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Ghostwriters Haunting

February 11, 2010

By its very etymological roots, Philosophy is the love of knowledge. It is therefore no surprise that philosophers, or anyone with a penchant for truth, are often frustrated by the lack of authenticity in politics. Philosophers such as Nietzsche and Socrates claimed to be apolitical, and I would posit that these claims were meant to distinguish their own philosophies of individual self-overcoming and eternal truth-seeking from what Otto von Bismarck called “the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.” Preferences for truth and correspondence to reality seem unassailable on their face, but what happens to truth and authenticity when democracies are fully willing to attribute the words of a ghostwriter, a speechwriter, or an image consultant to the purported candidate?

When they’re not getting credit for authoring openly ghostwritten books, politicians are identified with the language of their openly ghostwritten speeches…Politics matters. Celebrating Ronald Reagan for what we knew to be Peggy Noonan’s eloquence mattered. Political consultants openly fashion “stories” and “narratives” about candidates, as if they were fictional characters engaged in metaphoric quests, and we oblige them by reacting less like citizens than members of an audience, willingly suspending disbelief.

Fully attuned to the viciousness of political warfare, politicians frequently boast of “ordinariness” in order to identify with the “common man.” The much-mythologized median voter considers whether the candidate is someone they’d like to have a beer with, ostensibly as a shortcut to assess whether that candidate shares the same values and opinions on the myriad policy choices they might confront in office. Modern politicians, however, are anything but reflections of themselves, their ideas, or their electorate; politicians take on on carefully and professionally crafted personalities in order to deceive a willingly misled electorate into believing and trusting this forged personality, who in turn blithely assume that the personality stands for something inherent about that person even with the knowledge that these personalities are carefully groomed and managed. What is a truth-lover to do?

Indeed, politics as a self-preserving force seems to marginalize actors that are capable of understanding and grasping the existing dynamics and potentially advocating alternatives to the shoddy and dissatisfying structures currently in existence. As Gramsci would have put it, hegemony exists whenever the dominant ideas appear natural or inevitable. Modern democratic politics makes it seem inevitable that politicians hold ideas that reflect their uniformly uninformed electors, rather than their own authentic ideas that might lead their polities to some higher truth.

Perhaps the problem lies with the polity’s collective refusal to acknowledge truth in any walk of life, down to the most mundane. Americans seem to prefer to leave truth in the hands of “experts” that “know better.”

[T]he popularity of ‘professional’ life coaches, relationship consultants, pop psychologists and other masters of the mundane, however, defies logic, at least at first glance. If common sense is sufficient to govern the nation, it should surely be sufficient to govern yourself. But while outsider politicians simplify the complexities of governing, personal development experts complicate the simplicities of daily life.

The scary truth seems to be that we defer to “experts” in order to make our daily challenges seem more objectively difficult, thus absolving ourselves of responsibility for the results of failing to live authentically. Nietzsche would agree.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. slickricks permalink*
    February 11, 2010 9:39 pm

    This post can be reduced to one sentence: failure to demand authenticity of one’s representatives reflects a failure to demand authenticity of oneself.

    Sorry for wasting your time.

  2. February 12, 2010 2:43 pm

    This was wonderful.


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