Sunday, June 9, 2013

"Those" People

[photo (c) Eric Tourneret, ]

I have spent a lot of time lately excoriating William F. Buckley and, more, our act, as a culture, of putting him on a great grand pedestal of a PBS television show which ran for decades and implied that he was an intellectual par excellence, a seer, a wise voice counseling us all to at least "go slow," (to quote Nina Simone). I posted a segment of the long "debate" with James Baldwin which, for all that he lost the debate, somehow made his bones with the cultural elite which anointed him. Even in the debate itself, and as well in the subsequent anointing, Baldwin's point is made by Buckley and the culture--exemplified. Baldwin objects that he, as a black man in America, is taught his "place," that there is not even an alternative choice. And in Buckley's willingness to objectify "those people" and characterize them, he entirely admits Baldwin's thesis, that this is exactly what it's like.

This sort of thinking still persists, and is easily, almost randomly discovered. Only last weekend I encountered it immediately upon turning to a John Stossel television show, where I found some "libertarian" pundit discussing the need for a personal interaction between "those people" who receive public assistance, and the localized benefactor class who would he hoped replace so-called faceless bureaucrats who don't make eye contact because they are not in the same place. The whole rigamarole was about guilt and shame, and a libertarian utopian fantasy of what might possibly come "after" the end of our tattered and failing social safety net.

That this arrogance persists right along, generation after generation, is shocking, even if it is perhaps a terrible truth about human nature--something we as a whole are confined by even as we are confined in the tiny place our planet inhabits, and the tiny temporal frame of our hospitable environment--something we can even understand by just looking at fossils and glacier tracks, much less acknowledging that in tiny bits of seeming darkness in the night sky reside in fact billions of galaxies, which are as unreachable as the hope of entirely ending racism.

[Hat tip to Digby, who posted this video on her site today.]

So this morning I encountered a beautiful acknowledgement of a great poet by a terrific blogger and writer:

Gwendolyn Brooks has been dead for 13 years. While living she wrote some of the finest poems around. O'Malley quotes this one:

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

The sad thing about William F. Buckley is that he spent his whole life defending the indefensible. There is a tragic arrogance to his life's work that points directly to despair. It seems doubtful that Buckley ever allowed his obviously fine mind to look directly into this pit of horror. He was instead content to live in his luxury, enjoying his privilege, his "star" status, his yacht, his "place." No one ever came in from outside. There was never even one moment of reality to intrude on his racist fantasy. The best that can be said is, Gore Vidal really pissed him off.

Oh yes, indeed, human nature does nontheless trap us all. This lesson is deeper, and more subtle. We watch with some dismay as Mr. Obama, who must have thought he had a great opportunity to repair a lot of damage, is instead wrapped in the cocoon of inevitables which deliver him to drone strikes and wiretaps and all the rest, the great necessity of survival, the contradiction of power and mercy. Already nice liberals like Jonathan Alter have published books explaining that at least Obama has saved us--for now--from the advent of true Republican rule again.

Meanwhile, as we discover a hundred billion new (ancient) out-of-reach galaxies, we watch the Arctic Ocean melt away, and set our engineers the task of finding the oil and gas that lies beneath those dark blue waters. We are always busy as bees.

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