Thursday, June 27, 2024

Not Even Masters

“Debates” are the purest expression of performative system-worship in an era where performative system-worship is the driving force behind everything that’s going to kill us. Fuck. That. Noise.

We pretend they’re debates. I’m not a young man, and for my entire adult life, debates have been gamed, optimized, and fake. They’re an excuse to spout rhetoric in the guise of policy answers. There are no rules, and when there are rules, they’re not enforced, and when they are enforced, they’re enforced not to be enforced, but to create drama. There is no referee, no system by which performance is judged, just an arbitrary claim of winner and loser that’s predetermined by the preferences of whoever’s providing the judgment.

We pretend they matter. We point to Nixon sweating and “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” as totemic examples of debates mattering, but the first one was the first ever televised debate, and the guy who told off Dan Quayle lost to Dan Fucking Quayle. And that’s before you get to the myth and fallacy of the convincible independent swing voter in 20-fucking-24. The electorate is made up entirely of preconceived notions that will watch the debate to have them confirmed and low-information or survival-mode voters  who will definitely not be tuning in because the debates are on one channel and there are tens of thousands of other ways to spend that time even if you’re in front of a screen.

We spend weeks pretending everything around it matters. Debate prep. Expectation-setting. This year, charges that (checks notes) Joe Biden will be hopped up on energy drinks, giving him an unfair advantage over a lump of orange goo that thinks fisherman will get eaten by sharks after being forced to use electric boats that won’t float.

We do these things for the same reason we pretend that the 2024 election is a gentlemanly, sophisticated contest between two fine fellows who disagree on tariffs. Because if we acknowledge in any way what’s actually happening, it brutally exposes the myth that America, as they say in the housing market, “has good bones”. That no part of the core is rotten, there’s just a few unsightly blemishes on the surface that if we wait long enough and polish hard enough, will go away on their own.

We do these things because the entire industry that’s supposed to be telling us that the core is in fact rotten and we’re all in grave danger is so financially locked into The System Working that pointing out the truth would be, for all practical intents and purposes, professional suicide. They don’t tell the truth because there’s no incentive system for it, and the idea that anyone in the past three to five decades would do a thing they weren’t incentivized to do just because it’s “right”? Well, that’s just another tenet from the big book of performative system worship. People do it, but the kind of people who do it aren’t the kind of people who gain the kind of power where doing it would really mean something.

The debate’s going to be inescapable for another 48-72 hours, so get through it as best you can. The only way it’ll be talked about longer than that is if SCOTUS rules that presidents have immunity and Biden brings two dueling swords to the debates stage, and even then, don’t expect it to move the needle between now and November.