This land is my land, 2

13 03 2016

If both order and freedom are necessary for politics, then how to reconcile them?

Hobbes said, in effect: you choose order, and whatever freedom may exist without disrupting order may, but not must, do so. Rousseau tried to bring the two together by denying that in a democratic society there is any conflict between them—one may speak unironically of being ‘forced to be free’. Locke sought a kind of middle way: you agree to the founding (representative) order which in turn allows for a wide, although not absolute, set of liberties.

These snippets do not, of course, do justice to these men’s thoughts, but do indicate the various ways early modern thinkers thought about how to build and maintain a truly civil society, that is, a society in which men may interact without violence.

Civility in politics, then, is less about manners than about the manner of our engagement with one another.

Now, that manner may also be a political matter: What kind of protest is acceptable? What are the appropriate venues of protest? How does one comport oneself while protesting? Are there forms of protest which are out of bounds? What if the protest overwhelms the phenomenon one is protesting? What if political speech intimidates protesters? What if protesters of political speech intimidate advocates?

Who is in the right and who is in the wrong?

And that question is where we go off the rails, thinking that the answer can be determined outside of politics itself. It can’t.

I tend to go far along with Arendt in positioning violence opposite of politics, but, Hobbesian that I am, I can’t completely deny its role in politics itself. If might makes right (and it does), then violence, as one form of might, can make right.

In the US political system there are supposed to be limits on violence in politics—that is a mythical part of our foundational order—but its use has often succeeded in containing insurgent (and non-violent) political acts. Almost every liberation movement in our country has been met with violence, both official and not, and has had to justify itself as worthy of its freedom to be political, that is, to be included in the political order itself.

That, by the way, is the radical promise of politics: that order can be challenged, upended, re-ordered, without bloodshed. That blood is so often shed demonstrates the practical limits of that promise.

cont.





We leave the door of Destiny ajar

14 12 2015

Superficially, one might see the resemblances between Weimar and the US:

  • the concern, even hysteria, over supposedly inhuman enemies
  • polarization in society
  • economic insecurity
  • sense of wounded nationalism
  • dizzying movements within the culture
  • distrust of government
  • violence

But even more apparent is the crucial difference between the two:

  • the acceptance of Constitution itself

This is crucial because, in Weimar, large portions of the polity never accepted the constitution, never accepted the republic.

Part of this was due to, as I mentioned, the post-abdication government’s acceptance of the Armistice, and of the signing of the hated Treaty of Versailles: the German public couldn’t believe it had lost, and considered the harsh terms of the Treaty unjust. That the loss of territory, control over industrial regions, and, of course, reparations, made economic recovery difficult only heightened the skepticism toward a government which had apparently allowed all of this to happen.

Not everyone felt this way, of course. While liberal parties never managed to hold a majority in the Reichstag after 1920, the Social Democrats, the German Democratic Party, and the Catholic Center Party did hold significant chunks of parliament throughout this period, with various liberals holding the chancellorship as well.

But even had the Constitution been configured differently—the chancellor was appointed by an elected president, he was not simply the leader of the majority party or majority coalition in the Reichstag—it’s difficult to see how the republic could have overcome the irreconcilable differences in the polity itself.

Germany was divided between the reactionaries (those who wanted to restore the monarchy), the conservatives (ranging from nationalist-bourgeoisie to militarists), and liberals (social democrats, liberal-bourgeoisie); tucked in amongst these were Catholic interests, which tended toward conservatism (fear and loathing of the left) but which also appreciated the chance to participate in governance; the Communists, which by the 1920s subordinated themselves to Moscow; and various fascist groups, which had almost no role in government but which fought and killed in the streets throughout the decade.

Finally, after 1925 and with the election of Hindenburg, the republic’s president was a man who loathed the republic.

But it wasn’t just the politicians and the parties (many of which had paramilitary arms which regularly engaged in violence), but the institutions of the state itself were cool to the republic. The civil service was thoroughly conservative, as was the judiciary as well as the army. Bureaucrats, judges, and military officials rarely attacked the republic directly, but they never accepted it as legitimate; in the case of the judiciary, they would often sympathize with rightists who were brought before the bench, and raising a “patriotic” defense was often the ticket to either acquittal or a lenient sentence.

So, for example, none of the surviving conspirators in the assassination of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau served more than five years, and only one of the conspirators involved in the Kapp putsch served any time at all.

And, most famously, the man at the head of the beer-hall putsch in Munich, one Austrian corporal named Adolph Hitler (he didn’t become a German citizen until 1932), not only wasn’t deported, he was given free rein to speechify in court, and given only a five-year sentence in ‘fortress incarceration’—of which he served only a year.

The US polity is at least somewhat polarized (there is some controversy as to how much), but one touchstone for pretty much everyone is the Constitution: everybody who is anybody says they love it.

We don’t all love it the same way, of course, but does anyone think that the assassination of the Secretary State would lead to a sentence of less than 10 years? That the attempted armed overthrow of a state government (with the announced intention to overthrow the federal government) by a non-citizen would lead to prison term of merely 5 years? and that he’d be out after a year? and not deported?

In fact, for as violent a society as the US is, our violence is, largely, non-political. This hardly makes it benign (especially when perpetrated by officials of the state, i.e., the police), but neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have paramilitary wings and their members tend not to participate in assassination attempts of political figures.

Furthermore, when someone is killed for political reasons—say, a doctor who performs abortions—most political leaders will distance themselves from the act itself (even if they do express sympathy for the motive). Just as if not more importantly, prosecutors, juries, and judges tend not to wave away such murders.

In other words, whatever the problems with our republic, most citizens, most elected officials, and most of the members filling the institutions of government, nonetheless accept the structure of the government.

I am very critical of elected officials (say, some Republicans) who suggest that other elected officials (say, some Democrats) are illegitimate, in no small part because attacks on the existence of the opposition in government is an attack on the legitimacy of the government itself—a dangerous proposition for any member of government to take. But even with Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” and the birther conspiracies and Mike Huckabee’s intimations that the president is some kind of traitor  (Jesus FUCK, Huckabee!), I have no doubt that any attempt on the life of the president, members of his Cabinet, or of anyone running for president would be met by near-universal condemnation.

(Yeah, near-universal: there will always be those who celebrate assassination, and some of the public condemners might be private celebrators, but it would be understood by all that public glee at the murder of a public official punches one’s ticket to the fringe.)

Which is to say, as much as folks may dislike the government, it’s probably not going too far to say they’d dislike the violent overthrow of that government even more.

To be continued.





Emancipate yourself from mental slavery

2 12 2015

So yet another clinic is attacked, yet more people murdered, and yet again cries are heard that the real murderers are Planned Parenthood or whichever organization or whoever clinician is performing the abortions.

Jamelle Bouie had a decent point: if you really do believe that abortion is worse than slavery, that every abortion clinic is the site of mass murder, then wouldn’t you think, even a little, that Robert Dear (or Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph or. . . ) is a little bit John Brown, a little bit righteous?

It’s a serious question, and as someone who would hopefully act politically against any attempt to reimpose slavery in this country, I don’t know that I would rule against violence to prevent a massive, bleeding, injustice.

Which is to say, I might understand those who are committed to non-violent actions to end abortion who nonetheless think, Yeah, but. . . .

None of which is to say—surprise!—that I think abortion is a massive, bleeding, injustice. And I’ve long been irritated by those who compare Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott and thus, abortion to slavery.

I did used to struggle with this (oh, hey, maybe those prolifers are making a point about the fetus) until I decided just to dismiss the entire analogy: abortion slavery.

But now I’ll come up on that analogy from the other side: abortion isn’t slavery, the fetus isn’t a slave, but the legalization of abortion was, in fact, an emancipation for women, and any attempt to make abortion illegal takes away the freedom of the woman.

Now, I may have, in that second novel that I still haven’t managed to inquire about with an agent, had one of my characters argue with another that she wanted to “enslave women”, but speaking for myself, I don’t really like that language: as a great a loss to the dignity and liberty to women it would be to lose the right to end a pregnancy, it’s not the same as—not as horrifying as—chattel slavery.

It’s bad enough, though, as the loss of dignity and liberty is no small thing.

And thus to my final point: those who decry Planned Parenthood (et. al.) as mass murderers neglect (surprise!) the women who themselves get the abortion. Abortion clinics aren’t pulling women off the street and strapping them down so that the ‘abortionist’ can kill her third-trimester baby and sell its parts; no, women are choosing, one by one by one by one, to go to a clinic to end her own pregnancy.

Some women have one abortion, some have two abortions, some have more than two abortions; each time, it the woman herself who enters the clinic, who climbs on to the table herself, who asks that her pregnancy be ended. The abortion provider isn’t doing anything to her that she hasn’t asked to be done.

I understand that many intelligent and decent people do think that abortion is horrifying and  that 50,000,000+ babies have been killed in the U.S. since Roe, and are sincerely grieved by what they seen as the ‘abortion industry’ killing those babies en masse. They see abortion as a system that must be overturned as surely as the abolitionists saw slavery as a system to be overturned.

But what I see are the women, one by one by one by one, deciding, each for herself, what she can take, and what she can give, and what will be the course of her own life.

And that’s a liberty ardently to be defended.





If you decide to make the sky fall

9 10 2014

I am not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I am not Hindu, or Buddhist, or Jain, Taoist, Bahá’í, Wiccan, Yazidi, Shinto, Zoroastrian, Sikh, or any sort of pagan or animist.

I am not spiritual, and believe in neither demons nor angels nor supernatural vibes of any sort.

I am agnostic, which means I lack knowledge, along with faith and belief. I do not know if none, one, some, or all of the above traditions holds any or the entirety of truth. I do not know if some other tradition holds any portion of truth.

And I’m all right with that. I call myself a “doubter”, and that doubt works for me.

I’m also all right with others who have do have faith in some tradition or another, and, contra Hitchens, do not believe that “religion poisons everything”.

Or should I say, that religion uniquely poisons everything. I think religion is a powerful human invention and thus, like any powerful human invention, may poison its adherents or the course of events, but not that it necessarily or always does so.

It is also possible that religion (l.a.p.h.i.), may serve as an antidote to other invented poisons.

All of which is a rather long prologue to a rather convoluted post on the rather convoluted topic of the role of Islam in the world today, viz., is it uniquely bad in its effects on co-religionists and non-co’s alike?

There is today far more violence among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims than there is in other world religions*. This doesn’t discount other intra- and inter-religious violence or aggression, nor other less-deadly forms of intolerance, but given conflicts across parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, it’s pretty clear that there are. . . issues in Islam.

Are these issues unique to Islam? A little trip through history points to “no”, and had pundits existed in the 16th century, they may have raised similar questions about the aggressiveness and intolerance of Christianity.

Are these issues endemic to Islam? Whatever the violent history of Christianity, it’s mostly not violent today*, which leads some to note that aggression is therefore not an essential part of Christianity. Can Islam work its violence out of its system as Christianity has, or is supremacism and aggression so interwoven in its scripture and traditions that it cannot transform itself as Christianity has?

Trick questions!

Christianity is a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation which has sometimes been violent, sometime intolerant, sometimes triumphalist, and other times, not. That Christianity is currently not at the center of strife in the world* does not mean that its aggressiveness has been bred out of its system. It’s sidelined, but extirpated? Eh.

Islam is also a sprawling complex of tradition and change and interpretation, and thus like Christianity, can find within that complex support for both aggression and tolerance. It is thus difficult to determine whether any one strand within is always and forever at the center of what it needs to be Muslim.

So, why trick questions? Because what counts as essential has been and is contested in history, and what must be interpreted in this way today may be interpreted in that way tomorrow. That is the condition of all human inventions.

None of this is to shield Islam or any other tradition (or human invention) from criticism, and that there may exist no absolute and eternal standards of how to treat one another doesn’t mean one can’t construct and apply our own provisional and worldly standards.

Which is a rather convoluted way to say: of course Islam may be criticized, as should be those who find in Islam justification for horrid acts.

That Muslims are not unique in their religious—or ideological—justifications is also no barrier to criticism: your mom probably pointed out to you long ago that “everyone else is doing it!” is no excuse for your own bad behavior.

One last turn around: If you’re going to go after an entire religious belief system and its effects on adherents and non-adherents alike, then fer-cryin’-out-loud, look at the entire belief system, not just at what you don’t like.

Is there poison in Islam? Yes. But that doesn’t mean Islam is all and only poison.

Or maybe it is. It’s possibly that after thorough study one might conclude nothing good has ever or will ever come from Islam—or any religion.

But I kinda doubt it.

~~~

*Crucial caveat: people living in countries having bombs recently dropped on them by Christians might contest this notion of Christianity as not-aggressive.

h/t for link to Sullivan, and this entire damned post was set off by the Maher-Harris-Affleck kerfuffle





Secret policeman’s ball

26 02 2014

If you’re an activist and someone pushes you downs a guns & ammo path, you should probably assume that person is cop or spy.

And yes, I’ve mentioned this before: If someone in your group promotes any kind of violence, you should ask, loudly and publicly, Are you a cop?

Even if the person is just an idiot (as opposed to agent provocateur), by calling him or her out you highlight how the police/feds have attempted to short-circuit activist movements by pushing them toward violence, and illegitimacy.

This isn’t paranoia; it’s just good sense.





I want a pistol in my hand

23 04 2013

All day long a post fermenting, only to end up boiling away to nothing.

Is Islam uniquely violent? That Christ died on the cross and Muhammed took up the sword—does that matter in some fundamental way?*

It does, I suppose, if you want it to. If not, then not.

This isn’t a slam against Christianity or Islam or belief (in anything. . . ); it is an observation of the condition of belief.

We construct our beliefs, believe because we want to believe, have to believe, believe how we want to believe. Or not.

We deprecate this and emphasize that, as is our preference, driven by yet other preferences.

I don’t mean to be a lazy relativist, even as this reads as lazy relativism. That is not my preference. No, it is just that beliefs arise from narratives, and the more complicated the narrative, the more beliefs can arise, and the more complicated the beliefs about the beliefs, the greater the likelihood that the beliefs and the beliefs about the beliefs can and will justify anything.

Hitchens said “religion poisons everything.”

Perhaps. But it is not the only source of poison. It is not the primary source. For if, as Hitchens believed, there is no God, and religion a construct of humans, then would it not be more accurate to say that the source of the source is the problem?

I’m tired and my thoughts are fading, and I do not wish to excuse ideologies and religions that celebrate or even excuse violence, but it seems rather too convenient for those who profess belief in Narrative C (of which some streams has in the past celebrated or excused violence) to claim that Narrative I (of which some streams currently celebrates or excuses violence) is inherently violent, while the former, only contingently or mistakenly so.

Shorter version: double-reverse No True Scotsman!

Be glad that my brain is flat, or else I’d ramble on trying to puzzle out if this means we are all Scotsmen or if there are no Scotsmen or how does one come to construct a Scotsman. . . .

*By way of Sullivan and Dreher





Bombs on Boylston Street

15 04 2013

I’ve made no secret of my, ah, lack of love for Boston, but even I would like to run the marathon some day.

Today was that day for thousands, and this, Jesus Christ, this is how it ended:

Nothing justifies this. Nothing.

Jesus.








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