Blog Post

Politics Without Cynicism: What Would That Look Like?

The time since the election has been almost as interesting as the time that preceded it, but what I'm finding most fascinating are the news people who can't figure it out. Without the lens of cynicism with which to view the world, the world is a very confusing place for newscasters. That's because they have lived so long within the world of double-talk, they can't figure out single talk.


I'm noticing two tendencies. First, all the pundits who keep saying "we don't really know what Barak Obama wants to do, we don't really know him," are really saying "we have no experience with someone who actually wants to do the four things that he has said, for the last two years, ad nauseum that he wants to do." Will he actually be able to do those things? That's another question. We are in the world's biggest economic meltdown in history, after all. Democracy isn't easy and he needs votes. Still, that's not the issue. The "we don't know who he is" rhetoric is based on past experiences with politicians who make stuff up if it will get votes, who change the message from minute to minute. (At the risk of getting socked with rotten tomatoes, I'll say part of the appeal of Palin is that, not only is she a knock-out and true-red right wing through and through, her message is as undeviating as Obama's. You know what you are getting.)


Second, as with the possible Hillary choice, the second thing that throws newscasters for a loop is Obama's fascination with the Lincoln imperative to hire your former rivals. For the pundits, possibly choosing to work closely with a former rival has to be because you are Machiavellian on some level: you hold your enemies close, you contain and silence them. Now, what about this: maybe you want smart rivals near you because you learn from them. I'm not saying whether I think Hillary Clinton would or would not be a good choice for Secy of State (personally, my feelings are quite mixed).   What I am interested in is the method and then the analysis of the method based on previous cycnical experience.   The logic in the Lincoln biography that Obama likes to quote isn't cynical.  It goes:  if they were smart enough to be your rivals, they may actually have something to tell you that you're not hearing within the bubble of the presidency. You might have a fighting chance at real dissent if you work with your former opponents.


Hmmmmmm . . . that's what HASTAC has been calling, since its inception, "collaboration by difference." We've been arguing that true interdisciplinarity can't happen unless you are put into situations where you are forced to learn from people with whom you do not share experiences, training, or even goals but who, instead, test all of those things. If you are conjoined in a common project, you have to make all those differences mesh in order to succeed. But in typical collaboration, you can actualy reinforce differences rather than highlight them, thus building in more error. Collaboration by difference is more than checks-and-balances, it is counterposing different ways of seeing the world in order to see the world's multiple facets.



For HASTAC Scholars and other readers, I hasten to add that this blog is not politically partisan. State funding and goverment funding to universities prohibit "Democratic" versus "Republican"-style political endorsement or partisanship. However, President Elect Obama is the president of all of us not only one party and these comments are intended to be useful to think about power, politics, punditry----and collaboration by difference as a methodology. I promise not to stray too far into this territory but, inevitably, there will be further pieces by me and others on Pres Elect Obama since he intends to implement some Web 2.0 governmental democratic features. We will watch those carefully as the digital's relationship to society in all its manifestations is one of the chief goals of HASTAC.


Is this the right forum for saying whether he succeeds or fails? Not really. But to talk about the potential of digital democracy seems exactly right. And it seems possible to do this without partisan endorsement that will jeopardize the funding of some of our HASTAC Scholars. It is extremely exciting to me to see how the digital and how viral communication was used in this election and to imagine how it might be used in the future for democratic actions of various sorts.


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