Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Why now?

In consideration of my limited time, I'm going to answer one of the many questions sent my way during this months-long debacle. Why now? Why pay any attention at all to extreme atheism (or feminism or environmentalism as I'll go into later) in the face of the overwhelming threat from the religious right? Aren't I just emboldening the right? Giving them ammunition to come after us? Hmmmmmm...

Well, first, I'd like to point out to those who have condemned me for the timing of my criticism of the left that they are (unwittingly I assume) parroting just the sort of claptrap that we've condemned when it comes from the right. Remember our response to George W. Bush and his pet neocons when they claimed that anti-war dissent "emboldened the terrorists"? Dissent, we argued, is not just the right of every citizen, but our responsibility when we see our country going the wrong way. Is this any less true of our reponsibilities when we see our movements or parties going the wrong way? I would say that unquestioning consent out of fear is an affront to the finest of liberal ideals. Progress is not possible without the debate and self-assessment born of dissent.

So, why now? Why not just face down the biggest threat and leave the small fries for later? Why worry about a threat that is far from actualizing itself if it ever will at all? After all, the extremists of the left aren't planning to take over the Democratic party or anything. I would remind you of a little bit of history.

In the 1970's and 80's, the United States viewed the Soviet Union as THE threat, ignoring the possibility that radical Islamism may someday pose a threat of its own. So, we gave the Muslim extremists just enough rope to hang us.

In the 60's and 70's, the military industrial complex was considered the premiere enemy of the left. Religious extremists here in America were written off as just a few crazy people with no hope of ever wielding enough power to harm us. It's not like they even dreamed of taking over the Republican party. Besides, they weren't organized enough to do any thing, or so we thought. Then, the 80's and 90's came and the religious right became one of the most powerful forces in American politics. I don't need to remind you of the consequences.

Both radical Islamists and the American religious right were once small, noninfluential minorities limited to polemical screeds, evangelizing, and religious proclamations from on high. What changed? Everything. Rapid social, political, and economic change in the Middle East and the United States respectively ramped up the anxiety and fear of those who felt out of place and even threatened by the new world order. Desperate to hang on to what they'd "lost" (often, an overly idealized view of the way things had been) and unable or unwilling to adapt, they organized and they took action. The rest of us sat idly by, completely ignoring those we considered incapable of the kind of organization, power and influence that would make them a threat worth facing. Now, we have lived to regret it.

The rapid social, political, and economic changes of the last few years have sparked legitimate fear and anxiety, especially amongst those of us targeted by the religious right. The atheists, women, LGBT, environmentalists, etc. have the most to lose from the world order proposed by the Bushies and their ilk. We are therefore most likely to organize and take action. Unfortunately, tremendous fear and anxiety are not necessarily conducive to good decision-making. Desperate for anyone willing to lead, anyone able to strike against the right, we may make the wrong choice: the choice to allow the extremists amongst us (the most vocal and seemingly the "strongest") to lead the way, tapping into the worst in us rather than the best. An extremist-led victory is victory in name only, without purpose and at the cost of our ideals.

The current threat is not extremists taking over the Democratic party, although we should not ignore that as a possibility. (I'd like to point out once again here, that althought I vote Democratic, I am NOT a member of the Democratic party and am not urging a purge of its membership roles.) Instead, extremism poses an immediate threat to the integrity and success of the left as a movement.

What do I mean by integrity? We cannot condemn the right for giving in to its extremists, for failing to deny them power, if we are not willing to stand up against the extremists amongst us. That, my friends, is hypocrisy plain and simple. No, our extremists aren't taking action now, but let us not forget that those who propagate extremist views build the ideological foundation for those who do take action.

What do I mean by success? No, not "votes" for the Democrats. Although we shouldn't forget the importance of winning elections. By success, I am referring to our ability to unite the disparate movements of the left into a cohesive whole with the strength to combat the right electorally and ideologically and to put pressure on the seats of power (corporations, the government, and the media)to follow policies which serve the best interests of the many rather than the few.

Some have argued that we can hate and denigrate one another but still work together for common goals. They speak of a "tolerance" of barely concealed contempt that is to make that possible. Perhaps, in an "ideal" world, this might be true. Humanity, however, is not ideal. Few, if any, would willingly struggle beside those who hate and denigrate them. Those who take the risks and make the sacrifices entailed in political and economic struggle should never be rewarded by being openly berated.

True tolerance, that tolerance to which the left aspires and which we must have in order to succeed, is the tolerance of humility (the ability to admit we might be wrong on some things) that allows us to see our own weaknesses so that we may acknowledge the possibility of the other's strength. It is the tolerance that recognizes the basic human dignity to which we are all entitled, regardless of superficial or not-so-superficial divisions. It is the tolerance that destroys hate rather than conceals it.

It is in the name of this type of tolerance, in the name of the integrity of our movements, and in the name of a victory that is more than just victory for its own sake, that we must face down the extremists amongst us.

And that is why now.

4 Comments:

Blogger Fares said...

Harming Syria, Dream on
Say no to War.

How US should deal with Iran

1:09 AM  
Blogger Canardius said...

I've often thought agnostics were the religious componant of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. We can't know certain things about something's position or speed etc without observing it. But in observing it we introduce something that changes what we're observing.

So by shining a beam of photons on wherever we claim we see evidence of G-D, we change the evidence. Then Socrates is right -- we only know that we know nothing. [Socrates and Wittgenstein agreeing on something must be a sign of the Apocalypse.]

7:08 PM  
Blogger Righteous Bubba said...

So, why now? Why not just face down the biggest threat and leave the small fries for later? Why worry about a threat that is far from actualizing itself if it ever will at all? After all, the extremists of the left aren't planning to take over the Democratic party or anything. I would remind you of a little bit of history.

In the 1970's and 80's, the United States viewed the Soviet Union as THE threat, ignoring the possibility that radical Islamism may someday pose a threat of its own. So, we gave the Muslim extremists just enough rope to hang us.


There were entire countries full of radical Islamists at that point. Not comparable.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

Righteous bubba,

I was not comparing the size of the threat, only the act of waiting to be attacked before even acknowledging the threat's existence. And no, I'm not promoting "pre-emptive" war. Only keeping our eyes open to possibilities.

11:51 AM  

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