Saturday, December 02, 2006

Silence and Democracy

"These are not natural silences, that necessary time for renewal," she said. "They are the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being but cannot."

One of the commonly-read books that we college-student types passed around among ourselves, one of a few books assigned by professors that we probably had already read, is Silences, by Tillie Olsen. What a remarkable woman, and her main message is simple and compelling.

But dreadful.

She wrote the book over a period of years while working a variety of common jobs and raising children. The "silence" about which she wrote is the silence of a creative voice that is muffled by the demands of day-to-day living.

Though my circumstances are far more fortunate than the ones Olsen worked through, my own patterns of blogging suggest to me that she had a real point to be made. Note the timestamp. 0540 on Saturday morning before my beloved family members have awoken. I either blog early in the morning or late at night.

This point is critical to modern democratic discourse. Your average Bobo working two jobs is still likely to have opinions that apply to social, economic, cultural, and political issues of the day. But when would such a person have the time to voice these concerns?

Are you busy yourself? Too busy to discuss it right now? Then I'll get back to you. How 'bout Monday? Oh, too busy then. Well what about a day later in the week? Oh. Busy all week. Well, how about never? Good? Great! I'll get in touch with you then.

Your average working slob, besides having little unstructured time for contributing to the maintainence of modern American democracy, also suffers from other mitigations.

From low-level service work to doctoring, work itself is exhausting and stressful to extremes. People go home to comfortable domiciles, bright television entertainment, and delicious beverages, but the work itself can seem to resemble serfdom in its demands on the mind and body. Whether a burger-flipper or a neurosurgeon, they're going to come home tired. Maybe too tired to e-mail their senator or call up the Mike Malloy show.

But wait, there's even more. Besides having little time and being too tired anyways, a lot of people are politically silenced because nobody ever asks anyways.

When you do ask, you are very likely to get an opinion. When you provide time and relaxation, you are likely to get extensive conversation regarding a range of issues from people that do not themselves publish regular opinion columns or blogs.

This is probably the essence of blogdom itself. It allows voices, even people like me, to put it out there. I have no delusions, but you must admit that I'm basically doing the same things that, say for example Glenn Greenwald or Robert Reich are doing, with similar software and media platforms. They just do it a lot better than me.

Blogging is democracy.

Tillie Olsen and I wish more people had the time and energy for it, and we also wish that those who stroll the halls of power would shunt aside the putrid stream of lobby-lawyers that stench up their congressional offices and actually ask constituents what they are thinking.

I was reading something Rebecca wrote when this whole Tillie-Olsen-and-silences thing popped into my head. She was discussing voter responsibility when she asked:

"The problem we are faced with is how do we not just educate the electorate on how our government works, but make them care and understand about it. How do we get the electorate to give a damn about what goes on in our halls of power where laws are made and carried out?"

If more members of our electorate had the time, energy and feeling that others were actually concerned about their opinions then there'd be like about a million-and-a half blogs, eh?!

The dogs just woke up. The rest will soon follow. Peace out, dudes and dudettes.

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