Monday, August 14, 2023

#226 / Everything Is Broken


Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken
This is not the first time I have cited to Bob Dylan's lyrics in his song, "Everything Is Broken." The last time was quite a while ago, though, in June of 2014. Today, I am referencing a New York Times' opinion column published on July 4, 2023, in which that "everything is broken" phrase plays a prominent role.
The column in question was one of those "dialogue" columns, in which Bret Stephens, a Republican Party type (though not a "Trump" Republican Party type) is engaged in a conversation with Gail Collins, who is definitely on the Democratic Party side of our nation's political dichotomy.

I always read the Stephens-Collins "Conversation" columns, because they are meant to exemplify what our politics is supposed to be all about - a kind of "argument" between those with different views on what's right and proper, with our democratic idea being that out of these discussions and divisions can ultimately come some kind of decision that will let us "make up our minds," collectively, and take some action. That "make up your mind" phrase, by the way - telling us what politics is supposed to be all about - is from a song, too, and one of my favorites! 
In that July 4th Stephens-Collins "Conversation" column in The Times, which was headlined, "It's Not the Nation's Unhappiest Birthday," Stephens did not profess any happiness at all with what he sees when he looks around our current politics: 
Bret Stephens: Gail, happy almost Independence Day. In the spirit of the holiday: Is America toast?

Gail Collins: Well, gee, Bret, happy almost Independence Day back. Hope you’re not planning to celebrate by, um, shooting things off.

Bret: Only my mouth. As usual.

Gail: Seriously, please elaborate. If you’re thinking of the Supreme Court, I’m happy to join in any hand-wringing. But somehow I suspect you’ve got a different vision of doom.

Bret: It won’t surprise you that I’ve been pretty happy with the court’s rulings this term, which I’m sure we’ll get to in a moment. But what I mean is the brokenness of almost every institution I can think of, a thought I’m borrowing from Alana Newhouse, the editor of Tablet magazine. Congress: broken. Public education: broken. The I.R.S.: broken. The Roman Catholic Church: broken. The immigration system: broken. Cities: broken. Civil discourse: broken. Families: broken. Race relations: broken.

And the most broken thing of all: public trust. Trust in government, in news media, in police, in the scientific establishment. There’s a ton of scholarly research showing that when societies become low-trust, like in Lebanon or Brazil, they tend to fare poorly. 

Whether we think about the formulation advanced by Bret Stephens, or are more attracted to the formulation that Alana Newhouse presents in her article, which decries what Newhouse sees as the "flatness" of every aspect of our society, it is easy to think that Mr. Dylan was "on to something," and was prophetic, as usual. 

"Doom" is so often what we see when we look around - and everything seems "broken." Collins is acknowledging our sense of "doom" in her conversation with Stephens, and Stephens is seeing it everywhere (except maybe in all those recent Supreme Court decisions). Is that "doom" we see the real "truth"?
Well, not only do I continue to preach against the "equivalency" fallacy - the idea that what "is" is, in some way, "inevitable" - I would like to point out that this kind of "doom" perspective deprives us of our power, and we shouldn't stand for that! In fact, the "political world," the world we most immediately inhabit, is a world we have created ourselves (and can "recreate" by doing something "new" and different). 

If the hound dog of doom is howling outside our door, then we need to step right out and shut that dog up!

And we can do it, too.

Which is something quite a bit different from hoping that somebody else is going to do it!

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