Why are we facing so much ambivalence when so much is at stake? One painful answer is that we have a status quo presidential candidate who seems to be both unexciting and inevitable, while the other is "unpopular" among the intelligentsia and "politically correct" for putting everything we value at risk, including human dignity itself. Neither seems to show up consistently on a human level that is inspiring. The political process itself seems to have lost dignity. No leader is immune to instant media. And the slow death of dignity in our times is not solely due to our leaders. Leaders are representatives of the culture, or of a certain camp of followers. As we are seeing, the loudest mob in any camp is simply the most agitated.
This recognition of the risk of mob rule by our forefathers is why our political system is not purely democratic. They must have foreseen the possibility that an insane level of agitation could trigger a movement so strong that it could prevail against common sense and human dignity. Super-delegates and the Electoral College system were designed to reduce this danger. However, if the members are simply reactionary against any new wind of change, then that safeguard may be counterproductive. Meanwhile dysfunction in DC expresses itself in the general loss of dignity as a public standard. The checks and balances have become as divisive as refugee camps, where families in pursuit of freedom are caged in. Instead political camps are trapped by their own sound bites, polarized into stalemates, void of real content. In this barren soulscape few appear to be truly free to express themselves wisely.
Perhaps we can blame this loss of dignified and substantive debate on the imposition of TV in the fifties. I remember the first televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960, which might have been won on sheer looks alone. JFK was wiry and tanned with a handsome smile. Nixon needed makeup and looked like a nervous ghost. Something both subliminal and shallow was taking the place of considered conversation in our homes. Concurrently, the rhythms of family life had been superseded by bland shows like Father Knows Best and My Three Sons etc. Decade by decade our experience of one familiar visual setting in life became one familiar virtual setting per hour (for example: the set of I Love Lucy). Then this was replaced by two camera perspectives, then three and more. The stories were interrupted by Ronald Reagan selling Boraxo Soap or a ditty about Alka Seltzer. It seemed harmless and digestible.
Then the settings and perspectives multiplied until the digital frames per second overwhelmed our ability to remember what we had seen. Who knows what subliminal messages have been slipped into our innocent psyches? Marshall McCluhan in The Medium is the Message had uncovered DRINK SODA and EAT POPCORN spliced into movie footage already in the 60's.
Today, without familial rhythm, without contiguous memories of reality, we continue our flight for freedom, filling our heads with endless internet knowledge. No more can knowledge provide one with distinguishable dignity since almost anyone can find out almost anything just as easily. This includes images that had heretofore been forbidden. Swamped by excesses we become refugees from the quiet of our own thoughts, fenced in, not by our limited experience, but by more and more eye candy and snippets of information. The most shocking news proliferates and is fed instantaneously to the eagerly awaiting masses, starved for something to remind us that we could once feel.
I am not alone noticing the stark imposition of smart screens stealing the eyes of lovers who no longer seem to converse. Texting seems so urgent and the alphabet of imogis will likely replace smiley faces with more violent expressions encapsulating our darkest feelings. Humor seems to depend on the bleeps blocking sexual references and bathroom trash.
But this liberation from standards is not all bad. Ultimately the death of dignity is not only about the death of political correctness. It is part of a global refugee march, the crossing of lines that were forbidden, as humanity looks for something new and better. The breaking through of boundaries is part of the "flat world": a global equalizing process. Throwing the baby of human dignity out with the bathwater of burning dissatisfaction is inevitable, but it must be recovered if humanity itself is to survive.
Taking away the rule-book does not mean we have to play without rules. The alternative is to rebuild, not physical walls to define borders between us, not concrete compounds or refugee camps, but platforms without borders, in unlimited variation: individual initiatives that create a better world.
Starting from where each one lives, our dignity lies in how we transform this given circumstance, investing time and money across borders, across the political aisle, across cultural barriers. We are each unique and perhaps this makes us feel limited or even insignificant, but in crossing borders we may become larger than life, and express what is greatest in this human race.