Saturday, April 23, 2016
The greatest cure for pontificating about human culture is to go out and actually talk to people in their fulsome, maddening complexity. I promised an Enoughness Part 3 - to complement my earlier efforts to sum up the current alliance between consumerism and democratic futility.
But then I spoiled all clarity. I had to go to Detroit and Battle Creek and Kalamazoo to actually talk to people about their political philosophies, what they think is possible and impossible, what they think the problems are, what they care about and don't care about when it comes to the state and their lives.
We needed to find the patterns that our clients could use in their efforts to re-build American democratic citizenship - before our anxieties, frustrations and despair mutate to an acquiesce to plutocracy or people seek the opportunistic demagogue who will promise at least to a return to government for the people, though not by the people.
I crafted an interview protocol to get people to talk - and took turns with my assistant - sometimes doing the conversation, sometimes wielding the camera or mic (an over-large White man trying futilely to be the quiet sidekick to a young Black woman). We'd go out and listen to a score of people or so. Then back in my hotel room I'd redraft the questions - and we would go out again. Listening, challenging them, trying out gambits to convince them to take hope again in the possibilities of good self-governance. And listening some more. And then again.
And I sent researchers to the Front Range of Colorado - from the university town of Fort Collins to the suburbs of Denver - and up into the mountains to Grand Junction. And each night I would talk with them about what they were hearing and look at the video they'd shot. How people in the mountain west think about their roles and responsibilities in an American democracy.
And I sent an anthropologist (African-American this time) into the deep Delta region of eastern Arkansas and another man to the southern reaches of the Ozarks to get glimpses of those stories. And I watched the video and talked with the researchers and listened and advised. And then I sent the man and the videographer into Nebraska - from Omaha to Scottsbluff - and watched video of their conversations amid the small towns of the High Plains.
Patterns are there, but it won't be as easy as armchair analysis about the state of the American mind, because real people don't fit the caricatures that pundits and commentators want to use.