Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Object of My (Dis)Affection? Political partisanship

Thomas Pynchon, in "Against the Day," summarizes competing visions of Asia: “one an object of political struggle among the Powers of the Earth– the other a timeless faith by whose terms all such earthly struggle is illusion. Those whose enduring object is power in this world are only too happy to use without remorse the others, whose aim of course is to transcend all questions of power. Each regards the other as a pack of deluded fools.” (249)

I took a Pew "Beyond Red & Blue" quiz again. When I blogged the end of last June, at "What's Your Political Typology?" I was "Disadvantaged Democrat." Now I am "Disaffected." Moderate, centrist, but grim: no team player, no flag waver.

As I commented in a recent guest discussion "Looking for a Few Good Liberals" by "Tamerlane" on the blog "Liberal Rapture":"Misguided liberal": not sure when I was called this the other day if the taunt lay in the adjective or noun. Why do we get so hung up on definitions?

I took the Pew typology via the link at Tamerlane's "True Liberal Nexus" blog. There, I posted on a TLN discussion "The Definition of a Liberal," my off-the-cuff remarks about what may or may not distinguish "progressive" from "liberal" from "The Left:
Progressives turn activists, engaged by movements, rallies, petitions, organizing, agitating. They thrive off the pressure to compel change from institutions otherwise opposed to granting reform. So, they focus on “HOW.” Liberals empathize, philosophically grounded in “WHAT”– a belief in the human ability to improve one’s lot and to instill compassion and altruism in each other. The Left forms an umbrella over these two formations, perhaps shaded more by an intellectual reaction against forces who favor tradition. I’d say all three gravitate to a confidence that government must intervene against capital or power whenever, and as necessary, to restore or defend human rights. They share a belief that government can make better decisions than individuals may, and that politicians can decide based on democratic input and legislative and judicial consideration what’s best for citizens.

To my "allele on the HOW/WHAT concept," Tamerlane responded: "Is it that the ‘liberal’ starts from the ‘what’, or Ends, and then applies the appropriate ‘how’ (Means); while the ‘prog’ lends primacy to the means — stridency, activism, revolution? Are radicals, at core, promiscuous viz. ideals? Are they addicted to the means?"

I suspect this may be true, from my observations among a different republican, that among Irish "physical-force" advocates, alongside assorted progressives and lefties and self-proclaimed or earnestly identified radicals. They do seem committed to act. For idealism, perhaps originally, but for some, as time goes on and the Movement falters or rallies fitfully, out of a determination to change, no matter what. I lack this need for a rush, this adrenaline kicking against the pricks, but I do recognize how this impelled charge to change what is to what will be, or must be, energizes a few, for better or worse. I perhaps lack the trust that humans are innately good and inherently pure, tainted by some childhood Jansenist or teen Manichean trait, so while I harbor no sympathy for the right, I do tend to step back from the unfaltering faith shown by the Left that if only kinder, gentler politics aligned we'd all be happy at last.

This inbred skepticism surfaces. That "Beyond Red & Blue" quiz half a year ago pegged me "Disadvantaged Democrat"-- now I am "Disaffected." Not much change, but what's odd-- both categories place me among the most alienated, least educated, lowest cohorts of voters. This despite my demographic, profession, and domicile-- which puts me at variance in nearly every way far apart from the gun & bible-toting, truck-driving cohort, to use terms our newest senator Scott Brown & our current president might agree upon.

I did grow up blue-collar, so maybe orneriness stuck here as so often elsewhere with me? Or, maybe atavistic Fenianism. For, as Pynchon muses (via Benjamin Tucker) about the Irish Land League as the closest ever to that oxymoronic "perfect Anarchist organization"-- perhaps I inherited from that great-grandfather "found drowned in mysterious circumstances" in the Thames on an 1898 delegation to visit with the Powers of the Earth in that gloomy Unreal City, Marlow's Conradian London's heart of late-Victorian, late capitalist, late imperial darkness, maybe I can blame human nature and its evil, as well as political nurture.

I understand the need for many liberals who need this label, but I don't need it and could care less about it. As my own Pew typology results show, these categories can be at variance no matter how calibrated they are by experts, when we compare expert expectations with reality. Doubt permeates me about the possibility of audacious Hope turning into Change we not only can believe in but that will transcend a bumper sticker. Still, as the alternatives prove even more lacking in compassion, I feel stranded, in a gerrymandered Democratic fiefdom that will vote this way in perpetuity. Without any competition, we risk political and social stagnation.

Arlo Guthrie mused to the New York Times Magazine that he registered for the GOP in New Hampshire simply because with about five voters for the opposition in his state, they needed help, or else the lack of anybody to run against meant the death of democracy. I'll never register Republican, but I support true races and real debates.

Desmond Fennell, a dissident Irish writer, bemoaned our tendency over two hundred years on to continue so doggedly to stick to the outmoded seating arrangements of the French Assembly. Is it that crucial to sit on the left or the right? Red or blue state? Ride a donkey or elephant?

P.S. A horse might be preferable for my mount. I long ago tired of both parties. "Decline to State"=my current identification.

P.P.S. My wife blogged eloquently on last week's shameful Supreme Court decision to grant to corporations the same unlimited free speech (and unlimited coffers) that individuals theoretically enjoy to fund campaigns not only by issue but by candidate. She cites well FDR's warning about corporate fascism. "Six Generations to Go".

Image: "Progressivism" by Green Underbelly-- at "ProgressiveU.org."Lib


Layne said...

Thanks for the plug. I guess "Disadvantaged Democrat" is apt until they form the Misanthrope Party.
Your helpmate...competing for your attention with that steroidic Pynchon novel.

tamerlane said...

I'd say that arc actually is a circle, with the radicals & reactionaries meeting in the back, on the common ground of extremism, where ideology is nothing more than an excuse.

Slightly o/t, the question as to the true nature (good, evil, tabula rasa) of mankind has been emphatically answered by ethology. So to continue chasing our tails in aristotelean philosophizing on the subject, much worse to base political ideals and concrete programs & systems on those musings, is insanity.

John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

Tamerlane, sociobiologist E.O. Wilson takes up a chapter in Tom Wolfe's "Hooking Up," which I just finished. An unlikely place, but I enjoyed Wolfe's take on how Wilson et alii have been pilloried by the likes of Steven Jay Gould. I'm curious to learn more about how ethology applies to politics.

Related to the "eugenics" mudslinging that such as Gould & the MSM toss at Wilson: one place where far-left & far-right meet is antisemitism, if disguised under anti-Zionism/anti-Israel critique.

John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

Layne, last June had me a "Disadvantaged Dem"; now I'm "Disaffected," (faux-)country cousin. Both cynical, but note a key difference w/ Obama: yours truly, no matter how bitter, does not cling to his bible or his gun!

tamerlane said...

E.O. Wilson is one of the most brilliant minds of the past 100 years, and an eloquent communicator. Do not miss his inspired Consilience or his sobering The Diversity of Life.

On ethology, (animal behavior understood through genetics), Wilson's textbook, Sociobiology, is the standard. An abridged, helpfully illustrated version is available. It deals only with animal behavior, but humans are playing with a nearly identical deck.

Wilson's disciple, Richard Dawkins, gains most of his notoriety nowadays for his atheist advocacy. But he is a formidable scientific thinker, & a liberal, passionate humanist as well. His The Selfish Gene, now in a new revision, got it all started, and makes for the ideal starting point to (or periodic review of) an exploration of this subject.

John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

Ants & Answers: Interview with E.O. Wilson. Jan. 19, 2010, New Yorker. My wife read the story (sorry, no link even for me as a subscriber to send you) "Trailhead" from Wilson's forthcoming "Anthill." "I know he's smart, but it's still a story about bugs, and I don't like bugs." I have yet to read Wilson's fiction, or fact, but as sociobiology has always in my vague pop culture awareness "instinctively" appealed to me and as from you I learned what "ethology" means, here's yet another area to learn more about. Thanks for your eclectic guidance.