Speeches that reverberate


My qualm, right now, with the political left is that it is so taken over by sexual issues, sexual questions, that we have forgotten the traditional concern of the left was always social class and those at the bottom. And now we’re faced with a pope who is compassionate towards the poor and we want to know his position on abortion. It seems to me that at one point when Pope Francis said, “You know the church has been too preoccupied with those issues, gay marriage and abortion…” at some level the secular left has been too preoccupied with those issues.
You’re saying that the church — it’s not exactly Catholics, it’s the church itself, the Vatican — has been obsessed with these questions at the same time the Anglo-American cultural left has been obsessed with these as well. To the exclusion of other important issues?
Yes, particularly the very poor.  And it seems to me what the pope doesn’t say when he says we’ve been too preoccupied with these issues is: why? And that is what really interests me in my description of the relationship of heterosexual women in my life. I think that the problem with women controlling their reproduction and gay men getting married is that we’re not generative, as the Vatican would judge us. And that’s a deep violation of the desert. It’s the whole point of the desert religions, to give birth, you know. And when women are not doing that, or women are choosing to control the process, or men are marrying each other outside the process of birth, then that’s the problem.
. . .
So somehow we had decided on the left that religion belongs to Fox Television, or it belongs to some kind of right-wing fanaticism in the Middle East and we have given it up, and it has made us a really empty — that is, it has made the left really empty. I’ll point to one easy instance. Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And what America heard was really a sermon. It was as though slavery and Jim Crow could not be described as a simple political narrative; racism was a moral offense, not simply an illegality. And with his vision of a time “when all of God’s children” in America would be free, he described the nation within a religious parable of redemption.
Fifty years later, our technocratic, secular president gave a speech at the Lincoln memorial, honoring the memory of the speech Dr. King had given. And nothing President Obama said can we remember these few weeks later; his words were dwarfed by our memory of the soaring religious oratory of fifty years ago. And what’s happened to us — and I would include myself in the cultural left — what has happened to us is we have almost no language to talk about the dream life of America, to talk about the soul of America, to talk about the mystery of being alive at this point in our lives, this point in our national history. That’s what we’ve lost in giving it to Fox Television.
It seems to me that the New Atheism — particularly its recent gaudy English manifestations — has a distinctly neo-colonial aspect. (As Cary Grant remarked: Americans are suckers for the accent!) On the one hand, the New Atheist, with his plummy Oxbridge tones, tries to convince Americans that God is dead at a time when London is alive with Hinduism and Islam. (The empiric nightmare:  The colonials have turned on their masters and transformed the imperial city with their prayers and their growing families, even while Europe disappears into materialistic sterility.)
. . .
I would say even on an issue like affirmative action, for example, I haven’t changed. I think that the hijacking of the integrationists’ dream as it announced itself in the North, where racism was not legalized but it was de facto, the hijacking of that movement to integrate Northern institutions by the middle class and to make middle class ascendancy somehow an advance for the entire population — I think was grotesque. And so you ended up with a black and brown bourgeoisie and you did nothing with those at the bottom, and you also managed to ignore white poverty. What the left has forgotten or ignored is that it is possible to be white and poor in America. The solution to de facto segregation in the late 1960s, as the black Civil Rights movement turned north, was an affirmative action that ignored white poverty altogether. And to make matters worse, Hispanics were named with blacks as the other principal excluded society in America. Conveniently ignored by the liberal agenda was the fact that Hispanics are not a racial group and therefore cannot suffer “racism” as Hispanics. And to turn misunderstanding into a kind of cartoon revolution, it became possible for, say, a white Cuban to be accepted to Yale as a “minority,” but a white kid from Appalachia would never be a minority because, after all, whites were numerically represented in societies of power. (Richard Rodriguez, in an interview with Salon.com’s Scott Timberg)
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Fifty years later, our technocratic, secular president gave a speech at the Lincoln memorial, honoring the memory of the speech Dr. King had given. And nothing President Obama said can we remember these few weeks later; his words were dwarfed by our memory of the soaring religious oratory of fifty years ago. And what’s happened to us — and I would include myself in the cultural left — what has happened to us is we have almost no language to talk about the dream life of America, to talk about the soul of America, to talk about the mystery of being alive at this point in our lives, this point in our national history. That’s what we’ve lost in giving it to Fox Television.
This guy should attend more to Dawkins' tweets — there's definitely "oratory" in it, and it actually makes a lot of these technocratic liberals uneasy, as did Nader's oratory. 
Since we're in a repeat of the 30s, we're all of course doing the responsible thing and reminding ourselves how Hitler came into power in Germany— all his ranting about soulless materialism and a lack of a sense of belonging. And this is so that when we hear that people are giving speeches that aren't necessarily going to be remembered in 50 yrs but adequately serve the occasion now, we remind ourselves that we're in the company of leaders we don't expect magic from and hardly want deified. We're bourgeois, civilized—a president just an important job, not a nation's phallic papa, a la quite properly civilized Belgium. 
This gentleman has a problem with the current left, its focus on making brown and black bourgeoisie while letting the working class rot. What he does not realize is that it was precisely the left's interest in progress, in not romancing working class life but in exploring the heights of bourgeois refinement, that drew the working class to abandon them. They elected in Reagan/Thatcher, because they knew these leaders would ensure they were never brought willy-nilly into the life-affordments the left were far more ready to grant themselves. It would make them feel spoiled, and abandoned by their comparatively punitive and self-focused parents. They wanted self-lacerations and misery to feel absolved of a greater punishment. And this is why the rancid world we live in, not the left abandoning middlebrow forever and leaving for the coast.
The left did right, continued to push to empower women and discriminated peoples, to force unprogressive attitudes out of public acceptability, even though this of course was going to make them as if in a different world from the white working class. They've got to hope that their own number stays strong, doesn't begin to as well feel strangely lost and abandoned and craving "meaning" -- to  welcome back old-fashioned ways as if discovering something more "true”. 

Let's hope liberal Brooklynites dressing like their grandfathers and having every shop they enter feel one hundred years back and colonial, is as ironic and inconsequent as people like to think of hipsters as. That it hasn't any real substance behind it. 

Emporium / Patrick McEvoy-Halston

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