Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer Reading

Summer reading has been especially stimulating so far this year. The discovery of Rebecca West,   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_West  and plowing through most of her output was a source of constant amazement. This author is said to be the best "female" writer in western civ.  William Buckley referred to her in an interview as the best writer, period. For fifty years Ms West struggled with the tension of individual responsibility in community. Her work, be it novel, travel journal, essay, or reportage veers to the moral quandary of what am I to do, in the face of the Holocaust, the oppressive parent, the tradition of the tribe, the expectations of my culture. In her final, unfinished book of essays, "Survivors of Mexico", she revisits the indigenous peoples suffering at the swords of the conquistadors, and moves through the centuries of Mexican history culminating in the attempts of the muralists, in league with leftists, to dignify and edify their history.

And then I read, Things as they are, or The adventures of Caleb Williams, by William Godwin. This book is the first mystery novel in western lit {1794}and is available on line through Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11323. I read the novel without knowing much of Godwin and was so blown away by the book, {no spoilers here},  that I went on to read in his philosophy. He is an early Anarchist and a Utilitarian http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/godwin/ and to the extent that I can understand what he is about, concluded that his hope for mankind was that a people rid of government could reach a high order of civilization, if, and here is the leaven, they attain high levels of education. 

Colum McCann's newest novel, "Transatlantic", fictionalizes stories of historical characters who made the crossing from and to Ireland.  In 1845 Fredric Douglas, still a slave, made the crossing to lecture across the island. Upon arrival he is witness to the early stages of the famine, and poverty so severe that he is humbled by the degradation. What an irony. Standing before large crowds demanding suffrage, bread, and freedom,  he is caught in the dilemma of joining with the forces stirring to overcome their suppression while maintaining his personal objective of advancing the cause of emancipation of black slaves. He cops to his cause, raising the funds needed to advance abolition.  

Douglas was caught in the same bind we find ourselves in today. Are we members of an interest group, a position we take because we belong in a special minority membership,  say a feminist is, because she is a woman, or, am I committed to an issue, like gun control? Most organizers believe and act as if any alignment is dilutive and argue against forming alliances with groups with which you might have an affinity. In so doing they deny us the possibility of coalition building that is going to be required to rid of us the oppressors who, without having to announce their affiliations, act as a "community of like interests". The banker who is going to finance the corporation who builds the next intelligent drone doesn't need to announce his pro-war position. It is understood. It is not so easily understood that the Gay Rights lobby has an interest in the Voting Rights Amendment. Liberals don't act as if we are in coalition. There is no rainbow nor big tent that embraces us. We are not in a community of interests. What liberal organizers have failed to appreciate is that we have the potential to get beyond issue and make ethical judgements that transcend our narrow interests. 

I could make the case by example: Some may hate the Justice Department for its pursuit against medical marijuana, its failure to indict Wall Street criminals, the persecution of Edward Snowden, or the suppression of free speech. Many of these very same people are asking the Justice Department to pursue hate crime indictments against George Zimmerman? If they indict him do we forgive and forget the ongoing cluster of behaviors that we despise? These positions represent issues to which we may or may not agree. The narrowness of these positions obfuscate the larger issue of government over-reach. Anyone on the wrong side of a gas attack from militarized "police" doesn't need to be organized in opposition to government suppression. What he or she may need to be reminded of is that I support you in your cause today, for tomorrow it will be my turn.

A more glaring example may be our reaction to a court system that conspicuously denies All of us, justice. We love the Supreme Court reversal of DOMA while we hate their gutting of the Voting Rights Act?  It appears the pr machine that works for the court is aware of the increasing disaffection of the masses and is now trotting out members that appeal to special interests. So Justice Souter suddenly appears on talk shows discussing the process. He is our liberal go to guy. He still loses 5/4 or votes "wrong" when we least expect it. And why not? He is them. What we are learning is we can't pick and choose. We applaud Obama's retreat from the active theaters of war, but we hate his use of drones. We want the economy to expand, to create jobs and "opportunity". We can't live with the downstream consequences of pollution and global warming. 

Four years ago I considered the implications of the "Double Bind" http://mypinksalmon.blogspot.com/2009/06/double-bind.html and hinted at a life strategy that might help us negotiate it.  The thinking then was that I was able to go my own way in a world too big to care about the implications of persons who chose to opt out, form clusters of like minded souls and create practical communities of interest. It won't do. What's changed? Where do you want to start?  No-one cared about a bunch of drug toking hippies living in domes in New Mexico. Governments do care about millions of underemployed, indebted, connected youth who are starting to get the fact that there is no hope for their aspirations. They are a potential force, and policy and practice is to surveil them, thwart them, imprison them, and prepare to violently oppose them. The appropriate response to their repression is to throw the buggers out. We can't be conned by the fear of what might follow. The past is not prologue. We have the ways and means to construct effective alternatives to tyranny. Most importantly we begin by accepting the responsibility of being in this together. Your fight is my fight. I'll be Trayvon Martin, you be my labor union member. I'll be your gay partner, you be my social security advocate. I'll be the parent of Malala, you be my public school advocate.

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