Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rallying the (storm)troopers?

At Ali Abuminah's recommendation on my Facebook page I read Lizzy Ratner's blog posting. It is, as he suggests, a thoughtful essay that concludes:

- Instead of tours that whisk young people from Auschwitz to Israel, I would like to see trips that go from the Warsaw ghetto to the Jabaliya refugee camp.

- In place of a Jewish mainstream that looks only – and mistakenly – to Israel for its identity, I would like to see Jews who reach across time and space, to old countries and new countries, for a sense of who they are – and might be.

- ...[I would like to] see the true lessons of “never again” enshrined in a single, consummately-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian state....

In return, I recommend Andrew Bacevich's blog piece, "Farewell, The End of the American Century." (The text is a transcript of the included video clip.) To progressives, Bacevich is airing ideas that have been our guiding principles for some time. Yet to his audience these ideas are revolutionary. It is revolutionary to call for a public admission that We the People have been propagandized with the nomenclature of Freedom and Democracy to perpetrate deeds whose results are the polar opposite of freedom and democracy. For some, to seek the admission that "the greatest" anything (father, mother, teacher, or history book) makes mistakes is revolutionary. For others, to admit that the "the greatest country in the world" made -- and continues to make -- mistakes is almost beyond flirts with treason!

It is dizzying just thinking of the ensuing chaos as the concentric layers of different communities within the American frame of reference accept such admissions!

Ratner's and Bacevich's pieces have in common the underlying assumptions that recognizing and acknowledging past mistakes is essential to re-orienting the planet's current disastrous trajectory to one that is more just, equitable, and sustainable. The other assumptions are that a "we" exists ...and that that "we" can come to a common understanding about why and how we went off course... and that we can agree upon why and how we might re-orient.

I appreciate the need to surface and acknowledge these assumptions; and implementing them is easier said than done. Just a cursory scan of today's "mainstream" and/or "alternative" media's reporting on the state of American health care plans suggests how difficult it is to even broach these assumptions (that there is, #1, a "we" who can, #2, recognize and acknowledge mistakes and, #3, re-orient, and #4, that something "just", "equitable" and "sustainable" could, or should, exist).

For the sake of simplicity, let's remain within the American frame of reference and imagine, if you can, the majority of current Republican leaders accepting that there are any assumptions to examine...and if there are, that there is a need to admit they're unjust and inequitable.

Not easy to imagine, is it? Indeed, that party appears increasingly unhinged and incapable of anything other than whipping up their stormtroopers' emotions. (As an aside, is the messaging coming out of folks like Limbaugh and Gingrich and Palin expected to rally their base? If so, then their base consists solely of two extremes: a mob of Joe-the-Plumbers on one end -- wanna-be-rich, wanna-be-celebrity, and intellectually under-endowed -- and a mob of Bushies on the other -- already obscenely rich, over-privileged, and intellectually under-endowed.) Instead of functioning from political pragmatism, that party seems to be operating from a shrill ideological mono-culture whose driving force is "I can drink the Koolaid faster than you" powered by the fear of scarcity. Is there anything the Republican leadership wouldn't say, nothing they wouldn't do, to sabotage Obama no matter what he says and does? (While I'm not thrilled with Obama's direction at least the man appears mostly sane and appears to be working toward a more sane future given the political realities. Frankly, his central vision is flawed: "we" cannot save ourselves with more shopping. The era of capitalism and consumerism is over...instead of politicians, "we" need visionaries able to implement sustainable futures.)

Now, imagine the ensuring complexity if we broaden American assumptions and frames of reference to include European assumptions and frames of reference. Now add, say, the Arab world's assumptions and frames of reference. Then, the Asian, and African, the Native American worlds' and cultural frames of reference. Dizzying, eh?

Lizzy Ratner and Andrew Bacevich are offering something along the lines of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee. That was something unique in the world. It succeeded in putting some new concepts and operating principles on the sociopolitical map. And, it has not been able to forward them in any practical, consistent, and lasting way. Many still point to the TRC as an example to emulate - progressive Israelis particularly like to do this - but its real contribution is not that it accomplished tangible changes. This was not due to lack of trying but because revolutionary ideas need time to soak into the sociopolitical culture.

The TRC's overarching and lasting accomplishment was allowing -- then popularizing -- a new nomenclature of reconciliation.

Humankind simply does not evolve simultaneously en masse -- especially when those who benefit from chaos rely on the the very dumb...and for whom the very word "evolution" is taboo -- to maintain the status quo.

New ideas need time to soak into old cultures...and new language makes this possible. This takes time...and a critical mass of patient individuals introducing new ideas via a new language. Ratner and Bacevich come at this work from different angles. More importantly they represent two variants of a consistent, passionate, and courageous cohort committed to forwarding and popularizing a new nomenclature of reconciliation.

It may take another century or at least another generation or two to enact reconciliation but, with hard work and lots of luck, even the Republican Party will change; it will have to....

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