Personal vs. political

I am sitting alone, having my daily silent conversation, ostensibly with a reader, (with you, dear reader!) though one can pretty easily see that I do not write for a great number of readers. [1]   It doesn’t matter if you write for one person, as in a letter, or to every sentient reader on the earth (as many of us strive to write for) the process is the same.   It is a personal process and also a political process.

No less an authority on the subject than Adolf Hitler wrote, early in his life, that art is a bridge from the artist’s heart to the heart of another.  He later applied this same principle to the art of political propaganda.   Too bad the little shit was rejected from art school, his hissy temper tantrums at art critics and gallery owners without taste would have served the world much better than the ones he threw on the world stage, but that is another matter.   No idea why I am thinking about fucking Hitler right now. [2]  

I guess, to say, the exercise is essentially that —  building a bridge from the self to others outside of the self.   Writing clearly is the goal; making it easy for the reader to follow our guided tour through our thoughts, ideas and feelings.   These are three different things, thoughts: what goes through our minds as we ponder, ideas: conclusions we come to about the things we ponder, and feelings: our emotions as this is happening.   All three of these are important, essential really.  When we write we explain what we are thinking and feeling to ourselves, in the process of setting it out clearly to the imaginary reader.  

Kurt Vonnegut always wrote imagining his sister, who was a great reader, his ideal reader, reading the page.  If the joke would make her laugh, it was worth keeping in.  If the image would make her eyes grow moist, her nostrils flare slightly, the image stayed.   If she would roll her eyes, or not buy it, or find it pretentious or ridiculous, out it went.   His writing appealed to millions, appeals to this day, but he wrote every word, to hear him tell it, imagining his sister as his only reader.  Good enough, I’d say.  We write, on one level or another, to that imagined sensibility, the sensitive reader we’d love to be reading our words.

My mother was a great reader and I can often picture her reading a sentence or paragraph I’ve just written.   She had a great grasp of language, and a love of it, and a poetic imagination.   She didn’t mind something being just a little cartoonish, if it served to make the thing more clear, the feeling and colors more vivid, the conclusion that much more emphatic.

The dialogue we have when we are alone… I don’t think I could put a price on it.  In the previous post Hannah Arendt is quoted as believing:

The passion of being was in thinking. And that comes from that two-in-one dialogue in one’s head.  And for her, that was the beginning of moral life, that dialogue.  

Can I get a “hell yeah!”?   The world is vexing, often perplexing, the only quiet we often get, and the best chance to get any real perspective (if we are persistent and lucky, and disposed toward this exercise)  is sitting by ourselves, thinking through this kind of quiet inner dialogue.   All around us busy people are complaining:   “I don’t have time to think!”  “I don’t know whether to shit or wind my watch!”   “Who has the time?!!!!”  “It’s all too much!”    “I can’t watch the news, it fills me with dread and hatred!!!”

I am a man with the luxury of time, and I spend some of it each day doing this, having a silent chat with someone I’ve never met as I run everything by myself.

How do I make the time?   Admittedly I save a lot of time every day by doing virtually no cleaning.  I clean my kitchen sink regularly, and keep all decomposable food garbage in the freezer until I take it out, I clean my bathroom occasionally.   Outside of that, and a hump to the laundromat with a heavy bag every couple of weeks, I live in a chaos that would be embarrassing if photographed.  

I could see the horrified jurors:  “Look, ladies and gentlemen, if you have the stomach for it, at these photographs of the defendant’s living room…”   The prosecutor could rest his case after showing the shots of the jammed shelves, the overflowing tabletops, the collapsing piles of boxes, the carpet of papers covering everything, the tangled chaos on the floor, the cracked walls, ceilings and broken tile floors.   A jury of my actual peers would be a slovenly twelve indeed, but that is not the point.  I’m not competing for a spread in Better Homes and Gardens.

I also have the great luck not to be a covetous person, which saves time too.  A friend who plays guitar OK and has a couple of beautiful, expensive guitars– I say, God bless him!  Truly.  I’m not the envious type.  I don’t waste time or emotion measuring what I have against the acquisitions of other people.  I’m content to own what I need, to preserve the things I love– favorite pens, knives, musical instruments, to use things up, to wear the same shirt for a decade or more.   One of my favorite shirts is one my mother always liked, I wore it to visit her at the hospice the last day she had her eyes open.  It was the last shirt she saw me in, and she smiled to see it.   A colorful affair it is, purchased at Costco once upon a time.  My mother died eight years ago.  I wear the shirt now for special occasions, rarely mentioning the shirt’s connection to my mother’s death, how she smiled to see it one last time.

There is the personal, the things that matter most to us, the things we find most fascinating, compelling, irresistible.  These things vary greatly from one of us to the next.  The realm of the personal, though, is something we all share.  We all take certain things personally and we can all relate to exactly why that is.   If you can illuminate your personal passions three dimensionally enough you might draw somebody through that doorway, into a world they never appreciated before.  It’s like the old adage (and a wise one, too) that you take the professor, not the course.  You can sign up for the most interesting sounding course in the catalogue, only to find the juice and life sucked out of it by a cadaverous professor.  The flip-side is that you can take a course that appears less than marginally interesting in the course description that turns out to be fantastic, because the professor is brilliant and draws you into her love of the subject.

The personal, we are often reminded, is political, as the political is personal.  Take the average partisan voter, they take their politics very personally and their political views flow from the experiences of their personal lives.   If liberal they get exercised by the idea of racism, the state’s overbearing interference with a human right (abortion comes first to mind), the grotesquely uneven distribution of wealth and opportunity, the destruction of the natural earth by greedy corporations mining the last scraps of the world’s resources and poisoning everything.   If conservative they are pissed off at “political correctness”, the idea that every lazy poor person feels entitled to free food, free medical care, a low-cost place to stay, a cell phone, fancy sneakers, sickened at government interference with human rights– like the right not to be killed as a fetus for the convenience of an immoral pregnant woman– job killing regulations to save some endangered bird or rodent, on down the line.   These issues are litmus test left-right issues.  Abortion.   Poverty.   Catastrophic Climate Disruption.   Regulations.  Income inequality.

Also, all deeply personal issues.   This is where the rubber meets the road, as they say in that big cliche mill in the sky.   The successful politician makes a personal connection, as, say what you will about him, the current president has undoubtedly made among his supporters.   He speaks plainly to them, speaks the way they do, doesn’t worry if a bad word slips out, everyone uses a bad word sometimes.   Fuck those sons of bitches, you know what I’m saying?  Am I right?  Seriously, (a huge huzzah of approval) fuck those fucking losers.  We’re going to bomb the shit out of those motherfuckers!  You know what I’m saying?     His audience roars, they know exactly what he’s saying.  

He is a star because he speaks a language his audience takes very personally.   His opponent in the last election, whatever else we might say about her,  did not have the same gift, was not as able to make that personal connection, even as she was arguably more personable, certainly less abrasive, than our current attacker-in-chief.   Partisans will argue over which one was the bigger liar.  We must not forget, the last election was a close contest between the most hated and second most hated political personalities in America.

I have long believed, and do even now, that if people of good faith and good will sit down to solve the local version of world problems, there is much even political opposites would agree on.  The argument against this is the way “winning” politics is conducted in our intensely commercial society.   It was discovered at some point that negative campaigning wins elections, if you can get people to believe your opponent is a pedophile, for example– you have a huge advantage with the voters.  

Newt Gingrich and his friends made a science out of “wedge issues”, hammering on the emotional issues that divide us into opposing camps.   The Democratic party’s response was to try to make their tent big enough for everybody, by carefully not offending anyone.   Which in itself is kind of offensive to many, particularly if you adopt the worst ideas of your opponents in the name of “compromise” while engaging in the standard servile courtship of super-wealthy human and corporate donors.  

The Democrats’ inclusive approach was disparagingly branded “identity politics” as though the politics of the conservative is not also based on identity, and carved into the other side of the same stone.   On and on.  Blue hat, red hat.   Blue asshole, red asshole.  Brands, mere brands in a culture raised on brand loyalty, steeped in the consciousness of brands, understanding quality only through brand names.

What is my brand?   Not having a brand.   (see footnote 1)

“Not much of a goddamned brand.   Excellent brand for a loser, though, I have to give you that.”

The tone of the conversation in my head is calm, as honest as I can make it, with a bias toward trying to be fair.   If we are fair when we analyze a problem, the odds are better we’ll come to reasonable ideas about how to solve it, or at least make it better.   The alternative is an eternal contest between sullen, immovable two year-olds.

The trouble with voting for a brand, being a partisan, is that very often no thought at all goes into taking rigid positions that are always presented as either/or.   Spokesmen for our self-identified brand will tell us what side to take on any given issue, assuring us that there are only two sides to any issue, an imbecilic position few bother to question.   Good people don’t kill fetuses vs. good people don’t force fourteen year-old rape victims to carry the rapist’s baby for nine months and give birth to it.   There are arguments on both sides, I suppose, and a world of nuance between these two absolute views but the ones that begin “God said”… well, enough said, I think.  

I say believe in God as deeply as you like, and may the good, merciful things you do multiply as your faith deepens.   Personally, I have no problem with the righteous of any religion, until they come with swords, because God told them… you know.

Meantime, the conversation continues, as all good conversations should.


[1]  When I get a “like” I generally try to return the favor and like something on the liker’s site.  I read something I like and click like, and am often number 399 liking that post.   A big post for likes, in my case, is four or five.

I shit you not, I got a couple of likes on this very post today, went to the blahgs, read something I liked and clicked “like”.  Czech it out, eerie, crazy:

Screen shot 2018-06-29 at 2.31.43 AM.png

[2] Not a day goes by… I had a great experience recently, a nervous, chatty guy I was waiting for a medical procedure with (by pure chance, never met him before), as we went up in the elevator, asking me what my ancestry was.   I assumed he was asking if I was Jewish, so I told him where my people came from.  “You’re a Jew?   Jesus Christ,” he said, which I repeated with a big smile.  I love that kind of shit.  Only tangentially related to not a day going by without some thought of Hitler, this guy certainly didn’t strike me as an anti-Semite, but… Jesus Christ!   That was great.

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