The problem with the battle of the iconoclastic reactionaries

By Jon Bambenek

If society is “a group of reasonable beings united among themselves by a love having the same object” as St. Augustine suggested, we are witnessing the very violent murder of American society in our day and age. Political discussion has become so unreasonable, and the public mind so small, that we can no longer discuss ideas or events, we can only discuss people. We have become so fractured that in no way can Americans be described as having a love for the same object. This campus, a place of supposed open discussion, is no exception.

It is on the twenty-four hour news channels and the blogs, which have done little but to exacerbate the problem, where people can no longer challenge ideas, they must attack the people behind those ideas as absolute moral evils to be annihilated.

Likewise, instead of presenting messages, we present messengers. Cindy Sheehan lost a son in Iraq; therefore, her ideas are beyond reproach. Ann Coulter is right because she sells lots of books. Yet neither advance ideas; they are defined by what they are against.

When people talk about privatizing Social Security, the voices that challenge the policy on economic grounds are drowned out by the voices who claim that it is a sinister plot to kill off old people. For those who discuss immigration reform, those who disagree with amnesty are not people with a different perspective, but xenophobes who are stirring anti-immigrant furor. Individuals who voice criticism of the war in Iraq, no matter how legitimate, are labeled as traitors and terrorist sympathizers.

Have we run out of ideas? Have we, as a country, become so superficial that we’ve bought into the idea of style over substance so completely?

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The lines have not only been drawn with politics, but with race as well. There are African Americans, Caucasians, Latinos, and nowhere does anyone talk of simply “Americans” without qualifiers. We have black culture, white culture, and Latino culture, but nowhere do we have a common culture. We are not a society; we are several societies that by an accident of geography occupy that same chunk of dirt on a map. And like all divisions, we look upon the “other” with suspicion, disdain and fear.

There exist millions of little lobbying groups insisting that politicians give them what they want, or they’ll declare that politician as a target to be destroyed. No one, at least those who show up on TV and command a small army of bobble heads, can fathom this simple idea: There are 300 million people in this nation, and sometimes their needs and wants matter too. Policy and politics are more than single issues considered in a vacuum.

In an arena where there is only good and evil with no middle ground, no real synthetic thought can take place. We are left with the Roman Colosseum, not a public square. It is the perennial battle of the iconoclastic reactionaries of all political stripes. The solution to bridge one warring faction with another is not moderate thought, but simply thought itself.

That leaves one of several options to us. We either learn to grow up and discuss ideas like adults, we retreat into our “communities” and the nation splinters, or we pick up guns and the last man standing wins. I’d prefer if we just grew up.