Monday August 28, 2017

Now that classes are underway again, minutes of leisure come with no guarantee. A homeless man plops down at the bench across from mine as I sit at a booth in a burrito bar. “Chips?” he asks, gesturing toward some half-eaten ones in a basket on my tray. “Sure, go ahead,” I reply — though afterwards, I’m ashamed, or at least troubled, as by an area of confusion in my evolving, improvised system of ethics. Should I have asked if there was a way I could have been of further assistance (as, I’m fairly sure, I could have)? I can guess what others might say; and giving the matter thought, I’d probably agree. Help wherever one can. But in the event and thus in practice, I am instead often ungenerous and unwilling to sacrifice. As post hoc rationalization, I quote back to myself some unrevised internal policy statement from many years ago, written shortly after my first encounters with Marx had begun to eclipse an earlier commitment to Nietzsche. Reviewing it now, I recall the influence as well of Morton and Zavarzadeh, an unlikely pair of Marxist agents provocateurs who, for a brief spell, held court at my alma mater. It is not the duty of Marxists, they insisted, to go around trying to correct through individual acts of charity the inhumanity of capitalism. Nay, they argued: if one of our goals is to replace ideological obfuscation with consciousness of real conditions, then it’s not enough to just ruthlessly critique all that exists. Instead, like mimes, we “radical pedagogues” must become mirrors of the very ruthlessness we’re critiquing. Remarkable, really, where we allow ourselves to stray. No more living memory. Only histories and myths. The crossroads of our Being — and a hell of a cross to bear. I never know whether I’m writing tragedy or farce. Bartender walks into a bar and looking across the bar asks himself, “What’ll it be, friend?” Everywhere, in every country on earth, humans continue to think themselves John C. Calhoun. How, then, can we persist in imagining twenty-first century America resolving its conflicts through a means other than civil war? Another religious martyr like John Brown, and it is on. Prepare for emergency: hurricane ahead. Aggregate of Communities, prepare to fall apart.

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