Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On being "in control"
Echidne is feeling some angst over her powerlessness:
Someone on a political thread somewhere in the lefty blogosphere used this structure: "When we get back in control..." in talking about what might happen after the wingnuts have been defeated.

This sentence scrap kept echoing in my head afterwards and wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to attend to it. Here's the attending:

I will never be in control. I have never been in control and expect never to gain control over anything much. This I know for a fact. Why, then, can someone else so trustingly expect to have control over the political situation? What is it that makes me feel as if I have really very little say on this planet? ...

This is all totally trivial. Or is it? Why do I feel as if my voice is inaudible in this world? Because it is? Because all our voices are inaudible in a world where only money and guns and gods can speak? Or is this a woman-thing? Something to do with the new pope, perhaps, with the celebration and glorification of a man who would not listen to women? Who would not listen to anyone with values like mine?

There's more and the comments are well worth reading.

I, too, cringe at that "When we get back in control..." line for the same reason and for some additional ones. First, let me assure Echidne that feeling unseen and unheard is not exclusively a woman thing. Nor is it a temporary state brought on by this Pope, or this President, or the industrial age.

At the very least, alienation is part of the human condition. It's the price we pay for our big brains and our awareness of the sheer size of natural creation and our own mortality. To say that is almost a cliché and comes close to cheapening Echidne's present angst by over-relativizing it. I believe she is talking about more than normal, garden variety background angst. There are very real reasons to feel worse than usual these days. I'd itemize them, but think you all know the list by heart.

My personal problem with the phrase "When we get back in control" is two-fold. One is that there no guarantee that we will ever "get back in control." Too many writers treat the ebb and flow of power between the parties as if it were a law of nature. It is not. All things end. That includes the American Republic. Many of the supporters of this administration are honest about their revolutionary goals. They expect to take complete power and stay there. Pay attention to the Christian Reconstructionists. They want to establish a theocratic oligarchy where only male members of the correct church are oligachs. They do not control the government yet, nor do they control the Republican Party. But they have crept further into the mainstream than most of us ever believed possible.

If that sounds completely off in conspiracy-land, look at the filibuster controversy and ask yourself this: why would the Republicans make a rule change that could so easily be used against them when the Democrats are back in control? Are they all completely blind and stupid or do some of them intend to never let the Democrats back into power?

This brings us to my other reason for disliking the phrase "When we get back in control." Personally, I don't like the idea of anybody being "in control." I want competent and liberal people in positions of responsibility and authority. But, I want them to answerable to me, not in control of me. "Control" is a word like "leadership" that immediately puts me on the defensive. As long as I have been aware of elections, I've cringed at the biennial demand for leaders. I don't want to be led, thank you very much; I'm a grown up and I can make my own decisions (even if I take a long time to do it).

Both words imply the sort of top-down, hierarchical thinking that I despise. I'm a bottom-up, collegial sort of guy. I don't view the current struggle as our dictatorship versus their dictatorship. I view it as dictatorship versus democracy. If we have a dictator--even if it's our dictator--I'm going to do everything I can to undermine him (or her, but probably him).

In a way, this brings me back to Echidne's feeling of powerlessness. Despite the administration's claim that freedom is on the march, democracy is losing ground in the US. Little people (like me) and little goddesses (like Echidne) simply are not valued as much as we were just a few years ago. She asks if we feel vanishingly small "[b]ecause all our voices are inaudible in a world where only money and guns and gods can speak." Yep. That's the problem.

The brave new world adores power to point of completely disregarding anyone who is not in the top one percent. But we have not vanished yet. The warm glow of the Enlightenment has not been completely extinguished. We might be dust-mote small, but if we all shout together Horton will hear us. The key is to remind people that the culture war really is a war of civilizations and not merely another cyclic rotation of political power. If we want to regain influence, we can't expect it to inevitably return like a season (hell, if we allow these people to remain, we can't even expect the seasons to return). We have to fight for our place, however tired we may be.

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