Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oracular? Obscurantism! This ain't Delphi, mother fucker.

A response to an article by Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, here, essentially arguing how much journalism should penetrate the façade of the Supreme Court's inscrutable wisdomness. [bleeargh]
The idea that we must maintain a layer of inscrutability in order to maintain the respect for the court is, in a word, anti-democratic. The Enlightenment values upon which our country is based (as much if not more so than the specifically Judeo-Christian values) emphasized comprehensibility and rationality. The fulfillment of the dream of the US' founding requires not ceremony and respect for ceremony and respect's own sake, but rather knowledge, and as a stance towards our government equal parts questioning and deferential.

It *is* important to maintain a respect for government -- something that has been undermined as much or more by the Republican's efforts to portray government as inherently incompetent, inefficient, and vaguely menacing as it has been by de-mystification -- but respect is earned, not given by virtue of an institution.

Perhaps my history is off, but my impression is that oracular prognostications were as often as not used to justify decisions of an imperial or royal ruler, rather than true statements from on high -- unless we're going to believe in Jupiter, Juno, and their lot now. The Godliness of the sovereign, and his/her right to proclaim what was right for the people was another iteration of this same theme; the idea that this kind of oracular, priestly deference is due automatically to the Supreme Court, or even desirable is a dubious one, indeed, and truly, deeply repugnant to democracy (and to me).

Watching the sausage get made can be an unsettling process, but when there's a problem, a contaminant, an error, we damn well better see how it gets made -- the world is better for Upton Sinclair, not worse. And any plain knowledge we gain of the court that detracts from their Wise and Wizened Aura is the fault of those who hold the office, and not of the knowledge itself -- are we to view them as Oracles and simply hope we're right, with continued obscurantism to preserve our cherished illusion, or should we have all the facts possible in order to know, as best as possible, if they deserve the deference we give them?

I understand the desire to maintain some things in a special place, a superior place, and ideal -- but with government as with a parent, spouse, or child, these things most coexist when looking at government with an eye to reality, lest we be a permissive parent, a battered spouse, an abused child. And above all, do not confuse respect and deference due the institution and office with what is due to to those who happen to hold said office at this point in history. Anything less is an infeebilization, an infantilization of the American people, and a betrayal of all we hold dear, if what we hold dear are the ideals of Constitutional government.

In a phrase: don't treat us like f*cking kids.


(see also: The Case for Full Disclosure, by James Poniewozik)

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