Labels are for Pickle Jars

Well that wasn’t bad at all. Quite fun in fact. And I wasn’t even awake all night.

I did love the comment ‘You must have pissed yourselves laughing, you two, while you were working on this.’ So exactly right. That’s pretty much all we ever do, really.

Now, enough of that; on to more impersonal subjects. I was listening to the World Service on the radio this morning or rather in the middle of the night, and one repeated story was of the Los Angeles mayoral election. It was extraordinary – all the reports said was that the apparent winner (now the winner) was a Hispanic, and the first Hispanic to be mayor of LA in X number of years – and variations on that theme. Period. Not one thing else. Nothing about – you know – his politics? His policies? Substance? What he plans to do? Just pure unadulterated perfectly vacuous demographics. It was both surprising and, frankly, disgusting. (I’m not blaming the BBC particularly; I’m sure other coverage was similar. I’m blaming the mindset, or the fashion, or whatever this is.) The Beeb has an article that does exactly the same thing. Hispanic blah blah Latino blah blah demographics blah blah. Um – hello? What party is he? Does he have any politics at all or is he just a mannequin with an ethnic label?

It’s exactly like what Jeremy Paxman said to Galloway – are you proud of defeating the only black woman blah blah blah. As if that were the whole point of Oona King! Or anyone! I realize where this stuff comes from, and I’m not free of it myself. I admit it, I’m pleased – even as George Bush is pleased, alas – that we have a black woman Secretary of State. I was pleased about the Attorney General in the Clinton administration. And so on. But – but just because I have the silliness too doesn’t mean it’s not silliness. And when it takes over to such an extent that it’s all that’s mentioned then something is off.

Oona King said as much on ‘Today’ a few days after the election. She said that was the one thing she agreed with Galloway on: that Paxman’s question was absurd.

Communalism is not a brilliant idea, and it would be nice if people would start to catch on to that. Here’s Todd Gitlin on the subject, from The Twilight of Common Dreams:

The Enlightenment erected great structures of thought but also manufactured the acid to dissolve them. It was self-reinforcing and self-devouring. It was a philosophy for leaving home, not least one’s ideological home, wherever that was. To hate absolutism was also to hate the absolutist claims of one’s nation, tribe, family. For precisely that reason, the Enlightenment is not to be disposed of with a wave of the moment’s identity cards.

He goes on to describe Richard Rorty as claiming that people act in the name of their particular tribes, and that when they act altruistically they usually give parochial reasons for doing so – that the rescued Jew was a fellow Milanese or a fellow bocce player or the like. He then cites our friend Norm to the contrary.

But the political theorist Norman Geras examined some eighty accounts of Gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Only one failed to mention universal moral obligations.

It can be a mistake to overestimate human goodness and altruism and the like, but it’s also a mistake to underestimate it. Parochialism and communalism are underestimates.

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