In my book, The Cynical Society, published in 1991, I had a simple project. I sought to show that along with the manipulation and cynicism of contemporary politics and political reporting, there was ongoing real principled democratic debate in American society. I criticized one dimensional accounts of American society that saw the debate between Ronald Reagan and his opponents, for example, as being about his personality and theirs, the interests he served and they served, and the manipulative strategies of both sides. They didn’t recognize that fundamental issues in American public life were being debated, specifically about the role of the state in our economy. I worried that people who didn’t like the prevailing order of things confused their cynicism with criticism, and in the process resigned from offering alternatives. My posts this week were extensions of that project to our present circumstances.
I attempted to illuminate the ways in which Barack Obama’s Presidency was and still is about fundamental change in my first post, and I tried to illuminate the terrain of principled political debate in my second post, additionally accounting for Obama’s position. America is a cynical society, but it is also a democratic one. A rosy colored view is naïve, while an exclusively dark one is enervating. I insist on understanding both dimensions.
But as the host of Deliberately Considered, I am learning and expanding my understanding. My two dimensional picture is limited and conceals some important matters, specifically the emotional dimension. We should keep in mind that we don’t only act on principle and reason and pursue our interests with strategies that are sometimes manipulative. We also act out and upon our emotions, as James Jasper explored in his posts a couple of weeks ago, and Gary Alan Fine has analyzed as well. Indeed Richard Dienst’s “bonds of debt,” that Vince Carducci reports on, are more emotional than rational, highlighting the connection between attachment, indebtedness and power, making it . . .