December 15, 2012

sound the alarm

One thing I've noticed from arguing absolutely blue in the face with really intelligent and well-informed middle-class liberals is their pretension to reasonableness and rationality. Of course, they also pathologically load their arguments with non sequiturs, hyperbole, and, (who can forget?,) all those oh-so-hushed tones of moral outrage. But, even at their best, you know, even when they follow arguments to their logical conclusion, and they do all the requisite "fact checking," they always end up clinging to the "incremental" securities and sensibilities of their "pragmatic" and "progressive" (read: craven and pompous) politics. And that's a fucking problem! 

So even when you call them out on the flabby presumption they categorically make when arguing in the spirit of lesser-evilism and Compromise that the country is at least on the better track 'cuz the Democrats are winning elections and stuff, and that it will take time, they will never accept how intellectually and morally bankrupt that presumption - as well as the ostensibly acceptable options their phony Realpolitick has dictated for you - truly is. The world is not headed in the right direction! But they'll never get around to sounding that fucking alarm! They have their elections, their Congress people, their micro-politics, their petitions, and their alibi, i.e., those evil, obstructionist Republicans, and so they'll easily forgo more structural and comprehensive political criticisms. They will absolutely never think to use political language to reshape context; they'll never consider tapping into the hopes, dreams, and fears of ordinary people, much less indict the minimalist framework charted out for them by the bipartisan lock on political discourse. They'll never understand how urgent it is that we shed the banality of DC bubble-talk to fight for ideals that have been lost. And so, they'll never really win 'cuz they'll never really risk losing.

I've been thumbing the pages of my Eichmann in Jerusalem lately, and always come back to the usual passages of "thoughtlessness," "lack of imagination," or where Arendt described those who "commit (their) crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for (them) to know or to feel that (they) are doing wrong." (Penguin paperback, Revised and Enlarged Edition, p. 276) All of which makes me wonder: so much lesser evilism = compromise with evil = the banality of evil albeit in a newer form?

This passage from L'Hôte, says alot of what I've been thinking: 

 Nowadays I'm as likely to evaluate people based on their language as anything else: what percentage of their statements of principle come before the word "but"? "I don't like drone strikes, but..." "I don't like that Obama put social security and Medicare in play, but..." "I don't like that the administration has been aggressively going after medical marijuana dispensaries, but..." Last night, when I reflected on the people I've been fighting with, it occurred to me that I couldn't recall the last time they expressed a moral principle that wasn't just a setup for an argument for why it had to be violated. Yes, I know, it's an imperfect world. But at some point, if you want to claim a principle, you actually have to stand for it itself, and not use it as a chip to be traded on, to be given away. Surely the fact that everyone must sometimes compromise is not an argument that every compromise is principled, or benevolent, or fair. I have asked my various antagonists many times, and in as specific and frank a way as I know how: where is the limit? What is the boundary beyond which you will not compromise? I've never received any answers.

Married to the notion that you must compromise your beliefs in the pursuit of partisan politics or else be worthless is the proud acknowledgment that partisan politics will likely bring you little anyway. The furor with which people argue that politics happens only within the boundaries of Democrats and Republicans is, somehow, married to an admission that we cannot achieve truly moral ends with those means. So what you end up with is a perfect lockbox of acknowledged impotence and aggressive enforcement of same. This stance has the virtue of an impregnable defense. Unlike the activism vs. partisan politics debates of my youth-- I always tried to do both-- the debate is now not between people arguing how best to improve the world. The argument is rather against those who have walled off every avenue to effect that improvement. As I said, that's an easily defended opinion, because the cynicism of "it cannot be done" speaks volumes in an age defined by reflexive retreat to the presumption of failure. The problem is that people are suffering, are dying, and they don't have the luxury of a showy disbelief in the ability to create positive change.

Only the comfortable could insist that there are no politics but partisan politics while they simultaneously acknowledge that partisan politics will not stem our violence or our cruelty. Only those who have never suffered could assert that impotence with pedantry and with pride.