I didn’t want to do it

7 06 2011

I do not fucking want to write about Anthony Weiner—but here I am, writing about Anthony fucking Weiner.

He’s an idiot, and by this I mean: he’s an idiot.

Not a criminal, not a pedophile, not a man so vile he must be hounded out of Congress.

No, he’s a horny guy with poor horny-impulse control who as a high-profile warrior in our current political wars had to have known that taking him out (temporarily or permanently) would be a sweet, sweet success to combatants on the other side.

I do feel bad for his wife, but as I am not his wife, how his wife responds to him is really up to her. Not to me, not to anyone else.

I am not one of the recipients of his tweet-pics, and in no way have had any sort of relationship with him; how those women or the people who do have some sort of relationship with him is up to those women and others.

I am not (currently) one of his constituents, but if I were, I wouldn’t be demanding his resignation and, come the next election, if I thought he were the strongest candidate, I would vote for him.

And I think, really, his political future is up to him and his constituents, and whether they think his legal-but-idiotic actions indicate something political significant about his character or not may be one of the factors they consider in deciding whether or not to vote for him. That’s how it should be.

I may have mentioned once or twice or thirty times before that I care about policy. Policy policy policy. Shitty husband? Don’t care. Shitty mother? Don’t care. Asshole to your staff, kinda care, but I’ll take the asshole with the right (which is to say, left) legislative agenda over the sweetie with an authoritarian agenda. I might prefer that sweetie as a friend or neighbor, but as representative? No.

Nor would I in any way be shocked by a right-wing counterpart who cut her voting cards in a way exactly as I do. I’m irritated by do-as-I-legislate-not-as-I-do politicians, but I completely understand why a conservative voter might hold her nose and vote for the cheater/closet-case/hypocrite to prevent a non-conservative from winning.

I don’t have a whole lot of patience for those who excuse their side for engaging in the same behavior that they criticize in the other side, but even there, I get the rationale: My team is always right. (It’s a principle, I guess, albeit one rather absent of, er, principle, but tribalism has its role in both politics and sports.)

I’ve not-written an essay beginning with the phrase “Morality is ruining politics” for over a decade, but I actually do have a highly moral approach to politics: it is a morality based in the purpose of politics itself, which is to say, one rooted in the notion of the public good.

No, I won’t try to write that essay, here; instead, I’ll simply note that I take a compartmentalized as opposed to holistic approach to political character, that is, that I assign different moralities to different spheres of life. Yeah, this can lead to behavior at, say, work, which might appall one’s friends—compartmentalization my increase complication—and one line that could connect these different spheres is to strive, pace Aristotle, for excellence in each field, with the recognition that such excellence varies across those fields.

Virtue ethics folk tend toward holism: if you’re a wretch at home there’s likely spillover in other areas of life, perhaps to the point where moral failing in one sphere might disqualify you from participation in other spheres.

The problem with this approach is twofold: one, the evidence doesn’t support this (i.e., there’s plenty of evidence that bad people can do good things) and two, this assertion of one’s goodness can lead one to justify one’s actions on the basis of that goodness (or, good people can do bad things and excuse the badness of the act on the basis of the goodness of the person—a variation of the Euthyphro dilemma).

The virtue approach is particularly dangerous when comingled with power, to the point that one may rationalize truly horrific actions (see the history of abusive medical experimentation in the US, for example): Because we’re good what we do couldn’t possible be bad.

The compartmentalization approach isn’t perfect, either, and can lead to Gingrinchian rationalizations along the lines of I cheated on my wife because I loved America so much—although, on reflection, he’s actually engaging in a kind of reverse political-virtue ethics, to wit, I’m so good in politics you must forgive me for my private life.

Anyway, you can cover for political misdeeds using compartmentalized political language (my political convictions made me do it), but I also believe, in a way that I can’t quite articulate here, that the risks of unchecked abuse are lower with a narrow political morality than a wider all-encompassing morality.

In any case, I also think that the compartmentalized political morality approach works far better in a pluralistic society than in a more unitary one. We, the American people, do not share one comprehensive view of morality: we disagree not only on approach (comprehensive vs. compartmentalized—or, as I put in a long-ago post, the Legos-vs-coins approach) but on substance.  In short, the more points on which we demand agreement before we can work with one another, the less likely we’ll actually be able to work together.

And I think politics is a sphere for getting work done.

So if I ever move to Anthony Weiner’s district, my question to him will be: Are you getting work done?

If he is, and if I like the work, then what he does after work is really not my concern.





God sometimes you just don’t come through

27 10 2009

Goddammit. Time to write the goddamned God post.

Bad way to start? Too. . . insulting? Too glib-without-being-funny?

Look: Two lines in and already I’ve succumbed to the meta!

Okay. Let this post be born again. . . . All right, all right, I’ll stop.

Long discussion over at TNC’s joint on atheism and belief and who’s better and worse and why [not] believe, et cetera. As Emmylou sang, Yet another battle in the losing fight/Out along the great divide, tonight.

Ta-Nahisi Coates writes a great blog, and he attracts great commentators, but this thread follows the usual  progression:

  • God kills!
  • No He doesn’t!
  • Yes he does!
  • Well, okay, maybe, but so does Hitler/Stalin/Mao
  • It’s about ideology
  • It’s about human nature
  • It makes no sense to talk about atheists as a group
  • Then why are there atheist groups?
  • Those are activist groups. Atheism is simply a-theist, i.e., without god(s)
  • To not believe requires faith
  • ????
  • ‘Lack of belief is not a belief. True. But belief in a lack is.’
  • ????
  • Religious people are mean
  • Atheists are mean
  • Mean people suck
  • Flying Spaghetti Monster!
  • Faeries!
  • Unicorns!
  • [sigh]
  • You need to read more
  • No, you need to read more
  • You’re dumb
  • If I’m dumb, you’re super-dumb [Oh, wait, that was a couplet from The Brady Bunch, Jan to Peter]
  • Can’t we all just get along?

In other words, same as it ever was.

[Tho' as an aside, can I vent a wee? To state that 'is' and 'is-not' are, in fact, the same, is a kind of infuriatingly useless word game. If you don't believe in God, then you believe in a no-thing, which is itself belief, which means atheism is a form of religion. If all you're doing is engaging a Wittgensteinian wit---for which that actual Wittgenstein would probably eviscerate you---fine; but if you think you're making a serious point, you're not. These arguments are not simply about the formal structure of language, but the content contained, however unsteadily, within that language. And yes, at some point, I'll probably bore you with another post about why this distinction matters.]

Ahem.

So. I’m a-gnostic (lack knowledge), which may have a-theist (lack god) implications, but I’m not particularly dogmatic about it.

I doubt, and I’m fine with my doubt.

When I was a kid, I believed in God. I was an altar girl (the first, which somewhat discombobulated poor Father K., tho’ to his credit he brought me along) at the local Episcopal church, and, overall, I thought God was pretty cool.

Jesus was fine. I liked looking at the various crucifixes in the church, but, honestly, I thought more about God than Jesus. (I clearly lacked an understanding of the subtleties of the Trinity.)

I read a children’s bible. I wore a cross. I prayed. I mostly didn’t pay attention, but when I did, I thought it was all good.

Things changed, of course. Everyone has his or her own [de-]conversion story; mine has to the do with the rise of the Religious Right, and my disdain for any belief that could be connected in any way with the Moral Majority.

Have I ever mentioned that I started reading Ms. in the eighth grade?

Anyway, baby, bathwater: Out!

Things changed, again. I never really believed, again, but I did start to think about religion and belief, to learn more about its varieties—to pay attention.

Oh, so, so much more to this story, but let me, pace Lenin, telescope my history: I got to like hanging out in (empty) churches, a close friend and her husband became much more deeply involved in their faith (they don’t like the term ‘born again’), I read a grown-up bible, I had some good conversations with a local (NYC) Episcopal priest and. . .

. . . I still don’t believe.

Let me amend that: Some days I believe (in a non-specific way), some days I don’t, and some days the belief and unbelief is layered on top of one another.

Faith, however, I completely lack. That there may exist a God does not mean (S)He wants or has anything to do with us.

Faith seems to me far more dangerous than belief, tho’ I’m not sure why. Perhaps it seems more uncontrollable to me, or more personal, or that it is far more often deployed as a weapon than belief.

Okay, I know: stop making sense.

C. might argue that, insofar as I accept the information gleaned from scientific processes, I have faith—if only in the reliability and validity of those scientific processes. And Karl Popper (the great orthodox-science defender) admitted that one cannot use the logic of the sciences to defend the use of the logic of the sciences; at root, he noted, there is a leap.

A leap of faith? I dunno. Seems more like a jump-start to me: it’s up to the engine [science, reason] to actually move the vehicle along. If one’s methods don’t work—if they are neither verifiable nor reliable—then they are to be abandoned. Faith won’t see you through.

But religious faith, it seems to me, is itself the engine—the faith is itself the point. And while some might seek natural justifications for supernatural faith, such justifications are kind of beside the point. They might have a role, but, again, they won’t see you through.

A few weeks ago I blew out a bunch of words about Legos and coins—those of us who seek to put their lives in lock-step, and those of us who cobble bits together, precariously. As a coin-er, I’m not much troubled (there are exceptions) by gaps and inconsistencies, unknowns and uncertainties.

I can’t be, given how often my ground shifts.

Is it faith that keeps me going? Doubt? I don’t think it matters. I am no longer pained by the fact of my existence, by the justification of my self.

I just go.








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