Tuesday, February 20, 2007


A trio of articles by Bill Moyers have gotten my attention. I’ll Post a bit on each of them.

He’s got “Discovering What Democracy Means” on Tom Paine (www.truthout.org/docs_2006/021307A.shtml).

He is as valuable for his apt quotations as for his thoughts; and he draws upon a wide knowledge. Martha Nussbaum is brought in with her gravid insight that the Greek dramatists had no “message” except “simply the revelation of life as seen through the sufferer”. But this is hardly a small thought. To be able to develop a wide and widely-informed empathy is a significant achievement in maturity. It is vastly seen in its absence in present-day Washington City, even more than one would usually expect in those precincts; and the consequences of a failure of empathy for – and of knowledge of – other human beings are now bearing their awefull fruit on the Eastern front.

I think I’ll take this opportunity to point one thing out. It’s a major concern of this site that what are here called the Revolutions of the Identities have borne some very damaging consequences of their own, greatly corroding democratic praxis, jurisprudence, the structure of the Republic, and the weakening of the Peopling skills of the citizenry. This is not at all intended to be some coded understatement to the effect that we should bring the 1950s back again. It is not first and foremost the substance of the Revolutions (although some of the claims are surely questionable enough to have deserved far more public deliberation); rather it is the method of proceeding – the revolutionary method – that has created the most serious damage.

It is true what was obvious even to contemporaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: that once Jim Crow was established in the South no normal democratic process was going to be able to reverse it. But once the great march to the Glorious ’65 was successfully completed, then the more-revolutionary and less-democratic methodology should have been set aside in favor of the longer, more complex and frustrating process of grounding public consensus through wide public deliberation.

Instead, the advocates’ resort to increasing Federal involvement in ever-deepening and ever-more-specific aspects of public and private life – especially in the deployment of criminal law and prosecution – was fraught with dangers that are now bearing their poisoned fruit. And of course, this dangerous dynamic was only intensified as subsequent Revolutions of further newly-hatched Identities sought to jump-start themselves and quickly create their own beach-head of ‘facts on the ground’.

That all of this took place in incessant waves was bad enough. That it took place just as the United States had passed the zenith of its postwar position that sustained its stupendous economic growth and predominance was a profound irony whose significance and consequences are still not fully realized.

Little can be reversed now and I am not proposing such a bootless undertaking. But We must realize just what damage was sustained in the journey to our present situation so that We can take corrective action even as We pursue the course that has been set. Surely, the inherent nobility and humaneness of trying to see events from the point of view of the sufferer is a desirable and an indispensable trait of the character of the People who engaged in or at least permitted such revolutionary activity on a vast and pervasive scale.

But the methods of revolution are inherently inimical to the skills and virtues of a democracy. And empathy is neither the equivalent of nor the substitute for carefully and widely considered policy and law. That the Right (hardly to be called ‘conservative’ in its present incarnation) is the current wielder of Jacobin power is obvious to all; that the Left (hardly to be called ‘Liberal’ in the classic sense) wielded it to Our great detriment for decades and indeed created the vacuums that evoked and enabled the Right must be seen far more clearly than heretofore.

Moyers continues his quotation of Nussbaum: it is greatly valuable to see “the complexity that’s there, and seeing it honestly, and without flinching, and without reducing it to some excessively simple theory”. The ability to appreciate and tolerate complexity is another hallmark of maturity. And again: if such maturity is brutally absent among the Unitary Incumbency’s minions, it had also been ruthlessly – if more ‘tastefully – absent among the advocates of the assorted revolutions. And if the utterly fatuous ‘theories’ that underlay the strutting neocons’ dreams of invasion are now revealed for the bankrupt lunacies they have always been, the utterly corrosive consequences of Theory as it has been propounded domestically by our elites for decades must also be recognized.

Moyers proposes that we might nurture “the higher affections of our intuition – what has been called our ‘inner tutor’”. I think that he demonstrates for us here the newly-recovered strength and the long-entrenched weakness of the Left – and the Liberal – agenda. He introduces again the use of a Vertical dimension to the individual, and that Vertical presupposes an individual’s Interiority as well. Both dimensions have been unforgivably de-emphasized in Theory’s decades-long occupation of our cultural and societal discourse.

Generations of children, many now adult, have grown up with a working conception of Life in which these two dimensions of being and acting have been largely absent. Verticality implied ‘judgment’ and the imposition of ‘values’ and the truly sensitive and enlightened did not do that. Interiority led to a certain social ‘passivity’ and ‘withdrawal’ that did not sufficiently get out and force societal change; one’s status as either victim or victimizer and one’s actions as one or the other (not even, as most often happens among us humans, as both) were the only significant aspects of living (one’s robust consumption of material goods always being taken as a given). Thus Our selves and thus our lives – as individuals and as a society) were much shrunken, and even desiccated.

But that other vast and wondrous and utterly indispensable dimension of life and Life, of being and existence – the Beyond, the Meta – is still almost unspeakable. We have an “inner tutor”. This is as ‘spiritual’ as even Moyers dares to be in his article. We could say that this does not even rise to the level of the spiritual, but is simply ‘non-material’, which is hardly sufficient to meet the voracious – indeed the constituent – hunger of the human spirit. And if we must contemplate in muted shock the ‘enlightenment’ that demands the willful ignoring of the human spirit – shades of Lenin – then we must also reflect ruefully that it was precisely the creation of this abyss that sparked and sucked into awefull life the violent derangement of Fundamentalism and rammed open its path to the pinnacle of our ‘polis’. All to Our great detriment.

So carefully that I can’t figure whether he is treading carefully or isn’t quite aware of it himself, Moyers then quotes Thomas Jefferson’s reprehension of the “bastard muses”, those special-pleadings for specific causes that calculatedly mask themselves as a comprehensive and undeniable ‘wisdom’ and insight into the heart of ‘reality’. Truth is lost; the ability to perceive Truth shrivels. While we might take some heart that such pernicious folly as it was evinced among the neocons and Fundamentalists and even the ‘realistic’ Macher of Washington City is now betraying those who so cockily and arrogantly tried to ‘hire’ it, we must also accept with a justifiable fright that such inability to seek and apprehend Truth is now pervasive among Us.

He quotes – but valuably – Leo Strauss, who had noted that “vulgarity”, the coarseness and crudeness which is a hallmark of boyo and macho and Fundamentalistic hubris, rises from an “apeirokalia”, “the lack of experience in things beautiful”. “Beauty”, like Truth, is not congenial to the profoundly immature, the ‘unripe’ – and we are all born more or less unripe. Beauty and Truth are also irrelevant to revolutionaries, whose harsh discipline of Outcome requires them to focus on lesser, more immediate things. In that sense, of course, ‘business’ and ‘revolution’ are sisters under the skin. Thus visions of both the Right and the Left share a common poisonous root.

And he goes on then that today “we are all institutionalized”. Yes, and it is not so much that Our civilization has reached a complexity that erects numerous ‘institutions’ as that Our civilization has ignored the human-ness – in all its marvelous heights – that would enable Us to remain the masters of those institutions. And We are also – he omits to say – “balkanized”, divided and sub-divided into numerous squabbling Identities as well as shrunken into the hot or cold, hard surfaces of surfaces and Appearances.

Thus has the government power – through the National Security State and the National Corporate State and the National Crime State, artfully wooing the macho and the ‘sensitive’, the ruthless and the socially ‘concerned’ – taken advantage of our weakened and divided condition – as individuals and as a society – to raise itself up as our Primary Protector and Provider, roles previously ascribed to the Beyond – however conceived. The reliance upon the government power as that Primary Protector and Provider quickly shades into a functional idolatry, a functional paganism. All to Our great detriment.

Are we as a People now become merely “a fiction”? Are we become a shadow? A wraith? A shade? For Us as for that tortured princeling of Denmark the urgent question remains: To be or not to be?

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Blogger Davidco said...

We live with the daunting recognition that here, in the four dimensions of meatspace, the truth can be ugly and beauty, morally dubious.

Belief in the intelligibility and thus the morality of the universe is often overwhelmed by personal experience to the contrary.

Resolute action in the hope that, some day, truth, beauty and the good will be revealed as One requires a faith that seems more to the point than belief in lesser miracles.

9:01 AM  

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