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The Present Age

In 1846, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard took a survey of his surroundings and decided to offer a critique of the spirit of his age: “Ours is the age of advertisement and publicity,” he wrote. “Nothing ever happens, but there is immediate publicity everywhere.”
Obviously 1846 is long gone, but with the advent of radio, television and the Internet, the above critique is as relevant as ever:  When all is said and done, more is always said than done.
Take, for example, the Republican National Convention held last week. There were magniloquent speeches made by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, in addition to Clint Eastwood’s stunning performance as an old man who directs straw-man arguments at an empty chair.
The RNC was highly entertaining but left me longing for substance. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and running mate Paul Ryan derided the Obama administration for failed policies but spent little time clarifying their own platforms. Ryan even spent time blaming Obama for the failure of a GM plant in Wisconsin, which, in reality, closed while George W. Bush was in office.
Now, let’s note that I’m not writing in favor of Romney or Obama but against the culture that permits politicians to win elections based on how enticing a speaker they are – such a culture leads to grandiose speeches that focus on superficial appearances instead of philosophical debate.
In such a climate, a speech that is thick with big ideas and thin with specifics or a speech that mistakenly charges one politician with the failures of another – two fitting descriptions for Paul Ryan’s speech at the RNC – is not only accepted by party members, but given an ovation.
The point of contention is that superficial speeches coming from politicians are only permissible in a society that holds its politicians to a superficial standard. If politicians were held to a more rigorous philosophical standard, speeches might not devolve into ad hominem attacks.
Imagine a philosophically-minded politician giving a speech. Instead of speaking in generalities about “failed policies,” the philosophically-charged politician is specific about which policies have failed and is capable of offering solutions that appeal to reason, not to passion.
We’re living in an age in which one point of view can be emphatically endorsed in front of a large television audience without the opposing point of view there to defend itself. What separates the inconsistencies found in a poorly researched speech from gossip?
However, the confident philosopher politician wants to ensure not only that the opposing point of view is represented, but that it is represented in its entirety. The philosopher politician is so confident in his or her reasoning that he or she encourages one to juxtapose it with the alternative; such a politician touts the strength of passionate reflection – not religious or political taglines.
But politicians will continue to use superficial means to win elections as long as our culture continues to hold them to such a superficial standard. Our question must become, “What can we do to train our society to hold its politicians to a more philosophical standard?”
The obvious answer is education, but how are we going to afford to educate and enable an age of passionate political skeptics? Unfortunately, a more subtle mind than mine is needed to answer this question, but perhaps one might find such a subtle mind in a reader of mine?
That is for you to decide.

Andrew Dickson is a religious studies senior from Terry. Follow him on Twitter @addoxfordms.