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The zoetrope effect

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FEBRUARY 17, 2016

Before film, kids played with zoetropes to create the illusion of motion by whirling a small band inside a slitted drum in order to project a sequence of progressive stages of one action. The effect of a zoetrope is always the sum of its parts, and to remove any singular picture would expose the entire invention. Then, surely, the illusion would be unveiled and then, surely, observers would pay attention to each individual figure.

Of course, most of us don’t generally deconstruct the elements of any motion once it has begun. But if we did, then I doubt that Bernie Sanders’ candidacy would be the image projected from my peers’ political zoetrope.

It is important to understand that Sanders’ millennial supporters are not wrong for endorsing his ideologies. Many seem to overlook, however, that true progress ought not to focus solely on the gestalt. The apparatus of Sanders’ candidacy is the pipe dream of a truly representative, democratically socialist government — a vision that, in order to become a reality, would, according to Sanders, “not just (make) modest changes around the edge.”

This means a general shift away from private provisions toward public provisions. This means that if the average early career salary for a UC Berkeley graduate is approximately $60,400, then according to Sanders’ taxation plan, those graduates’ income taxes would only increase about $1,400—a sunk cost that, ostensibly, would be offset by savings from not paying health care premiums and other health costs such as prescription drugs. This means that recent graduates who want to both work at Uber and not have to worry about their health care would be better off “feeling the Bern’.”

But Sanders’ plan is as much rooted in a tenuous balance of hoping that sociopolitical and economic winds prevail in favorable directions as in vaguely empirical suggestions. That said, comparisons between a host of contemporary populist candidates and Sanders, on the grounds of relatively extreme beliefs, are largely myopic: The former are generally dangerous, while the latter is merely fantastical. Even from a critical standpoint, Sanders’ proposals for reform are not as newfangled as sensationalist media purports — they just aren’t feasible within our contemporary congressional climate, and I’m dubious about his ability to completely overhaul our pre-existing system.

If Sanders lacks a back-up plan, will he amend his proposed revolution? Can Sanders maintain his support base, even if the elements of his political suggestions cease to appease supporters’ ideological fantasies? I acknowledge that Sanders’ congressional experience involved recurrent compromise in order to realize his progressive agenda. But his independent senatorship is not his proposed socialist presidency, and recent history has proved that appealing rhetoric can only temporarily buoy an idea in our modern political bloodbath. So entrenched is Sanders in his modality of thought that supporters have little reason to believe he will be able to agree upon the concessions that, inevitably, will be necessary in order to sustain a real progressive agenda.

Sanders’ puritanical liberalism is his most salient hurdle to success in office. It is also exactly why a vocal subset of my peers seem to like him. When UC Berkeley students belong to an institution where two-thirds self-describe as some version of liberal, we ought to regularly question what that designation even means. But too often, those who I encounter in the more liberal pockets of Berkeley do not, advocating instead, like blind zealots with unfocused beliefs, for high-minded progressive ideals.

By pledging their allegiance to broad, complicated dogmas, the most liberal of my friends avoid having to justify their position. Sanders’ elusive rhetoric and convincing idealism mirrors their own hazy political consciousness and, more importantly, affords them to not question the elements of the things they say they believe. By dint of the fact that my UC Berkeley peers and I are pursuing a college degree makes us a pragmatic subset of the population. Why, then, does our knowledge of the importance of realism seem to diminish when faced by unchecked progressivism? Why has my former pro-Hillary housemate suddenly denounced Clinton, in light of Sanders’ momentum, as “only slightly better than Ted Cruz?”

I laud the efforts made by Sanders to foster discourse about our economic and sociopolitical climate. But I also think that certain rhetoric can be dangerous, especially when its argument is rooted in a foundational illusion, and particularly when that illusion seems to dissuade otherwise contemplative students from sensibility. Mythology is almost always antagonistic to advancement. As such, activists ought to seriously question the stories that political candidates want us to believe in order to avoid harboring a culture of blind liberalism for the sake of liberalism.

Sanders personifies the utopian existence that energizes my peers’ general desire for a more accepting world. But millennials don’t love Bernie. They love the image projected by the zoetrope of his campaign: his role as visionary figurehead, the idyllic American vision that he ardently maintains, the simplicity and the nostalgia and the steadfast belief that life, in the end, is not nearly as complex as we’ve convinced ourselves to believe.

Zoe Kleinfeld writes the Wednesday blog on kids these days. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zoekleinfeld.

FEBRUARY 17, 2016

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