Wednesday, February 7, 2018
It's Not Even Past #9 - A Little More
It's always difficult in these radical times to not append any label upon yourself. It's always when societies begin to unwind that people become radicalized. Things are not any worse than they were fifty years ago, in many ways they are better. From a certain point of view, it's always true that nothing in this world is ever good. But some societies, broken by war and newly rebuilt, develop a new appreciation for the dysfunctional, hobbling societies that still manage to live on to the next day.
But when we get used to the lives we live, we focus ever more on those things about it that don't work and instead of realizing that life can be a terribly tragic thing that little by little we can make better, we become obsessed by pulling the tree out from the roots, and in doing so, eventually make that sturdy thing that is a functional society as fragile as we can, until someone with grand promises can burn the whole thing down in a great bonfire of the vanities.
And in such moments, it's very easy to commit to a project of a transcendent possibility that changes the fundamental rules of human progress without realizing that with every progression comes a regression. Two steps forward, one point nine-nine steps back, and the true progress is left to be reaped by future generations. The same 'isms' always present themselves, old ideas with new cosmetics, and it becomes increasingly difficult to not surrender a large part of your individuality to a supposedly greater cause. The intelligent among you become less interesting, less unique, less possible, than you could be. The most functional among you become cogs in a great machine, instead of becoming great artists and teachers and scientists, you become financial planners and lawyers and ad-men. The slightly more rebellious among you who were a little less 'with the program' become 'committed', you may become artists and teachers and scientists, but rather than learn and discover, you become socially committed in manners that subordinate your individuality to larger movements - you embrace religion whole-heartedly, whether you buy wholeheartedly into the monotheistic religions or even pagan religions, or into the allegedly 'new' religions of libertarianism, anarchism, communism, intersectionalism, postmodernism, and all their various incarnations, it is religion, and it is a tumor. We all have these tumors within us, but some, like liberalism and feminism can be much more benign, but even these, when infected by these other isms, can grossly metastasize into something that attacks the whole societal body.
When I was ever so slightly younger, I was truly furious about all this. It felt like we were going off a cliff, and I was doing my small part to yell at, and unfortunately in retrospect, to bully others to try to keep the country from going off it. Much good it obviously did. Now, we've gone off, and the anger that once was mine has transferred to the souls of others. In the wake of this revolutionary era when the societal changes are truly dizzying, I have to leave the anger to others. Nothing is served by being angry. All that remains for me now is a certain sadness that people are chasing societal possibilities that cannot ever be.
And 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 any subject at hand, and the more I do this podast, 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 scrupulously admit it. When I think of how bad I predicted things would get in the next year, I feel a little humiliated, like I'm histrionic boy who cries wolf at the sight of a puppy chihuahua. But history never stops, and even if the world shakes to nowhere near the extent I worried it would so far, who can deny that it's shaking very hard?
Politically, I suppose it goes without saying that I'm not of the Right, I'm certainly not of the Left - and I'm reminded more of that every day, but I'm not really a person of the center either. I'm a centrist in the sense that I find ideologies in general to be loathesome things that destroy people's independence of mind, but ideologies are poison because they warp 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 a free individual who can both pursue what he values and help others to do the same; ergo, the freedom from being dictated to by any other ism. If that means making alliances with other isms, I have no problem with that, and I will do my very best to never judge too harshly those who subscribe elsewhere, even if I will never do the same. As a liberal, I will do my best to realize that your beliefs are 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.