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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Enemy of the Good – and of Community

Once again, for the umpteenth time, I’ve been obsessing about the notion of ‘community’ and whether or not community – coming together as one -- ever exists in human societies, except as an ideal. Maybe now and then, briefly, in experiences of celebration or mourning, but day to day? Even in groups of like-minded individuals, it seems, those individuals are constantly testing one another to answer the question, Are you really ‘one of us’?

Once again, I’m feeling there is nowhere I truly belong. This morning, in fact, I woke up with a French song in my head, a song by Alain Souchon expressing modern alienation so beautifully that if you didn’t know French you would never know it for a sad song. And I would keep these negative feelings to myself, except that I’m pretty sure a lot of other people feel the same way.

Where do my feelings come from this time? I can tell you. Lately I’ve been saddened, in exchanges with people I know would be ashamed to exclude or stigmatize others on the basis of skin color or religion or ethnic background, to find that they have no problem excluding or stigmatizing on the basis of gender or association. A liberal mind, whether possessed by man or woman, recoils at male dismissal of “women writers,” and yet a woman writer friend of mine says she has no use whatsoever for anything written by a “dead white male.” Anything? I am stunned and speechless. This friend is willing to read books by living white males, but another rules out all men, white or otherwise.

Then there is Facebook, sometimes fun, sometimes torment. In the past few days, it has been the latter.

Imagine yourself a famous person. Wherever you go, people want pictures of themselves with you. Imagine yourself with friends in Hollywood. You go to parties and have your picture taken with others there. Imagine yourself running for high political office, with supporters contributing to your political campaign. Do you vett each contributor? Refuse contributions unless a contributor’s values, personal and political, align completely with yours? How can you know?

Well, well now! Isn’t this wonderful? We have found a way to discredit individuals we could not sufficiently condemn any other way: guilt by association!

Somehow for most of my life I had missed a saying that has recently grown to have enormous meaning for me: “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” All through last year’s campaign cycle, one dear friend posted one link or comment after another showering Democratic candidates and office-holders with scorn for their failings. I know this person did not support or vote for the current administration in Washington. But wait! Is that correct? I say “did not support,” but he could hardly have worked harder against the Democratic ticket had he been wearing an elephant costume.

I’ve never been a loyalist of any party and would never claim any candidate or office-holder beyond criticism. No human being is perfect, after all -- and that's exactly my point. No politician will say precisely what I would wish or do exactly as I would hope. Sometimes we will disagree on certain ends, other times on means, and often compromise will be necessary to get anything done at all. I did not understand this at age 18, but I understand it now. I don’t expect perfection, either from friends or from politicians.

But that doesn’t mean anything goes or that there are no standards. There are better and worse choices. Bad-mouth the better at every opportunity, and you give ammunition to the much worse. Throw away the better because it isn’t perfect, and you pave the way for enthroning the much worse.

If the views of my friends can be attributed to me by association, then am I too guilty of hating male writers and condemning imperfect liberal politicians? Does that make any sense whatsoever? And where, then, would you find a single not-guilty person in the world?

Is there an alternative? Should I un-friend everyone who disagrees with me on anything important? Cut off dialogue? What a dilemma!

The dilemma is wrenching. On the one hand, liberals are urged, and even urge one another, to listen to those with different views and values, however violently opposed to their own. On the other hand, it seems that the closer those liberal values align to anyone in politics, the more we are urged, by the same people urging listening to the opposition, to condemn any politician who falls short of heroic perfection.

The hell with it! Life is too damn short to spend it wallowing in negativity, and I found a way to cheer myself up today. BeauSoleil, the Cajun band, is coming to the Dennos Museum Center, and I’ll be there in the front row, lettin’ the good times roll!

People come together in music like nowhere else.

P.S. 10/13/2017 - You think I was pissed off and sarcastic? Read what Rebecca Solnit has to say. Man, she is the greatest!


Trudy Carpenter said...

Pamela, your comments always make me think, and I appreciate that. I'm glad you found a way to let the good times roll--even if only for a few hours. I feel proud to be your friend.

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, Trudy! I value your friendship as well! And I should note that the mere anticipation of such good times as provided by BeauSoleil reached immediately into my present and turned the day around -- and that was also helped by a series of lovely bookstore customers. It turned out to be a lovely day!