This Academic Life
Oh, fuck this rhetoric too. The country doesn't need "healing," which is a none-too-subtle way of telling the blue states to knuckle under and shut up, having lost a closely contested election. Particularly an election where the major issues on voters' minds seems to have been "moral" issues, involving "gay marriage" and the like. (Yes, yes, materialist pundits are going to say that it's the economy, stupid. But it wasn't. The economy is not doing too well, particularly in many of the red states, so poof, there goes that hypothesis. People do not simply vote their pocketbooks, although they may vote their moral conception of what should happen to their pocketbooks…which is a different matter altogether.)

The War On Terrorism? What is that if not a "moral issue" too? It can't be some kind of "material reality," since on basically any defensible measure we are not "winning" that war, and the chances of a terrorist attack in Iowa or Ohio are so slim as to make winning the Powerball jackpot look like a sure thing. (The Gateway Arch in St. Louis -- now there's a media-worthy terrorist target. But Ohio? Iowa? What would they blow up?) "We have to get those bastards" sounds like a moral claim to me, one straight out of a bad, de-contextualized reading of the Christian Old Testament: an eye for an eye. Sound analysis? Virtually every professional IR scholar and analyst not directly in the pay of the emergent neoconservative establishment signed this open letter condemning how the Administration has elected to pursue the War On Terrorism. People apparently aren't thinking about these issues in anything like a defensible, logical fashion, they are -- as usual -- reacting to a compelling configuration of rhetorical commonplaces that is supported by a long-term effort by religious conservatives to re-engineer the social environment of the country. The War On Terrorism is nothing but the completion of Reagan's public recasting of the Cold War as a manichean struggle between Good and Evil.

Values, people, VALUES. It's what Republicans know about American politics that Democrats have forgotten. I like my values. I'm happy to debate them any time. So why is the Democratic party so afraid to do so?

The "healing" rhetoric -- which we now hear coming out of both camps -- is the biggest bunch of bullshit I can imagine. It's worse than the "mandate" crap I was ranting about earlier. Why? Because it reflects this fundamentally a-political, anti-agonistic approach to social life where consensus (almost any consensus) is good, dissent is traitorous, and conflict exists as a problem that needs to be solved. As though perfect utopia would exist if everyone agreed on everything -- as thought that wouldn't be precisely the Orwellian nightmare that all of us fear. Well, maybe not all of us. Apparently some people buy the sanctity of their values enough that they're fine imposing them on others by force. I wonder what it's like to have that much certainty about anything, so that you know that you're right, right, RIGHT -- and that anyone who disagrees with you is utterly, implacably, irredeemably evil, and deserving of whatever cruel fate befalls them at the hands of the righteous.

We don't need healing. We need ongoing contestation, because that's the only thing that stops us from falling into the gross conceit that we have figured it all out, that God Himself (only a male God does things like this, usually) is on our side and we can do no wrong as long as He is with us. And the U.S. constitution is designed for this: when one has an issue that is so contentious that the country as a whole cannot agree, and cannot agree in the supramajoritarian way that is (wisely!) required to make Constitutional modifications, then we let individual states make their own decisions and fight the constitutional issues out in court. It's the American (federalist, or "negarchic") way. [And yes, I am quite aware that sometimes the system breaks down, chokes on issues that cannot be handled that way -- issues like "slavery." But I do not think that we are dealing with anything quite that fundamental here. I could be wrong, of course; only time will tell. My point is that we have to try.]

I want states to enact "gay marriage" legislation, and then get into principled struggles with other states about whether it should be permitted -- and whether there are any Constitutional grounds for one state's refusal to recognize the legal enactments of another (which is a very tough argument to make and sustain). I want states to pass educational programs that try all kinds of crazy things to solve the problems with our public school systems all across the country, and not be beholden to the absurd timelines of the No Every Child Left Behind act. The Patriot Act scares the shit out of me; I want some state to mount a legal challenge on the basis that civil rights have been compromised, so that we can debate the issue instead of being presented with a fait accompli which is then unquestionably valid for the whole country.

Unlike what both parties are now saying, we most certainly do not need "healing," IMHO. We need a good honest and fair contestation on Constitutional principles -- something that can't be resolved with one rather close electoral victory by the champions of one conception. Conflict is good. I do not fear conflict; I fear imposed consensus, especially the kind backed up by force of various kinds.

A prayer: "God, please help us all to stop USING YOUR NAME IN VAIN to justify our particular conceptions of what is right and just. And please do not send us 'healing'; please send us much, much more conflict. Amen."

[No, this is not the entry I planned to write today either. Maybe that one will make its way into print after I grade some more and need a break.]

[Posted with ecto]

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"Academia als Beruf," or, an occasional record of the various aspects of my life as an academic. Written by "21stCWeber," an arrogant handle I know…but I must confess that I do want to be Weber when and if I grow up :-)



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