By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
…lest we forget, the carbon tax bill — Cap and Trade — that was scheduled to be announced on Earth Day. Then it was postponed, a couple of days later… what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plans, than by blowing up a rig? I’m just noting the timing, here.
Last week, in writing about patriotism, I spoke about the sometime confluence of morality and esthetics. It isn’t only the product of people’s tastes that can summon up the creep of ickiness; it is their actions too. One behaves. One behaves in a manner. The manner of one’s behavior is both the behavior and the manner. Substance and style.
Sometimes we conceive of style as mere surface, the ultimate superficial: read any newspaper’s style section. This is style as mere ornament. But there is a conception of style far more complex and profound in nature: style as the emanation, the representation, the manifestation of the person himself.
Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalytic theorist, said
The style of life is a unity because it has grown out of the difficulties of early life and out of the striving for a goal.
How we live in the world, in other words – the manner of our being in it – is both the product of what has earlier shaped us and an expression of what we seek in the world. All this is style.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Richard Eberhart said
Style is the perfection of a point of view.
We can see how the point of view is a product, in Adler’s formulation, of where we’ve come from and where we seek to go. Those two elements joined are a point of view. And consider the idea of perfecting it, a lifelong pursuit.
What the ancient Greeks and twentieth century existentialists shared in common – and it was more than a little – included the inescapable truth that we are not the ultimate masters of our fates, with much consideration, then, of how we live with that truth. Try as we may, so often, we cannot shape our destinies, but only how we meet them. The manner in which we meet them. Style. How we meet life. Which, in no insignificant measure can shape the substance of the life, help produce the destiny. Socrates chose to question ideas that brought into doubt the existence of the gods, which antagonized the rulers of Athens. He chose to accept his punishment, and drink the hemlock, rather than flee. He had reasons for doing both. He did not seek the end he met, but he shaped his end – and thus his life and what it means to us – himself. Character, as Aristotle says in his Poetics, in writing about tragedy, is fate. Often it may not seem quite that way. Life is a bitter drama. Even so, Daniel Pearl refused to be sedated before he was beheaded.
So in all the back and forth of the daily, hourly, even minute-by-minute, ugly vituperation that now passes for political discourse in the country, and in our world, and that makes up too large a part of our lives if we engage the society in which we live, what is there on which to hang a truth? The facts? Who agrees on those? About some matters we can achieve a majority opinion. But even that most factual of endeavors – the scientific – has become politicized. That nearly every scientist affirms the truth of evolution, of universal common descent and of natural selection does not prevent deep, and political, counterargument. That the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion supports the notion of anthropogenic global warming does not prevent others from arguing against it, and – even were they to turn out in the end to be right – doing so with clear ideological motivations that impute, as fundamental to their opposition, the disingenuous, even dishonest, motivations of proponents.
Many on one side of the immigration divide will not acknowledge, given history and human nature, the legitimate concern of others over racial discrimination, or the humane treatment of millions who were permitted to come under conditions that, were fates reversed, might have led critics to do just the same. Many on the other side will not acknowledge a legitimate interest in secure national borders and legally controlled immigration that is not a cover for racism.
The projection of the opposition’s disguised and dishonest motivations – which, of course, are infinitely assertable in the absence of evidence (what need of evidence in the presence of penetrating insight?) – then produces an ever widening gyre of counter disguise and dishonesty, which, when they are one’s own, are only the necessary and justifiable “rough and tumble” of politics.
Does anyone ever say, “Actually, you’ve got a point. That makes a difference”? Almost never, because the idea was never to discuss or debate – everyone already has the truth, the truth that no one can agree on – the idea is to win.
What, then, in the end, makes a difference? Well, for the dedicated pol, it’s that November outcome, which heralds only the next November, and the next. And so a life is lived. Lee Atwater didn’t have to die to see things otherworldly differently. He knew his error before he went. He knew what he left us with, or didn’t.
What will Rush Limbaugh leave us ? Forget his politics, what the ideas are, particularly, that he advances like a hammer to the head. It would make no difference. So far he has offered the nation nearly two decades of bile and meanness, of engorged personality and success purchased at the price of the common decency. Now he proposes that there could have been some government-environmentalist act of terrorism behind the Gulf oil rig explosion. Oh, no, he’s not saying it, he’s just asking, he’s just “noting the timing.”
In some places in the world, still, a man like Michael Brown would have the decency to fade from the public scene in honest recognition of his Katrina failure, the imposition, to begin, of his presence at FEMA. He might bear his burden – lucky, the few, who don’t have them – as the weight of some responsibility to bring something better into the world, or to lead, instead, some simpler life that could please whatever God but mammon he might worship. But no, he will return, rather, in the most shameless opportunism, also to suggest that the President welcomes the Gulf disaster.
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown has been all over cable television recently bashing the federal response to the oil spill off the Gulf Coast.
But he doesn’t see it as an attempt to rehabilitate his image or set the record straight. Nothing that dramatic.
Rather, he just wants the publicity. He wants to sell his new book, he says, and he wants to get some clients for his company.
“There’s that phrase, ‘Any publicity is good publicity’” Brown told POLITICO. “I kind of buy into that.”
It might go, too, without saying (though manifestly it does not) that if one were to choose – theoretically, honorably – to head a commission to investigate the conduct of a war, and pass judgment on a nation, a war in which one of the parties struggles with another, adversarial population, one should not have been, as Richard Goldstone was, a judge in apartheid South Africa, sentencing members of an oppressed and dehumanized population to death, functioning as a part of the system, perpetuating the system. One would not, as a Jew, given twentieth century Jewish history, defend oneself by asserting that “as a judge during Apartheid he was obliged to abide by the state’s laws.”
It isn’t really, in the end – our own ends – a matter of who is right on illegal immigration. We could make a bet (but who gets to hold the money?) – that argument will still be going on when we’re dead.