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Sunday, April 10, 2011


I seem to have stirred up a hornet's nest, so let me make a few things clear. My angry response was to a two word post by John C. Halesz, "Stockholm Syndrome." For those of you who do not know, the Stockholm Syndrome is the tendency of hostages and kidnap victims after a while to identify with their captors and imagine them to be friends. The comment was, and was clearly intended as, an insult, and that is exactly the way I took it. If anyone thinks that I am a captive of the political establishment in this country and have begun to identify with my captors, then I suggest he or she leave this site and find someone else to insult. I am not amused, and I do not intend to treat that sort of comment as deserving of a serious or thoughtful reply. Now let me address the serious question, whether I [or anyone sharing my political orientation] ought to engage in electoral politics and support mainstream candidates for office. That is indeed a serious question, and one deserving of an answer. I will give you my answer, but I do not for a moment suggest that it is the only answer, or that there are not other answers deserving of consideration. I was born at the end of 1933, the year in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt was first inaugurated. He died when I was eleven, before I was old enough to have organized political opinions of any sort. By the time I did [at age fourteen], it was obvious to me that the America into which I had been born, and in which I would live my life, was very different from the America I would have opted for, had anyone given me a choice. Over the years, my hopes have been raised and then dashed many times. I felt some enthusiasm for John Kennedy, until his abortive invasion of Cuba convinced me that I could not place my hopes on liberal Democrats. I sang and marched in the Civil Rights Movement, and still believe that it was one of America's most glorious moments, but it never held out the hope of a transformation of America, only of the long-delayed incorporation into the existing America of the descendants of slaves. I fought for women's liberation, and fight now for gay liberation, but neither of those movements aims at the transformation of America, only at the removal of the obstacles that stand in the way of the full incorporation into America of women and the LGBT community. What is the America in which I would like to live out the last few remaining years of my life? Easily said: an America in which several hundred million comrades link arms and march joyously into a socialist future. Will I live to see this? Of course not. As my old friend, Herbert Marcuse, observed in the YouTube clip that Michael called my attention to, we do not live in a revolutionary moment, or even in a pre-revolutionary moment. For an instant, I thought I had found my paradise in the South Africa of the liberation struggle, but the events of the last twenty-one years have disabused me of that happy fantasy. What then to do? One possibility, which I do not contemn, is to perform what Russian dissidents called an "inner migration," a mental retreat from a completely unacceptable world into a private realm of art and literature and music and philosophy. I have chosen a different path -- an engagement with a deeply imperfect world, in the hope of making it a little bit less imperfect. As Paul Newman explains to Robert Redford in THE STING, even if you win, it won't be enough, but it is all you are going to get. So I work for the reelection of Obama, and I give money to the protesting workers in Wisconsin, and give money to any number of promising left Democrats running for State Senate or the House of Representatives or the US Senate. None of them is a socialist, and even if they all win, it will not be enough, but it is all I am going to get. All I ask of others who share my political orientation is two things: First, that they reflect carefully on their choices, and be sure to consider what harms they might be choosing not to fight against if they opt out; and Second, that they accord me the same respect I accord them, and not react with insults if we make different choices.


Ruskin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

These thoughts deeply resonate with me. I am 23 years old and have never voted, for various high-handed ideological reasons - like the thought that voting is an endorsement of a political structure that has been entirely co-opted by elite, wealthy individuals and corporations. In the last few months I have completely rethought my position. The thing is, simply dismissing our actual political reality for various philosophical reasons seems to be by far the easiest way to avoid taking responsibility for the challenges of the present. Even if those challenges seem insurmountable, we should live up to the fact that they exist, and have real consequences for real people. Mitigating those consequences in whatever way we can seems important. I have actually decided to leave philosophy for reasons similar to these. Just thought I'd share my perspective, thanks!

Scott said...

I don't see anything wrong per se with working through the political system, even from anarchist principles.

That being said, my feelings are basically that most of our time and efforts should be focused on movements and developments outside the political system, in particular new liberatory uses of technology. For example, P2P networks and the internet have done more to get ordinary people to question copyright and intellectual property than any political movement of the sort. Of course, it definitely wouldn't hurt to have a member of the Pirate Party in Congress for your district should the IP thugs go on the offensive.

Scott said...

And let's not forget Wikileaks

Chris said...

Thank you that did clarify quite a bit.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

Wondering, what do you think of the letter by Tribe and others?

john c. halasz said...

Umm... it wasn't an "insult". It was just a succinct way of pointing to obviously poor political judgment, backed by weak or negligible arguments. I thought about how to respond, but the authoritarianism of your own response said enough. And your judgments are notably well to the right of those prevailing in the left-liberal blogosphere, whether still residually identifying with the Democratic party, such as "Firedoglake", or having eschewed any such illusion, such as Ian Welsh,- who's Cannuck anyway, so why should he care?,- or the folks at "Corrente". The argument has been over whether BHO is an especially weak and inept leader, or whether achieved outcomes simply manifest his actual convictions or the lack thereof. Since there's no contradiction involved, I tend to vote for all of the above.

But it was clear from the get-go, to anyone who bothered to pay attention, that BHO was a center-right DLC corporate Democrat. This most recent episode of capitulation, followed by hollow hype about his "accomplishment", another feather in his meritocratic cap, conforms to his M.O. (Together with state cut-backs, it means that 1%+ of gov. spending will be subtracted from GDP, in the midst of an anemic "recovery": could you possibly agree to that "theoretically"?) But your "argument" amounts to little more than pointing at the blue meanies, which, aside from being exactly the argument of Democratic power-brokers make, as they undermine and betray their ostensible "base", while serving their actual corporate donor base, is also symmetrically made by the other side, even as the corporate duopoly works its will across the center aisle. But I would have assumed you already knew all that.

Besides which the Republicans are so ignorant, incoherent, and dysfunctional in policy/programmatic terms, that the Wall St./MNC interests would never quite accede to their ostensible aims. Which just might buy BHO another term to preside as MC, since a decade of stagnation under his policies is basically what they desire, ( to preserve their oligopolistic rents via global arbitrage without blowing out further unsustainable CA deficits to the point of outright collapse), rather than the outright depression GOP policy prescriptions would cause. If you'd then ask me my preferences, I'd say it's a Hobson's choice.

john c. halasz said...

More philosophical, (therefore abstract or generalized). I see nothing wrong with holding to a theoretical analysis, provided its reasonably clear and accurate, even if it doesn't directly result in practical implications or prescriptions. I also don't see anything wrong with holding to standards of argument and criticism, which is only reasonable. ("Unpleasant" is not a term of criticism, not even aesthetically). The old Marxian trope of a "dialectical identity" between theory and praxis has long since fallen into abeyance, partly due to defaults in its own unthought presuppositions, (though the more basic point that theories, especially social ones, bear a reflexive relation to underlying social practices remains in force). But then practico-political judgments are "prudential" in nature anyway, atheoretical, not derivable from theoretical deduction. The problem arises when such judgments are seriously at odds with, opposed to, ostensible theoretical understandings or "convictions". Then there's a perplexity of just where the point of failure lies.

Any genuine left project is basically committed to the maintenance and expansion of the scope and quality of human agency, both individual and collective, (which are just flip sides of the same coin). Human beings are agents in their own right, not objects of pity. And if it involves pain and suffering to achieve and sustain such agency and the respect that is its due, so be it. Nothing is gained by denying basic realities in the name of alleviating suffering. Rather withdrawing into self-indulgent or self-justifying sentimental illusions amounts to the actual, evasive "hibernation". Holding to the recognition of the cold, hard "truths" of the matter is what maintains the potential of genuine solidarity, however "divisive" that might be. Though it's nothing compared to the coldness of the actual agents of TPTB.

Anonymous said...

You raise multiple issues here, and I'm particularly curious about two of them.

[a] I'm not familiar with NC politics, but I do not live in a battleground state and have been thinking about voting for a "third party" for the first time. What is your opinion on such a safe state strategy?

[b] I am still (continually?) organizing my own political opinions regarding what is ideal vs. what is possible, and I wonder what current nation comes closest to your political vision.

Anonymous said...

Oops, I didn't realize that I'm still using a goofy alias. I'll have to figure out how to change that.