Sunday, November 20, 2005

World Weariness, Game Theory and the United States House of Representatives

I am fatigued. World weary. Cognitively drained. I honestly tried to get myself worked up into a righteous lather about the debacle that was the Jean Schmidt floorshow. (and, as she had to come back later and 'remove' her remarks from the record, the 9 o'clock show was completely different from the 7 o'clock show.) But there is just no indignation to be had.

Mainly, there was a certain feeling of inevitability that American political debate has reached this level. Many are familiar with the economic concept of the prisoner's dilemma*, and it describes modern politics perfectly. If you get a certain bump from substituting volume and vehemence for substance, its good for a time. Until the other side matches your level of hysteria. Or you can avoid the question by charging that the other side is playing politics, which is of course, a political play in itself. So everyone is 'maneuvering', and no one is governing.

I was not especially politically aware during the Clinton years, so this may be selective memory on my part, but it seems that during that time, the GOP perfected the tactics of playing dirty, and bullying their way to victory. I only use those terms in the pejorative sense to the extant that I think the Republican agenda is not good for the country. From a tactical standpoint, it makes perfect sense. They own the White House and Congress. Unfortunately, since the Dems have finally grown a pair, they can't do anything, because everybody is playing dirty. But if you view politics as zero-sum, this is the equivalent getting a lead early and running out the clock.

We in the blogosphere are, unfortunately, more a part of the problem than the solution. Both sides have lost all perspective on, well, perspective. Any setback or dissonant opinion is the worst thing ever, be it 'unpatriotic' or 'McCarthyite', or whatever incendiary language you want to use. So when something truly remarkable, and awful, such as Schmidt's vicious attack on Murtha, (you would think that Murtha would be above reproach on matters of patriotism or personal courage, but no one seems to be) there is simply no way to distinguish between the usual screechings of the far left and truly deserved mystification and anger over this particular incident. When thousands of boys cry wolf dozens of times a day each, any sighting of the actual beast gets lost in the cacophony.**

Further, we might be seeing what might be called the 'obverse side' of the new media. Yes, one can find virtually any viewpoint from a variety of sources. But this sheer volume of options lets one ignore, consciously or otherwise, viewpoints which don't mesh with their own without feeling uninformed. Thus we are left with opposing echo chambers, and a vast and barren middle ground, which is crossed by nobody except for academics, who are ignored; trolls, who are reviled; and humorists who aren't taken seriously.

* And it looks a little something like this:

GOP Engages is Reasonable DebateGOP Plays Dirty
Dems Engage is Reasonable DebateReasonable compromises reached. Business of government is performed
GOP runs Dems over.
Dems Play DirtyDems run GOP over
Everthything is 'politics'. Nothing gets done beyond symbolism.

** Its hardly an original thought on my part, but perhaps this "All Spin Zone" explains the popularity of such shows as CSI and the spin-offs. To paraphrase Gil Grissom, people lie, exaggerate and misrepresent. The evidence won't. At least for 42 minutes plus commercials on Thursday night.

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