Rantings of the politically insane…

Let me see if I remember this…
There is a story about Laurie Anderson getting an assignment to interview John Cage. Anyone got a citation on this? I think it’s on the Puppet Motel cd rom which I can’t play anymore. (Remember cd roms?!!). As I remember it, she’s sitting there listening to him talk and she’s increasingly obsessed with and distracted by a question that she eventually blurts out:

“Are things getting better, or are they getting worse?”

Cage takes a moment and then says:

“I’m not sure, but they’re certainly getting faster.”

The question is a good one. An excellent one. One that I find myself asking all the time. And Cage’s answer, like many things he said, is most exquisitely useful.

I have often said this but it is one of the profound mixed-blessings of being bi-cultural, that it is almost impossible for me to see only one side of any argument. This would be a great thing, except that I find myself arguing sides of arguments that shock me, all the time. So I try to inch the mix on this blessing towards the good.

I also believe in debate. Argument. The vigorous battle of ideas. Its a way of improving our thinking. Making our ideas stronger. Because of this, if you say to me that you support any of the current presidential candidates, I will passionately take up the cause of the other, and try to convince you. The foundation that this situation sits on is that I have not made up my own mind yet. And I will argue that I am passionate about NOT making up my mind right now. The general election is still ten months away. Because I refuse to hold a party affiliation, I cannot vote in the NY primary. The system has told me that I either play the game or they don’t want to hear from me till November.

Yeah, I tend to agree with the democrats. That doesn’t mean that I want to JOIN their little club. The candidates that actually articulate the things that I think are necessary in our country are cranks that have already been dismissed at this point in the process. My views run towards pacifist anarchy with social accountability. I have no problem with Marx being right, but Smith seems to have been more practical in terms of how the world seems to work. Everybody with “vision” is either a Utopian Capitalist or a Utopian Marxist. Meanwhile what are those of us who live in the real world supposed to do? I want a strong government that distributes wealth equitably, but also stays away from my life, and my personal choices about how to live. Clearly, I’m politically insane. You wouldn’t want me running the government anymore than you’d want me doing open heart surgery. I do, however, feel these things.

Part of my distaste for Party politics comes from a distaste for team boosterism/fandom. The whole “My team/family/race/religion/sexuality/gender/party/nation/culture/species is better than yours, and we’re gonna kick your butt!” is SO infuriatingly tiresome to me. It is the kind of thinking that allows us to find moral justifications for interpersonal violence (what other kind is there). But we reduce even something like doing political good to this same horse-race argument. My good is better than your good, and I will pound you to dust to prove it.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in competition. Far from it. I think it is essential. But it is a much more profound thing than the hooliganism I see most often. I have to thank my friends over at the “Oh My Goodness!” blog (see the link in the sidebar) for the following Carl Wilson quote about democracy:

“This is what I mean by democracy–not a limp open-mindedness, but actively grappling with people and things not like me, which brings with it the perilous question of what I am like. Democracy, that dangerous, paradoxical, and mostly unattempted ideal, sees that the self is insufficient, dependent for definition on otherness, and chooses not only to accept that but to celebrate it, to stake everything on it. Through democracy, which demands we meet strangers as equals, we perhaps become less strangers to ourselves.”

I like this. I like it a lot. It confirms in me the political thrill that I feel when I talk to someone who disagrees with me. The ecstatic joy of living in a milieu where I am not “like” those around me. The profound happiness of “otherness”. This is democracy. You don’t need democracy in an environment where everyone agrees. Democracy is a stab at answering the deceptively profound and paradoxical question: How do we live together while preserving the values of plurality and multiplicity? How do we REALLY?

Ok. I will now do the violence of political articulation here. From my point of view right now, this minute:
The Barak vs Hilary presidential candidate argument, misses the whole point. The point is that the United States is being run by corporate interests and we are polluting the planet past its ability to continue to sustain us, while killing and torturing people. Both Barak and Hilary are members of our CURRENT government. Why have they not risked their political lives fighting what is happening RIGHT NOW? Why have they not aggressively pursued the sorts of changes that they talk about. Anyone can say the things that they’re saying. Why haven’t they done it yet? Why should we trust them AT ALL otherwise? This may be asking a lot, but do we not have a right to ask a lot of those who seek from us our political power? Barak, Hilary and Edwards agree on so much, what if they were to form a coalition to actually get some of these things done? We are being asked to care about who’s in the white house. Why? The only reason to care is because they may be able to do something meaningful. So isn’t it just as good if they can do it outside the white house? Why are they wasting our time? People are dieing unnecessarily right now. We are screwing up the environment unnecessarily right now. The civil rights of people are already being dismantled.

It’s like we’re standing inside a burning building watching some sort of competition, where we’re asked to choose which fire-department will come rescue us in a year. And the people with hoses and axes are being told to stand back and not get in the way of the all-important competition. And we are told not to run. To keep our eyes on the shiny trucks.

So is this new? Is this any different than it’s ever been? I doubt it. It’s probably always been this way.

It’s just happening faster.

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2 Responses to “Rantings of the politically insane…”

  1. Tom Anderson says:

    Leon, Always great to read from you (I am trying to bend our language to the latest ersatz world view).

    Just got back from a fantastic conference in Boulder. Sorry didn’t see you or Kermit on the road or I woulda picked you up. Alas, poor Kermit, I knew him well Hellzapoppin… Don’t ask I have no frinckin idea….anyhoo

    SOme choice quotes from this confernce thing. It was called the Univ. of Colorado Natural Hazards Conference and it was amazing and quite global. 400 really interesting people, well 399 really interesting people (I was in attendance after all). Mostly PhDs in public policy, political science, sociology, anthropology, GIS, meteorology (when I was a kid I wanted to be a meteorologist until I found out it was the study of the weather and not, in fact, the study of meteors) and so forth

    “The plural of anecdote is not data” – this may be my favorite quote of the session.

    “If we want things to stay the same, then things are going to have to change around here.” Another classic

    I wanted to say that I too have joined TED and I am hoping to be somewhat active. I am always a bit concerned about speaking my piece when the environment of discourse is so hostile people can lose jobs. More on that some other day.

    Martini??
    Come on, you KNOW you want it….

  2. Administrator says:

    Always good to hear from you Tom. Those quotes: “The plural of anecdote is not data” and “If we want things to stay the same, then things are going to have to change around here.” are fantastic! The first one is deceptively deep. So much of our media and consequently our world view is shaped by this mistaking of anecdote for conclusive evidence.

    Next time you’re near, let’s do more than a near-miss…