a quote for saturday
“What you see in the relationship between torturer and tortured is the absolute darkness of totalitarianism. You see one individual granted the most complete power he can ever hold over another. Not just confinement of his mobility–the abolition of his very agency. Torture uses a person’s body to remove from his own control his conscience, his thoughts, his faith, his selfhood.” ~ Andrew Sullivan, in a 2005 article on torture at The New Republic
A lot of people fault Sullivan for his perceived changeability, or claim that somehow because he at first supported the Iraq War and now (and for years now, judging by the date on that quote) has been vocally critical of torture, he is little more than a turncoat. But where others see him as mercurial, I see in his writing an innate ability to rationally evolve. Sullivan was, indeed, a prominent hawk at the outset of the War on Terror (or whatever they call it now) and on this and many other foreign policy issues, including full-blooded support of Israel, he has largely changed his mind. That, and his staunch support for Obama (who he, importantly, notes is not an ideologue), lead many to claim that he is somehow disingenuous, or that he is merely going with what is popular. Many have called his critique of modern conservatives a betrayal, and his refusal to march in lock-step with the conservative movement a sign that he is in fact not conservative at all.
I see it quite differently, perhaps because I am also rather prone to change my own mind when the light of newly unearthed truth is revealed, or when I am suddenly struck with a new perspective, a new proverbial set of eyes. I am terribly prone to catharsis. I have experienced sea changes in my political views over the years, and continue to do so. I still feel a great deal of uncertainty about it all – the more I know, the less I know has become my mantra – and don’t expect to form out of my ideas anything like concrete anytime soon. Thank God for blogging.
Some call it a weakness, of course, and perhaps on some level it is. I think it best to not be so ideologically bound that every new shred of truth is met with automatic obstinance and intellectual inertia, however. When new evidence comes to light, or when old lies are revealed, we should be able to evolve. Truth begets truth.
So, essentially, even when I disagree with Sullivan, I find his style and approach to the medium of blogging, and to the exploration of ideas and the world appealing – necessary, even. I wish more bloggers would air dissent as freely, or would admit to their mistakes as often, or would attempt to transcend the weary partisan landscape for a while, and seek – if not common cause – at least common purpose, deeper truth. Some within the mainstream conservative movement have likened Sullivan’s “tactics” to those of Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing pundits. But where the true difference lies, I think, is in Sullivan’s desire to seek not some arbitrary political victory, but rather the white heat of truth in whatever grotesque form it may take and, as Scott has noted, often by admissions of his own mistakes.
William Brafford, in his brilliant debut here at the League, wrote:
I find myself caught between traditions, and I often wish I could commit to one. In short, I find myself wishing I were a better partisan. When you’re a part of a tradition, you need to commit to it. When I satisfy my doubts about which political tradition I’m entitled to claim, I’ll join the struggle of hashing out the central conflicts of that tradition and arguing for its superiority over other traditions. But contributing to the growth of one’s tradition requires the virtue of proper confidence. We live in a world where many people lack that virtue. And those people: that’s who I’m doing this versus.
I’m not sure how to apply this notion to what I’m doing – or who I’m doing this versus – because I sometimes worry that I’m one of those folks Brafford’s talking about who lacks the virtue of proper confidence. So perhaps who I’m doing this versus is those who lack the wrong sort of confidence – who make of confidence not a virtue but a vice; who make a mockery of certainty, and create instead a sort of facade. The blogosphere is dotted with these intellectual islands, drifting so statically in seas of total and utter certainty. To me, it is better to have lost your way entirely, to have been consumed by doubt, than to take on the piety of improper confidence.