Friday, February 27, 2004

indecision.

A few months ago, my perspective on the political world seemed extremely clear. The Democratic primaries were in full swing, it looked like Dean had a good chance of getting the nod, and the biggest question was of how to ensure that he would win in the general election against Bush. I didn't agree with Dean about everything and there were legitimate questions of how well his left of the DNC perspective would fare in the general election, but it felt like there was a kind of energy in mainstream electoral politics that my young eyes were unaccustomed to seeing. Despite the doubts, I was getting ready for what I thought would be an all out, us against them, political brawl for the voting public. There were even some signs that Dean could revolutionize the very space of what was considered to be legitimate electoral politics and could break from the assumptions that one has to move to the center to win in an election in the United States that have been the bread and butter of liberal activism for the last decade. I may have been slightly apprehensive, but I knew that I could support Dean's candidacy in good conscience and thought that maybe this could signal a shift from the "lesser of two evils" thought process that I've been less than fond of for several years.

Things are different now. I completely misjudged what would happen in the primaries. Dean's gone and now it looks like Kerry's going to be the Democratic option. Edwards is still in the race, but everyone knows what's going to happen.

This is where, in the past few weeks, things have gotten much less clear. A friend recently asked me who I would vote for in the general election. "Whoever gets the Democratic nomination... clearly." That sentence spoke to a broader "anybody but Bush" attitude held by many American leftists these days. I’ve certainly bought into much of the anti-Bush sentiment and, with my distaste for the administration growing unabated, daily, I was somewhat surprised when my friend questioned by unconditional allegiance to the Democratic party this election cycle. He spoke of his distaste for the two party system and argued that as long as people accept the forced choice between the "lesser of two evils," nothing dramatic will happen to change that process. He told me that my pragmatic logic was the very thought process that was forcing me into that unhappy choice in the first place.

I was kind of impressed. It sounded exactly like something that I would have said four years ago while petitioning to get Nader's name on the Wyoming ballot. I have to admit that I kind of envy that kind of idealism and probably still resent much of the political disillusionment that I experienced in the wake of the 2000 Election, in which the worst possible candidate was victorious and was pushing a disgusting agenda that included the Mexico City gag rule, my idealistic political movement was being blamed for causing it, and my candidate didn't even come close to the 5% that would be needed to declare a Green Party victory. That time was rather disastrous and I still haven't recovered from the shock of it. Part of it made me cynical and led me to renounce electoral politics for a few years. Part of it also made me feel guilty for possibly contributing to Bush's election and drove me away from political radicalism. Although I now recognize that I was probably being a little hard on myself (Wyoming's three electoral votes were going to Bush either way and certainly wouldn't have made a difference in the scheme of things), I still realize that 2000 made me give in to the two party system that I'd opposed. Maybe, in some way, it broke my spirit and made me into one of the millions of Americans who refuse to conceptualize new ways of organizing life outside of the Status Quo. I felt like I had to compromise my values if I wanted to contribute to the political in any meaningful way.

All of this brings me to why things aren't so perfect anymore. Although there are huge areas that separate Kerry and Bush (especially in regard to reproductive freedom and Civil Rights, as I argued to my friend), there are some things that trouble me. Specifically, I'm referring to Kerry’s position on gay marriage. Now, at first I could accept a small amount of political jockeying on Kerry's part, especially if he said he supported civil unions and probably wouldn't actively oppose gay marriage, but it's now being reported that Kerry is supporting an anti-gay marriage amendment in Massachusetts (US Presidential candidate favours Massachusetts amendment).

This saddens me. It looks like Kerry is taking Rove's bait by playing his game and alienating people who may vote for him, while gaining few votes from the fundies who were never going to vote for him in the first place. I honestly think that this is exactly what the Bush campaign hoped Kerry would do.

And beside the tactical ramifications, there's also an ethical issue. There's a point when people need to take an ethical stand against bigotry. Kerry described the DOMA (that he rightfully voted against) as "legislative gay bashing" and refused to support it in good conscience. *This is the same damn thing.* How can the Massachusetts amendment be seen as anything other than more gay bashing?

The reason that Dean was so refreshing was that he didn't buy into the same old game of co-optation by unethical forces in the name of getting votes. Maybe that's what cost him the nomination, but there's something to be said about standing up for what you think is right, even if it flies in the face of mainstream theories of political strategy. With anti-gay amendments jumping out, left and right, and a number of communities defying the heterosexist norms embedded in marriage laws by giving out licenses in acts of civil disobedience, now is the perfect time to stand up and say "Hell no!" to anyone who wants to set back the clock on sexual civil rights. If we let ourselves be co-opted now, how will we answer to the next few generations? I can imagine what we would think of supposedly "progressive" politicians who would have done the same thing in the 60s:

"Sorry, but we were worried about losing an election, so we decided to hold back on civil rights for minorities and women. It's not like we had a choice or anything."

Horseshit. We do have choices and they're available to us every time we talk about identity, sexual norms, and the possibilities of family configurations or endorse candidates’ political platforms. I think Zizek has a point when he says that the solution to the current deadlock is not to retreat, but to engage in antagonism and fight for what we believe in.

It's time to draw a line in the sand and live up to what we owe to each other and ourselves. "No, I won't compromise on this issue anymore. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is just *wrong* and we're going to win this battle."

That still doesn't leave me with a clear decision of what to do about the 2004 election, but it does make me realize that, even if I end up supporting Kerry, it won't be blind support. The political fight isn't going to end in November. If the fight ends there, then we've already lost in the long run. We need to keep bigger principles in mind, even if they're risky. Maybe then we can shatter some of the violent and discriminatory parameters of contemporary social life and, maybe, do something miraculous that's never been done before.

And, hell, maybe I won’t vote for Kerry. I live in Wyoming. My friend may have had a point when he pointed out that there’s pretty much no risk in *not* voting for Kerry if you live here. Maybe there’s something to gain. Maybe there isn’t. In any event, I have a lot of things to think about in the next few months.

Friday, February 20, 2004

exile and a pseudo-event.

Downstairs, a room full of UW debate-folk are cutting cards in preparation for districts. There's a lot of random talk about arguments ("Here's what Lyotard's saying..." "The Homo Sacer exist in the space between the two deaths..." "TNWs lead to catastrophic space militarization..."), little in-jokes (some of which I get, some of which I don't), and spurts of high-pitched, speed-reading.

In this environment, I feel kind of like an exile. I'm torn between an interest in what they're talking about, as well as a quiet sense of jealousy at the kind of excitement that only NDT debate has ever inspired in me, and the animosity I continue to feel towards the activity and the memories of everything I hate about debate.

It's weird, because I kind of fit in here (I know a few things about some of the arguments), but I kind of don't (I haven't debated the topic, I can't read like a debater anymore). I'm connected just enough to realize how outside of their world I am.

Maybe, in a banal sense, I'm in a kind of death drive. I've officially and unofficially renounced my ties to the debate community, yet I refuse to maintain my death in that world. Debate eternally returns, in new manifestations, every day. Despite the fact that I don't have to do a single debate related thing, it's a presence that hovers over me... offering the promise of a world that seems good in retrospect, but was never really that great while I had it.

Then, in the midst of all of this selfish introspection, Mr. Falwell comes on TV. GLBT rights are all over the airwaves this week, so Lynchberg's authority on the "sanctity of marriage" has to make the rounds, denouncing the "perversity" of homosexuality. Nevermind the fact that churches still have the choice of who to marry. Nevermind marriage's heightened secular status that has zero bearing on reproduction. Nevermind the fact that Protestantism doesn't even consider marriage to be a sacrament. He's gotta come on TV and sound the alarm.

Falwell raises some very conflicting feelings in me. He makes all of my debate exile shit seem really petty and irrelevent. He makes me want to do something to make a statement about people. He also makes me feel hopeless.... How do you answer someone who says things like this? Habermas be damned, I don't think people hold racist, sexist, heterosexist, etc. opinions for rational reasons that can be dissuaded through logical debate. I'm not sure what good it does to debate Falwell on TV when his position has no bearing on any of the actual warrants for why he opposes gay marriage.

So what... the fuck... am I supposed to do about this?

Become a nihilistic cynic? Interrogate his desire? What the hell would that even do?

Yeah, so this whole thing's useless. I just don't know today.

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A really bizarre Link:

S.F. Mayor Defiant, Marries Gay Couples

This link has a little tidbit of the utter absurdity of the anti-GLBT "movement." This quote is just surreal: "About 25 anti-gay protesters later blocked the door of the county clerk's office, lying down in front of the line and singing religious songs. Gays and lesbians responded by belting out ``The Star-Spangled Banner'' until sheriff's deputies escorted the protesters out. No arrests were made."

They laid down in front of the door to block people they don't even know from doing something that doesn't even affect them. This reminds me of Badiou's argument that the real Event has been replaced by the pseudo-event. Social Conservatives who have grown up feeling the need to be persecuted due to the direction of their religion following the Black Plague are trying to find something meaningful to fill the gap that is the utter (near) absence of oppression of Christians in the United States. So... they create a mock event... laying down in front of doors as if they're civil rights or anti-apartheid protesters, creating the resemblance of an actual political cause that means something.

I wonder what they were singing... "We Shall Overcome?" This makes me kind of queasy.

----

So tomorrow I'm picking up a friend at the airport. Well, not just a friend, but an ex-girlfriend. She genuinely seems to want to see me and I care about her, but I'm at a deadlock about what to do about it. I just have this slowly growing empty feeling inside. The only things I feel passionate about are the words of dry theory... steril figures printed in books and scribbled on the back pages of my school notes.

I don't know how to express to anyone how I'm feeling right now. It's like there's a static-filled screen between my ears and a vat of hydrochloric acid slowly dissolving a dead bird in my stomach.