Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Of Natal Politics

So often we are called to mourn the loss of a life to which we have been indifferent, the loss of differing lives to war or exploitation in the world, to bigotry, neglect, or violence in our midst, called to the belated recognition that their loss is our loss, too. And while I am moved by these gestures, and feel their desperate urgency and hope, it seems crucial to grasp that our indifference to the differing loss is born in the prior indifference to the differing appearance.

That (some) we do not celebrate the appearance in the world of a child in Gaza or Lagos or Ferguson sets the stage for (some) our's indifference to their leaving it: Not to grasp how our world is enriched by the promise of the arrival of a child into our shared present who can love and think and create and collaborate in the making of our next-present all but ensures that we cannot grasp how her expulsion from our present damages and diminishes our world.

Before we can be lost or missed from the world we must first make an appearance in the world. Like a birth bringing life into the world, there is nothing more fragile than an act offered up to the reception of the world. Will the act be apprehended, will it come to fruition, will it make a difference, will it be exposed as an error or derided as a folly? To act or to re-act, to offer up a judgment (right! beautiful! true!) in which another's act is invigorated in its life, is to release novel forces into the world in which the world is re-made or which the world will re-make: And so to act is always to re-enact that first appearance, that primordial novelty, that birth in which we were first released into the world to who knows what ends.

Presence is passage and past and future. History changes with the changes we make in the present, futurity inheres in the openness of the diversity of sharers in the present: Who are the "we" with a share in the making of our now, and who and what are the "they" we consign to the past, to whose present differences we are indifferent, who are denied their measure of futurity?

To mourn is never simply to mourn the loss of another but to mourn the loss of self occasioned by the loss of another on whom the self has depended. To truly mourn is always to mourn the end of the world: it is to mourn the loss of the world that was shared by and made with the one who has gone from it. To mourn is to die as the self that was shared and to be born as a new self that will be differently shared, in a different world. To take up the world-making of politics is to court the loss of selves in which selves are made free, it is to embrace the world-making world-ending of losses mourned and lives re-made.

The freedom substantiated by politics -- so different from, so much more promising and more threatening than, the brute freedom we settle for from instrumental amplifications of our given capacities -- demands we risk openness to the difference of others. That we are mortal means this is a risk of our lives; it is the risk, sure, of violence or humiliation, but more crucially it is the risk that in the open encounter with difference we will die in the lives we have lived, that we will be interrogated out of our assumptions, persuaded to new beliefs, convinced to alien conduct, reconciled to loving otherwise. To live free is to risk the death in life in which we are changed by difference at the very least into being otherwise, becoming strangers from the selves we are or even want to be now.

It is because we are afraid to risk that death in life that re-makes free selves in the mourning occasioned by futurity's openness to difference that we collaborate instead in the deadly indifference to the appearance of differing lives that makes their loss unmournable and leads us looking for surrogate freedom in the futurology of our tools.

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