|By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota,|
via Wikimedia Commons
I propose to offer a look at some of the problems over the next little while. I can propose solutions for some of our problems; for others, I have no real or comprehensive solution to offer.
We have a bad habit of confusing politics with the search for personal perfection. Conservatives have often fallen victim to that habit as well. We on the Left need to stop it. To illustrate what I mean by "perfection", consider this post by the Auburn Seminary: A letter to white Christians. Most of it proposes perfectly reasonable measures, but in the middle I find the following sentence that encapsulates, almost perfectly, a basic problem with the way much of the Left views the world and our work in it:
Have we done the inner work to face and turn away from of our own deep prejudices based on race, gender, racism, religion, and national origin?
|Confessional, By Vincent de Groot via Wikimedia Commons|
Anyone who tries to use politics, and in particular any notion of political accountability, as a vehicle for personal redemption, or "inner work" will face three debilitating problems.
First, trying to make myself the "perfect ally" will not work, because I have no "perfect" oppressed person to ally with. Members of oppressed "groups" have different outlooks and different priorities, just like everyone else. Not only will I make mistakes, in many ways the whole political process depends on making mistakes: we try things until we reach a state of conflict everyone can live with.
Second, the pursuit of interior perfection distracts in two ways: it takes energy to do "interior work", and it builds up our investment in our own self image as an enlightened person. Most of energy we expend looking for personal redemption through politics will probably end up wasted, and to the extent our investment in a view of ourselves as enlightened makes us reluctant to actually put ourselves into the work, it does active harm. When it comes to political action, only showing up really counts.
Finally, the more we invest in an image of ourselves as redeemed through politics, the less we can effectively reach out to the "sinners" on the other side. Like it or not, some of our fellow citizens have very different ideas of what justice looks like, and political action will accomplish very little of lasting value if it does not produce something that everyone can live with. Doing that requires empathy with our opponents, something practical politicians cultivate, and something a search for purity will hinder, if not prevent.
Our search for purity through political action, or more precisely for purity as a prerequisite to political action has lead to failure. I suggest the time has long come, and gone, for us to roll up our imperfect sleeves over our less than pure arms, and to take on the work we need to do to counter the failures and mistakes of the previous decades. We clearly have a lot to do.