Monday, May 4, 2009

Rhetoric vs. Reality and The Disappearance of Childhood

Here's a perfect example of how the public falls in love with novelty, especially when it comes to our politics. Ironically, the same Republican Party who likes to paint Obama as all empty in love with this 14-year old conservative.

Jonathan Krohn is a bright kid, who articulates his thoughts in an unusually mature fashion. In part, the intellectual training he undertook while in front of his radio, listening to conservative talk, is parroting, but it would be a mistake to attribute his ability to brainwashing alone. He's bright. At least in the technical sense. He wowed a crowd of loonies at the 2009 annual CPAC event by passionately speaking on the meaning of conservatism.

The problem I have with Krohn is that he's actually the type of "empty suit" that the Republicans called our president, a self made man, a product of Columbia and Harvard Law School, the President of the Harvard Law Review, and an extraordinarily gifted community organizer who was never afraid to get his hands dirty working to improve the lives of others. Krohn is an adolescent.

By what context should we judge Krohn's rhetoric? Is it possible for a 14-year old from Duluth to have built sufficient cognitive connections to the reality he's attempting to define with his words?'s possible, but it's not the case in this instance. Someone would have to show me the hours and days and weeks and months that little Krohn has spent among the poor, the disenfranchised, and the underrepresented to begin to convince me that he has a shred of actual experience in the matters he purports to understand. Beyond that, it's impossible for me to accept that this child understands what it's like to wake up in the morning to go to work to support children of his own, to be accountable in a way that means life and death, or starvation, homelessness. He has no clue what it means to be so ultimately responsible not only for himself but for a family. He doesn't know what it's like to stare a parent in the eyes as they lie on a hospital bed unsure of whether they will ever get well, or if they might die. He has never faced the prospect of being unable to pay for food or medicine or rent or diapers or milk or anything of consequence.

The phenomenon of Jonathan Krohn reminds me of Neil Postman's "The Disappearance of Childhood" in that Postman argues that commercialization of mass media and its messages subjects children to ideas for which they are incapable of making rational transactions. It's argued that this is the point after all, that commercial messages are intended to be felt rather than rationalized, which is precisely the point of talk radio. The messages of Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and their ilk are intended to be the gut...rather than rationalized. The fact that this child is able to articulate the messages in a way that simulates rationalization is merely an illusion for the lack of contextual definition available to him.

He's the perfect combination of a bright child, exposed to messages for which he is totally incapable of rationalizing, being sold on a commercial message. It's the product that is conservatism that he has internalized rather than the actual experience-based conclusion that the process of living affords us. Now they want to use him to be the pusher of their messages. Brilliant.