May
28

Aristotle’s ashes

By

Reports out of Greece this week not about refugees and economic chaos say archaeologists may have found in his home town of Stageira the tomb of the philosopher Aristotle. You know, the “golden mean” guy. Wonder what Aristotle would think of our orange mean guy? Or the rest of us, for that matter.

Keeping one’s head has not been in fashion in America, oh, since September 11, 2001. Of late, those who do are – to both the right and left – clearly part of the comfortable establishment that has to go. Sorry, Ari.

Dahlia Lithwick covers the Supreme Court of the United States for Slate. A more establishment institution you will not find. (SCOTUS, I mean.) Maybe it is because she is Canadian, but Lithwick is a tad uncomfortable with the rhetoric of the presidential race. And because she leans left, she is more than a tad uncomfortable with the tone of from fellow lefties. “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential!” Linus van Pelt once said. No one can disappoint you like your friends.

Regarding those litigating Hillary v. Bernie, Lithwick writes:

I have been taken up short by the number of comments and scoldings I have faced, from close friends and casual acquaintances alike, for voicing even a hint of support for one or the other in recent months. The tone hasn’t merely been dismissive and furious; the message beneath has almost universally been that I am a moron.


The 2016 campaign has been focused on rage. Donald Trump’s cunning redirection of his supporters’ economic and racial fury into electoral support has been well-documented. But the fury on the progressive end of the spectrum has been harder to pin down. Some of us on the left seem to be suffering from many of the same symptoms we deride in Trump supporters: outrage with the political process; over-identification with our anger and under-identification with our commonalities; and a pervasive sense that anyone who doesn’t agree with us suffers from debilitating false consciousness.

I’m not a psychologist and can’t speak to the outrage. But I think a lot about how we speak to one another, and I worry that my progressive friends and I are falling victim to some habits and ideas that have made it virtually impossible for the left and right to even engage—much less debate—serious issues anymore in this country. I see them in myself in alarming new ways when I find myself digging in on Bernie vs. Hillary. I wonder if now is the time to talk about it out loud.

Lithwick does, about the “tics and habits that poison and polarize ideological discourse.” One she calls out is how some come to believe their pet issue is the only issue that matters. Anyone not solely dedicated to it is misguided at best. I’ve watched people leave organizing meetings with potential allies never to return — marginalizing themselves and their issues — because theirs was not front and center on the agenda all night. I’ve watched activists walk into congressional campaigns unwilling to lift a finger for actual campaign work (it’s all grunt work), and then walk out because they were not drubbed on the shoulder the campaign’s official expert on their pet issue and asked to write the white paper upon which the entire campaign would rise or fall.

That is precisely the trap into which Moral Mondays leader Reverend William J. Barber II refuses to fall. Preaching “fusion politics,” he and North Carolina’s NAACP have brought together a coalition of activists to focus their collective energies on rescuing the state from the T-party leadership that took control after the 2010 mid-terms. No one issue is the focus. No one leader, not even Barber, is the focus. The movement is a “people’s assembly” of those concerned about everything from voting rights to LGBT issues to education to health care. By refusing to be divided into issue silos, the Forward Together movement has found lasting power in coalition rather than in anger.


Photo via HKonJ People’s Assembly Coalition.

But like Lithwick, this year I have watched friends turn into an angry T-party of the left, with everything that implies. Lithwick writes, “If we are treating our friends and allies like we treat our enemies, we are not really a movement so much as a collective of grievances.”

In Stageira, Aristotle’s ashes must be turning over in his urn.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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