Thursday, November 11, 2010

End of the Blue Dog Tools

A Difference of Opinion, Gerald Guthrie, 1996 Inkjet Print
The physical layout at the studio where I work weekends is such that we have adopted a categorical system of tool usage by function. You will not find peg-boarded walls festooned with anal compulsive outlines of hammers and saws. You will find boxes of stuff, arranged as twistors, cutters, grabbers, bangers, snippers, etc. It looks sloppy, unkempt, disorganized, but it is an efficient way to work. Grab the needed tool out of the box or basket, throw it back in after you are done.

Complain all you want to about party politics and partisanship, the fact of the matter is, it is here to stay.

I've related how Martin van Buren used party politics to take the presidency. And that he was one of the worst leaders we've ever had. But that is the way it is. Much as I get angry over things like this (and I obviously do), over the lying, the cheating, the stealing, the Lowest Common Denominator corrupt, manipulative, venal, base, cynical behavior of politicians, this is the way things work. This is the nature of democracy. It is sausage making on an apocalyptic scale.

It is the way things work for the same reason that any other suite of tools we use works, but in the social realm. It works. Grassroots movements may come and go, semi-anarchic egalitarian movements may rise and fall, but a hierarchical, closely linked, collective social network of like identities, common interests, and self-interested purposes consistently works in politics - regardless of the character of the system.

Tools, I said? Yes, tools. Social tools. A suite of social tools. A cultural package. They've been around since at least the Neolithic. Ever since we started to collect in groups larger than clans and tribes, we've made use of this nebulous suite of virtual tools. Long before Twitter, long before Facebook, long before the recognition of these things in present form. Friendships, acquaintances, alliances, caucuses, a network of favors, debts, punishments, rewards, mutualisms, parasitisms, consortia, which together make up a group identity, a purposeful superorganism. That which we strangely insectoid-flavored socially mutated apes use to get things done. The Id of our Collective It. The creeky, vaporous mechanisms of our weird swarm behavior: our wisdom, and idiocy, and madness of crowds which is, well, us, governing.

As someone who uses tools a lot, as someone who appreciates tools, I recognize that there is a holism to a suite of tools. In any craft task, you aren't just making use of one tool. They are bound, entangled, One Whole out of Many. The Greater Than the Parts. If I think about it too hard, when examining a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, or a really slick hack or fine job, I can almost get misty eyed about that suite of tools. I involuntarily invoke the Pathetic Fallacy, when I think of that faithful, brave, dependable, comforting, likable little satchel of tools.

And when a job is botched, I can't really blame the tools, now can I? Can I blame all the conservative tools out there for the botched job of the last thirty years? Well, yes, and no. But if I am honest about it, I've got to blame the users rather than the tools.

Of course, there is such a thing as redundant or worthless tools.

Take, for example, Blue Dog Democrats. They are gone, not for any lack of functionality or missing social worth, but quite simply they are gone because they were redundant. Blue Dogs, mainly from the South, conservative Democrats, fiscally conservative (but that is rather a stupid designation, is anyone fiscally libertine?), occasionally socially conservative, were redundant. Useless. They were hammer-saws. Screwdriver-ratchets. Tweezer-files.

People didn't need them, because there were other tools (pun intended) in the bag called Republicans that pretty much had the same function.

Do I feel bad for the Blue Dogs? No. Why should I feel bad for a tool?

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