Belmont Club

I Write The Songs

A literary reviewer  once described characters in play as hiding in a “frenzy of febrile activity”, substituting “action for knowledge”, “a constant buzz of chatter in order to avoid” answering real questions. He might have been talking about Hillary Clinton to whom the adjective “frenzied” might well have been applied. According to Megan Garber of the Atlantic, Hillary Clinton traveled 956,733 miles during her tenure as Secretary of State. From data provided by the Department of State, Garber says this equals:

• Total miles traveled: 956,733
• Which equates to this many times traveled around the circumference of the world: 38.42
• Total travel time, in hours: 2,084.21
• Total travel time, in days: 86.8
• Days of travel, in all: 401
• Which works out to: 1.099 years

And what did she achieve? When Tom Friedman  asked her what she had achieved (video below) she was at a loss for words.

But achievement wasn’t the point.  Activity was an end in itself. John Kerry is trying to break her record. He is traveling so hard that his plane broke down.

Since assuming office in Feb. 1, 2013, Kerry has juggled priorities amid a virtually non-stop travel schedule that has left many around him often exasperated and exhausted.

He has already overtaken his predecessor Hillary Clinton in his first year as America’s top diplomat, clocking up 519,136 miles (835,468 km) to 51 countries in 239 days, according to State Department figures.

Kerry’s getting on and the constant travel may be taking its toll. It is widely suspected that Hillary had some sort of health episode as a result of her furious traveling.  It sure looks like it’s getting to Kerry. Here’s a video Kerry arguing that the Bible commands the U.S. to protect Muslim countries from Global Warming and mispronouncing the word “inextripically” thrice.

This is reminiscent of when president Obama mispronounced Corpsman as “corpse-man” in a speech.  This is probably because they are reading remarks written by someone else. When you write your own speech you usually use words that know and are familiar with. But when  a speechwriter pens the spiel, he can include words you’ve never used or even heard of.

But what exactly is the Secretary saying? Kerry’s speech actually illustrates that bane of public life which afflicts bureaucrats and international NGOs alike, which can be called the “endless meeting and jargon syndrome”. Like those fictional characters who are trapped in a “frenzy of febrile activity”, substituting “action for knowledge” major public figures are often like actors reading lines on stage.

It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that poor John Kerry was handed his cue only minutes before mounting the podium. It is not inconceivable that while he was mouthing the words on the video he was actually  thinking “WTF?” There is some truth to the saying that politics is show business for ugly people.  In showbusiness the scriptwriters and songwriters write the lines.  In politics, the quangos,  NGOs and lobbyists play the role of scriptwriters.

As Barry Manilow once said, “they write the songs”. People like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry  lip-sync them.  How else do you come up with a speech where the Bible — in fact God — is invoked to command the US to save the Muslims from Global Warming?   When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however inexpricable, must be the right answer.

Speaking of God,  here are the minutes of an academic meeting which concludes that religion has to be revived in order to justify the fight against Global Warming. (Emphasis mine)

The meetings of the Positive Psychology Center at Claremont took place on February 25-26; April 14-15; April 28-29 and June 9-10, 2000. It had been decided that the theme for the Spring 2000 meetings was going to be the question: “What can the social sciences do to help provide alternatives to excessive dependence on materialism?” The reason for choosing this topic was the realization that while the U.S. has achieved a position of global leadership in terms of economic productivity and democratic institutions, this achievement had not been matched by a vision of a good life to which all could aspire without exhausting the resources of the planet along the way. Is there a way to slow down the increasingly frantic cycles of production and consumption, while at the same time improving the quality of life?…

Basically, the group agreed that: a) there is increasing evidence in the social sciences to the effect that the correlation of material well-being and subjective well-being is very weak; b) this fact is not believed by society at large. Taken together, these two facts pose a danger for the future, when all the nations of the world will try to outdo each other in efforts to increase subjective well-being by consuming more and more material resources. …

Increase research on conditions that support traits leading to subjective well-being without necessarily depending on material resources, such as autonomy, spirituality, and intrinsic motivation. The group concluded that it was important to enlist organizations that would benefit from such knowledge, including the World Council of Churches, the YMCA, the 4H, the Boy Scouts. Also, practices that provide alternatives to exclusive addiction to material consumption ought to be of interest to enlightened businessmen concerned with maintaining a vibrant civil society in a sustainable environment.

Fasting, abstinence, penitence, chastity, self-denial, meditation  are about to make a comeback.  Not in the name of Christ, or Moses or the Buddha it’s true — but for Gaia at least.  While there’s no direct evidence that ideas like these  directly influenced Kerry’s speech, they would have wanted to. There are thousands of advocates criss-crossing the world  and intersecting at UN meetings, international conferences, staff meetings at summits, ministerial conclaves and working groups. These legions are  buttonholing delegates, palavering in hotel coffee shops and pushing papers on policy-makers. They are doing it for a reason.

They write the songs.  Not that songs necessarily do anything, but in the modern world ‘doing something’ is no longer the point.  Spin, news cycles, narratives — that is the object of this frenzy.  The manipulation of symbols, often for their own sake, has become an end in itself. Maybe if there was less talk and more reflection, if there fewer words and a greater emphasis on work something intelligent might actually be achieved.

But that presumes the world is real. As the psychologists noted the correlation between reality and subjective well-being is very weak.

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