Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Absence of War

I believe in compromise and bipartisanship. We have to live together; we can't separate ourselves into liberals, lefties, progressives, conservatives, tea partiers, libertarians etc. and each group stake out their own territories. As righteous as I think my beliefs are, I cannot force my neighbor to share them nor can persuade them to do so by telling them that their own beliefs are stupid and so are they.

Spinoza wrote in the 17th century, “Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” I don't know that humankind has ever been at peace. We mistake rationality and thoughtfulness for weakness. Liberals are as bad as conservatives although all I read lately are protests to the contrary. I also read words that hold nothing but contempt for others, a massive disdain for those whom we determine to be less intelligent than ourselves. I'm not talking about blatant lying which is so often the modus operandi of the right. I'm not even talking about the public voices on the left. I'm talking about the blogs of the left; we regular folks who decry all who haven't reached our level of enlightennment to be virtually unworthy of existence. Those of us who refuse to recognize that most of the people who are swayed by the Tea Party rhetoric are just angry and scared and feeling adrift, and the Tea Party just offers them a convenient anchor. They aren't the enemy; provide them with another anchor and they might even jump ship. However, that's sort of impossible to do while you're calling them stupid. Most people just don't listen when you start the conversation with an insult.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no saint. I get angry and frustrated, and there are days when I really want to slap somebody. However, I'm not proud of my irrationality and I work to let the anger go and focus on what I can do to make the society in which I live a better one.

I've been an activist ever since high school when I refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn't feel that the final part about "liberty and justice for all" was even close to true. I still refuse to recite the pledge or stand when it's recited by others. I suspect that I may well go to my grave still having my personal little protest. I believe in taking a stand, being involved, doing something rather than just thinking about doing something.

I grew up in an age when being subjeted to blatant racism was just the norm for a black child growing up in America. My memories of racial discrimination, bigotry and cruelty from the larger white culture are intact but I let the anger go a long time ago. There was a time when I thought that white people in general were evil because my experiences had revealed the evil inside of far too many. But as I grew older, I recognized that humans are complex creatures and evil is an oversimplication of the motivations for any human action. Spending my life hating and mistrusting white people seemed an incredible waste and I chose to exhale and let my anger go.

My point is that holding on to hurts, no matter how real, is not productive; it's crippling. Anger is a temporary release and it can serve a purpose. However, holding on to and nurturing anger and despair only eats away at you until you become a bitter shell of a human being.

There is nothing wrong with disagreement. I do not accept racism. I challenge it whenever I encounter it and I have no qualms about calling people out on their bigotry. I am neither naive nor Pollyanna's twin sister. However, I do believe in working to find common ground and I don't think that we can give up because the ground is rocky.

We are at a crossroads as a country. We have had one civil war when competing ideologies grew until there was no chance for common ground. The aftermath of that war was the end of slavery but it was also the inception of more than 100 years of Jim Crow. Our unrest as to race relations in this country continues and is at the heart of much of the current Tea Party fervor.

Do not mistake my call for rational responses as a willingness to lie down and roll over. It's a given in my world that one speaks out loudly, and with clarity against injustice of any sort. When necessary, direct attack is appropriate. However, anger must be tempered with reason in order to develop an effective strategy for change. I don't have any admiration for the Tea Party. They have no idea what they really want. They have some vague platform about taking their country back, a meaningless concept. Ask them what it is that they need to accomplish in order to take back their country and about the only concrete action that they have is to remove Obama as president. So hopped are they on their irrational anger and fear that they don't even recognize that they have channeled all of their anger into a personal animosity for one man--Obama.They state with all sincerity that it is not about race but about his corruption of the constitution but cannnot articulate one specific action that constsitutes the aforementioned corruption.

My concern is that we need to think rationally and determine precise goals and methodologies for achieving those goals. I've never advoacated being nice because it's important to be nice. I have been consistent in speaking of reasonableness which is not a synonym for nice.

We have fallen into the trap of responding rather than intiating. The Tea Party comes out with some far right position and we decry their beliefs and pronounce them stupid. It accomplishes nothing. Those who are already TP supporters are just further convinced that they are correct in their beliefs. But those who are not so sure about the TP haven't been provide with an alternative path by us, instead they are left confused and looking for guidance.

We have to devise an action plan. We have to present a platform that refutes the TP and proposes an alternative view of the world. We have to understand how the political system works and how to effectively use the system to promote a progressive agenda. We can't do that while we're caught up in anger and frustration. It takes cool heads to strategize.

I have no problem with progressives bitchin' and complaining in house, but to the opposition, we need to present a united front. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I do have a problem with bitchin' and complaining and failing to offer any concrete steps that we can take to effect change. If that makes me a moderate, so be it. I'm also an activist and I never sit any battle out.


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

It will be a challenge to get civil discourse initiated, I hope it is possible.

Alan said...

but, CHANGE is never peaceful! Guess it depends on what you want, peaceful coexistence or meaningful change.

Me, I opt for change and am preparing to pursue that by whatever means.

Anonymous said...

Our politics are Very different, and this is probably the most I've ever agreed with a post of yours(a political one)...many times I've agreed with a certain small part, but...

You are an activist, but I think sometimes, some think of activism like ACT UP, & much of it isn't...and shouldn't be.

I remember reading about Strom Thurmond's filibuster (all 24 hours & 18 minutes of it)essentially against the Civil Rights Bill. Much of the time he was just being a nasty ***hole. Bold frontal attacks can damn more than help. You are an activist, but you just aren't radiating cynicism, like some on both sides are. ~Mary