In my book, The Cynical Society, published in 1991, I had a simple project. I sought to show that along with the manipulation and cynicism of contemporary politics and political reporting, there was ongoing real principled democratic debate in American society. I criticized one dimensional accounts of American society that saw the debate between Ronald Reagan and his opponents, for example, as being about his personality and theirs, the interests he served and they served, and the manipulative strategies of both sides. They didn’t recognize that fundamental issues in American public life were being debated, specifically about the role of the state in our economy. I worried that people who didn’t like the prevailing order of things confused their cynicism with criticism, and in the process resigned from offering alternatives. My posts this week were extensions of that project to our present circumstances.
I attempted to illuminate the ways in which Barack Obama’s Presidency was and still is about fundamental change in my first post, and I tried to illuminate the terrain of principled political debate in my second post, additionally accounting for Obama’s position. America is a cynical society, but it is also a democratic one. A rosy colored view is naïve, while an exclusively dark one is enervating. I insist on understanding both dimensions.
But as the host of Deliberately Considered, I am learning and expanding my understanding. My two dimensional picture is limited and conceals some important matters, specifically the emotional dimension. We should keep in mind that we don’t only act on principle and reason and pursue our interests with strategies that are sometimes manipulative. We also act out and upon our emotions, as James Jasper explored in his posts a couple of weeks ago, and Gary Alan Fine has analyzed as well. Indeed Richard Dienst’s “bonds of debt,” that Vince Carducci reports on, are more emotional than rational, highlighting the connection between attachment, indebtedness and power, making it . . .
Read more: DC Week in Review: The Cynical Society and Beyond
Thursday, I considered President Obama’s speech, informed by William Milberg’s analysis of Senator Ryan’s budget proposal. My conclusion: the terms of the political debate for the 2012 elections are being set to the President’s strong advantage. I am pleased, but even more pleased because two serious opposing views of America and its public good will be debated. A rational discussion about this seems likely. There will be smoke and mirrors to be sure, but this is a time for grand politics in the sense of Alexis de Tocqueville and a grand political contest we will get.
This is especially important given the present state of affairs in the United States and abroad. But Presidential leadership will not solve all problems. Indeed, much of the politically significant action occurs off the central political stage, in what I refer to as “the politics of small things.” This dimension of politics has been on our minds this week in the form of three very different cases: the Tea Party in the United States, and The Freedom Theatre and the International Solidarity Committee in occupied Palestine.
The Tea Party is a looming presence in American politics. But it is in a sense “no thing”, as Gary Alan Fine puts it. It is a social movement that emerged in response to major changes associated with the election and early administration of Barack Obama, and a response to the global economic crisis. Fine and I disagree in our judgment of the “Tea Party patriots.” Indeed, I, along with Iris, am not sure how rational they are, but that is actually a political matter. As an objective observer of the human comedy, i.e. as a sociologist, I am particularly intrigued by the no thing qualities of the Tea Party which Fine considers.
A media performance occurs. An agitated announcer denounces policies said to be supporting losers, calling for a new tea party demonstration. People, who can’t take it anymore, come together in small groups all around the country, . . .
Read more: DC Week in Review: Ryan’s Budget, the President’s Speech and the Tea Party between Two Assassinations
Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian peace activist, was abducted in Gaza City yesterday, and then killed, apparently by a Salafist group opposed to Hamas. The news already has shaken Italy and Europe, and it will also make for some somber headlines here in the USA.
Arrigoni arrived in Gaza three years ago as part of the International Solidarity Movement, a network of foreign activists who deliberately choose to live in the heart of the occupied territories to bear witness to the continuing harassment of the Palestinian population at the hands of the Israeli occupier (be they military or of the radical settler movements). Some of these activists live in remote villages, some accompany ambulances through checkpoints. Often IDF soldiers let the vehicles through simply because there is a ‘white’ person onboard. Others organize protests around Israel’s Separation Wall or in Palestinian villages, such as Budrus, Ni’lin, non-violently protesting. All confront the apartheid nature of the occupation. For this reason, Israel tries to prevent them from entering its territories, attempting to silence these annoying witnesses.
Arrigoni was such a witness-activist. Choosing Gaza as the place of his activism, he was one of the very few non-diplomat foreigners present during the Operation Cast Lead (Dec. 2008-January 2009). His blogs and reports were published on the Italian leftist daily Il Manifesto for which he kept sending reports.
Gaza has been off limits to most foreigners and at times fully inaccessible to journalists and even ambassadors. Israel controls all of the borders around the Palestinian territories. Based on his experience in the 2008-2009 war, Arrigoni published a poignant book entitled Restiamo Umani, which can be translated in the affirmative as “We Remain Human” or in the imperative form as “Let Us Stay Human.” Giving a human face to the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza was Arrigoni’s mission. His was an urgent sense of witnessing the ordeal of ordinary Palestinians.
But why would a Palestinian group execute him? The official line is that a radical Salafist group, opposed to Hamas, had captured him hoping to exchange his release for the release . . .
Read more: On the Assassination of Vittorio Arrigoni: We Remain Human