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Bay State-ment

03/22/2010 05:12 am 05:12:01 | Updated May 25, 2011

Predictably and inevitably, the blogosphere has exploded in an orgy of castigation and recrimination, prediction and prescription. All of the usual suspects have been collared: an agenda too ambitious and too timid; an administration too servile and too reckless; a governing technique too subtle and too blunt.

And what is the way forward? We must listen more carefully and we must follow our instincts; we must be more humble and more bold; we must do less and we must do more.

What can one add? Every contradictory notion advanced, counter-intuitively and ironically, shares a common trait: optimism. If only this had been done, and that other thing not been done, well then... We would not be in this parlous state. Looking ahead, if only we do such-and-such, and at all costs avoid thus-and-so, then things will turn for the better.

A humble suggestion: what if we examine the very premise -- optimism -- on which all the effusions are based? We live -- don't we? -- by Enlightenment values: a commitment to rationalism, to examining objective data objectively, and seeing where that leads us.

Well, where does that lead us? Should we not at least consider the possibility that the body politic is passing over - indeed, may already have passed over -- into a state of ungovernability? Is it not reasonable to at least consider that our trans-continental cacophony is not really masking a difficult-to-grasp grand battle of ideas? What if that battle has been rendered null and void by the cacophony? That's right, that's right: what if the cacophony itself has finally become the sum and substance of our national life?

The "tipping point" principle is well-established in our national consciousness. In the realm of sociology, we generally agree that fixing broken windows is a good idea, lest neglect lead to a downward spiral of unchecked crime and ruined neighborhoods. In the realm of climate science (whatever one's position on the specifics of global warming) we generally agree that, left unchecked, the forces that created warming will eventually take on a life of their own, no longer subject to mitigation.

Is it absurd to apply the tipping point principle to our political culture? Perhaps the so-called secondary effects have become primary. For sure, great and enduring principals are at stake. But the tenor of our times may have destroyed our ability to engage them.

Bleak, you say? Yes -- dark and bleak, without any perverse pleasure in examining, unblinkered, the possibilities. But everywhere one looks the evidence mounts: it is child's play to imagine the stalemate -- political, procedural, and electoral -- that would immediately follow any imaginable initiative, put forward from any imaginable source.