Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blood And Stupid

Via Eschaton comes this post by Kathleen Parker over at Townhall. To say I am flabbergasted is an understatement. While I would urge you to read the whole thing, if for no other reason than to gaze in to Nietszche's abyss for a moment (or, at least, see what happens to right-wing columnists who have so gazed for a tad too long), I would offer up a snippet or two. If you feel I am quoting out of context, again, by all means, go read the whole thing.
"A full-blooded American."

That's how 24-year-old Josh Fry of West Virginia described his preference for John McCain over Barack Obama. His feelings aren't racist, he explained. He would just be more comfortable with "someone who is a full-blooded American as president."


It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.

Some run deeper than others and therein lies the truth of Josh Fry's political sense. In a country that is rapidly changing demographically -- and where new neighbors may have arrived last year, not last century -- there is a very real sense that once-upon-a-time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity.


Yet, white Americans primarily -- and Southerners, rural and small-town folks especially -- have been put on the defensive for their throwback concerns with "guns, God and gays," as Howard Dean put it in 2003. And more recently, for clinging to "guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them," as Obama described white, working-class Pennsylvanians who preferred his opponent.


But so-called "ordinary Americans" aren't so easily manipulated and they don't need interpreters. They can spot a poser a mile off and they have a hound's nose for snootiness. They've got no truck with people who condescend nor tolerance for that down-the-nose glance from people who don't know the things they know.

What they know is that their forefathers fought and died for an America that has worked pretty well for more than 200 years. What they sense is that their heritage is being swept under the carpet while multiculturalism becomes the new national narrative. And they fear what else might get lost in the remodeling of America.

Republicans more than Democrats seem to get this, though Hillary Clinton has figured it out. And, the truth is, Clinton's own DNA is cobbled with many of the same values that rural and small-town Americans cling to. She understands viscerally what Obama has to study.

I do not believe I have read anything this frightening from a "mainstream" right-wing columnist in America. Ever.

No Politics Of Culture

Several weeks ago, I pasted a comment from ELAshley in to a post on the issue of race that contained the following two short, journalistic sentences:
Fix the culture. Demand it of D.C.

I would like to just say a few words about these two little sentences and the danger such a position represents.

For lack of a better term, "culture" has become one of those buzzwords in our political landscape over the past couple decades that everyone seems to understand without ever really defining. For the most part, it seems to refer to that cluster of products - television, music, movies, books - to which we turn for entertainment; in also seems to refer to practices in our individual and collective private lives that are not immediately public, such as our sexual habits, our recreational habits, or other behaviors that might possibly be effected by these pop culture products.

The idea that these things need to be "fixed" is one of the most contentious issues on the right. That our politicians should feel an obligation to do so is a perennial demand of the right. To take such a position, however, is dangerous as well as misguided. To take the second predicate first, politics will never be able to catch up to our cultural attitudes. Since much of what the right seems to consider "culture" is, in essence, entertainment that exists solely for our private consumption, it exists across a broad spectrum with little public reference. One can impute all sorts of "politics" to any cultural product without being wrong for no other reason than, for the most part, they are unconcerned with deep, public import and exist, rather, to keep us happy, keep us dancing, get us to smile, laugh, cry, or scream. While it is clear why some people would be offended by some aspects of our pop culture products - I certainly am, so I can see how others would be - to demand that these products be "fixed" by outside forces simply because we might object to their content leads us to the first predicate above: it is dangerous to view ay cultural product as amenable to or within the purview of political pressures.

In the first place, we in the US have this little thing in our Constitution called the First Amendment. The opening words, to which several clauses are added, read as follows: "Cogress shall make no law . . ." In other words, back off, hands off, etc. While some might say "That just means this or that or the other area are off limits. Surely you aren't suggesting the founders meant Vivid Video should be outside the control of the law." Since some of the founders (Ben Franklin is a good example) were connoisseurs of Enlightenment pornography, I doubt they would mind all that much. More to the point, the amendment specifically states "no law", so that cordons off a whole area of culture from political interference. Social pressure is one thing - the demand for a ratings system is a good example - but legal remedies are something different. Whether its hard-core pornography, television that dances the fine edge of good taste and gratuitous nonsense, or music that assaults our ears while insulting our intelligence, we are much better off exercising our personal preference rather than our political powers of coercion to insist that certain elements of our common, not to say public, life clean up.

To make a too-long post much shorter, a politics of culture is a dangerous thing. Politics is concerned with one thing - imposing one's will and preferences on others. Culture is about the million little negotiations we go through each day, collectively, and the importation of coercive power in to this formula mitigates any alleged benefit that might accrue from ridding our cultural space of products that one group or another might find offensive, unwarranted, or otherwise undesirable.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On The Democratic Primary Nonsense

I didn't mention the Democratic primary in yesterday's post, but my feelings about how that is running are similar to my feelings about the way debate and discussion is happening on other issues. On the one hand, I think the rivalry, edging toward animosity, between the candidates is hyped by the media a bit to heighten the narrative tension. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence from comments all over the internet that the supporters of the two candidates in fact are quite adamant.

Get over yourselves.

If either side really believes that the other is the embodiment of some dastardly plot, incarnate political evil hell-bent on destroying all that is good and true in the Democratic Party and the country, and various supporters refuse to even consider voting for the opposite number if their candidate is the nominee - then our politics is truly broken. It's about compromise. It's about accepting that sometimes, the other guy (or gal) wins. Neither candidate is perfect; both have run campaigns that have been both high-minded and down-and-dirty. I support Sen. Obama, but if Sen. Clinton somehow manages to sneak past him in Denver, I refuse to whine in my latte and sit with my arms folded in November. Children act that way.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath, remember what is at stake and who the real opponent is (a seventy-year-old serial adulterer whose supporters include a dispensationalist whacko who preaches from printed flow charts in which he gives details on the coming apocalypse), rather than get all resentful that one's own candidate didn't win. There may be a few thousand out there who act this way, but most of us will vote in November.

I think a round of beers is in order, on the winner, once the primaries are over.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I Was A Bit Hasty . . .

I should have learned my lesson from Sean Connery, who once famously said he would "never" play James Bond, only to appear, in the late 1980's, in Never Say Never Again. That's far too long a time span to predict with any accuracy, so I guess I'll take my lumps, as it were.

I thought, to help clarify things a bit, I might just say a couple things here about what it is I do. First, I do not ever try to argue, or convince through some sort of logical argumentation, or seek to prove anything. In the first place, I doubt if few are moved to change their minds based on any argument, no matter how compelling the "evidence" presented. My own position is quite simple - I am presenting the way I understand the world to be, using words that describe that world. If you choose to accept this particular vocabulary - GREAT! If not, it's no skin off my nose. I do not believe any particular vocabulary captures the world. How could it? All I do is offer up my own little point of view. If it resonates, it does. If not, there is no way I can commend it to you in order to make it do so.

Mine is a particularly pragmatic point of view. I have no interest in the "truth", in "reality", in "objectivity" (or its alleged converse). I don't think those words mean anything anyway. I think the way I describe the world works well for me, but I cannot demand others use my own way of speaking about the world; only that you try to understand and share this particular language-game while you're here.

That I do not believe my views are "True" in the sense of transcendentally accurate of the ontological structure of all things, that does not mean I do not hold them with conviction or passion. It only means that my conviction and passion are tempered by my own recognition of their ephemeral quality, their contingency. In other words, since things change, including the words we use to describe things, how could any sentence at any time, capture some bit of reality, no matter how small, for all times and places?

So, if you are "offended" by something I write here; if you think I am being "heretical" or whatever - take a deep breath and remember a couple things. I don't believe that anything we say, no words we use, can possibly become an impediment to God's love for us. I also do not believe that any of our claims about who and what God is have anything to do with who or what God is, so arguing over doctrine is a bit like arguing over Ptolemaic epicycles in astronomy. Being a Christian doesn't hinge on adherence to doctrine, so I find such arguments largely meaningless. Should I mention "doctrine" here, its usually descriptive in some general term, rather than any normative use.

So, starting tomorrow, I think we shall try again to say some things, to toss a few things out there and see if they stick. If so, great. If not, I'll try to be a bit more thick skinned.

Virtual Tin Cup

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