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Theatre of the Absurd

Here’s a letter to Washington DC’s WTOP radio:

In today’s 3pm hour you reported on the “pilgrimage” (your reporter’s word) that many Americans make every summer to DC “to witness democracy in action first hand.”

Your reporter’s reverential tone implies that tourists to DC behold here something hallowed.  I disagree.  Too much of what tourists to DC witness first hand is theater – marble and monuments meant to mobilize the spirit; buildings and boulevards built to bedazzle; ceremonies and celebrations suggesting the sacred.  But behind it all are venal politicians grasping for more power and hoping that the stage-props scattered about DC will dupe ordinary people to buy into the ridiculous notion that government officials are saints whose genius is matched only by their grand goodwill.

In fact it’s mostly fraudulent – the gaudy ornaments of the power-hungry hungrily and cynically enchanting their victims with the illusion of earthly salvation by flesh-and-blood saints.  As dramatist David Mamet writes in his new book The Secret Knowledge, “Having spent my life in the theatre, I knew that people could be formed into an audience, that is, a group which surrenders for two hours, part of its rationality, in order to enjoy an illusion.  As I began reading and thinking about politics I saw, to my horror, how easily people could also assemble themselves into a mob, which would either attract or be called into being by those who profited from the surrender of reason and liberty – and these people are called politicians.”*

DC is a stage on which the greedy fool credulous audiences into self-destructive subservience.

Donald J. Boudreaux

* David Mamet, The Secret Knowledge (New York: Sentinel, 2011), p. 9.

UPDATE: Here’s Frank Chodorov, writing in 1954, on Washington, DC – an essay very much worth reading.  The opening few paragraphs:

It’s June in Washington. It’s June all over the country, of course, but to the capital city the month has special significance. It inaugurates the annual trek of gaping sightseers from all over the country to this American mecca.

Soon the vacationing schoolteachers will be ah-ing and ohing before the wondrous temples of government, while prizewinning high school students will pay their worshipful respects to the pompous dignitaries and official hirelings who carry on the affairs of state. Honeymooning couples, already taking one another for granted, will transfer their admiration and adoration to the indicia of political power, while farmers, satiated with the wonders of nature in their native habitats, will be propitiating the gods of government in their air-conditioned apses. In summer, it is the proper thing for Americans to come to Washington and view with awe.

If you were to ask these visitors, they would tell you that they came here only to admire the beauty of the town. And, to be fair, this is a beautiful town. Why shouldn’t it be? It is like a harlot who never soils her hands with useful work, and whose only occupation, outside of harlotry, is to preen and primp—at the expense of her admirers. Washington is, and ought to be, the most beautiful city in the country; it is also the most useless.

Putting aside the aesthetic thrill which these gapers get out of the visit, they cannot but carry away with them an overpowering impression of the glory and grandeur of the government domiciled here. It must be a wondrous government that operates in this wondrous environment. And when they get back home they will tell of the invigorating, almost healing, experience of having seen the anointed and brushed the robes of greatness; even as did those who in ancient times visited Rome. They will have visited the holy of holies. And all their lives thereafter they will tell, and magnify the tale, of their almost sacred pilgrimage.