Sunday, November 20, 2016

We Do Have to Laugh: Justice vs Power, Baldwin vs Baldwin and a Weekend to Reflect on It All

Everyone is struggling.  Everyone is striving.  All weekend long, people were striving. Friday, number two and i played in the trees and made our way home.  Friends had come over the night before for my birthday.  More were coming Saturday night.  That day, people all over town were trying to make sense of living in a city and a world so outside the current of much of the country, closer aligned with those on the West Coast than many of the states to the South or in between.
Perplexed with the inability of our system to account for the majority of the voters, many tried to make sense of the new world thrust upon us. I wondered about the fate of the climate, with the Paris Accord now in question.  We debated over Nietzsche and Baldwin.  Some got arrested resisting a pipeline going beneath a nuclear power plant upstate. 

"This is not a drill."  Water defenders interrupt plans for the AIM pipeline upstate. 
Photo by ErikMcGregor.

Members of the cast of Hamilton engaged the vice president elect on Saturday night.
Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Vice President Aaron Burr, took a microphone and pointed toward Mr. Pence.“You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening — Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments,” Mr. Dixon said. As some in the audience booed, Mr. Dixon hushed them, then added, “Sir, we hope that you will hear us out.”As Mr. Pence stood by the exit doors, Mr. Dixon said, “We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
Others recalled lost friends and continued to do what they do.

"I don't know an environmentalist who is stopping or slowing down," noted my friend Peter on the street.  I ran into him on my way to our Nietzche class Saturday.  There we debated the hegemony and power in the Genealogy of Morals.  Some suggested Frances Fox Piven and her work cannot account for questions about power, while i defended direct action based organizing as model still delivering the goods, winning contracts, aiding poor people's movements, people with aids, to gain concessions from the state.

Finishing that class, I rode past a street demonstrations, people screaming through the streets, to meet my friends in the Activist Informed Reading Group, where we've been reading and debating for months now.

We were reading Notes of a Native Son.  In its final passages, Baldwin seemed summarize the tension between active will and "amor fati" running throughout the discussions of the day.   Reflecting on his father's death, Baldwin writes:

"All my father's texts and songs, which i had decided were meaningless, were arranged before me at his death like empty bottles, waiting to hold the meaning which life would give them for me.  This was his legacy: nothing is ever escaped. That bleakly  memorable morning i hated the unbelievable streets and the Negros and whites who had, equally, made them that way.  But i know that it was folly, as my father would have said, this bitterness was folly.  It was necessary to hold on to the things that mattered.  The dead man mattered, the new life mattered; blackness and whiteness did not matter; to believe they did was to acquiesce in one's own destruction.  Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the many who hated and this was an immutable law.
           It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without of rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes  without saying that injustice is a commonplace.  But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second ideas was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength.  This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.  This intimation made my heart heavy and, now that my father was irrecoverable, i wished that he had been beside me so that i could have searched his face for the answers which only the future would give me now."

Reading the passage again, I kept on thinking about what Nietzche was saying about fate.  Early in class, we'd discussed the justice vs power debate between Chomsky with Foucault, Chomsky echoing Trotsky and John Rawls' arguments on fighting injustice,  Foucault channeling Nietzsche and Machiavelli.  Movements need power, ideas, and questions. But they don't need to flirt with fascism. But we do have to laugh. Acknowledging Foucault's arguments about power, Chomsky argues:

"Yes, I would certainly agree with that, not only in theory but also in action. That is, there are two intellectual tasks: one, and the one that I was discussing, is to try to create the vision of a future just society; that is to create, if you like, a humanistic social theory that is based, if possible, on some firm and humane concept of the human essence or human nature. That’s one task.
Another task is to understand very clearly the nature of power and oppression and terror and destruction in our own society. And that certainly includes the institutions you mentioned, as well as the central institutions of any industrial society, namely the economic, commercial and financial institutions and in particular, in the coming period, the great multi-national corporations, which are not very far from us physically tonight [i.e. Philips at Eindhoven].
Those are the basic institutions of oppression and coercion and autocratic rule that appear to be neutral despite everything they say: well, we’re subject to the democracy of the market place, and that must be understood precisely in terms of their autocratic power, including the particular form of autocratic control that comes from the domination of market forces in an inegalitarian society.
Surely we must understand these facts, and not only understand them but combat them. And in fact, as far as one’s own political involvements are concerned, in which one spends the majority of one’s energy and effort, it seems to me that they must certainly be in that area. I don’t want to get personal about it, but my own certainly are in that area, and I assume everyone’s are.
Still, I think it would be a great shame to put aside entirely the somewhat more abstract and philosophical task of trying to draw the connections between a concept of human nature that gives full scope to freedom and dignity and creativity and other fundamental human characteristics, and to relate that to some notion of social structure in which those properties could be realised and in which meaningful human life could take place.
And in fact, if we are thinking of social transformation or social revolution, though it would be absurd, of course, to try to sketch out in detail the goal that we are hoping to reach, still we should know something about where we think we are going, and such a theory may tell it to us."

We can create something abundant and important together. We have to.  We can. I love Foucault, but i agree with Chomsky 
we are obliged to act on that "full scope to freedom and dignity and creativity." 

Looking around all weekend long, people connecting, organizing, sharing food, taking the streets, feeding each other, everyone seemed to be living up to this call.  After-all, we do have to laugh. 

 Comrad Erik McGregor took some very very sweet birthday pics. Thank you Erik and all my friends for celebrating with us.  Thank you for being there for us, with us, through all the comedy and tragedy of this crazy ride we're on.

We do have to laugh. 

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