Hitchhiking to Oaxaca

One problem with hitchhiking. In a metro area of 3 million (in this case, Puebla) without subways, you’re going to lose the first couple of hours trying to get to a decent spot beyond the edge of the city.

I was lucky enough to get a ride to the main (and quite hectic) bus station. After several well-intended misdirections, I found the gate for a bus to a (presumably) good spot on the road to Oaxaca. I bought my ticket. “The bus leaves in 50 minutes,” said the ticket guy. I didn’t want to lose another hour, so I walked out to the buses and asked a few drivers from the same company. “Leaving right now,” said one, and I boarded. I find this rather typical in Mexico. Everyone is incredibly kind and eager to help, but it is difficult to help with much clarity because the whole world is winging it. It ain’t Germany (though I love both equally – and both are great for hitchhiking).

The bus dropped me right at the toll booth of Hwy 150D. The toll takers were busy, so I just walked through the gates. Like everyone else. Yes, inside the toll booth of what we (in the US) would call a “controlled-access highway,” there is a mini human ecosystem on the shoulder: tables set up selling tacos and jugos, guys with flags offering to change tires, hitchhikers (me), people walking around selling M&Ms, toll workers on break, and some people just hanging out.

It took me 5 minutes to get set up, getting my highway info out so I could stuff my daypack into my backpack, get my OAX sign ready, stake out a spot at a safe distance from the vendors and such. Lots of big trucks coming through in the right lane, making it difficult. But in just 15 minutes, someone risks life and limb to cut through the trucks. A fiftyish couple, Lalo and Erika, heading from Xalapa to … yes, to Oaxaca. One ride. Hitchhiking is too easy in Mexico. Going through Guanajuato state and then here, I have never waited longer that 20 minutes for a ride, the people on the side of the road were all helpful (none of the hawk-eyed judgement leveled at hitchhikers in the US), and my drivers all relaxed and friendly, including couples more often than not (as opposed to the US, where it’s almost all single, blue-collar men that pick you up).

At Tehuacán, we turn right and go into the mountains. Lalo and Erika speak almost no English, for which I am grateful. My hitchhiking immersion strategy is working. The flora changes dramatically from agave and organ pipe cactus to big trees. Then we slope out into white sandy, rocky terrain dotted with individual trees standing dark and green in relief. Then red clay terrain. Then fully green mountains again. We are getting near Oaxaca.

“Watch out for the negra,” says Erika. “The yellow mole and the red one, the one they call ‘coloradito,’ are great. But the negra, the negra is spicy. Really spicy.”

I doubt anyone can beat the dark, chocolaty mole I had in a middle-aged woman’s home in Puebla, but since I’ve been in Mexico, half the people have told me that Puebla has the best food and half say Oaxaca. I would find the negra not spicy at all, but in any event, I took Erika’s comment under advisement.

(One final note about the people of Oaxaca — and my new friends there can reply as needed. They are among the nicest, friendliest, most relaxed people I’ve met, but put them behind the wheel of a car and it’s like their hair is on fire. Visitors beware when crossing those streets!)

PUEBLA

       

ON THE ROAD

 

OAXACA

      

     

(Click images below for links)

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Beach scene from Hippies

A beach scene from Hippies

Summary of novel: In this Age of Aquarius epic, a group of hippies moving through the sights, sounds, and ideals of the 1960s counterculture discover an LSD-spinoff that triggers past life regressions and leads to a dramatic climax.

x x x

As Ziggy ambled naked toward the water, Jazmine thought there was a hint of Apollo in his stride. “But a little skinny,” she added in her mental narrative, smiling to herself, as she watched Ziggy plunge. She’d never had a guy best friend till Ziggy, someone she could love with all the doors and windows open. But not sexually. Maybe that was her problem. She had to separate sex and love, as if love were pure and sex were dirty. Like she was defending something inside but she didn’t know what it was that was being defended.

“You look hot!”

Jazmine started out of her reverie to see a lanky teen boy with black frame glasses hanging over her.

“Thanks.” The teen boy could see she was nervous.

“No, I mean sweating hot. I’m not hitting on you, I swear.” He grinned. “We got some beers over by the Plymouth.”

“No Thanks.”

Zig was walking up, squeezing water out of his long hair.

“Hey, man,” said the kid, “I was telling your old lady we have some beers over by the Plymouth.”

“Thanks. We’re good.”

“Y’all hear about the cops out here yesterday?”

“Never seen the cops out here before,” said Zig. Jaz kept sunbathing in her own mental space, trying to put closure on her thoughts.

“Yeah, cops took my friend’s weed and sent him packing.”

Zig commiserated: “Shame, man. Cops getting into everything.”

“Hey, I know you,” said the kid. He scratched his big toe in the sand, as if he were trying to draw a secret symbol. Then he looked up and straight at Ziggy.

“I know where I seen y’all before. Y’all part of Ragman’s army,” he said, grinning a little more cautiously.

Ziggy laughed. “If we’re the army, I feel sorry for whoever we’re defending.”

“Don’t laugh, man,” said the kid. Weird, Ziggy thought. That’s the second time somebody told him that today.

“Be careful around Rag,” continued the kid.

“Rag’s cool,” said Zig. The kid had touched on a point he felt strongly about. “Rag’s the coolest guy I ever met.” The kid fidgeted.

“Ever,” Zig repeated, letting the kid know that this was not negotiable.

“I know, man,” said the kid. “But be careful.” Now he was nervous, whispery. He looked over at a small group standing across the beach by a palm tree.

“That’s the problem,” he hissed, under his breath. “Ragman’s the one thing the cops can’t stand. An idealist in the drug scene. You think they give a shit about speed and heroin dealers? Shit, the cops are dealing half the drugs in this town. And cocaine and downers? The Man loves that shit. Speed to keep people working; downers to keep’m tame. What the cops hate is LSD. And maybe pot. And kids with the vision to change things. Fuck things up. And it ain’t only the cops.”

The more the kid hissed and whispered, the more Zig became intrigued.

“What do you mean, it ain’t only the cops?” Zig asked.

“Those fucking dealers coming in with the heroin and the coke. They just want money and zombies. They’d get rid of Ragman faster than the cops. Yeah, they got their fucking ways too.” He rolled his foot along the sand, smoothing over forever whatever imaginary symbol he had started. “Their own fucking ways, man.”

“Why are you telling us this?” asked Zig.

“I don’t know. I like Ragman. I admire the guy. And your chick there looks cool.” He thought for a second. Someone from the group by the palm tree gestured to the kid. “And because I’m a fucking idiot,” the kid said, and he walked briskly off.

x x x

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Making colorblind cool again (4 views)

In today’s discourse on race, charged terms like “colorblind” typically elicit a knee-jerk reaction unmediated by critical thinking. Indeed, a call to critical thinking is itself often considered de facto allegiance to white supremacy. For the sake of those who would write me off in knee-jerk fashion, I intend to analyze the meaning and uses of “colorblind” with an eye open to both the good and bad implications, so — trigger warning — write me off now. For others, I recommend you read through, pick and choose what you agree or disagree with based on your own critical thinking and not on what your friends or teachers want you to think, and then feel free to chime in with a comment.

The term attained its modern relevance in the 1960s (Civil Rights and hippies) era, so I will stake out four viewpoints relative to that baseline (and thus relevant to pushing the dialectic forward):

  1. 1960s conservative
  2. 1960s progressive
  3. Today’s conservative
  4. Today’s progressive

Note: The two 1960s-based angles are not obsolete, as both still have some currency and both could experience future surges – although this is likelier for 1960s progressive ideas, which are more resilient than 1960s conservative ideas – but for our purposes the tags mean not obsolete but merely indicate a position grounded in ideas that reached critical mass in the 60s.  

1960s conservatives on colorblindness

1960s conservatives on race rejected the colorblind approach. They were the segregationists fighting against Civil Rights. They thought whites and blacks were fundamentally different, and we need to recognize those fundamental differences. Thus, their slogan was “separate but equal” cultures, schools, neighborhoods, etc.

1960s progressives on colorblindness

1960s progressives from Civil Rights to hippies initiated the modern call for colorblindness. The idea was that legal structures should be immediately made colorblind (no legal segregation, colorblind enforcement of laws, of rights, etc.), and we should work toward (since social mores cannot be changed as immediately as written laws) colorblindness in other social formations, so people can date and marry and live with whom they want without limitations of color, etc. The push was to judge people always and everywhere not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Today’s conservatives on colorblindness

In the wake of the 1960s, racism, although still practiced, rapidly became ideologically taboo. No one, especially no one in public life, wanted to be tagged as a racist. Even supporters of racist policies would often begin with, “I’m not a racist, but….” Thus, it is no surprise that conservatives gradually came on board with Martin Luther King, who is now idolized across the political spectrum. Today’s conservatives by and large do not deny the founding truth that all are created equal, regardless of color, and do not deny racial equality as a valid goal. But they tend to assume that, since equal rights are codified in law, the goal has been reached. Thus, their colorblindness places them a step ahead of the 1960s conservatives, but it also leaves them refusing to acknowledge historical disparities based on race that are very much still with us.

Today’s progressives on colorblindness

Progressives today are most vociferous in rejecting colorblindness, and they include phrases like “I don’t see color when I meet people” as racist microaggressions in written standards at many universities. The advantage of this position is it highlights the continuing inequities experienced by blacks. A disadvantage is that it reifies race into a fixed category with solid walls around it. Race becomes the essential feature of identity. If you are black, you are different than non-blacks. Black culture and black identity are in effect hermetically sealed, one type of experience inside the bubble and another outside. Whites cannot know what it feels like to be black, and thus should not teach or create artworks about black history, adopt cultural trends that begin in black culture, etc.

Summary and recommendations

The 1960s conservative position I dismiss out of hand. I assume that none of my readers share the orientation of those segregationists fighting against Civil Rights.

Today’s conservatives score well in theory for advocating equality for all, but fare less well in practice, as their disregard for continuing disparities leaves their position untenable for me.

The dispute between 1960s and today’s progressives is more interesting to me. Today’s progressives have the advantage over either conservative group in that they acknowledge continuing disparities to be addressed. But they fare poorly in that they reify black and white experience, judge people accordingly, and leave no easy road toward harmony. If white and black experiences are fundamentally different, there is little hope of mutual empathy and heart-to-heart connection and the kind of integration that 1960s Civil Rights advocates had envisioned as the path to a more ideal society.

The 1960s progressive vision has some key advantages in this regard. First, they are more in line with the historical struggle for equality. From Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King and James Baldwin, the dominant post-Enlightenment theme of racial struggle has been shared humanness. We need to recognize that “they” love their children, they laugh and cry, they struggle with all the same things “we” struggle with. Although racial identity is a relevant layer of identity – sometimes an intensely relevant layer – it is the recognition of our shared humanness that is the best antidote to the toxins of prejudice and distrust across racial lines. The fallacy of today’s progressives is that they see racial identity not as a supplement to, but as a substitute for, shared humanness. In contrast, the shared humanness line of reasoning, with racial, gender, etc., layers of identity superadded, which was embraced by 1960s progressives as well as their antecessors, seems intuitively correct. The only risk is that an overemphasis on shared humanness might cause one to overlook persistent race-based inequities. I believe this is what drives today’s progressives’ distrust of shared humanness. But they throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there is that risk, and per my sketch above, I find today’s conservatives in the aggregate succumb to that risk. But 1960s progressives had always recognized racial disparities and the unique experience brought to the table by different racial backgrounds. They just thought that the best way to combat inequities was not to put battle lines and walls between races (as today’s progressives arguably do) but to recognize our shared humanness and join together, black and white, male and female, gay and straight, to address continuing inequities, knowing that we CAN see into each other’s hearts across racial lines, we can join together as brothers and sisters.

The second advantage of the 1960s vision, then, is practical applicability. Joining together across racial lines, in a spirit of mutual celebration, and not in a spirit of shaming or leveraging against one another, will get you more cross-cultural alliance, more spirit, and more snowballing social power than the more divisive (indeed one could say the more segregationist) approach of drawing lines between races and having each guard its own turf against exploitation.

The third and final advantage is the endgame vision. I do believe three of my four groups (excluding the 1960s segregationists) would accept a long-term ideal of a society that is open, uninhibited, comfortable with diversity, and rich in human contact. Of the four, though, the 1960s progressive vision is best poised to get us there. Today’s conservative vision has the impediment of failing to acknowledge continuing race-based inequity. Today’s progressive vision has the impediment of reifying (one might even say fetishizing) race, building walls instead of bridges between races, encouraging turf wars and blocking off porosity between races. The 1960s progressive, on the other hand, was unreservedly integrationist in a way that must horrify today’s conservatives and progressives alike. Indeed, the 1960s progressive might favor every form of cultural appropriation in every direction. Break down all the walls, everyone share everyone else’s stuff, willy-nilly, regardless of race or gender, in a frenzy of mutual celebration across all demographic lines. It is colorblind not because it ignores race-based cultural contributions or race-based disparities. It is colorblind because, in a concerted effort to address those disparities, it refuses to judge brother and sister allies based on race, it refuses to say that I cannot know your heart inside and out, and you know mine, because of our different skin color. It is a vision much more radical than any variant we see today coming out of the self-preserving corridors of Left/Right think tanks and university critical race theory departments – more radical than any of these and probably much better suited to grease the flow toward that shared long-term social ideal.

We need to make 1960s colorblindness cool again.

x x x

Table: Strengths (+) and weaknesses (-) of colorblind orientation per ideological grouping

  Reject judgments or battle lines based on race Acknowledge continuing racial disparity
1960s Conservative
1960s Progressive + +
Today’s Conservative +
Today’s Progressive +

x x x

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The hippies have a quiet moment

The passage below captures a quiet moment early in the novel (circa 1969) for our hippies (click images for links).

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(4.4 out of 5 stars in 19 Amazon reviews so far)

“That’s really good,” said Pepper, and she looked back up at the sky.

The others ate in silence, enjoying the crickets, the bird chatter of dusk, and the occasional sound of a VW bug torqueing around the potholes on St. Roch Street. Ragman bussed the plates and refilled the wine.

“That’s why I never did LSD after that first time with Gina and Tex,” Pepper continued, as if there were no pause. “It was cool at first but then the long agony of coming down. I remember driving across the 24-mile bridge at night and seeing monsters coming out of the water with each turn of the waves, over and over in a hellish rhythm. And then I felt all the organs inside my body splitting open. I could see them and feel them tearing. Fuck that.”

Rag was lighting two tiki torches at the ends of the table.

“What the hell were you doing driving while tripping?” he asked.

“I wasn’t driving. Tex was.”

“Oh, that makes it all better,” joked Zig. “TEX was driving while tripping.” They chuckled at the reckless absurdity of it all, knowing that at least this time all turned out safe.

“But listen,” Jazmine said, thinking now of the tan acid from Ragman’s hideaway closet lab. “You could even do this stuff, Pepper. There is no long, dark coming down part.”

Rag fired up a joint. The match momentarily lit up his face. The hazel eyes gleamed, the cheekbones more prominent as they tapered down to the point of the light brown beard. He looked for a moment like one of the plastic devil heads that come from claw machines. He inhaled hard on the joint and then passed it to Zig, who sat on the bench next to him across from Pepper and Jaz. As Rag momentarily held the pot in his lungs, Jazmine could see a note of concentration in his face.

“What are you thinking, Rag?” she asked quietly.

Rag was equally quiet as he spoke: “This shit could change everything.”

Zig took his hit and passed the joint to Jazmine. The earthy sweet smell of marijuana mixed with the citronella fuel of the tiki torches and wrapped the four faces at the table into their own world. Jazmine, with her dark eyes and ivory glow, fiery Pepper with the ice blue eyes, Zig with his rectangular face framed by long curling black locks, and Ragman: faces close together, dimly lit against the darkening sky, all feeling the wrap and pull of pot-forged kinship, but the attention was on Ragman.

“You ever heard of William Blake?” Jaz suddenly asked. “Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, the visionary poems?”

“I like the concept,” Rag said.

“I like the images,” Jaz smiled.

“I like the conversation,” Ziggy threw in roguishly.

“Well, kumbaya, motherfuckers, I’d like a hit off that joint,” said Pepper, breaking more fully the gravity of the scene. Now everything was light again. The focus on Ragman had shifted.

xxx

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“Stay in your lane” vs. Wimsatt and Beardsley

A variation of the “intentional fallacy” has found fertile soil in academia and the body politic.

W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley published their treatise on the intentional fallacy in 1946, in the heyday of formalist literary criticism. The gist of the piece was that much criticism misses the point by considering the author’s intention as the standard of a poem’s meaning. It is nothing of the sort. The fallacy, as Wimsatt and Beardsley put it, is a “confusion between the poem and its origins.” When we study a poem, we have access to the poem but not to the private meaning that may have been inside the author’s head. Indeed, it is impossible to determine the intention of a poem, and authors themselves often have trouble identifying the intention of their own poem. Moreover, there is clearly more to any work than the author could have intended. We now have the tools to analyze, e.g., gender relations of power in Shakespeare that he could not have intended. No one can deny that transactions of power between genders take place in Shakespeare’s plays, and that studying them can yield fascinating results, but all of this takes place outside the scope of Shakespeare’s intention. One could even argue that the unintended meanings in a literary work often have more to tell us than the intended ones. The bottom line is that we have to look at the work closely and judge it on its own merits, not on some unverifiable (and invariably reductive) conjecture about the poet’s intention.

Apply that to today’s political discourse, especially on matters of cultural identity. With increasing frequency, it seems, arguments are judged not by their own objective merits but by whether they were proposed by a white, black, male, gay, trans, etc., person. In order to get a fair hearing, those who would opine on cultural identity seem endlessly compelled to open with, “As a gay/black/female/white/trans/etc.,” as if credibility lay more in the speaker’s birth traits than in the quality of the argument. And indeed they may be right, insofar as demographic traits of the speaker do seem to be where the onus of credibility lies for much of today’s academic and political audience. It is a version of “intentional fallacy” we might call the “identarian fallacy,” wherein we judge a work by the author’s demographic identity rather than by its standalone merits. One’s race or gender can preclude one, as a widespread mindset holds, from making valid claims. “You cannot understand this issue because you are male/white/straight/etc.”; “you cannot speak about this issue because you are not black/female/queer/etc.” In other words, “Stay in Your Lane.”

I can understand that some demographic groups may want a leg up in the public sphere from which they were long excluded, but perhaps proscribing access to certain discussions based on race and gender is not the way to go. Perhaps we need a recapitulation of Wimsatt and Beardsley. The validity of an argument, the quality of a work of art, should be judged on the merits of the artifact itself, not on some unverifiable (and invariably reductive) conjecture about the speaker’s race or gender. Everyone should be allowed to weigh in on every discussion and the product be judged on its logical or aesthetic soundness with no regard whatsoever to the identity of speaker. If someone proves that cigarettes cause cancer, and is later discovered to be a closet smoker, does that make her research less valid? No, the merits of the argument itself are what counts, as it should be with all manner of public discourse. Let us not fall back into the fallacy of confusing the validity of an argument with the origin of an argument.

The ultimate irony is that those who exalt the identarian fallacy and the correlative “stay in your lane” policy fancy themselves as progressives, indeed as leftist radicals. Probe even to minimal depth and it is easy to see that “stay in your lane” is the most anti-liberal, arch-conservative slogan ever produced by faux-progressives. A society where everyone stays in their inherited lanes is the epitome of a conservative society.

For a truly radical vision, one that would shake off the calcified build-up of the Establishment, you need to look back to the 1960s. Back then, people were being told to stay in their lane, but the preferred phrase was “separate but equal,” and it was the banner cry of Bull Connor segregationists. Martin Luther King and then the hippies combated this ideology with their own ideology, which basically said that you should never stay in your lane and never encourage others to do so. We are all sharing all the lanes from now on. We are all in this together. Never vilify anyone on the grounds of race or gender. Any us vs. them lines in the 1960s progressive vision were based on ideology, not on race or gender. “Stay in your lane” progressives today are no better than the “separate but equal” conservatives of the 60s. Shut the devil out at the front door (Bull Connor) and he comes in at the back (identity politics).

So, too, forget today’s meme about cultural appropriation, which, far from radical, reasserts the capitalist cornerstone of private property into the zone of cultural production. The 60s ideology was culturally socialist and radically integrationist in a way that must horrify today’s conservatives and progressives alike. The 60s ideology favored every form of cultural appropriation in every direction. Full steam ahead with every kind of cross-pollination in arts and ideas. Break the back of private property on the cultural level. Everybody play with everybody else’s stuff. Put yourself in everybody else’s shoes. Cross lines as often as you can. Tear down the walls and celebrate each other across those lines, no shaming, no judgment based on race or gender, just looking toward the future hand in hand. Never trust any ideology (Left or Right) that says we need to respect walls of separation. Today’s faux progressives, on the other hand, emphasize each demographic guarding its turf from appropriation. They emphasize the walls between us and are skeptical of the bridges. Which do you think is the truly radical vision that points into the future toward a harmonious multicultural society, comfortable with diversity, free from shame, in which we all work together and celebrate our differences as well as our shared humanness?

But here come Wimsatt and Beardsley for the final round of our competition: “Stay in your lane” vs. Wimsatt and Beardsley. On the one hand, “Team Stay in Your Lane” has some righteous outrage to express at being long excluded from power and seeks redress by reinforcing lanes for each demographic and setting demographic preconditions for exercising one’s voice. On the other hand, “Team Wimsatt and Beardsley,” with an assist from the hippies, suggest that you will get a better long-term result if you forget about reinforcing the walls around your identity and tear down all the walls in a festive frenzy and usher in the Age of Aquarius. There will still be arguments in that great age, but you will have to judge them on their own merits, not on any “lane” or identity markers assigned to the speaker. This means you will have to lay off the generalizations about, indeed the fetishization of, demographic groups, and judge people as individuals. Demographic backgrounds will still exist, but cultivate this mindset and the walls will slowly crumble, leaving us to celebrate each other across demographic lines where the walls once stood.

As in a previous entry in this fine blog, which pitted the ancients against the moderns in true Augustan style, the laurel wreath goes to the ancients, Wimsatt and Beardsley, for what their “intentional fallacy” can teach us today.

         xxx

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Buckling and curling in the US political spectrum

Sometimes I think my liberal friends are wrong when they say that the Right has moved further right in recent years. Maybe they are correct, but here’s another way of looking at it. If you think of the spectrum as two poles with a center point, I’ll agree that the center has shifted right since the emergence of Fox news and talk radio, but the right ideological pole, with its emphasis on deregulation and privatization, lower taxes, a distrust of group-based rights, etc., has held firm. This means the right half of the spectrum has been compressed, bunching up and causing internal tensions. To keep to the metaphor, one could say that the right half of the spectrum has constricted and buckled, with new subgroups like the Tea Party and the Alt-Right buckling up from the base like tectonic plates. I propose, for the sake of argument, that we consider these groups not as philosophically more conservative, but rather as a sublimated version of the base. Sure, they push further right on some issues, like immigration, but for the most part they are not more right-wing but just a less grounded (historically, factually and psychologically) version of the conservative base: the idiot version of birthers and Obamacare death panels.

Although this analysis has seemed to take a partisan turn, the Left fares not much better. It might be that those who think the Left has moved further left may be wrong. Yes, they have become more strident, more unwilling to compromise, more given to vitriolic name-calling of their conservative counterparts, but that merely indicates a change in tone, not a philosophical move to the left. So has the Left buckled also? Not exactly. Has it stretched further left? I don’t think so. I think the problem on the left is that it is “curling” back to the right. The “true north” of the left-wing vision dates to the 1960s Civil Rights and hippie movements. The left-wing goal then was to liberate people from all conventional restraints on what to say and think, on living arrangements and paths to self-actualization. The goal was to celebrate our sexuality and our differences without denying our shared humanness, to see each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of race or demographics. We were fellow human beings, first and foremost, and it was precisely the vantage of that shared humanness that brought into focus the absurdity of racism, sexism, and other social injustices.

But now the curling. The Left’s new tendency to police sexuality (a new puritanism ever watchful to prove, e.g., that male desire and heterosexuality are intrinsically exploitative), to police dissent, to set us-vs-them identity-based triggers that shame and alienate white from black, male from female, for short-term political gain. In the New Left’s view, it seems that viewing each other as brothers and sisters regardless of race and gender is a “microaggression,” bridges are replaced by walls and defending one’s turf against “cultural appropriation,” the post-60s battle lines with a rainbow coalition of progressives resisting a status quo Establishment are replaced by demographic battle lines between white and black, male and female, and all of the other reified categories of the intersectional encyclopedia. In these ways – the cultural policing, the revivified segregation of demographic groups into insulated interest groups, the authoritarian resistance to dialogue and free expression – the Left has curled back toward the “Right” as it was defined on a 1960s spectrum.

So my contrarian conclusion to my friends at both ends is that the spectrum has not widened but narrowed, with the Right buckling up and the Left curling back. Sure, there are still policy differences – on immigration, health care, environmental regulation – and, to be clear, I favor the liberals on these issues – but the shorter the horizontal space of the spectrum becomes, the more ad hominem and the more vicious the personal attacks on those who disagree. And this is the state of things today. The only hope, if there is a hope, is for some new force to emerge outside of today’s left-right spectrum, a unifying voice that can connect with the idea that we are all in this together, and with a limited amount of time to address issues of environmental destruction and inequality and tribalism before the tipping point. There were such inspirational voices in the past, so perhaps it can be done again, but not from within the political spectrum as we now know it.

Links:

Obama’s Legacy Has Already Been Destroyed, Andrew Sullivan, New Yorker (5/18/18)

We need a PC that includes White People, John McWhorter, CNN Opinion (11/25/16)

1960s vs Post-1980s Liberals

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A white boy speaks of race

Yes, I know, political correctness maintains that white people have no title to an opinion on the subject today, but I’ve never been much for following rules – not back when conservatives were the cultural police and not now with liberals as the cultural police. So what the hell, here’s my view. It is not intended as the final word on the subject, not even my final word, as there’s a lot to hear before fixing my position too firmly. It is one voice among many, but it is a heartfelt one, and any tricky issue is navigated best when the widest range of voices, including those we disagree with, are welcome at the table.

As a white man, I feel sorry for my black brothers and sisters. Not only because they have suffered so deeply from historical conditions whose effects continue today, but also because the liberal agenda, which was “liberating” at the time of the Civil Rights/hippie 60s, has now become a constraining force. Conservatives, of course, are no help whatsoever. But liberals used to offer, at least in the vision, a way out. Now the liberal agenda, although split between residual Enlightenment liberals and emergent identity politics liberals, seems to have given the microphone to the latter. And the latter seem to hold that if you are black, every aspect of your identity must be defined by racism. You cannot speak, especially if you are a public figure, of any interactions with mainstream culture or white people without decrying racism as a driving part of the interaction. Forget about the collaboration, the good times, the connections that transcended race or racism.

Indeed, many of my younger liberal friends are probably already offended by the fact that I opened with a reference to “my black brothers and sisters.” That old liberal vision that says we are all in this together, brothers and sisters, regardless of race or demographics, that says we should measure each other by the content of our character and not the color of our skin, is now anathema to liberals. Where liberals once fought to break down the walls between races, liberals now insist upon those very walls. For white people to try to identify with blacks as brothers and sisters is considered presumptuous, overreaching, an affront to the black experience. There is a certain logic to this position but it gives us no way forward toward a harmonious multicultural society. When activists demand that the Whitney Museum “remove and destroy” Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till solely because it was done by a white artist; when universities demand that students treat each other not as fellow human beings but as instances of this or that race (“I don’t see race when I meet people” is widely listed as a microaggression); at this point, liberalism becomes a force that hardens the walls between races and blocks any collective path forward.

Few people at any point in the political spectrum deny that racism exists. But whereas racism was once considered a cancer to be removed from the body politic, liberals now conflate it with the body politic itself, and the treatment seems to involve killing the patient to get at the cancer. I believe this is a mistake. The truth is that many people, black and white, have been fighting against racism for a long time; that many people, black and white, still harbor race-based judgments against others; that blacks have suffered disproportionately because of their race; and that the solution is not and will never be to sharpen the line between white and black with the “us versus them” approach favored by conservatives in the 1960s and now favored by liberals. Better to search out and magnify the good in one another, not to search out and magnify the bad. What you focus on determines the fruit you bring forth.

(To my younger liberal friends [black or white]: Before you write me off, please note that beneath all the needless belligerence manufactured by today’s political players, there’s actually a lot we agree on and can work on together.)