A while ago, I worked with the journalist Cynthia Gorney on her fine book “Articles of Faith” , all about the fight between pro-life and pro-choice activists around a now relatively unknown Supreme Court case, William L. Webster versus Reproductive Health Services. Gorney, being the dedicated journalist she is, spent a lot of time with women on both sides of debate. She talked to them about their backgrounds and how they relate to their beliefs, and the symbols they used to sway popular opinion. (Remember the tiny feet lapel pins? They’re still available.)
And she listened. That’s what reporters are supposed to do: Listen. And later, when talked about the women and their passionate opinions, she mentioned how deeply she was impressed by the women’s sincerity and sense of purpose. She understood that they were talking about something real, some uninfected with partisan concerns.
I began to think about it this way: Suppose you really, really believed in the sanctity of human life? We all do, of course — I assume you oppose murder — but some take it more literally and completely. Then you’d be against capital punishment, and war, and the cruel detention of immigrants — and, of course, the abortion of unborn babies. Those babies are alive; it is a sin to kill them.
No matter what the Supreme Court says, our definition of “life” is of necessity fluid and filled with unknowns. Does life begin at consciousness? By that measure, then someone in a vegetative state is not alive and can be killed at will. Does it begin when the baby leaves the mother’s womb? That’s as arbitrary distinction as any other.
I believe deeply in a woman’s right to choose. But I respect some of the people on the other side of debate, the people who unlink the issue from social concerns, and who maintain their respect for life no matter what, adopting positions I approve of (against capital punishment) and ones I don’t (against assisted suicide). There’s a lot of pandering around this issue, and a lot of patriarchal bullshit, but there’s also lot of concern for helpless children, both unborn and born.
I think the anti-gay people are hopeless bigots motivated by some weird form of sexual panic. I think the Trumpish anti-refugee folks are motivated by fear and bad information. But pro-life people are engaging on another level of conversation altogether, and we should be aware of that.
The new struggle calls for new alliances, new ways of thinking. A leader of a pro-life group banned from sponsoring the woman’s march said that she had concerns about violence against women, and about workplace equality. Those are things worth talking about. And if the conversation ambles over to, say, climate change, or education policy, or U.S. ties with Russian intelligence — well, so much the better.
Time for the Left to stop acting like, you know, the Left. (The Hillary-Bernie battles are still being fought on social media, boring many). Forget ideological purity now; think strategically. This is Resistance; we can figure out who gets to be Lenin later on.
My friend Caille Millner reminded me of Ghanian proverb: “Two people in a burning house must not stop to argue.”
Art is a mark of civilization, and civilization is what we are trying to save. I know that sounds a little…excessive, but think about it. A little chaos is good, but civilization does not do very well in total chaos. Stuff gets lost. Some of the stuff getting lost is eminently disposable, but some of it isn’t. Like art. My younger daughter lives in the Canadian province of Quebec. There, the government supports art. With money. Think of that. That’s why she lives in a place that’s very cold for much of the year. Because art.
It is important to try to save the NEA and the NEH, but that course does not seem promising. The humans in charge of the government do not seem to be exactly in tune with the solace of art. But really, we own the art — and we get the art we deserve.
Art is our port in the storm. Certainly, political art illuminates our times and protests our current condition. (Also, it doesn’t; that’s the thing about art: Many different drummers; many different drums). And, sure, mediated art is great (personally, I await with anticipation the new season of “Stranger Things”), but the live stuff is the best. It’s a damn juggling act every night, with the possibility of the void looming at any moment. And it’s also where transcendence happens; some unpredictable combination of audience and performers and musicians and lighting technicians and everybody coming together to provide balm for your heart.
Feeling a little down about human beings? Get out and see someone doing something. Sure, it could be terrible, although probably not as terrible as an executive order. That’s the gamble we take as sentient humans; we trust others to see truth we cannot see. And to share it with us, and to expand the community of empathy.
So, swear to God, if you want to make a political statement, go support a theater company or a zither player or an action painter or a chorus of Ukrainian hip-hop opera stars. Applaud, share, repeat, rejoice. Remind yourself that this too exists. Give money to artists so they can keep being artists.
My apologies for the 2.5 weeks between blog posts. My head was too full of Trump. I started a dozen fragments responding to some outrage, while the other outrages jostled in my head, wanting equal time. And I could never complete a thought, because Another! Fresh! Outrage! would happen and demand a response from Me! Because I have Perspective!
And then I realized: Everybody who could write good was writing good about Donald Trump. Points were made; disgust was demonstrated. It was overwhelming; it was heartening. And it made me feel, well, the outrage is doing pretty good; it’s got legs. So maybe there’s other stuff to say. And that’s what I’m concentrating on.
We should love each other, because we need each other more than ever before. And that’s what I have to say about that.