Friday, November 10, 2006

For two posts in a row, Joshua Clover laments the foolishness and ideological blindness of other poets (and, as his second post makes clear, this poet in particular) who ran out to vote for, as he puts it, "candidates more conservative than the Republicans they found beyond revulsion twenty years ago" and who now dance pathetically in the end zone celebrating a Democratic Congress. Apparently I didn't express nearly enough skepticism to satisfy him: indeed, his tone makes me think he lives in a world comprised of a virtuous Berkeley-Marxist-anarchist minority who are all "in the know," and who behold the majority of marks and suckers with mixed pity and contempt. There's hardly any distinction to be made between liberal marks and conservative suckers in the bargain, since both by voting at all vote to perpetuate the system. Those of us who, in spite of our misgivings about a badly damaged political system, joined the less-than-half of the eligible population who voted (does that mean in fact that 60 percent of the electorate are Marxists and anarchists rather than apathetic? Would that it were so!), discover that we did not in fact vote for change, for some kind of brake on an incoherent, compulsively violent, and reckless administration, but for more of the same. The "personnel," as Joshua would have it, are all empty signifiers, so that by his own lights he can plausibly plug in "Condoleeza Rice" for my "Nancy Pelosi." It's a gross misinterpretation: I am not celebrating the rise of any old woman to the post of Speaker of the House, but the rise of a specific woman who is probably more sympathetic to Berkeley-style politics than anyone in the new Congress (with the notable and welcome exception of Bernie Sanders, I-VT). Joshua takes such a long view of our admittedly disastrous era that individuals and institutions scarcely matter: we are all fiddling while Rome burns and it signifies little who takes the part of lead violin.

Perhaps he is right. And I have nothing to say to anyone who is actually pursuing an alternative politics: who doesn't just stand aloof with jaundiced eye but actually works for radical change. I don't see myself as someone who does this, at least not yet: I am at best a sympathetic fellow traveler, reading Rexroth and Bookchin, trying to formulate an adequate response to the crises of the world I find myself in, while at the same time unwilling to make the complete separation from the mainstream—the world where most of my friends and family and ordinary people live—that the radical position seems to demand. I criticize myself constantly for not being more active, more courageous, more clear-sighted. But when I look at the world I find more questions than answers. I am not satisfied by any single political program that I've ever become aware of. And I persist in seeing difference where Joshua sees identity: Democrats, even conservative Democrats, are not Republicans, for the simple reason that they've been out of power for the past six years and have had no significant influence on the ghastly policies of Bush-Cheney. I want opposition to those troglodytes on almost any terms, because I think they are way, way beyond the ordinary ghastliness of neo-liberalism: they are fanatics personally responsible for the loss of more than half-a-million Iraqi lives. And maybe I really have been suckered—"please don't throw me in that briar patch!"—maybe the neo-liberal machine will simply function more smoothly and destructively now that we have divided government. But maybe not. I'm taking a chance on "maybe."

We Americans do need to imagine something new, we do need to take on responsibility appropriate to our power to affect the world. But right now I want to slow down the pace of destruction: when the big crisis comes, the Depression-equivalent that I'm expecting sometime in the next decade or so, I don't want the damage to our environment to be utterly beyond repair. I don't have the answers, or a fully consistent political philosophy. But given the simple choice between casting a vote that might do something to impede the flow of greed and and arrogance and fanaticism, and not voting—irrespective of what other activities or criticism I might be able to muster—I chose to vote. And I am provisionally pleased with the results.

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