Sunday, June 15, 2008

Howdy (by Phila)

I have to say right off the bat that it's very daunting to be posting here. I've admired -- and envied -- Echidne's quiet, powerful voice for a long time, and I've also found her guest contributors and regular commenters to be frighteningly insightful and smart. My deep pleasure at being thought worthy of this privilege was immediately undercut by a deeper certainty that I'm not worthy of it, and am bound to let everybody down in the end. If not before.

That's just how I am, and it hasn't made things easy for me in some ways. On the other hand, when I contemplate the literally shameless antics of chattering husks like Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd, my inherent vice begins to seem almost like a virtue. Perhaps instead of apologizing for my "negative self-talk," I should wield it as the sceptre of my dominion over lesser beings.

Kneel before me, puny mortals! (Unless you'd rather not, which I can totally understand.)

Anyway, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to write about here. Something, probably. My own blog is all over the map, and I have no desire to scatter my sour dust and clutter through Echidne's marbled halls. All I can say for certain is that I'll keep it fairly short and to the point. But don't hold me to that.

In the meantime, I wanted to express my basic agreement with, and appreciation for, the recently but not (let's hope) permanently departed Anthony McCarthy. His thinking has certainly influenced mine, and I think it's fair to say that mine has occasionally influenced his. While we have our disagreements, I definitely share his dour outlook on the interminable shouting-match between religion and atheism, and on certain anti-democratic tendencies, or capitulations, on the left. I don't mention this to announce my intention of picking up any specific burden he's dropped, now or later, but simply to honor his efforts, which I think were met with more hostility than they deserved.

Since I've got no particular place to go, I may as well follow this thread, and confess that my concerns here aren't entirely pragmatic. I'm generally respectful of religious thought, partly as a result of my conversion to the One True Faith of Echidneism, and partly because freedom of conscience is the foundation of what I'd call democratic politics, and partly because we've borrowed from religion the language we use to speak against injustice, and partly for a reason that I can best approach by speaking for a moment about feminism.

I wasn't raised to be a feminist, by any means. If anything, I was raised to be a hopeless romantic and a sentimentalist. As I grew older, I started noticing the undercurrent of brutality in this view of women (and of men, for that matter). Not, I'm sad to say, because my thinking was so elevated and nimble, but because I kept acting like an asshole, and feeling bad about it. And I eventually took an interest in figuring out what assumptions allowed me to act the way I did. Some of them were cultural, it seemed, and some of them were particular to my own psychological problems (which, in my own defense, I'd come by honestly). In the end, the only thing I knew for sure was that I'd be better off if I rooted out and discarded all of them.

Which was -- and is -- easier said than done. It means facing unpleasant facts, naturally, but it also means giving up comfort and power and privilege, and I think that tends to be a much bigger stumbling block for most people. As we all know, it's easy to embrace a theoretical feminism (or a theoretical liberalism, or a theoretical environmentalism, or a theoretical Christianity) while complacently conducting one's business as usual, in the lap of what we might as well call luxury. It's a bit harder to let go of power and privilege, and become deaf to their logic...especially since that logic tends to be embedded, if not embodied, in our art, fashion, and aesthetics (to say nothing of our science, religion, and politics). The ugliness of the Democratic primary underscored how hard it can be even for smart, well-meaning people to rise above the ugliness of this culture.

It's precisely here that religious thought (or what I consider to be worthy of that name) and atheist thought (ditto) ought to agree neatly with progressive thought, and help us to avoid running aground on these rocks. Each of them should remind us that we're responsible for ourselves and for each other, though not necessarily in that order, and that this responsibility isn't going to be fulfilled from on high by divine or technocratic magic, or wiped away by the Invisible Hand like crumbs from our common table.

Have I mentioned that I also admire Echidne for her lack of preachiness and pomposity? I hereby vow to keep mine under control while posting here. But don't hold me to that.

That's more than enough for now. Suffice it to say, again, that I'm grateful to Echidne for inviting me here, and that I look forward to converting all of you to the hopelessly muddled worldview of neo-Muggletonian libertarian socialism. By force, if necessary.