Right around election-time, pundits always begin to lament the frivolity of the average voter. “Why can’t we pay attention to what really matters?” they wail. Why must we focus on Britney Spears and her pubic hairstyles? Why must we devote more column space to whether Posh has breast implants, and whether David Beckham’s crotch is enlarged with props and Photoshop in that Armani underwear ad?
I admit that it’s certainly possible that the average voter is a fucking idiot, but isn’t it also possible that politics and “serious” matters don’t focus enough on what matters to the average voter, and that what matters to the average voter is a little diversion before the comfort of the grave?
It’s been nearly four hundred years since Thomas Hobbes coined the phrase “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” and while life has improved on all five points, society hasn’t exactly perfected itself, either:
- Life is still solitary: I’ve got lots of Facebook friends and plenty of face-to-face friends as well. It doesn’t make me any less alone, though. Pundits like Lee Siegel decry the effect of the Internet on society and say that online relationships are a poor substitute for face-to-face relationships. But direct human interaction is greatly overrated and frequently soulless. Is any real connection to another person possible?
- Life is still poor: On the one hand, we wallow in material possessions. On the other hand, David Beckham is far wealthier and is better endowed. And even he doesn’t seem satisfied, or why else would he be appearing in those Armani ads?
- Life is, if anything, nastier: Perez Hilton. Enough said.
- Life is still brutish: An organ-trafficking ring was recently uncovered in India. Marijuana farms in the UK are employing slave labor. The American government admits to using methods of torture perfected by the Inquisition. We’ve refined our brutality, but that’s like putting a pig in a suit: It’s still going to roll in its own shit.
- Life is still short: As another notable economist noted, “in the long run, we are all dead.”
Care to discuss tax policy now? The politically high-minded (myself included) love to talk about rational decision-making. The flaw in that approach is that rational decision making requires assuming that there’s some kind of goal or point to what you’re doing, and if you think too hard, you’ll remember that there isn’t one. Given that life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, is it really worth the effort to think about substantive proposals for farm subsidy reform?
No wonder people just vote for whoever makes them feel good, and then go back to distracting themselves with Britney Spears (her problems make my problems look totally surmountable, even though both of us are, in the long run, dead). Frivolity makes us feel a little better, and between mewling infancy and helpless senility, feeling a little better is all we’ve got.
And that’s why I love television: Because it’s the opiate of the masses (I’m a mass on the couch right now, trust me. Probably a cancerous mass, but I guess you’d have to ask Dr. House.) and anything which eases suffering is a blessing indeed.