TUESDAY, MAY 10, 2022
Gail and Bret meet Roe v. Wade: It has been our view for quite some time that our nation's creaky political systems were breaking down—were ceasing to function in a minimal way, were essentially falling apart.
With that in mind, we first cited the classicist Norman O. Brown at least as far back as July 2009. Brown got very hot in the mid to late 1960s, especially among those of us on the left.
During that street-fighting era, Brown published several inscrutable though widely-read books. At one point, he described the way societies die in a Phi Beta Kappa address:
BROWN (1966): I sometimes think I see that societies originate in the discovery of some secret, some mystery; and end in exhaustion when there is no longer any secret, when the mystery has been divulged, that is to say profaned...And so there comes a time—I believe we are in such a time—when civilization has to be renewed by the discovery of some new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the imagination, by the undemocratic power which makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of all mankind, the power which makes all things new.
We don’t have the slightest idea what Brown meant by that. But that statement began to rise in our brain as far back as 2009, as we saw our nation's population dividing into warring tribes, as we saw our various constitutional systems starting to fall apart.
Now we're engaged in a great civil war—a war in which our two warring tribes, Balkans style, can't even agree on the language with which to discuss the matter at issue.
For the blue tribe to which we belong, this incipient civil war concerns "a woman's right to control her own body." For those who reside in the other (red) tribe, this incipient civil war concerns the killing of an "unborn child."
The tribes huddle around those competing formulations, and rarely the twain shall meet. It's very hard to settle disputes in such circumstances.
This leads us to a question:
At this point, can our civilization, such as it has been, possibly "be renewed by the discovery of some new mysteries?" Can it be renewed "by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the imagination?" Is there some way we can find the power "to make all things new?"
Whatever that question actually means, the answer doesn't seem obvious. At present, two name-calling tribes stand in stark opposition. Under arrangements forged in the past thirty years, each possesses an array of powerful media companies which urge this tribal division on.
Each tribe is inclined to see things in its own way, and in no other way. Deeply destructive wars tend to flow from such circumstances. In the current circumstance, the following must be said:
In the current circumstance, an array of creaking institutions tend to favor the political interests of the red, "conservative" tribe.
In the current circumstance, it's easier for the red tribe to win control of the Senate. It's easier for their presidential candidates to win the electoral college.
Concentration of liberal voters in large urban areas tend to make it easier for the red tribe to control the House. Members of our own blue tribe might want to keep such facts in mind as we stumble into an uncertain future, but there's no reason to assume that we will.
What should the liberal world do in the face of these circumstances? In response to that question, we offer this advice
Do not assume that our tribe's political and journalistic leaders will exercise sound judgment.
At times like these, we humans are inclined to follow our tribal leaders. That said, over here in the blue tribe, our tribal leaders have routinely exercised extremely limited judgment dating back at least to the early 1990s.
As such, you can't assume that your favorite journalists are exercising sound judgment. You can't assume that your political leaders are doing so either.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, how should our blue tribe respond? It seems to us that the latest conversation between Gail Collins and Bret Stephens helps us examine a host of related questions.
The conversation appears in today's New York Times. We'll start to peruse it tomorrow.
Stephens opines from the center right, Collins from the center left. In our view, Collins has been exercising limited judgment dating back to her role in the disastrous press coverage of Campaign 2000.
That, of course, was the campaign which sent George W. Bush to the White House—and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Collins is a good, decent person, but it seems to us that she has been offering imperfect intellectual leadership dating back that far. In short:
At this deeply perilous time, we shouldn't be trusting our leaders.
When we read today's conversation, we thought of a phrase from one of the nation's best-known founding documents. As the founders, such as they were, declared independence from a European king, they stated the need to extend "decent respect to the opinions of [hu]mankind."
At times of angry tribal war, human groups rarely display a "decent respect" for the opinions of Others. It seems to us that our disadvantaged blue tribe might want to rethink that potent human impulse.
Our time is limited again today. We'll start at this point tomorrow.
Should we learn to respect the opinions of Others? Especially under prevailing circumstances, we're suggesting the answer is yes.
Brown's books: Norman O. Brown got very hot in the 1960s. The two books to which we refer were Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (1959), and Love's Body (1966).