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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Politics Are Not the Nursery

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:

Well, when you speak of crippling disappointment from the vantage of a sensibly secular democratic perspective, especially in the face of ongoing plutocracy, ongoing militarism, ongoing ominous consolidation of the Unitary Executive under Obama, I definitely hear you.

I went to jail back in my Queer Nation/Atlanta days decades ago battling for queer rights only some of which are beginning to find the least purchase at the level of employment anti-discrimination policy and such -- and all this many long years after majorities had come round to the sense of the modest things we were struggling for (and don't even get me started on the more radical things truer still to my pervert heart).

The pace by which reform confers progress is slower by far than the pace by which argument confers conviction.

No real activist is stranger to drinking the bitter cup.

That's the whole reason we have to remind one another to keep our eyes on the prize.

That said, politicians aren't activists, they compromise because they are supposed to, that's their job. It isn't compromise as such that is the problem, not all compromise is capitulation. It is up to the education, agitation, and organization of citizens to prepare the terrain that ensures compromises still contribute to the substance of progress rather than reaction.

To feel despair is only natural in the face of endless exploitation, corruption, deception, inequity, but the project of sustainable consensual secular democratic polyculture is not a natural one, and we none of us have the room to despair for long.

Republicans are criminally dismantling workplace democracy even as we speak -- and we need to be going to the barricades with the allies we have, warts and all.

This is no time for despair at Democrats but of rage at Republicans. We can keep replacing the worse Democrats with better ones as we go -- but this is a time for picking sides and at such times you pick a side or a side is picked for you.

Scientific, moral, ethical, aesthetic, political, commercial domains all have their separate standards of clarity -- to the extent that this is a moment of political clarity, don't get it muddled in the standards more proper to subjective aesthetics or universalizing ethics or commercial competitiveness or scientific instrumental optimality or what have you.

Those who see clearly can't let their political hopes and energies get eroded by the misapplication to politics of standards and aspirations suited to other domains.

We have to walk and chew gum at the same time, we have to reconcile hopes and histories, we have to see today in both short term and longer term contexts.

As Arendt said, politics are not the nursery.


jollyspaniard said...

If people gave up on causes every time they experienced slow progress or setbacks they wouldn't have made much progress. History is full of examples of hard won progress after decades of struggle and there's no indications that the future will be any different.

If progress was easy, everything worth fighting for would have been won by now.

Progressives are probably going through the greatest moment of oppurtunity and danger than they've seen in their lives right now. So it's not a good time to take your ball and go home.

jimf said...

> As Arendt said, politics are not the nursery.

Speaking of the nursery -- I was guilty of corrupting the
youth of New Jersey last night.

I went to the diner, and I brought along Christopher Hitchens'
_The Portable Atheist_ (a thick paperback with a dramatic bumblebee
yellow and black cover ),
just for some light reading over my coffee.

I'm not one to wave that sort of thing as a flag; in fact, I'd
tend to hide the cover of such a book in public. I was sitting in
my usual place in a booth on the left side of the aisle, so the
cover (with "Atheist" prominently displayed) was facing
the wall.

So along comes a young mother with two rambunctious little kids,
a little boy (8 or 10, maybe) and a little girl (5 or 6, maybe),
and they're sitting in the booth directly across the aisle from me.
After I finished my eggs Benedict, I was sipping my coffee and
reading an essay in the book by Martin Gardner about the
theological and literary history of the legend of the Wandering Jew.
Suddenly, I heard the little boy say to his mother, in a
scandalized whisper, "That man's book says God Is Not Great!"
The woman went "Shhhhhhhhh!". I flipped to the back cover and,
sure enough, there was a blurb for Hitchens' newest book
_God Is Not Great_, in big bold all-uppercase letters (much
bigger than "Atheist" on the front cover), which I had
apparently been flashing for all to see.

Well, after surreptitiously glancing at the back cover, I kept
on reading. I didn't get up and leave, or put away the book,
and I made no attempt to hide the back cover.

**Conceivably**, the woman might have complained to the management
about what I was flashing at her kids (she didn't), and I might
have been asked (perfectly legally) to put away the book or
leave the restaurant, but at least we don't live in a country
where somebody could have called the police and had me
arrested for owning the book. Um, at least not in New Jersey.

Martin said...

jolly: But Obama is now a president who tortures. Gitmo and Quantico are his Abu Ghraibs. Can you support a president who tortures? How much of your soul do you have to sell to win this battle?

Dale Carrico said...

How can people be so innocent after Chomsky and other left intellectuals have been publishing their exposes for decades (occasional errors of fact or judgment notwithstanding)?

Honestly, just which American President since WW2 has not committed war crimes in your estimation? Have you sold your soul because you were willing to prefer some Presidents as better than others for election despite this undeniable and undeniably debased state of affairs?

My point is not to trivialize the war crimes of the American Executive and our crappy idiot Empire, but to suggest that the address of these evils will take more than declaring a plague on both your houses in the name of an "activism" that functionally acquiesces to an organized Republicanism now captured by the most energized reactionary elements in the country.

Pretending and then acting upon the pretense that Democrats and Republicans are the same just because they both palpably suck isn't actually engaging in either analysis or activism at a level that addresses the evil that presumably you are responding to here.

America is a notionally representative corporate-militarist plutocracy and our Presidency reflects that reality. Progressive taxation, publicly funded elections, breaking up media monopolies are structural requirements that would create countervailing powers to the imperial executive and corporate-militarist drives against civil liberties.

There are many vocal Democratic organizations and politicians actively devoted to precisely these sorts of campaigns. Do you believe that Obama and McCain (substitute any of the Republicans in the field for 2012) would be equally likely to veto legislation making taxes more progressive, enacting publicly funded elections, breaking up media monopolies? Be honest.

Majorities don't want America to be policeman for the world and screwing people who work for a living so that the rich few can be richer still, but incumbent-elites continue to profit from this state of affairs. Enabling the latter in the face of the former creates the structural conditions under which abiding anti-democratization flourishes in the Executive, come what may.

We live in a country for which it actually can be said that our President is at once the most progressive President since FDR and also that our President is engaging in war crimes (as did FDR). That the latter is true does not alter the urgent importance of the former in the midst of our terrible distress. The distinction isn't any less indispensable for being so ugly on the ground.

There's no such thing as a soul, anyway. That's what brains are for. You have a brain and a conscience, Martin, and that means you have work to do, seems to me, just like me. If you have to sell your soul or whatever to work for democratization with the materials actually at hand, so be it. Politics are not the nursery.