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.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

"Teach us to care and not to care" *

A recurring festival of great solemnity is once more observed. As I remarked last time we went through this, the main result of the election of 2016 was the dramatic increase in intensity in fervor and consensus regarding the alleged significance of elections. And surely now is the moment that confirms this popular piety in every respect!  From every corner of the land pour in reports of "record ballot returns," already exceeding the count of four years ago, "the highest turn-out since..."  That can't be a bad thing, can it? I mean, people care

But there is care and care, and my concern is that this turnout is far more symptom than cure. This is because our national case of DTs is itself -- DT is, himself -- a symptom. To be sure, a symptom can be fatal -- but it might also be a way to a sort of cure (a fever, for instance, could be either).  

In our case, "people care" means -- well, we've had four years of "caring," and I am open to persuasion that it's better than indifference, but it will take some persuading. People "care" in sports events and knife fights and network-sponsored mediated humanitarian crises; people have a certain detachment in watching even Antigone or King Lear, and quite a number of humanitarian crises have occasioned hardly a yawn. Neither fascination nor apathy per se are salutary or pernicious. (I work with young people, and I have had occasion to note that there is little that educators fear as much as they fear children's boredom; and as for engagement -- education and politics alike are repackaged as bread and circuses.)

No matter what transpires on (and in the aftermath of) Election Night USA 2020, the task before us as human beings remains the same: to be present, conscious, curious, kind. Does this entail voting? Does it entail for whom? 

By all means, vote -- I did -- if you answer Yes; if your conscience demands it; if you live in a "swing state;" if it makes you feel better. But do not put your faith in an "engaged citizenry," especially if you are a part of it, unless you know what is making them (and yourself) engaged, and in what spirit.  

* from T.S. Eliot, "Ash Wednesday," in case you were wondering.


  1. Thanks for this. Since this election I've read Lilliana Mason's Uncivil Agreement, which examines how Americans have increasingly taken their political views as their identity, in ways that long predate the 2016 election. In one of the later chapters she notes that Americans have become increasingly politically active and engaged, and while (unlike Aśvaghoṣa or Śāntideva) she does not see such engagement as bad on principle, she thinks it's a bad thing in the present context because it is tied so closely to hatred and a desire to see one's own team win. (One of her more striking findings is that people are not getting that much more polarized on policy, but on identification with their side and negative views of the other, irrespective of policy.)

    1. Thank you, Amod -- I had not seen Mason's book.  A recent post of yours also made me look at Achen and Bartels ' book Democracy for Realists.  I commend both of these to anyone else reading these comments.
      It is hard to dissociate the current "polarization" -- a word I am becoming more and more wary of as overuse wears it smooth -- with the specific social and cultural conditions created by social media and the internet more broadly.  This, I think, is a problem, since the most obvious "explanations" are rarely the only valid ones, and in any case social media is in danger of becoming the preferred scapegoat for all societal problems, to the point where I now wonder whether the intelligentsia, at any rate, will not soon be more "polarized" over whether social media is the cause of polarization, than about progressivism and conservatism. It certainly seems to be a case of the medium being the message. I am genuinely uncertain of just about everything here, except that what we need is not less disagreement, but better disagreement.