10.21.2008

Against Politics, or, "I'm not a divider, am I?"

Once again, as happens every four years, I've become convinced that politics is bad for human beings, and largely unnecessary. The most fervently committed people, committed with nothing but good-intentions, are perfectly willing to completely forget about loving their enemy when political season rolls around. Only the stoic remains unmoved:

Not to be a fan of the Greens or Blues at the races,or the light-armed or heavy-armed gladiators at the Circus.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I suppose the irony is nowhere as conspicuous as it is when throngs of partisans cry "Unity!" and mean "Division!"

Of course, it would be easy to argue with me on this point -- "What about Justice, Casey? Doesn't the world need to be fixed, Casey? Ever heard of progress, Casey? Isn't Obama a terrorist, Casey? Isn't McCain a racist, Casey?" And so on. I'd like to counter with two literary excerpts, both mystical in tone. The first is from Walt Whitman, and will be easily recognizable for anyone reading this blog (except maybe Santos... it's "There was a child went forth"):

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the
Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.

I post that just to set the tone for this next one, and to remind people about the difference between waiting-until-it's-your-turn-to-refute... and, listening. It's the difference between critical apprehension and experiential imagination. This next one is from the "Gnostic," non-canonical Gospel of Philip (one of my favorites):
It is not possible for anyone to see anything of the things that actually exist unless he becomes like them. This is not the way with man in the world: he sees the sun without being a sun; and he sees the heaven and the earth and all other things, but he is not these things. This is quite in keeping with the truth. But you saw something of that place, and you became those things. You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become Father. So in this place you see everything and do not see yourself, but in that place you do see yourself - and what you see you shall become.
I find this to be an almost unutterably true thought. For me, this notion is at the foundation of ethical behavior, and I'm not willing to concede that it's something that's commonly practiced. Indeed, it seems to me to be remarkably rare for a person to understand and seek to overcome the difference between "waiting" and "listening." In this light, our behavior every four years seems to me to be a tragically overlooked manifestation of the very injustices we claim to seek to remedy. We line up on opposite sides of a field and bark loudly at one another, or fire our muskets at the whites of each others' eyes. I know because I have participated from both sides.

Of course, this is the secret: unless you recognize yourself in your opposition, you have not fully understood your opponent. And if you do not understand, why do you oppose? Our situation is quintessentially Biblical: we are throwing the first stone, "removing the speck from our brother's eye" before removing the log from our own. While I'm on the Gnostic mystical stuff, I'll do one more -- this time, from The Gospel of Thomas (#72):
A [person said] to [Jesus], "Tell my brothers to divide my father's possessions with me." He said to the person, "Mister, who made me a divider?" He turned to his disciples and said to them, "I'm not a divider, am I?"
The political discourse I have heard recently from both sides has finally made me uncomfortable, and so I'm withdrawing, with Jesus... Does this seem irresponsible? Shameful? Hateful? Gutless?
Long live the umpires.

[How's that, B. Dunn?]

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