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  1. Ben Hoyt permalink
    March 19, 2012 2:26 PM

    I like how you opened with an allusion to quixotism. It is a rather romantic illusion indeed, which I feel many people entertain, that a single person can account for unprecedented change in political situations. One of the forms this belief takes, seems to require of the participant a certain degree of moral purity. A rigid adhesion to a moral doctrine and an existential distrust of that menacing other side, are articles of faith required to impress upon others the absolute truths of my stance. If I am some sort of living categorical imperative, I can inspire those around me to greater heights. Politics though, becomes some sickly form of theology, where the truths have been revealed, and it is a sinful obstinacy, on the part of the other side, which creates disagreement. Prior to the workings of the political process, the answers have been decided. The ends of society are decided in advance, by simply reasoning, without an appeal to the people who populate that particular commonwealth. Perhaps this is borne out of some related fear of being dependent on others, which politics almost always requires, as opposed to being a self-reliant individual, which is certainly a more comfortable role.

    While this is certainly a possibility, I think a more realistic view of politics has to be concerned with the relative validity of one’s conclusions, the importance of action and the presence of other actors. Once you leave the Socratic alp, the importance of pure theory is decreased. From Machiavelli to Melville to Weber, different thinkers have stressed just how important action is, and just how important it is to occasionally back-burner traditional morality’s answers to distinctly political questions. There isn’t one system guaranteed to return perfect results, so most times it is worthwhile to wade into the political quagmire and sort out your nagging doubts as time goes by. Your conclusions, more often than not, will have to accept some modifications, through the dialectic and a fair bit of compromise, as you interact with those “others” mentioned above. This may be, as the old expression has it, how the political “sausage” is made, but as you mention, it is also (or should I say, has the potential to be) a very enriching and liberating experience.

  2. June 17, 2012 4:17 PM

    This was a good post Professor. I’m sorry it took me so many months to respond to this. The conversation about this hasn’t left me since it took place, and I didn’t know how to articulate what I wanted to say then, and even now I still don’t really know how to express it properly, but we can always try. I guess I have a different idea in mind when I think about ‘change’ within politics. I mentioned it to you pretty early in the year, that to precipitate change is a seemingly impossible task when you look at what you’re up against. On the analogy of sports, you may play, and you may feel better participating as opposed to sitting in the bleachers and admiring, but at the same time, it seems like politics is a sport in which an elementary school team, whose intentions, while they may be noble and good, nevertheless find themselves lined up against the San Diego Chargers, and proceed to take the greatest of shellackings. At the same time, that is mostly describing national politics, and likening politics to a minnow taking on a pike might be rash. But to me, that’s what it feels like when I see efforts like Occupy Wall Street hit a wall. It feels like the ultimate exercise in frustration. Here is a group, whose message, though seemingly scattered at times, has mobilized and garnered the attention of the media, just wasn’t able to make anything happen. Don’t quote me on this (or anything, for that matter), but I didn’t see anything come of it.

    I also understand that change, in most cases, has to start out small and work its way up from there, which is where you point out the example of starting a club with your friends, holding a sign, or becoming active in your respective community. That sort of change seems much more possible, and in some ways, I have done (and am doing) exactly that. The idea of taking action to promote change both within the community, and in turn, in oneself, is surely something to be praised. And maybe that’s enough; maybe trying to shoot for the stars yields little light because the target’s too high. The message that in order to change politics, it requires mass participation (Arendt), is one that is either forgotten or never heard by many. But because the change that takes place within this participation is harder to see, politics seems more frustrating than fruitful to a lot of people, and I think that’s where individual involvement is crippled at the knees before any potential newcomer takes a step.

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