Gravitas and Levitas and the End of Ideology

In this post, I want to pick up and elaborate a bit on a theme that I raised in a comment thread to the posting “The Austerity Fraud“. It was in a comment in reply to LittleBigMan about political humour in the United States, and how you have these contrasting types — John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart in contrast to the conservative “heavies” such as Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Coulter, Beck, or Hannity, who are usually the targets of the light-hearted mockery and ridicule of the former (and the very “mass” of the latter presents a very big target, indeed).

What is happening in the United States in terms of its political culture is really quite fascinating, as it seems no longer to be so much about ideology and conflicts of ideology than it is about matters of mood; not so much the old “right versus left” contest, but gravitas versus levitas. In that sense, we can truly speak of “The End of Ideology” as Daniel Bell once anticipated.

One can’t help but notice how gravitas — or the spirit of gravity — weighs on the words of the conservative heavies. They are very self-important. They take themselves very seriously. They believe they alone deal with “weighty matters” but which often don’t look like “matters” at all. This gravitas they call their “realism”, and their “reality” as they pretend to know it is very, very serious business indeed. But like the force of gravity itself, that mood of gravitas seems to be attractive to many others who also take themselves and what they do very, very seriously. And yet, there is something altogether quite insincere in all this gravitas, — the force that drags down.

One could say that gravitas is the true conservative mood or style, even as it grows increasingly incoherent and unintelligible in ideological or philosophical terms (like the other grand ideologies of modernity). That very incoherence and insincerity (that which is called “willful ignorance”) is what makes the conservative pundits mentioned such tempting and irresistible targets for mockery and ridicule.

Nietzsche, for example, called this gravitas or “spirit of gravity” his enemy, and he represented it in the symbol of the dwarf (this dwarf being the contrary to his overman).This gravitas he contrasted that with his own “gaia scienza” — gay science or mirthful wisdom. This is levitas. It rises. It ascends. And in quite a few ways the great American political comedians mentioned are the practitioners of this gaia scienza, or mirthful wisdom.

But just as gravitas disguises a large dose of insincerity, the clown really disguises a large dose of sincerity behind his clowning and his “tom-foolery”. This tension between gravitas and levitas, and between the insincere and the sincere, is what makes the “Jon Stewart vs. Chris Wallace” interview that I watched on YouTube so interesting.

If you watch this contest between Stewart and Wallace carefully, you will see that neither is really speaking for themselves alone, but as representatives of different types. This is why Wallace has such a great deal of difficulty pinning Stewart down in the segment. Wallace is angling for an ideological declaration from Stewart in which Stewart will compromise himself publicly. Stewart is resisting and subsequently puts Wallace in his place. Stewart is correct. He remains uncompromised. It’s not about ideology, it’s about mood. It’s about levitas against gravitas, and even moreso of the sincere against the insincere.

I think there really is some justification in speaking of “the end of ideology”, and that like much else pertaining to “liquid modernity”, ideology is dissolving and disintegrating into self-contradiction also as a reflection of the breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness. What is replacing ideology is mood, which is something quite a bit less structured and more fluid than systematic thought.



4 responses to “Gravitas and Levitas and the End of Ideology”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I especially liked Stewart’s riposte from Will Rogers — something to the effect that, when politics becomes a joke, comedians are taken seriously.

  2. alex jay says :

    “… something to the effect that, when politics becomes a joke, comedians are taken seriously.”

    Recalls to mind the accusation by some grand figure whose name escapes me at the moment that the decline and eventual fall of the Greek civilisation occured when comedy superceded tragedy in the Greek psyche.

    After all, humour is the default antidote to absurdity; thus the clear signal of a method dealing with a decaying and corrupt system – the alternative is a mad man running through the market place.

    P.S. The whole American television phenomenon from inception was designed as a mass psy-ops social engineering project. They don’t call it a TV “program” for nothing …

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    “If you watch this contest between Stewart and Wallace carefully, you will see that neither is really speaking for themselves alone, but as representatives of different types.”

    For me, the telltale sign of that was when Chris Wallace told Jon Stewart that “Here, I am, just trying to [understand] you.”

    If that’s all what Wallace wanted to do, then he would’ve invited Jon Stewart to his house or have lunch or dinner with him at a restaurant and try to understand and pick his brain, privately. He is being self-righteous there. He was trying to discredit Stewart as a persistent criticizer of Fox News.

    The death of ideology suits me well. This change from “ideology” driven political culture to one driven by “mood” makes a great deal of sense when you use it as a lens to look at what people profess their political stances are on the one hand and compare that with what they do on the other hand.

    For example, maybe only 3% (if that) of the people I work with would profess ideas that could be lumped in Hannity and Limbaugh camps. So, 97%, at the very least, would be in Jon Stewart et al. camp. However, when it comes to action, as I witnessed during the economic downturn of 2007, you can observe Murdoch approved and appraised behavior very common among the 97% who despise him – when there’s profit to be made.

    So, it becomes really about what the “mood” and “opportunities” are in this very moment, and you don’t find the rigidity and inflexibility that one would expect from those who are attached to an ideology.

    The library that I subscribe to has Daniel Bell’s book. Woohoo! 🙂

    By the way, here’s another episode by John Oliver on “Predatory Lending.” 🙂

  4. abdulmonem says :

    It is nice to meander in the ever-expanding and changing divine manifestations of words and things, provide that we do not lose the purpose of our meandering in the direction of truth and justice, also to use these two norms in the evaluation of words and things, in order to avoid trivializing the effectiveness of the public discourse, thus ossifying it and prevent it from being a tool of transformation and change. It is dangerous when the public discourse is turned into a site of a self-interested contest devoid of intended vision conducive to an intended change. The purpose of the public discourse is not only to expose the deception of the leading institutions but to effect the necessary change through the honest involvement of the critical participants in bringing about the change, in themselves first in order to be an effective tool for change, To talk and leave without the intention to abide, get us no where and this is the tragedy of our world which has been augmented to a catastrophic proportion through dishonesty. The decay of the honest public sphere is frightening.When laws, local or international are no longer able to protect me I have to pose somewhere else. I was in Baghdad when the heavens over Baghdad lit up mercilessly and obscenely week after week by rockets strikes of those who called themselves the willing alliance to disrespect all codes and conventions, I have to pose and ask ,What is going on. What happen to the so called civilized world? The story is painful and asked myself how levity and gravity play role in such story.I googled levity and gravity and came across Alan McGlashan and the paradoxical nature of reality through the lenses of levity and gravity which sent me back to Al-Bastami and his answer when he was asked how ,did he come to know God, I know Him through paradox and recited the first and the last. the hidden and the visible, the one that make us cry or make us laugh, the one that created death and life to find the better performer among the humans ,both individually and collectively. This made the shift among the paradoxes a recurring event all the time to avoid the stagnation of humanity in one mode and to provide the opportunity for change. Alan asked who put the apple up high in the first place prior to its drop to earth.In a verse in the Quran god said and He seized heaven from falling on earth and maintained the planets and stars in their orbits, the creator of everything. Talking of laws without reference to the designer and operator of these laws is a blind road.Whitehead stated that the law of gravity can not be distilled from Newton calculation. This relieved me from the gloom of the gloomy people.

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