Mar 8, 2010

The evidence of ourselves

After the election, after the count, after we'd gone door to door all over town and put up signs, answered questions and passed out literature, after we'd said the candidate's name so many times to ourselves and each other, after we'd met with the state officials in the back room of the roadhouse off of the highway and the county official late at night at the Taco Bell and to talk, after all of the that it was over, and we had lost.

I remember the day or a few days after the votes were counted my partner on the campaign turned to me said he still couldn't believe it. "I really thought we were going to win," he said.

"Why," I said.

"I just really thought this was our year."

The truth was there was no way we could know if we were winning or not. We had no way to know. We were insulated. Our only evidence was ourselves.

In the end of "The Boys on the Bus," Timothy Crouse talks about how the some of the reporters following McGovern in '72 believed the candidate had a shot, at least a shot. They thought he had connected and they called back to the editors and said that, and to their families and folks who weren't living on and in a campaign, and all of them thought the reporters were crazy, or biased. Crouse says yeah, maybe there was a little bias, and also exhaustion and desperation and career motivations and just the need to be writing about a winner, but mostly he thinks they believed when they believed because they were isolated. The only reality they really knew was the one they were wrapped in.

He says "the reporters were as isolated as a bunch of submariners, trapped in the world of the press plane, seeing the enthusiastic crowds at the rallies and living with the intermittently manic McGovern staffers. This isolation nourished their atavistic urge to be with the winner, to write the upset story of the century. They kept talking about the election of 1948, of how the campaign reporters with Truman had been blind to the meaning of all those cheering crowds ... "

I wonder if this isn't a thing of politics, though, but human. I wonder if the contamination is deeper. Maybe we all isolate ourselves, get wrapped up in the realities we make, and extrapolate too freely.

Last month, an important Christian college got a new president, and a whole fight erupted over how it was announced. It was vicious, and aggressive, and most everybody know nothing about it. Tom Wolfe once pointed out that the "art world," if you did a head count, really was more like a village. In the last year, I've seen an entire new school of philosophy appear to rise up, backlash, split up, blow up into little blog rants and comment threads. I'm still not quite sure I know what it was about, or why it seemed to make sense. Even those who study contemporary philosophy will probably, for the most part, never hear about it now.

And maybe all this is honest and we do what we can, with the limitations we have -- and of course we take ourselves as evidence, what else could we or would we extrapolate from? -- but I worry it isn't. When we think only within our isolation, when we insulate ourselves, it's not just innocent and not just innocuous. Our thinking is all shot through with solipsism.