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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Voting and Reasonableness

I find it very strange when people assume support, even strong support, for a candidate is a sign of agreement with them rather than a matter of making a best choice among options. I mean, it should go without saying that as a green democratic socialist feminist anti-racist anti-militarist vegetarian atheist queer I've never agreed with a President in my life. Hell, I consider Obama by far the best President of my lifetime so far and yet I think his domestic surveillance and extrajudicial assassinations are unethical and probably impeachable in a saner, better world. I've never found it difficult in the least to square these recognitions with another one: that it is indispensable progressive democratizing work to support and vote for the best candidate on offer, and in that support and voting seek to enlist as many other best candidates on offer (congressional majorities, state legislatures, mayors and city councils) that they may become an instrument for change for the better.

None of this is to reduce politics to voting: education, agitation, organization, legislation in the classroom, in publication, on the streets, in the voting booth all have their vital contributions to make to the work of democracy and equity-in-diversity: None are sufficient, all are necessary.

I don't expect to appreciate Hillary Clinton so much as I have President Obama -- although I admire much of her lifetime advocacy for women, and considered some of her policy positions more progressive than Obama's in 2008, even while preferring Obama more at the time, overall -- but I do hold out hope that she will surprise me on this score. Even if she does not, the choice to support her strongly and then vote for her is quite easy. In a time of science-denialism, white-racism, plutocratic deregulatory looting, gun-fanaticism, forced-abortion zealotry, loud and unanimous across the Republican Party, necessities make for quite easy choices.

But even in a world in which Republicans were not the party of evil idiotic madness, it would remain true that politics are neither ethics nor aesthetics, that when the lesser of two evils represents a difference that makes a difference (and it always does), that it is politically necessary to fight for that difference -- when from an ethical vantage that choice would likely mean an embrace of evil or from an aesthetic vantage that choice would likely mean undermining integrity or spoiling beauty.

The problem at hand is recognizing that voting is a political matter to be judged politically. In politics what is possible and what is important in a shared present in a finite world are shaped by making compromises and deploying compromised instruments. Politics is the interminable reconciliation of the infinite demands and aspirations of the stakeholders with whom we share the present world in its and our own finitude. Politics can be an instrument of the moral or the ethical, the spectacle and experience of the political can be judged aesthetically -- but it is crucial that one distinguish these experiences, these judgments, these ends, and the beliefs that invest them if those beliefs, and the conduct based on them, are to be reasonable.

I am a pluralist about truth, which means that for me reasonableness is a matter not only of acting on the basis of truths, belief in which are warranted as reasonable, but also a matter of identifying the criteria of warrant relevant to the domain of belief besetting us. Scientific, prudential, moral, ethical, legal, professional, aesthetic, political beliefs are different from one another, the sense they confer, the demand they make, the criteria for their warrant differ. It is profoundly unreasonable to expect all truths to be reducible to one mode, although demands for foolish consistencies of this kind are commonplace in the self-righteous, the self-congratulatory, the self-satisfied, and above all, the selfish. Although such people often imagine themselves and are often depicted as paragons of reasonableness, integrity, and consistence, they are dangerous fools and their reason a deadly thing.

4 comments:

jimf said...

> In a time of science-denialism, white-racism, plutocratic deregulatory
> looting, gun-fanaticism, forced-abortion zealotry, loud and unanimous
> across the Republican Party, necessities make for quite easy choices.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/13/opinion/it-takes-a-party.html
---------------------
[T]here has never been a time in American history when the alleged
personal traits of candidates mattered less. As we head into 2016,
each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified
positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf
between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of
whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the
actual policies adopted by whoever wins. . .
====

I was somewhat dismayed at a recent social engagement to hear the discussion
of the upcoming election among friends who, by any imaginable
standards, would be considered among the 1% -- if not economically
(though they're all more than comfortable, even by New York City
standards), then certainly in terms of intellectual gifts and
cultural sophistication.

And yet, one insisted "I don't cast my vote for a political **party**!
I examine candidates on the issues." And another, "I'll never vote
for Hillary Clinton. She lied about Benghazi."

I largely kept my mouth shut, even though I started it (I said something
like "Does anybody think there's any chance Hillary could be president?
Are the Republicans going to get the triple crown next year? Are we
going to have Bush III presiding over both senate and house majorities
of Republicans?"). However, they say you shouldn't bring up politics
or religion at the dinner table.

Dale Carrico said...

Very privileged people are insulated from the risks and costs of their bad decisions -- they are encouraged to treat politics as a theatrical exercise in which they engage in subcultural signaling of their moral and aesthetic fashion-choices for one another.

Every conversation at every dinner table is political -- perhaps never more than when the politics are being disavowed. What could be more political than the living awareness that voicing your opinions might cost you your familiar friends or sources of support?

Elias Altvall said...

As a European and as a Swede. The last american elections have always been weird to witness from the sidelines. I mean I have many things to complain about the swedish political system (How welfare state ensured that we have politcal parties that have incredible little differences from each other. How the ongoing process of neoliberalizations have ensured and increase increase in bureacracy and most unions have stopped fighting for workers rights because they are tied up in the government and mangerial structures. How the fact that the politcal parties have little differences and an increase in bureacracy ensured the rise in fascist, religious politcal parties.) But at least our mainstream politician try to cover their rascism and fascism.

jimf said...

> Very privileged people are insulated from the risks and
> costs of their bad decisions. . .

Unless the "bad decision" constitutes defiance of the sources of
your own privilege. Then, heaven help you!

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXr-2hwTk58