I’ve been reading entries on both sides of the divide, and one of the biggest frustrations that I’ve been building up has been over the lack of substance in them. This entire election seems like it’s around emotions without anchors right now. So I’ve decided to put out a few of mine and express my frustration in the concrete, because frankly I can’t respond in any rational or reasonable way to the emotions and abstract opinions floating around. All I can do is get more worked up. I can only come to an understanding of other people through discussions that analyze concrete events and arguments as well as emotional and irrational investments (neither of which should be belittled or denied.)
This is a concept that I’ve spent an entire semester trying to get my Intro to Anthropology students to undestand. Basically, it’s the working assumption (for anthropologists, but probably for others) that people as social groups believe as they do and behave as they do as a result of reasonable responses to the environmental, social and historical circumstances that they have faced. To quote our introductory textbook (by Alice Kehoe), “Cultural Relativism recognizes the effects of environmental challenges and historical events on societal values. It does NOT mean we must accept practices that violate human rights”. Basically, it means that if we are trying to be culturally relative we need to respect the opinions and beliefs of others as reasonable responses but we also need to understand that our own beliefs and opinions are reasonable responses.
For our (western, democratic) culture as a whole this often includes respecting the lives and liberties of our fellow human beings regardless of whether or not they respect ours or each others’. It means that genocide is wrong no matter how it is justified. It means that oppressive imperialistic regimes that repress the rights of their constituents and seek to promote their interests to the detriment of the world community are problematic no matter how popular they are (i.e., Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, United States).
In approaching this election and in trying to understand in a culturally relative way why many of my fellow Americans would vote for Bush, I have been met with a lot of repetition of the rhetoric that I’ve seen in the media, both the mainstream and the “alternative” sources like the Onion, Jon Stewart, etc.
What I’ve yet to have anyone explain to me is how they could, after reading the Duelfer report summary on the CIA’s investigation into the presence (or significant lack thereof) of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons of mass destruction support an administration that clearly acted precipitously to take us to an unjust war, breaking alliances and damaging coalitions that have taken decades to develop, when the U.N. sanctions were obviously working.
What I’ve yet to have anyone explain to me is how they could support this administration after reading evidence of the kind of corporate graft and corruption that has skated through this administration and come out smelling like roses…Like the proposed GE-Honeywell merger that would have created an entirely illegal monopoly with globally damaging implications economically and socially, and that was not stopped by our own government, but rather by European Union regulatory committees after it sailed through approvals here in the U.S.
What I’ve yet to have anyone explain is how they can accept without question the types of ideological manipulation and rhetoric that daily spews forth from the current administration. Rhetoric that anyone who does a bit of archival searching can clearly trace through its various permutations and contradictions.
What I’ve yet to have anyone explain is how they can support an administration that has fostered a political and social environment where laws specifically restricting young women’s (and only young WOMEN’S) rights to privacy can be proposed and passed with a considerable majority, not because she is a threat to national security, not because she has committed or is even contemplating committing any crime, but simply so that another law can be passed requiring parental notification if she tries to get an abortion. Since when has it been ethical to supress somebody’s personal rights of privacy in order to pass laws to police choices that are still legal to make…in order to police their morality? Not for a while, until this administration.
These are just a few of the many very particular questions that I have, that Bush supporters often respond to by either dismissing me as a liberal or a feminist (or both) without engaging any of my arguments, or by repeating that they are entitled to their own opinions. Well, yes…they are. And as a cultural relativist I will respect that they came to these opinions through reasonable means given their social and historical realities.
But that respect does not extend to human rights violations, or the people who support them, or the people who refuse to recognize that the current administration is profoundly guilty of them, and refuse to give credibility to the overwhelming amount of documentation supporting this in favor of their own investment in some highly biased (and again, documented as such) news sources. I will not sit quietly by, respecting other people’s opinions when other people’s human rights are being violated as a result of them. I will not be a quiet neighbor in Nazi Germany, or Guatemala, or Bosnia, or any of a multitude of other places that this occurs in the past and in the present. And I will not sit by hoping things get better on their own. Reality doesn’t work that way. We are reality, and through our actions (and inactions) we shape it.
I have no intention of leaving America. I think the ideological entity that is America has a great potential to be a powerful force for good because of the strong investment that we have in the idea that America SHOULD be a force for good — where we get tripped up is, what is good? and good for whom?. Because of this I also think that America has the great potential to be an oppressive and imperialistic force that would create situations I could only term as evil, including power imbalances, concentration of resources into the hands of the few in power, impoverishment and marginalization of everyone else, and a variety of other things that historically go hand-in-hand with an imperialistic nation-state.
So, I have no intention of giving up on America, or on giving up trying to fight the current regime’s definitions of good and evil. And I refuse to be quiet about it.
Edit in reply to my many responders: I understand what you all are saying, but unless I miss my guess you are all Kerry supporters (or at least not-Bush supporters). I’m trying very hard right now not to “Other” the people in this country who supported Bush, nor to accept the idea of a polarization of political thought when there is most definitely a multiplicity disguised as a dichotomy (or that we’re trying to narrativize into a dichotomy-that-is-really-a-unity, as ancientwisdom would probably put it). I don’t think every Bush supporter has the same answer to these questions, and while the answers of the many Kerry supporters seem to have verisimilitude to me, if I accepted them then it would be armchair anthropology. I want to know the answers to these questions from people who supported Bush, rather than assume. I guess my social circles, or at least my LJ circles, are just too limited).