Searching for the best ideas | Ryan Ryals
February 17, 2010 · 6:52 PM
My forehead did feel a little warm, and after taking my temperature it was confirmed: I have Olympic fever.
I tried to pretend that I didn’t have it. I told myself, “Don’t buy into this! This elitist event is nothing more than a subsidized ski vacation for corporate sponsors, Olympic committee hacks, and local dignitaries at the expense of Vancouver taxpayers!”
But I can’t help it; it’s competition, and that gets the blood boiling. It’s success and failure on a grand scale, and the world is watching.
I never was good enough at a sport to think about doing anything professionally, or even at a high amateur level. I played intramural football in college, and my friends told me I ran like a sick giraffe. A guy I played tennis with said I have the reflexes of a cow.
However, after watching the opening ceremonies, I think I have a shot at the Olympics if I move to a small nation like the Bahamas, and take up alpine skiing. Just about every country that only had a single athlete representing them was an alpine skier. I might come in last place, but I’d get to march out in an ugly Ralph Lauren outfit with my camcorder and make a home movie that no one would want to watch. Well, I probably won’t do that. I like this country too much to switch sides.
We all have groups we identify with; it’s just the nature of competition. We rally around the people in our group until we win against our common enemy. Then we might pick up with another group (like a church, or a sports team) and identify with them based on our common enemy.
In politics, the groups have been clearly divided in the past few years. I know it’s been overstated that the partisan bickering is at an all-time high, but now I think it’s different.
What used to be more of a fringe element of anger has moved into the mainstream, thanks to widespread use of technology. I get a regular stream of anti-Obama e-mails accusing him of all sorts of misdeeds, and many of them expect him to suspend the Constitution by the end of the year. Democrats return the favor with charges of obstructionism, even though they used the same tactics themselves in recent years.
Our democracy is a competition of ideas, and that kind of talk makes for a very unhealthy competition. Can you imagine Team USA getting on CNN every day lobbing false accusations of cheating against Team Canada? And they return the favor on MSNBC each day with unsubstantiated charges of bribing judges, illegal equipment and drugged-up athletes?
At first, we’d rally to our team. We’d get angry, stop buying Canadian bacon, maybe close up the border, buy some USA T-shirts, and work the word “loonie” into new insults.
But the competition wouldn’t be the same, and that’s what has happened in politics. It’s no longer competition for the best ideas, but has become a contest of “let’s see what mud we can get to stick to the enemy today.” And don’t get fooled again; these daily attacks from both sides are thoughtfully orchestrated to influence your opinions.
Walter Lippman pointed out in his 1922 classic “Public Opinion” that the masses in a democracy are driven by herd instincts and their own prejudices, making them incapable of rational discourse or decision-making abilities. His protégé Edward Bernays (the father of propaganda) adds to that, “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
I can’t hope to change that in a tiny column in the local paper. All I can ask is that you try not to be fooled by the daily dreck of 24 hour cable news, and realize that the motives of these talking heads are based on furthering their own interests; not yours.
Maybe I’m an idealist, but I miss the real competition.