For many years, the United States has been suffering from political nihilism -- disbelief in its institutions.
I have seen political nihilism in various countries around the world. It manifests itself as a form of futility, the feeling that one cannot recover from what is ailing the people.
Two common results occur. The people either find escape from themselves by embracing the mundane or they lash out in frustration against others. In Muslim countries, the mundane is an unhealthy obsession with the arcane points of Islamic jurisprudence, and the frustration is directed towards America, Israel and women. In the American context, the mundane is an unhealthy obsession with meaningless celebrities, and frustration is directed towards Iraq, Iran and women.
How are we to clamber out of our psychological doldrums? What is the best way to push back against our political nihilism?
The answer is to vote for Barack Obama.
This endorsement is not based on personal preference, or for that matter, Obama's policies. For this endorsement, it would not matter if Obama was a hard-right conservative or an ultra-leftist. Rather, Obama should be elected because he is Nietzschean.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher. In the nineteenth century he predicted that over the next two centuries, the philosophy of nihilism -- purposelessness and despair -- would take over the Western world, leading to an unprecedented level of violence and world-wide war. Obviously he was correct.
However, Nietzsche only made this prediction so that he could also posit a way of defeating nihilism. He put his faith in Art.
To be more specific, Nietzsche recommended that the way of defeating nihilism was for each individual to treat his or her life as an ongoing and unfinished work of art. The simple work of "giving style" to ourselves, expressing to the world our "overflowing creativity," would give us a way to "Say Yes to Life." This, argued Nietzsche, would stifle nihilist pessimism.
Barack Obama is among the few people I have encountered who lives in this Nietzschean manner. The clearest evidence of this is in the fact that our introduction to Barack Obama -- and Obama's introduction to Obama -- occurs in the pages of two compellingly honest memoirs. In these books Obama strips away the layers of identity and self-deception that most of us do not bother to peel away and essentially reconstructs himself before us, documenting the process like the way that one painter on PBS used to describe each brush-stroke he was making.
It is, in fact, no surprise, that nearly everyone who has actually read Obama's books -- or listened to his autobiographical speeches -- ends up wanting to vote for him. People who read Obama's books see in them a man who doesn't think of himself as a finished product but as someone who views himself as a canvas upon which life is constantly drawing new lines.
The recent flap over Pastor Wright is the perfect example of this. A man whom Obama had held very dear for much of his life was subjected to intense scrutiny, often bordering on the vitriolic, by the most powerful media conglomerates in the world. Obama didn't do what Clinton says she would have done. Rather, Obama stripped away Pastor Wright's confrontational exterior and pulled out the man's vulnerabilities and flaws. Obama added that he could not make Wright's words go away, nor would he pretend like they weren't hurtful. Instead, he said that they could serve as dark, tempestuous paint, in a painting called "a more perfect union." This is what Nietzsche meant by Art.
I did not start off as an Obama supporter. I was in Hillary's camp. I thought Obama was a novelty item. Something Democrats paraded around to give the other wooden candidates a bit of glow. Then I slowly began to feel that things Obama said -- and the way he handled himself in the campaign -- reduced my political nihilism.
I began to realize Obama was Nietzschean and in this nihilist time, that is why he gets my vote.
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