Wednesday, January 12, 2011

J'accuse

I've thought that the masterminds of the right were being intentionally blind.  They are starting to behave so stupidly that I'm starting to wonder if it's not just a ruse.  I still think they know what they're doing, but we'll see.

Since they are masters of the metaphor, we'll begin with a metaphor.

When the Montague and Capulet boys decided to play at their vendette, they didn't dream of killing Mercutio.  Duels rarely end in death (go read your Tolstoy, kids).  It's just games boys play in order to play at being men.
No one wanted funny Mercutio, who wasn't even really a Montague, to die.  Still, when he slipped onto Tybalt's blade, he died, and he died because they played at vendette.

Yes, those Montagues and Capulets were both to blame, it's true.  Still, Tybalt bears a little more responsibility, don't you think?

Actually, I don't care much about blame, but I do care a lot about responsibility.  I've been maintaining ad nauseam that I don't care about causation.  Causation is a straw man that the right wing is gleeful to latch on to, so they can avoid the question of responsibility.

No one wanted Mercutio to die.  Not Romeo, who'd leaped in to stop the fighting, not the Capulets who stood by and watched Tybalt and him fight, certainly not the Montague boys who were cheering him on in their little game, but not even Tybalt, the elegant cat, who knew how to fight a duel, but wasn't interested in a street brawl.

Still, his death was totally consistent with the game that they all were playing.

Tybalt didn't mean to kill him. He'd just been pretending.

But, I hear you object, Sarah didn't kill anybody (except some wolves, but c'mon!)  Glenn didn't kill anybody (nor will he unless you are one of the zombies who comes for his gold in the apocalypse he warns us of daily).  Sure they used violent metaphors.  But so did the other side (maybe not as many, maybe not as cleverly,maybe without the wide, wild-eyed conviction but still..)  And, anyway, they were just playing.

I've been attacked left and right (well, mostly right) for being outraged at the Tea Party, for having the gall to think the political assassination, the act of terrorism, we witnessed on Saturday, should serve as a wake-up call for us all.  This is cheap political opportunism, I've been told.  This isn't a game.  And anyway, I lose points for breaking character, for playing the outrage card when I was supposed to play the card of grieving solidarity.

Whether it'll be a wake-up call for the Tea Party (and I use this term to refer to the amorphous constellation of hate that's taken over the Republican party) whether it'll be a wake-up call for them, I don't know.  I very much doubt it.  I do hope it'll serve as a wake-up call to regular Republicans and conservatives who finally realize that they don't share the Tea Party's violent, apocalyptic and nihilistic world.  I'm waiting for them to prove my tasteless joke in the previous post wrong.  I fear I'll have to wait quite a while.  I fear they're more committed to what they think they are supposed to believe than they to their own human sensibilities, to their sense of human dignity.  I don't know whether it'll serve as a wake-up call for moderates and liberals.  What I've mostly heard from the left is shock, and outrage, the sounds of slowly waking up.  But the Tea Party pundits tell me it's more of the same, more of the old, tired game.  And as masters of the game, I shouldn't discount what they say.

They know what they're doing with their words.  Except when the dagger slips.

I hear what you're saying --- it wasn't even their dagger!  I hear you; I know.  I'm sorry.  I'm bad with metaphors.  I've always thought metaphors work through mechanisms other than causation, more through, for example contiguity, the principle that when two things touch one another, move in the same direction, share goals and tropes, do time together, they come to share the same identity.

"Is this a dagger I see before me, it's handle towards my hand?  Come, let me clutch thee."

Ah, Macbeth, you shy, weak fool.  You can't quite grab it can you even when it's proffered you, and when you do, you back off, you wimp out, you fucking pussy.

You force your wife to unsex herself.  She knows what she's doing.  She knows whether the dagger is proffered you or you wield it yourself, it's the same.  It's the principle of contiguity, and either way it yields power.

And yes, your desires and dreams can bathe you in blood.

Tybalt weakens, feels remorse, and lets himself die in the game of vendetta he's playing, which Romeo briefly takes up again when he forgets himself or that he loves Juliette (when you're young, forgetting you must love Juliette might be the same as forgetting yourself).

But I forgot, I'm talking in metaphors, which have no relationship to the truth.  Not even when those metaphors come true.

We said those things but we didn't mean them.

Didn't you?

If you didn't mean them then, then why don't you repudiate them now?  Aren't you so lucky you've had this test run, that you've seen what the America you dreamed about would look like if people actually listened to you?

You are absolutely right.  Jared Loughner was crazy before you ever met him, before any of us ever met him.  It's not your fault he happened to do what you said.  When he does it, that's an action.  When you say it, those are just words.  And words are weightless and meaningless.

This is proven by the fact that he didn't act on your words.  He was doing something else, his own thing, which just so happened to match what your words dreamed.

But that's not what our words meant!  Or anyway, we didn't mean the ones that sounded like what he did; we must not have meant that.

Then why not denounce them?

After Ft. Hood, after 9/11, reasonable Muslims could say --- these mad acts have nothing to do with what we value, what we espouse, what we believe.  There is no connection between what they did and what we say.  They didn't have to say "it's just a metaphor," because there was no metaphor there.  Yes, we denounce radical Islam, which is why we've never said things that make it sound like we espouse it.

When James Lee went on an eco-terrorism rampage, environmentalists on the left could say --- that has no connection with the environmentalism we espouse.  There's no contiguity.  The America of his paranoid fantasy has no relationship to our reality.  We reject eco-terrorism, which is why we don't pretend to embrace it.

You'd have to be pretty clever to be able to say --- oh no, we don't reject anything because we didn't do it.  Sure, it looks exactly like what we've dreamed of.  Yeah, it was our dream.  Oh, it was horrifying.  No, we won't renounce our dreams.

For the record, I denounce violence on the left and right. I reject violence and I reject demands for violence.  I'm not an absolute pacifist; I accept that there are times violence is necessary, but I think this is only to prevent more violence.  And I think there's always a strong prima facie case against all violence.  I personally reject the more violent fringes of the left (which are frankly far more tiny and far more marginal than their right-wing counterparts), and I've never claimed I didn't.  If it turned out that I embraced a form of violence that entailed consequences I didn't' want, I hope I'd have the moral courage to reject my earlier stance.

It's difficult for me to understand what's so controversial about this.  Here's a good heuristic rule:  if someone refuses to denounce something that seems totally consistent with what they espouse, if they instead deflect blame and ask why they ought to denounce it, if they keep on acting the same way, pretending nothing has changed, keep the rhetoric consistent, maybe it's because they don't actually have a problem with it.

We didn't do it!

Well, why not? You said you wanted to.

But that crazy beat us to it!

Don't worry.  You'll still reap the benefits of what he did.  You already have, Lady Macbeth.

No, I don't accuse Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck or any of the other Teabaggers of killing 9 innocent people, of murdering an innocent nine year old girl.

But I do accuse them of dreaming about it.  I accuse them of considering this an acceptable price to pay for their own dreams of power, their own paranoid fantasies of glory.

I do not accuse them for actions that they did not commit.

But I do accuse them for their words, and for their thoughts.

We live in a free country.  We have free speech, ostensibly, no matter how much the forces of violence try to muzzle their critics.  We have free thought, ostensibly, though we rarely choose to use it.

We are still morally responsible for what we say and what we dream.  Taking that responsibility --- it's not something I or anyone can force you to do.  Even if I wanted to use violence against you, it wouldn't do any good.  Violence doesn't speak with  a moral vocabulary.

But I can, and will use that moral vocabulary to demand that you take responsibility for your words.  And no matter how much you conflate those words with your own words of violence, with the little games you play so cleverly, I won't back down.

Here's what I will continue to say:

If we find our dreams coming true, if we say something in play and it really happens, if the thing that we said we wanted horrifies us, if our dream turns out to be a nightmare, then we have a responsibility to wake up.

If the Tea Party and their yea-sayers and toadies are more concerned with their own victimhood then their responsibility, maybe it's not because they are too stupid to wake up.  Maybe it's because they are already wide-awake.  They see in daylight the dream that they've held in their hearts.  They see the world as a violent place.  They say "let there be violence."  And, lo, there is violence.  They are outraged that you demand they pretend not to rejoice. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

They didn't cause it, no, not yet, but they have already dreamed it for a long time.

I can't stop them from spreading their lies, for pretending that they don't know what a metaphor is.  But I can wake up, and tell them to stop playing with death.  That is what I am committing to.

And you can too.

5 comments:

Laura said...

Well said, Ideas Man. Well said.

Sometime I will tell you how outraged I am about the Tea Party and global climate change. Not that I compare that stance to the endorsing of violence. But it's still an important issue, and I am outraged.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

No, I agree entirely. I imagine in your line of work it is especially poignant. I mean really, that's the one that's eventually going to kill us all (although it'll be the violence/unrest sparked by climate change more than climate change per se...)

Citizen Andy said...

Agree with what Laura said.

Except that I don't think I have the time to write down all of my outrage over the anti-science brigade.

Words fail.

The Jar said...

The radio personalities of Rwanda were outraged that people would blame the genocide on them. "We did not tell people to murder their neighbors! We just called their neighbors cockroaches. It was not us who treated them like cockroaches."

I don't think this defense held up in court, but I don't remember.

Of course, we know from all our nice action/disney movies that if the bad guy gets killed by some randomness then the hero isn't responsible.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

How else could happy endings be possible?