Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Kaleidoscopes produce their beautiful images by causing bits of colored glass to move about in a restricted field. The source of their movement is gravity as the device is turned. The pleasing images are caused when two or more mirrors multiply a single image and create a symmetrical composite. Now what interests me here is that the bits of colored glass (or whatever else is used) never change—except their locations relative to each other. The only energy entering the system is the turning of the device; that invokes the pull of gravity. Yet the image appears to be perpetually new. But what we’re really looking at is something rather static.

The kaleidoscope, for me, serves as a wonderful analog to politics. Here the pieces are “interests” of every conceivable kind—economic, ideological, religious, philosophical, social. They arise from unchanging human characteristics; only such characteristics—never anything creative or original—ever become visible within collectives. The gravity is self-assertion. The mirrors are the media. The kaleidoscope of politics is, to be sure, many-fold more complex. The pieces are capable of changing color, size, and shape, but the moving force behind them remains the same. Each election is yet another turn of the device—but afterwards, although the image changes, nothing else ever does.

Those poor little pieces of glass. I bet, deep down, strange yearnings make them long for the ocean beach. They would, if they could, escape and return to nature, once more moved, when moved at all, by the surging surf. And at vast intervals in glass-bead time they would see, say, the brief visit of a gull and the even more rare descent of an exploring beak.

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