Re-thinking / re-feeling politics

Something to consider from Bruno Latour: “Politicians are the scapegoats, the sacrificial lambs. We deride, despise, and hate them. We compete to denounce their venality and incompetence, their blinkered vision, their schemes and compromises, their failures, their pragmatism or lack of realism, their demagogy. Only in politics are trials of strength thought to define the shape of things. It is only politicians who are thought to be dishonest, who are held to grope in the dark. … It takes something like courage to admit that we will never do better than a politician.”

None of us are above politics. However, if too many of us withdraw from politics with an attitude of moral (or intellectual!) superiority will increasingly make politics something we will want to withdraw from. But to reengage we will have to re-think (and consequently re-feel) “politics”, and stop using the term in the disparaging popular sense which connotes deceit, manipulation and abuse of power.

I’ve found Hannah Arendt’s characterization of politics to be helpful: “Action … corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world. While all aspects of the human condition are somehow related to politics, this plurality is specifically the condition — not only the conditio sine qua non [the essential condition], but the conditio per quam [the required condition] — of all political life.”

In other words, politics is the conscious navigation of a pluralist reality, where our own views are one of myriad possible views, where others are in the same state as ourselves: finite and fallible. But if we will gather in the spirit of humility and respect and desire to understand, and adhere to a political faith that the (considerable) suffering of the process is not only obligatory but worth undergoing — we might find ourselves re-thinking what seemed to be no-brainers, and, consequently, re-feeling what seemed to be eternal convictions.

This deeply weird* re-thinking/re-feeling experience is called “metanoia”. But metanoia only comes when we take two political rules very seriously 1) that though reality is intellectually inexhaustible, we continue to try to know it and respect it as much as we are able, and 2) we respect our fellow-humans as someone who, just like us, has something to teach us. Further, we must take these these two rules as, for all practical purposes, the same exact rule, our highest political commandment.

This is what genuine politics requires. It is an exceptionally difficult path — so difficult we are 100% doomed to perpetual failure. But we can always recover from our failures and even learn from them, and it can even bring about yet more metanoia, which turns the failures into healing and growth and all that good stuff we all want to want. And despite our wishes, this process never ends. The minute we think it has ended we degrade into ideologues who think we are right (and we usually are somewhat right, at least in the gnat-like minutiae) but in a far more important sense we are wronger than wrong.

I’d follow all this us with a disqualifying, “anyway, that’s just my opinion”, except that would be disingenuous. I really think this is both right and true, and this is what I will wholeheartedly believe until I’m bowled over by the next metanoia.

(* When I say that I don’t believe in magic, but do believe in miracles, this is the sort of thing I am talking about. My hostility to magic is rooted in the fact that facile magical “explanations” dismantle miracle-inducing perplexities.)

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