Wednesday, February 7, 2018
It's Not Even Past #9 - Introduction
It's always difficult in these radical times to not append any label upon yourself that doesn't have the refracting 'ist' on it, but as I do this podcast more, what I realize is that the point of it is as best one can precisely not to editorialize on politics, but simply to try and record cultural movements as they are, and as best one can, to try to understand why people come to the conclusions they do, and while not to view it through the now-ideologized term, empathy, at least view them with sympathy. One famous musician put it like this: be aristocrats in art, but democrats in life, and as best one can, don't judge people too harshly for coming to a different point of view than yours. It's not just that it's uncharitable, it's also boring. Inveighing against the excesses of ideological movements is not just incredibly tiresome for the listener, it's also tiresome for the talker. What I've come to realize as I've just barely matured is that it's much, much more intellectually satisfying to trace people's thoughts to their roots and do one's best to understand why people believe what they believe. Whether or not I agree or disagree is, in some sense at least, immaterial to the subject at hand, and the more I do this, I realize that the by keeping the editorial voice to a minimum about politics, the more extremely I can editorialize when it comes to works of art, which I think is i a hundred times more interesting than politics on its most exciting day. We live in an age when everything is interpreted through the distorting lens of ideology, so rather, as so many people today do, than making political movements the lens through which we judge art, let's make art the lens through which we judge politics and the world.
But at the same time, 'as best one can' doesn't mean that you leave your opinions behind. What we think is what we think, and I suppose that part of the reason I do this podcast is because it goes without saying that I just so happen to believe that I see the world at least a little bit more clearly than most people do. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm more perceptive, and certainly there are all manner of ways in which the vast majority of people are much more intelligent than I am. But when it comes to seeing the things of the world in the context of the other things of the world, I do think I do a reasonably good job of it. I've gotten plenty wrong over the years, but unlike most people, I keep a very long tab of where I've been wrong and do what I can to scrupulous admit it. Politically, I suppose it goes without saying that I'm not of the Right, I'm certainly not of the Left and am more reminded of that every day of my life, but I'm not really a person of the center either. I am in the sense that I find ideologies in general to be loathesome things that destroy people's independence of mind, but ideologies are the poison that warps people's individuality, not the people themselves. By pointing trollish and angry fingers at individual people rather than the intellectual forces that warp them, and I still won't sugarcoat that word, I've become the intolerance of which I'm so intolerant. As best we can, we have to understand each other, especially when we disagree. The only alternative to greater sympathy is greater hostility, which can only end in violence.
But yet again, greater sympathy for some, or if you insist on that unfortunate word of this era: greater empathy for some, requires greater hatred of others. If the heart guides the head through this world, then there is no check on the passions they inspire, and they can inspire anything at all. The only 'ism' to which I will ever subscribe is liberalism, because liberalism is the politics of freedom, the freedom to be free; ergo, the freedom from every other ism. If that means making alliances with other isms, I have no problem with that, but I will never subscribe to them, and I will do my very best to never judge too harshly those who do. As a liberal, I realize that that is your own affair. I will judge a little more harshly, however, if people use those 'isms' in the name of curtailing freedom. What I try to be, and what I wish more people did, is not to be a mushy centrist that takes the middle tack between any two extremes, no matter how weird or dumb, but a relentlessly critical and analytical liberal that both mercilessly critiques ideas for what is lacking in them, and also happily acknowledges those places where these new and old ideas get things very right.
So here we are in 2018. Change has moved so quickly that none of us have stopped feeling whiplash since two years ago; but change has been a fact of our lives since the moment we were born. My mini-generation, the supposed X-ennials, were born into the Cold War. The Soviet Union ended just as we reached sentience, and a few years later, the world decamped to the internet. My father's parents had something at least resembling an arranged marriage and grew up reading by candlelight, when I was a kid in the 80's, they barely ever drove over thirty miles an hour and couldn't figure out a microwave or a VCR. Imagine what they would make of an i-Phone or Facebook or Occulus Rift.
Can anybody argue, though, that in the last three-and-a-half years or so, the pace of change has redoubled yet again? Already in February of 2015, a good friend of mine and I both saw this change as it was happening and said that the world was about to undergo something earthshakingly different, and certainly nothing has happened since then to convince me otherwise. We both agreed that a new air began in September 2014 with the assassination of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. This isn't the episode to get into the specifics of police violence or its racial disparities, the point of mentioning the Michael Brown affair in this podcast is the social media involved in its spread: youtube, twitter, facebook. Not Fox News, not Talk Radio, not even the Drudge Report, could keep up with the Hands Up Don't Shoot message spreading through the 'resistance internet' like wildfire. Critical mass had been reached, and for good or bad, a counterweight to the top-down right wing media which dominated America for a generation had been created - a grassroots, bottom up, system of political resistance messaging that didn't seem to need anyone to control the message, if anything, its narrative was self controlling, because each commentator to gain notoriety did so by spreading a message more extreme than any which someone had suggested before. It is resistance fever. Everything since that moment, in retrospect, feels a bit foreordained.