Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Between ruin and light, the work

On my post about how to address (insofar as I know anything) out national case of the DTs, I got a comment from a reader calling themselves "Wretched". I drafted my response but before I could post it, the comment was deleted. But since it pressed me to do some more thinking, I am posting some of it here -- without, however, quoting the words which the writer chose not to post. "Wretched" pointed out and voiced a legitimate fed-up-ness with trying to accommodate or understand racism or other forms of institutional or plain old personal hate, exploitation, and resentment. They were (acknowledgedly) angry; also eloquent, respectful, and -- though we didn't see things the same way -- certainly not wrong in any simple sense either. I sat for a while letting the discomfort and defensiveness pass. And upon thinking about it and continuing to read and think, I noted (what I ought to have predicted) that the account of the downtrodden white working-class coming out for DT is already being appropriated for the purposes of apologetics and normalizing. I want nothing to do with such trumpery. While I have seen all too clearly the unbecoming liberal disdain for and disconnect from what's being called "flyover America" (Seattle, where I live, is rife with it), I am wary of how this moment of breast-beating over this will be leveraged into a story that effectively minimalizes the real role that white fear has played and is likely going to continue to play in the next many years.

The exhaustion with "listening and understanding" is endemic, and small wonder. I'm at pains to distinguish (and I'm doing it clumsily) what I'm saying from calls to be patient, or put up with anything. The actual encounter I am speaking of would be something like Truth and Reconciliation, but it'll have to be far more informal; and as to whether it would even work -- well, I could be mistaken; we may "as a nation" be waaay beyond the time when any genuine listening was possible. Even if it is not too late, I do not believe that there is any way -- any good way -- to hurry anger, or frustration, or had-it-up-to-here disgust, off stage. It's got to be looked in the eye, both by those who have caused it and by those who feel it. I get, in a small way, why this is scary. I have a conflict-avoidant streak in me that I strive against. But I strive against it because it doesn't work.

This is a blog about philosophy, and philosophy, I hold, cannot be conflict-avoidant. Philosophy strives to apprehend the whole, and this means all attempts to keep emotions at a safe distance or under "laboratory conditions" are misguided. But it also means that philosophy cannot be run by emotions. Indignation is intoxicating, and that can make for a great high, and for a tremendous and seemingly unanswerable ferocity. To those on the receiving end it's sometimes upsetting, even terrifying, but it's awfully tempting, is it not, to ask: So what? Why should I care? Well, my own path doesn't have to be anyone else's. But I think there are reasons to care, that have nothing to do with protecting white fragility or accommodating injustice. I'm with Cornel West, who said with regard to HRC's characterization of DT's supporters as a "basket of deplorables":
I don’t like comments like that — that any person is thoroughly irredeemable. I mean, maybe it’s because I’ve got a Christian sensibility. We’ve all got gangster proclivities and all of us have the possibility of being transformed and changed, but I don’t like the idea of a huge slice of America just irredeemable. If they’re xenophobic, you call them xenophobic, but they can change. ...I don’t mind her saying that a significant slice of brother Donald Trump’s social base are deeply xenophobic and racist and misogynist because they are, but that’s just the truth. The truth is not static. It’s [not] stationary. People can change and be transformed, absolutely.
Now, one can ask whether it's reasonable to expect such a "change" as West decribes. One can ask whether it's even relevant to talk about this on the scale of voting blocs rather than individuals. (West's examples were all indivuduals: George Wallace, Lyndon Johnson, Malcolm X). Perhaps this is one difference between politics and philosophy, between playing the game and looking beyond the endgame. But I hold that the only battle that really matters is the one that transpires within "that individual" (as Kierkegaard named them). And it is an unending battle.


  1. Appreciate the response. I deleted simply because it felt incendiary. But my thoughts remain the same. I am angry and I doubt it will subside - the right-wing horror show continues with his picks for government. Everyone is in a rush to see some sliver of hope. I see nothing but bald racism and bigotry being excused so - maybe- things can be better. To touch on things I wrote:

    (1) I truly believe all minorities in this country, whether they form under an umbrella group - The Left - or not should get armed. Mimic the reaction to Obama. Increase militias by 4000%. Again, we have no reason to trust the institutions to protect us, half the country didn't care and if Trump really does go off the rails I suspect most of the other majority would acquiesce as well and 'hope' for better days. Terrible thing to say but that is where I am at - I have no time to extend olive branches. To repeat what was deleted: only the threat of ruinous violence will give pause to the oh-so-poor and forgotten 'working class' and the mid-level rich that voted for this man. Currently, they enjoy the cultural capital of being armed as opposed to the 'sissies' on the Left ( read the comment boxes - this theme crops up every time, often seeming like trolls but it is the everyday, 'regular joe' take).

    (2) I laud what you say...philosophically and those that are inclined should follow that path, confront, confront. Practically, minorities are in a precarious position and need more than that. Fundamentally, I no longer trust this country and really shouldn't have in the first place. What will a majority do if Muslims begin to be registered or interned? All it will take is a massive terror attack for people to shed their so-called values like it was picked up in a store, useful for certain occasions but can be disregarded at a moments notice. This is the reality we're dealing with.

    (3) Flyover country. I view the election of Trump as the political equivalent of the disgruntled employee who shoots up his workplace because he's mad at his boss. He may have legitimate grievances but he's chosen absolutely the wrong way to go about it - lashing out and randomly murdering your innocent co-workers ( who are often suffering in the same way) shows a stunning lack of moral center. It is moral ineptitude. I do not excuse it. Decry this as "Identity Politics" or what have you. That is how I view it. I have spoken to 'friends' and associates and can belatedly say "nope, not a racist" but walk away profoundly disappointed because they simply didn't care or viewed all of it as inconsequential. It isn't. And why I've taken the position I have. Prepare for the worst, and hope that nothing too terrible happens because many bad things will come from this.

  2. Wr.,

    in order:
    (1) As a Christian I am almost always opposed to girding oneself for violence (always remembering Bonhoeffer), but as a pragmatist.... well, compare what I cited a while ago about Jean Cavailles -- "A philosopher-mathematician stuffed with explosives". For myself, I do not consider it absurd to imagine future scenarios of underground railroads and safe houses. I'm quite prepared to serve. I know this language sounds over-the-top to many. I hope they are right.

    (2) Philosophically, one must be prepared to hear just how wrong the other party thinks one is. "Yes, I know he said grab 'em by the pussy; called Mexicans rapists; wants to register Moslem immigrants; thinks we should torture terror suspects' families. I know, but that isn't dispositive for me." Maybe it isn't dispositive because they think he don't mean nuthin' by it. Or maybe because they agree. Or maybe because, what matters to them and their families is a promise (unfulfillable, I think, but that's not the point) of economic stability and jobs, and that mattered more. When one says "How was the xenophobia, the misogyny, not a deal-breaker?!", what they hear being said is "You should have cared more about what I want than what you want." I think they are entitled to respond, "Hey, how about you care about what I care about more, huh?"

    Please note this doesn't make them right. And of course it doesn't even mean they will be good at putting their point. One sometimes has to do a lot of work at translating the defensive, Are-you-calling-me racist rhetoric into the pure content of what motivates them. (This is not to say that their rhetoric is without ramifications of its own). This steel-manning of one's opponent's position can make you look like a traitor to your own side. It's hard to do well in these contexts especially.

    (3) Your analogy with the shooting-rampage employee is really quite striking. To spin it slightly: imagine the disgruntled employee takes a bunch of hostages -- mostly poor saps like themselves who aren't the real villain. Hostage negotiations just aren't going to work if you yell at the guy with the gun. You really better try to understand him. Now in your analogy, after election day, the shooting's been done, the bomb's gone off. The time to be doing this effort would have been during the goddam campaign, right? That's what I've been saying. I'm advocating for starting next campaign now.

    I believe that this is actually quite compatible with prudently preparing oneself for the worst. But in practice, it requires real self-vigilance to strike that balance between being as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.