Everybody wants a box of chocolates, 12

2 11 2014

This is what every left-thinking political actor should say whenever any right-thinking political actor worries about higher wages among the lower classes:

“I understand. . . companies have to make money. They don’t have to make it all”

This bit of clear-thinking is courtesy of retired coal miner Charles Tipton.

Mr. Tipton is a wise man.

 





Blames it on fate

29 07 2014

1. Victims are bad political actors.

To act politically is to act power-fully, that is, to wield power. To wield power well, you have to recognize that you are, in fact, capable and in a position to wield power; to wield power wisely, you have to be willing to act beyond the wound suffered, to see that others suffer, and to try to create conditions in which suffering is not the main driver of you and your people.

This, needless to say, is tremendously difficult: Nelson Mandela is lauded as one of the great political actors because he tried to move beyond suffering and to point South Africa toward a future in which all of its peoples took part.

He is lauded because what he did was so rare.

2. This doesn’t mean that victims can’t ever become political actors, or that the circumstances of one’s victimization cannot justly for the basis of one’s political activities.

There is a history of victims demanding recognition as having been victimized, demanding that victimization cease, and in some cases demanding recompense for their victimization. These causes—poor relief, civil rights, indigenous rights, Chicano rights, women’s liberation, gay liberation, disability rights—are just, and justly fought for in the political realm.

I am not arguing that the issue of victimization is off-limits to politics—quite the opposite.

The promise of politics is that one is able to act on one’s own behalf, to act in concert with others on shared concerns, and to act in service to larger principles and ideals. Politics offers the possibility of acting both for oneself and beyond oneself.

Politics offers the possibility of power.

A good way to avoid victimization is to gain power.* It is not unreasonable for those who first gain power seek to use it primarily in defense of oneself and one’s group, and then to try to advance that group’s interests based on more-or-less-narrowly self-interested grounds.

Note that this is the history of politics in New York City.

Note as well that New York City is not known for its pantheon of wise political leaders.

3. To state this baldly: in order to act well, to govern well, one has to leave behind one’s primary identity as a victim and embrace a wider role.

One’s past victimhood may, perhaps even should, continue to inform one’s political actions, but broadly, rather than narrowly, and based on generally applicable principles rather than solely on one’s own, particular, experiences.

Again, those experiences matter—politics ought not be shrunk to mere procedure—but if one’s own experiences matter, then one ought to be able to recognize that others’ experiences matter as well.

If you think it is wrong that you suffer, then you ought to be able to see that it is wrong that others suffer, such that when acting to relieve one’s own and to prevent future suffering, one ought to seek a wide relief, a broad prevention.

You don’t have to do that, of course—see the history of all politics, everywhere—but if you stick only to your own kind, insist that yours is the only victimization that matters, that even to suggest that others may be victimized, much less that you may victimize others, is to victimize you all over again, then you are a bad political actor.

If you cannot see that others may be victimized, that others suffer, then you cannot see others.

If you cannot see others, then, politically, you can act neither wisely nor well.

~~~

n.b. Recent events in and commentary about Israel and Gaza obviously informed this somewhat-fragmentary post.

~~~

*Arendtian tho’ I am, I nonetheless recognize that power may be gained thru non-political means as well. For the purposes of this post, however, I confine myself to political power.





Rage against the machine

20 03 2013

*Update* Check out Conor Friedersdorf’s review of anti-anti-war commentary.

I don’t even remember why I was against the war.

It’s easy, now, after the lies and mess and blood and money and vengeance and torture and horror and exodus, to say What a monstrous disaster.

Did I see all of this coming? I don’t know. I was skeptical, fearful of the what-ifs, but did I foresee the monster we would become, the disaster we would inflict on ourselves and the people of Iraq?

I doubt it. I doubt it.

I don’t feel vindicated for having been right. I didn’t have to argue myself into skepticism, didn’t have to fight my way past the shiny objects dangled in front of the American people in order to arrive at the summit of wisdom.

There was no summit, and I claim no wisdom. Is it really that hard to be skeptical of unnecessary war?

This is why I rage and despair in equal measure at those pundits who say “I was wrong, but I could have been right, so. . . .” They couldn’t be bothered to perform the most basic act of citizenship: to think, to think beyond one’s desires and sorrows and glee—and you betcher ass there was glee at the prospect of war—about what we were, truly about to do. Could they not be bothered to wonder at their own anticipation?

I am ungenerous in my interpretation of the commentators who supported the war, ungenerous in my reception to their ex post facto “soul-searching”; I read their apologies as justifications.

This is unfair (at least to John Cole), but I don’t care. They lost nothing by being wrong, suffered no consequences for whooping it up as the Congress and the Bush administration led us into destruction. They are sorry only that the destruction was inglorious, rather than shockingly awesome.

Again, this is unfair, I know, I know.

And it puts too much on the sideliners, not enough on the Congress and the Bush administration. I vent my rage at the pundits because I despair of influencing the politicians.

Once a president decides to go to war, that’s it, we’re going to war.

Pundits make the pitch easier; protesters are, if not ignored, a useful foil. But, truly, nothing any of us says, matters. We don’t matter, except, perhaps, to ourselves.

If a president wants war, war is what we get.





But oh, well, I chose my way

10 06 2012

I try to regret nothing, I used to say. What’s the point of regrets, what’s done is done, you do what you can. . . .

Stop laughing.

I know, coming from me, the whole no-regrets things sounds laughable, but I really meant it. I might take hot pincers to my memories, but hey, that’s not the same as regret, is it? No, I was far more interested in tormenting myself over my bad choices than in wringing my hands over good choices foregone.

I’ve eased up on the self-torment somewhat (that habit is too longstanding to give up entirely: it’s my emergency pack of smokes, if you will), but—or perhaps, and as a result—I’ve noticed regret has crept into my repertoire.

This is not an entirely bad thing.

One of my go-to concepts of the past few years has been “consequences”, as in, there are consequences for every (in)action, consequences which can only be dealt with, not wished away. But I haven’t always dealt, truly, with these consequences, at least not in terms of tracing back the actions and coming to terms with the original decision.

No, that’s what the torment was for. And that was why the torment was so exquisitely irresistible.

Exquisite, because it so perfectly allowed me not to interrogate the decision, and irresistible because it allowed me to ‘take responsibility’—a.k.a. punishment—for my mis-deeds. A beautiful distraction.

I’m old enough now, I think, to take these regrets, to understand that to have done this instead of that—to have gone to Northwestern instead of UW-Madison, to have majored in theatre or journalism instead of political science, to have not backed away from D., to have told G. how I felt before it was too late, to have gone to New York instead of Albuquerque, . . . —-would not necessarily have led me to a better life, merely a different one, one with its own set of what-ifs and why-didn’t-Is.

I’m old enough, finally, to know there’s no escaping these questions, that the regret will come, regardless.

And now that I’m old enough to know to let the regret come, perhaps I can be wise enough to let it go. Perhaps one way to wisdom is through that reckoning with what was done and not done, and living with it all.