A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Goodwill Towards ????--A Post for the Anchoress

The Anchoress and I had a rocky couple of days over on her comment pages. My annoyance got the better of me a couple of times and clouded my judgment about what I wrote in comments, for which I have apologized and do continue to apologize.

This morning she posted an entry entitled Is the left capable of extending Good Will toward anyone? From internal evidence in the post, I strongly suspect that it was at least colored by our mutual difficulties:

There are left-leaning people I know on and off the internet who - intelligent and basically nice as they might be - like to think of themselves as "enlightened" even as they insist upon living in a dark world on endless negativity. Everything is bad. Everything - oh, EVERYTHING - is the fault of George W. Bush. Everyone is stupid, except those with the same outlook.

So is the left capable of extending Good Will toward anyone? Well, Anchoress, I'm not really sure, any more than I was sure below that "the left" was or was not "hostile to democracy" as Reverend Sensing suggested.

I do know that I have considerable good will (with small letters) toward both you and Reverend Sensing, and I think neither of you stupid. Now maybe I'm part of "the left" and maybe I'm not. I'm certainly a left-leaning acquaintance of yours on the internet. I also have an account over at Daily Kos, though I don't publish diaries there, since I have a blog of my own. And, from internal evidence, I gather that the folks who post on Daily Kos are the rough-and-ready litmus test of "the left" for questions such as whether they have any good will or care for democracy.

Do the folks over on Daily Kos have any Good Will towards anyone? Don't really know. They do seem to blog overwhelmingly more about what they are annoyed with than anything else. And perhaps, if you yourself are not annoyed with those things, they might seem a little over the top. Do they really care for democracy? I think a fair-minded assessment would say they do. Perhaps they even care a little too much about it to keep an even temper in the contemporary world. I certainly care about them, have good will towards them, and would relieve the sufferings of their anger if I could.

Do I live in a dark world on endless negativity? Maybe. It's worth considering at least as a possibility. As a client of the Mental Health System, I can say from personal experience that the threshold of mental illness is something you cross in only one direction. It is a commonplace among the professionals in the System to speak of recovery from mental illness. Recovery is real, but most professionals have never been clients themselves, and I'm often not sure they fully understand that, in recovery, you never return to the same place you were before, and you do not resume the same persona that you had before.

Whether or not I live in a dark world now, I certainly have been through one, and no one who has been through it can maintain a lot of capacity to lie to themselves. So maybe I do live in a dark world on endless negativity. I'd rather not, of course. But the key question is: Is it the real world or not? And, anyone who has been across the same threshold I have, knows that this question is not just an abstract exercise of intellect, but is a haunting possibility of relapse into waking nightmare, whose shadow never really leaves you, no matter how much you "recover".

The only way I know to examine this question is to look at the evidence. And the only standard I know is to evaluate the evidence with as finely developed a sense of fact as you can muster. When I look at Daily Kos, I do see that most who post there are trying to do this about the world in which we live. Their capacity to interpret the evidence varies, like everyone's, and the development of an adequate sense of fact is a lifelong endeavor. But I see no reason to doubt that they do the best they can to "reality test" by such standards.

Perhaps Good Will (with capital letters) is impossible in a world where you cannot ignore inconvenient facts, and you cannot lie to yourself about the conclusions inconvenient facts lead you to. In any event, my world, dark as it is, is my world, and I know that, in my world, lying to yourself about inconvenient facts is a swift passage back into nightmare. If feeding on negativity keeps me from nightmare, then I'll have mine sunny side up with bottled hot sauce.

I doubt I'm "enlightened", but I am, at least for now, "recovered", and I will do anything I can to stay that way.

But, when I think about it, I know that neither negativity nor inconvenient facts are a staple in everybody's diet. Perhaps they are not a staple in most people's diet. And offering them where they are not wanted does easily turn you into a crashing bore.

This is certainly not something one can accuse the people of on Daily Kos. They keep their negativity in their own house where all the guests are entertained by it. Maybe we should all do so. But I'm really not sure that is a good idea in a democracy. Or at least is isn't, if you really care about democracy.

But maybe I'll try it for a while. After all, I might be wrong.


Blogger The Anchoress said...

Thanks for a very thoughtful response, Joe, and for your apology, which was (I hope you understood right away) quickly accepted.

I understand (very well) what you probably experienced re your mother's illness and the whole nursing home situation...but I think the way you went about discussing it, "I've seen old-age in America..." was the thing that made actually upset me even more than your other comment.

And I say "upset" rather than "angered" because it was just so relentlessly negative, so "Americabad" and it didn't need to be. To say "I have seen old-age..." would have conveyed everything you wanted to say, but it almost seems to me, sometimes, like you and others on the left can't help yourself - it's like you're set to "scorn" and you can't move the dial back. Buster's comment that old-age in France wasn't a particularly desirable thing was - in fact - a very astute point. In a world where Western citizens are living ever longer, the question of how we deal with the elderly is a world-wide concern, not merely one more rotten thing about America.

And yes, the portion of my post you highlighted was meant for you (and a few others) but it wasn't a point made in anger, rather it was made in puzzlement. Even as a former democrat, I'm simply puzzled at the unstoppable charge of negativity I am seeing from the left, and your "old age in America" remark was the thing that crystalized it. It was like: no matter what the issue, even when there is no reason to single out America for scorn, she MUST be singled out for scorn by the left.

And that's just wrong. And knee-jerk. And reactionary, too.

In your thinking about the post over at my place, you ruminated on the darkness that has touched your life, and the whole issue of "fact"...well...not to seem to be minimizing your own experience here, Joe, I have to gently say...many, many of us have suffered untold acquaintance with darkness. In my case, it was all childhood related and I'd rather not get into it, but the fact is...very few people get through life unscathed, and too many know all about the dark...but must that color how we receive every piece of information, and does that familiarity with what is dark and negative sometimes cause us to embrace such an attitude because it is - after all - what we KNOW?

I think the answer to the first question might be no and the answer to the second might be yes.

All I know is...and I can only speak for me...I've had my share of suffering, and I've been touched by the frost and the dark. And I know that when I was a Democrat and a liberal, it was partly due to conviction and partly simply...easy. In my own dark place, it was easy to attribute dark to the other side. It was easier for me to sign on with the "Reagan is a warmonger! He's a stupid cowboy puppet!" mindset, because after all...everything else was bad, too.

I've written before that watching the Clarence Thomas hearings was the turning point for me, the point where I had to stop and say, wait...something's not ringing right here, and I can't just fall in line and buy this. It's perhaps not surprising for me to remember that this different awareness came at a time when my prayerlife was also growing in a different - more open and trusting - direction.

You are a man of prayer. It's a different sort of prayer than mine, but prayer can't live and grow and flow if the pray-er is not open to where it can go...and that requires a little bit of optimisim, I think. A little bit of faith that good outweighs bad...but how can you prayerfully believe that, when EVERYTHING is bad?

That's the thing that puzzles me...and it's not even specifically about you. It's more about a mindset. I'm still trying to understand it all! :-) Hope you understand ME, and are not offended by what I've written. I certainly didn't write it to offend...

7:53 PM  

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