Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bobby Sands was an MP

Bobby Sands
(public domain image)
Bobby Sands (March 9th 1957-May 5th 1981) was a Member of Parliament.

This fact did not sit well with Margaret Thatcher or the rest of the British establishment. And of course, it shouldn't have; his election was a direct rebuke of Thatcherite Britain and unionist Irish politicians. The British parliament responded accordingly and, when his death was announced in the body, they omitted the traditional condolences for him and his family.

I'm sure many will see this as an endorsement of Sands and the IRA, but it isn't. I'm in fact not really taking any position at all on Sands, the Troubles, northern Irish republicanism, or assorted issues. But I am insisting: Bobby Sands was an MP. Why? Because it happened. Because his election was an act of protest. Because regardless of whatever tangled thoughts I might have about a conflict I can't possibly understand beyond the hypothetical, I respect protest, dissent, and resistance. And because I am with Haruki Murakami:
"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide.
If you never have, you should read that entire piece. I admire it deeply and without reservation. I admire it in large part because it is so alien and out of place with the edifice of American political commentary, with its narrow definition of seriousness and the endless efforts of its members to demonstrate their fidelity to some strained, false notion of legitimate argument. With its idealism, its categorical moral statements, and its utter fearlessness about using terms like "the System" that seem almost designed to encourage snickers from the endlessly savvy political consciousness of this country, it amounts to a thorough rejection of that mode and all its assumptions. For that reason I celebrate it.

To see that attitude in action merely check out some of the comments on that piece, where the discourse police mock Murakami and condescend to define what it means to speak responsibly about politics. The permanent attitude towards convictions such as Murakami's, and mine, is incredulity, and the insistence that those convictions can exist only insofar as the are ill-considered or unexamined. I can't tell you how often I encounter actors in the political discourse (the connected, or those who wish to be) who say, "you can't really still think that. You can't really still argue that. You can't really still read that. What year is this? You lost this fight a long time ago. Responsible people don't argue that way." What is generally not countenanced is the idea that I could have heard the other arguments, known the history, learned the context, and chosen to believe what I believe anyway. A politics like mine is supposed to be embraced only within quotation marks. I am meant to believe what I believe only so long as I drown it in irony or signaling or the counterintuitive. Something to show that I am not one of those, that I have gotten with the times.

There is, I'm sure, some commitment to acting out. Murakami, again: "I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me -- and especially if they are warning me -- 'Don't go there,' 'Don't do that,' I tend to want to 'go there' and 'do that.'" This commitment, too, to being a punk, to resisting conformity, to rebellion for its own sake-- this too is generative and important. I don't want to be cool with you. Nothing could be a more glaring sign that I need to correct my course than if I get credit from the with it, the connected, and the cool.

So: between the high hard wall and the egg, I will always choose the egg, no matter how right the wall, no matter how wrong the egg. Between prison guards and the prisoners they beat and terrorize, I will always choose the prisoners. Between the powerful nation and the men who starve themselves to death in protest against it, I will always choose the protesters. I don't claim that their stance is right or that my choosing is responsible. Others will have to decide what is right or what is responsible.

I don't have a stance on the IRA. I don't and can't reconcile the protection of innocent lives with the IRA's actions. I have no opinion on the blurry lines between the revolutions we like and the terrorism we don't. I am saying very little, except to say, on his birthday: Bobby Sands was an MP.


Cole Porter said...

In my home town recently, an old neighbors house was covered with spoiled eggs and racist graffiti. Pretty frightening, but at least no one was hurt.

Josh said...

Thanks for the link to the Murakami speech; I had never read it before.

Regarding the comments on it you mention, which I can't bring myself to read: So, for all its advantages, Western culture is inherently materialist, right? Like, all the shit Victor Davis Hanson panegyrizes in Who Killed Homer?, which I think he is largely right to panegyrize, is rooted in empirical analysis.

The problem is that material phenomena (and our analyses of them, too) go through phases: They're new to us and seem great, and then either they wear out or the environment eventually, inevitably changes and they don't work very well anymore, and finally we discard them and replace them with upgraded or entirely different versions. (Or we just don't replace them at all.)

But that fundamental bias toward approaching problems this way means that, as a culture, we reflexively believe immaterial, persistent metaphors like "the System" must become outdated -- and then we sneer at them. (Of course, it's weird that we sneer at things at all for becoming old, but we're zealously focused on efficient cause and practical functionality.)

Joshua A Miller said...

He was only ever convicted of weapons possession, though you wouldn't know it from his sentence.

That said, there are multiple eggs here. If the worst charges are true, then Bobby Sands wasn't always the egg: some days, he was the wall.

PT said...

I recommend the 2008 movie "Hunger". . Very well done.

Freddie said...

You aren't wrong, Joshua Miller.

Ian McCullough said...

My dad I are were discussing the protests in Iran a few months ago, I said 'There are guys swinging batons and people getting hit and I'm with the people getting hit.' Dad, 'You got that right.'

Phil K. said...

So you loudly claim the moral high ground while shrugging off the responsibility of determining right and wrong? That's not rebellion for its own sake—it's rebellion for your sake, for the sake of your pose.

Evan H said...

Man, ever since you started blogging again, I've been trying to put my finger on what it is exactly that makes a basically likeable guy like you habitually act like a jerk in political discussions. Thanks for clarifying it

(...that's not sarcasm or a clever line, I seriously appreciate that you've made clear exactly and precisely the specific moral error underlying many of the things you say. I read and enjoy your work even though I find much of it indefensible and infuriating. I'm sorry to put you down in your own blog but tact ain't really my strong suit, I'm sure you can sympathize.)

Freddie said...

You'll find that most people are deeply opposed to the very idea of an ethos.

Freddie said...

By which I mean, I'm much happier for you to tell me that you think I'm morally wrong, and to believe that it comes from my real personal convictions, rather than telling me (as many do) that I don't or can't actually believe what I believe.

HGL said...

This is all incoherent. You like Murakami's speech because of its "its categorical moral statements", and argue about "what it means to speak responsibly about politics".

In the exact same piece, "I don't claim that their stance is right or that my choosing is responsible. Others will have to decide what is right or what is responsible," "I don't have a stance on the IRA," "I'm in fact not really taking any position at all on Sands,"

These don't sound like categorical moral statements. They sound like the casual sloughing off of one's responsibility to figure out what's moral.

If you were actually undertaking a serious moral reckoning of your position (the egg, right or wrong), you wouldn't choose a conflict as fraught as the Troubles. You'd explain - for instance - why you side with the Chechens who took 750 innocent children hostage (almost 200 dying in the ultimate battle) because Chechnya is "the egg".

Freddie said...

If you were actually undertaking a serious moral reckoning of your position (the egg, right or wrong), you wouldn't choose a conflict as fraught as the Troubles.

Hard to imagine a more profound example of missing the point.

My commenters always imagine that they are responding to me, when really they are doing exactly what I am critiquing in my posts without realizing. Everything I wrote about in this post is exemplified in each of the comments critical of me here.

I have made this choice, and I stand for what I stand for, and that choice and that stance are out of step with conventional, unconsidered opinion, and so people have to freak out. It's just conformity they're after. Nothing more.

HGL said...

You just took out-of-context quotes to an art form. I used fraught to mean morally fraught . Thus, the far more brutal example of Chechen rebels (who are undoubtedly the egg in your conception) which immediately followed. That is a clear-cut moral case, at least to the vast majority of people.

It takes some real courage to grossly excise a comment, and then complain that people aren't responding to The Point.