Note: The comments have been getting bombed by Ukrainian bots, which is why moderation has been so immoderate. This was part of the public relations campaign around the recent offensive. It is slowly abating, but for now moderation will remain tight to prevent a flood of nutty comments.
In the old television series MythBusters, there was a scene where the crew was doing something disgusting. The setup of the show was to explain the “myth” they were testing then follow them along as they set up their tests. A big part of the show was sight gags, so this meant putting the hosts of the show in foolish situations. In one of these setups, the camera is following one of the hosts and he looks at the camera and says, “there is no dignity in show business.”
It was a memorable moment because we live in an age where performers are treated like conquering heroes. For most of human history, performers were at the very bottom of the status ladder. They were treated worse than slaves in many societies, as it was assumed that people willing to humiliate themselves for the entertainment of others were people of low moral standards. If someone has no respect for himself, then he is unlikely to respect the standards of society.
Today the opposite is true. We worship celebrity. The Republican Party is running three celebrities in big elections this year. Hershel Walker, the former football star, is running for Senate in Georgia. Doctor Oz is running for Senate in Pennsylvania. In both cases, their reason to be in the race is they are famous. In Arizona, Kari Lake was a local TV anchor before running for governor. Her party switching suggests she is willing to do anything for applause and your vote.
Of course, politics in a liberal democracy is just entertainment. It is like the talent shows where the viewers are asked to vote for the performer they liked best, but only after hearing the opinion of celebrity experts. Naturally, most people follow the lead of the celebrity experts, which is why they are there. Politics works exactly the same way, except the celebrity experts are called pundits. Their job is to shape public opinion around the two party system.
That line about there being no dignity in show business still applies. It is why our politicians look more like carny trash than serious adults. The coin of the realm is attention and eventually, you have to degrade yourself to get it. People who have no qualms about making themselves the object of mockery just to entertain the masses will be naturals in the political game. Politics in a democratic system naturally selects for people willing to trade their dignity for applause.
This is most obvious in the pundit class. These are people who dream of one day being an extra on a good television show. In other words, unlike the people who run for office, these people think even less of themselves. It is why their opinions can easily change from one election to the next. If this season the smash hit is angry black guy, then they will sign on for a role in angry black guy. If next season the show is strong female, then they will audition for that show.
You see this with so-called conservatives. Fifty pounds ago, S. E. Cupp played the role of naughty female libertarian on Fox. She would show a little skin, put on the glasses and repeat libertarian lines about socialism. That show closed so she is now playing the role of matronly MAGA hater on CNN. Many of the people in this
declaration of war against Trump voters switched to being Trump supporters. There is no dignity in show business, so they had no trouble with it.
There is a funny thing about a world of no standards. In addition to drawing in people willing to play any role just to get on stage, it seems to draw in people who seem to enjoy degrading themselves in public. Self-declared super genius Tom Nichols is probably the best example. He seems to get a weird thrill out of making an ass of himself in public. It does not appear to be just about getting attention. He really likes to humiliate himself on-line.
Just look at the first line of that Twitter post. “In forty years of studying Russia the thing I always struggled to get my arms around is that this remarkable and immense nation, a source of cultural and scientific genius, is also so riven by ignorance and insecurity that it is incapable of living in peace with the world.” This is a man who lives in a country that has been at war with the world for most of its existence. His cult is responsible for more dead people than Genghis Khan.
That whole series of posts is like someone had decided to lampoon the Trotsky cult we call neoconservatism by conjuring an absurd character that embodies an exaggerated version of its qualities. That ridiculous person then does ridiculous things to highlight the absurdity of his group. Tom Nichols is the Mr. Bean of neoconservatism and he is thrilled to play the part. One gets the sense that if Bill Kristol says the role could use some clown nose, Nichols is dressing as a clown.
It is possible that Nichols is so devoid of self-awareness that he does not see the absurdity in his act. In fact, this is a possible clue to why many celebrities seem to think highly of themselves, despite what they do for a living. Ocasio-Cortez, for example, thinks she is a world historical figure. It could be that a total lack of self-respect rests on a total lack of self-awareness. If you cannot tell when they are laughing at you rather than with you, then it does not matter.
The Founders never imagined that the country they were creating would one day lead to rule by circus freak, but they understood the risk of democracy. They knew that a system that relied on the shifting opinion of the masses would attract those who are good at appealing to the masses, but not good at governing. We see this today as our political system looks like a bad TV show. It is full of people who are good at getting public attention, but they are not good at anything else.
What no one anticipated is that rule by circus freak has degraded all of society, along with the people on the stage. To sit in the crowd, applauding as a man humiliates himself for your amusement, debases you as much as the performer. You cannot seek to raise yourself up from your base condition when you are simultaneously cheering for others to reduce themselves to their base condition. In a democracy, we all sink into the ooze together because there is no dignity in democracy.
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