Wednesday, February 1, 2017

There Are Two Kinds of People, and I Don't Like Them

I haven't been able to find a source for this quotation, but I guess it doesn't really matter much.  Even taking it at face value, my first reaction was to ask the friend who'd shared it what should be done when "good men" shout "ugly words of hatred."  My friend is more restrained than many liberals, who've been raving for the past several months against their political opponents in terms that I find indistinguishable from the right-wing Republicans they hate.  It's not a totally new phenomenon, of course, but it has gotten noticeably worse since Hillary Clinton won the Democratic presidential nomination.

I've been noticing Democratic loyalist/apologists already demanding that "we" (meaning other people, of course, not themselves) quit the blame game, stop dwelling on the dead past (i.e., a few months ago), and think about the future. While it is important to think about what we're going to do in the future, we can't do so wisely unless we have some grasp of what happened in the past. I'm not going to forget, however, that during the campaign, those same loyalist/apologists were screaming "Nader! Nader!"  Forgetting the past is for other people, not for them. And besides, I am watching the present and thinking about the future -- I'm watching the Democratic leadership lining up to collaborate with Trump.

Dividing humanity into "good men" and "evil men," sheep and goats, Us and Them, tribalists vs. non-tribalists, the Enlightened Few and the Superstitious Many, is a dishonest and harmful strategy, because it means that when those we've counted as "good" start doing evil things, many will refuse to criticize them.  They're One Of Us, after all, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt, pick our battles -- and besides, they are at least not One of Them.  This is why I'm skeptical about the authenticity of the King quotation above: most of the time he knew better than this.

This led me to ruminate more on a quotation I've discussed before, from the first-century philosopher Epictetus: "If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation."  As I wrote before, the person who 'provokes' (who, for the slave-born Epictetus, was probably his master, wielding the rod) is also complicit in the provocation. and his or her responsibility should not be erased. But I agree that one should calculate one's response, if only for prudential reasons.  Questioning the extent to which I myself am complicit in the provocation doesn't mean that I don't recognize that it was meant as such; what I have to do is think of ways to do something about the power that the other person has over me, how to undermine and if possible remove it.

Richard Seymour wrote a good piece discussing suggestions that the Trump gang
is playing us all for suckers. They expected these protests and the judicial opposition. They are testing the ground, seeking out their allies and smoking out enemies, exhausting public opposition, exaggerating their objectives in order to beat a safe retreat. We, pawns in their little game, are giving them what they want by demonstrating and raising as much vocal opposition as we can.
Which, when you think about it, is very close to the way that quotation from Epictetus is used:  It's useless to fight back against oppression or even to resist it, because then you're "complicit" with the oppressor.

Seymour continues that the argument
makes an assumption of omniscience. You may well claim that sizeable demonstrations and judicial and legislative opposition were a predictable response to hastily imposed executive orders, introduced without any consultation with state actors, and without even providing them with the information they needed to actually implement the policy effectively. However, no one anticipated that three to four million would protest during the inauguration weekend, nor that there would be protests (in many cases illegal) at airports all over the country. To have foreseen all this would indeed be to experience a kind of omniscience, accessing a total reading of all the tendencies, subjective and objective, unfolding at breakneck pace now, in a vast, intricate and unusually unpredictable social order.
Somewhat ironically, the suggestion (I'm not sure it amounts to a claim yet) that Trump and his minions not only anticipated but plotted the Resistance brings back memories of the fantasies of Obama's devotees that their hero was playing eleven-dimensional chess with the opposition, and that the sequestration was a rope-a-dope that would trap and deliver a final knockout punch to the stupid GOP.   One might also note that Clinton and her minions thought it would be a good idea to support Trump for the Republican nomination at first, because they thought he would be easier to beat than Cruz, Rubio, or Bush.  We all know how well that worked!

But this scenario is a lot older than that.  Think of Oedipus, of whom it was foretold that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  His father had him exposed to try to avoid this fate, but he was found by shepherds and adopted by another king and queen.  When he learned of the prophecy as an adult, Oedipus fled, only to kill a stranger at a crossroads (who turned out to be his natural father) and to marry an older queen (who turned out to be his birth mother).  You can run, but the gods will get you in the end no matter what.  Of course there are no gods, but people still try to cast powerful mortals in the same role, as omniscient plotters you can't outfox.  Democrats and Republicans alike live in this fantasy world, as you can see.  As Seymour noted in an earlier post, "There has been non-stop chaos in the American state since Trump took office. This is partly, but not primarily, a matter of incompetence. There is no doubt that these moves could have been prepared for a lot better by the incoming Trump team."  But they weren't prepared for them; the Trump team are not omniscient -- thank whatever gods may be, because otherwise there would be no hope.

I like the protests that followed Trump's executive order barring entry to the US by people from select majority-Muslim states, and I like them better because unlike the women's marches and other demonstrations that followed Trump's Electoral College victory, they have a focus and a goal.  The protests are not mere "virtue-signaling" as one blogger pundit sneered -- that would better describe the previous demonstrations. They are also not the whole story, as the ACLU and other organizations fight the order in the courts, and citizens pressure their representatives in Congress.  As scary as the Trump gang are, they aren't omnipotent any more than they're omniscient.  But we must also think about what we want to replace them with: more Democratic retreads will just mark time until the next Republican strongman comes along.