrow space.  They come from elite places and inhabit elite niches in our society.  They think the same when it comes to the core principles on which their decision-making is premised, regardless of their partisan affiliation.

They think the same and they assure ideological conformity to their narrow core set of governing principles because they work tenaciously to exclude any voices except their own from the conversations on which all of our lives depend.  As Harrington notes, it is this Baroque sensibility that characterized the Spanish empire in its decline.  

As a prelude to its demise, the Spanish empire decimated the long-standing Islamic population in the Iberian peninsula, and expelled its long-standing Jewish population.  The nation ended up safely, purely, homogeneously Christian and ruled top-down by a wealthy elite--as safely, purely, and homogeneously Christian and ruled top-down by a wealthy elite as many Americans today demand that our nation must become at this point in its history.  (A demand that presidential candidate Rick Perry has just placed center-stage in the 2012 campaign by staging a lavish religio-political spectacle that excluded non-Christians and instructed us to obey our God-ordained rulers. . . .)

And the result of the purge of the Spanish empire was that the empire whose foundations would, its rulers assumed, be shored up by these purges declined, instead.  Harrington notes:

As I have remarked before, the Baroque sensibility, which characterized the long decline of the Spanish empire is rooted in a central absurdity. It is the idea that you can maintain a wide-ranging and effective discussion about a society’s core issues and problems when large swathes of its intellectual and human landscape are effectively walled off from the discussion.

As various commentators including Jesse Jackson are now pointing out, those whose voices most imperatively need to be heard in the process by which the national budget is configured have been shut out of that process.  Those most likely to suffer from draconian cuts in programs designed to offer a social safety net to the marginal have no voice in the new Super Congress arrangement.

In Joshua Holland's estimation, the Super Congress has deliberately excluded any voices except those of the nation's ruling elite because it is a scam set up to disguise the fact that American political leaders have already predetermined to make huge cuts in government programs while refusing any hike in taxes on the wealthy.  The Super Congress does not intend to incorporate any perspectives outside those of the beltway elite and the extremely rich to whom that elite answers.

Frank Bruni noted several days ago that the budget debates have, from the outset, been drenched in testosterone.  The voices of women, who are in disproportionate numbers caregivers for children and other family members when crisis strikes families, have had almost no hearing at all in the deliberations about the budget.  Nor will they receive much hearing in future deliberations about the budget, despite the political choice to add a token old girl or two to the Super Congress committee.

Cultures facing crises that strike to the cultures' foundations, as systemic economic crisis always does, do not do themselves a favor when they choose to exclude from conversations designed to address the crisis all but elite voices.  Cultures do not do themselves a favor by opting for the Baroque sensibility when they are in crisis, since it is frequently the elite themselves--those anointed in the Baroque mentality to fix a crisis--who have precipitated the crisis their culture is facing.

Cultures that want to have a vibrant future draw on the voices of everyone as they negotiate foundation-threatening crises, since the solution to these crises requires many different perspectives.  As Nathaniel Tapley notes yesterday in a blistering, hilarious, most-not-miss send-up of the feigned moral outrage of England's ruling mavens as they comment on that nation's recent riots, 

There is hope for this country. But we must stop looking upwards for it. The politicians are the ones leading the charge into the gutter. 

There is hope.  But we must stop looking upwards for it.   And yet looking upwards is precisely what the American government has just decided to do, on behalf of the entire nation, by creating a tiny body of elected officials, who in no way represent the American people at large, each of whom is beholden in manifold ways to powerful interest groups, to address the crisis threatening the foundations of democracy through which we're now passing.

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