Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Character Circus


- With today's Democratic capture of the House of Representatives we've got ourselves some breathing room. But do you know what I think?
- What?
- That the current circus in which the president lies and cheats outrageously and we all look on powerlessly will be replaced by the new circus in which the democrats, unable to pass legislation, pursue criminal charges against the president and he lies and cheats outrageously, constantly changing his strategies of evasion. Meanwhile, like before, with attention elsewhere, mergers, privatizations, subsidies continue to enlarge monopolies, transferring more and more wealth to the' rich. Do you see anyway out of this mess we're in?
- I like the expression you chose, 'breathing space'.
- 'Breathing room'.
- Even better. It reminds us that we, schemers and victims alike, have bodies moved about in our schemes. We've talked some about about bodies in politics. Democracy only is possible when citizens share power, and have power to share with each other: without property, without being in a position of not having to beg strangers to be allowed to eat and have shelter, democracy is impossible. Bodies figure in Republican party doctrine of every man for himself, in Republican neutrality with respect to the president's bad character.
- How so?
- Character is a matter of habits, habits are built by repetition, and the building that habits construct is the body.
- I'm not sure I understand what you mean.
- We learn to see and recognize and object, a chair for example, by moving our eyes over one chair after another, until the movements form a habit of perception. When the 60 million of Americans support a man of the worst possible character like the president they are showing that they don't see character, they don't look at people that way any longer.
- How do they look at people?
- Without sympathy.
- Why?
- Because sympathy is felt because we can reconstruct in imagination the ethical habits of others, we rehearse, in our own body, the other's habit-building bodily movements. The think-tanks funded by the rich have deliberately used advertising and public relations to foster the idea that freedom and equality do not mean equal power to meet each other and discuss what is best: no, that might lead to a demand for a more fair distribution of wealth. In this liberal view, the view of the Democratic party, what is best for the individual is to be allowed to make his way in a world already structured well enough; no character, no body type or history, should be allowed to impede upon another in the journey through that fixed mass of circumstances.
- Both Democrat and Republican politics promote blindness to character. So what can we do in the breathing room we have? Even if somehow the Democrats get through the next two years, and in addition to the House, a Democratic Senate and president is elected to govern a, by then, after rampant privatization, deregulation, mergers and monopolies, an even more unequal population, what then? The population will have been even more deeply indoctrinated into the two competing, mutually exclusive versions of blindness to character.
- An insecure situation ripe for fascism.
- Exactly.
- So much for our breathing room! Neither side believes in character. Both sides believe the circumstances of the world are better not be meddled with: we must be left to work out our own fate in those circumstances we find ourselves in with the body we were born with. One side additionally wants to give every body an equal starting position, in terms of recognition of that body, not material equality, not in how much security in food or shelter one has.
- Equality of blindness to character in starting position is the Democratic difference, both parties believing in leaving material circumstances to themselves.
- Yes. Something happened to me last night, a conversation, of a type that seems to be a fate of my own particular circumstances, bears on this. Should I tell you about it?
- Of course.
- Our problem, in the time of our breathing room, is what to do about how the people of the two parties talk to each other who don't believe in human character, who believe in deliberate blindness to human character. The Democrats want to cooperate with their adversaries in order to block the approach of fascism, but, not believing in character, they don't experience sympathy, therefore they don't like each other.
- Like you, they like to talk, maybe.
- Sure. And this conversation occurred on that insecure foundation. Insecure because no one who couldn't care less for the person he's talking with can bear to be contradicted, or worse, proven wrong, by him. That our power of speaking or thinking has been threatened by contact with another is anti-democratic, is against the principle that everyone should be allowed an equal start to set out on one's fate through the unquestioned circumstances. To be contradicted is an aspersion on one's character, a judgment that is not to be tolerated.
- So what was this conversation about?
- You' won't miss the irony. At the film school a preview screening of a new documentary called Cleaners, about the people and procedures social media companies employ to censure postings, has just concluded, and a question and answer session with the movie's producers was going on in the theater. I'd stepped out to the lobby to have a cup of the coffee I'd brought with me. The only other person in the lobby was a former director of these screenings I'd made small talk with before, a graduate student in film theory from Germany. Like you've done with me, I struck up a conversation with him about the election results, and what we could expect from them. I presented these same ideas, in less depth, well-experienced with the limitations of a UCLA education. I told him that if things were going to change for the better people would have to be able to talk with each other, and for that to happen, they'd have to recover the idea of human character, of better and worse actions, and be able to like or not people for their making habitual in their lives better or worse actions. He replied there is disagreement about what is good character, and that some problems were intractable, like for example the problem of how to censor social media the movie being screened discussed. I said it was a problem easily solved. All that was required was that individuals themselves have settings they could control for what kind of posts they want to receive and what they don't. The reason this is not how social media censors is that these companies profit from the greater involvement that results from sending people more of what they already like to see. The problem is that these companies make more money, at least they think so, from the worst aspect of human nature being expressed, and that if people cannot agree that the panic and violence of mass behavior is undesirable they cannot be expected ever to meet to act democratically. The film student was replying with the party line that that's just one view among many, when a girl comes out of the box office. She tells me that our discussion is inappropriate. We're creating a disturbance, and must go outside. I tell her:
- So you want to censor our conversation like is done by the social media companies the movie is about? Are you joking?
The graduate student reproaches me with: 
- Statements like that are uncalled for.
 I sat to the girl:
- The public lobby of the film school in a public university? If that is not a place for discussion, what is?
The girl answers:
- I'm the organizer of this event and you are causing a disturbance.
- Conversation is a disturbance? Since when?
- If you don't leave I'll call the police.
- And then what?

- I said, 'Fine with me.'
- A character building experience.
- There's that. I waited for her to go back to the box office and call the police, expressed to the film student my contempt for his character, passive like a good German to this episode of social control, and went out to get my bike.

Further Reading:
What Is Capitalism?
Political Correctness