Responding to the disaster in Japan, Elzbieta Matynia reminded us that our politics and our conflicts all are overshadowed by our need for human solidarity in supporting our common world, which crucially includes our natural environment. Yet, this doesn’t mean turning away from politics. It’s through politics that such solidarity, rather than enforced unity, is constituted. It is through deliberate discussion, informed intelligent talk, that such politics becomes successful. Difficult issues must be discussed and acted upon. Action without discussion results in tyranny, with or without good intentions. DC is dedicated to informed discussion about exactly this issue, which we have considered from a number of different concerns and viewpoints this week.
Andrew Arato’s analysis of the democratic prospects in Egypt involved careful examination of the prospects for revolutionary change. His is a sober account, drawing upon years of research and political experience. When he notes that under dictatorship “revolutions rarely can bring about a democratic transformation,” yielding either mere coups or new forms of authoritarian rule, he is underscoring the dangers of monologic action. When he argues that “it is negotiated transitions based on compromise among many actors” that most likely will yield a constitutional democratic government, pointing to the successful endings of dictatorships of our recent past, he is showing how central deliberate discussion is. “It is very important that in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the East Germany and South Africa oppositions demanded not the fall of a government, but comprehensive negotiations concerning regime change: its timing, rules, procedures, and guarantees.”
As he did last week, Gary Alan Fine again provoked an interesting discussion, showing how humor can be a very serious matter. Drawing upon the insights of Pope Benedict XVI and Lenny Bruce, considering the cases of the Jewish complicity of the murder of Christ, Jared Lee Loughner, James Earl Ray and this week’s House investigation of American Muslim radicalization, he examines the relationship between collective guilt and individual responsibility, showing that this is not an easy issue. I found his argument both interesting and disturbing. He explains the complicated field but he doesn’t take a stand, makes it almost seem that a stand cannot, perhaps even should not, be taken by the sociologist.
Indeed it is absurd and depressing that Jewish responsibility for the killing of Christ is still being discussed as a serious matter by the leader of the Catholic Church. But, as Fine points out, it is a mistake to think that only James Earl Ray was responsible for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The constituted racist order of the United States, especially of the former Confederacy, which is still being celebrated, surely helped to create and motivate the gunman and that should be critically examined. And following this logic, Fine seems to support the present House investigation, which I think or at least judge to be nothing more than a witch hunt.
Fine’s sociological eye sees the dilemma and his pen illuminates it. But the sociological dilemma points to the necessity of making a judgment and discussing it. When does the link between the community and individual action require a forceful criticism not only of the responsible individual but also for the community at large? When is the assertion of such responsibility a sign of xenophobia or some other hatred, the sort that Matynia thinks we should cast aside when we take responsibility for our common world? This requires commitment. Something that Fine shies away from, at least in this post.
The responses of Felipe Pait, countering Fine’s humor with his own, and of Scott, thinking about his anti-war anarchist friend in Spain being accused of responsibility for Bush’s War in Iraq, point to the need to take some responsibility, drawing upon sociological insights such as Fine’s. As Michael Corey notes quoting Peter Berger, “Unlike puppets, we have the possibility of stopping in our movements, looking up and perceiving the machinery by which we have been moved. In this act lies the first step towards freedom. And in this act we find the conclusive justification of sociology as a humanistic discipline … ” This is something that needs to inform public discussion, something we need to talk about.
Informed public discussion, more informed criticism of a repressive religious tyranny, is a deep concern for Ahmad Sadri. He illuminated in his post a problem in the Iranian opposition that is not often seen abroad. Sadri worries about a unitary dogmatic secularism replacing a dogmatic Islamism. He presents a window into an exciting debate that will have significant consequences. It is not surprising that in the face of theocracy, there are critics in Iran who are demanding secular purity. But Sadri recognizes that this purity may be just as dangerous as the present tyranny. I am reminded of a key intellectual intervention in the developing democratic opposition in Poland, Adam Michnik’s The Church, The Left and Dialogue. Sadri, like Michnik, knows that it is necessary for democrats of the world to engage in dialogue, even if they don’t unite. They should seek solidarity around shared democratic principles.
Close to home, on International Women’s day, Esther Kreider-Verhalle, thought about the problems of childcare in her community. Hers was a reflection on the problems of everyday life that point to a more significant issue: how does American society support the ideal of gender equality? When women are actively involved in the work force, do we have reasonable and affordable ways in place to take care of our children? Her reflections are funny: “Some schools ask parents in all seriousness for essays and letters of recommendation. In the essay, one must describe the child’s academic, social and personal strengths and challenges. Strength: knows his alphabet and can count way beyond ten; weaknesses: has a limited attention span and has an occasional tantrum during which both numbers and letters are thrown around.” But the situation is very serious, and for the poor tragic, particularly in an era when various public community centers are facing severe cutbacks, something I will post on next week.
Solidarity through dialogue was the theme of the week.