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Tue

17

Apr

2007

The Rule of Heterodoxy
Tuesday, 17 April 2007 14:30
by Rod Amis

I ASKED MYSELF a question this morning: "Self, is there anyone you can think of, with the primaries not starting until about ten months from now, who isn't running – or talking about running – for President of the United States?"

Myself answered: "You mean besides me? Well, Ah-nold isn't running because we won't let him. That should give you some kind of consolation."

But not much. If there is any truth to the claim that the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a lame duck that the American people are exhausted with, it would be how excited everyone is about rushing who will take over the place next. It's like the entire country has gotten together for a sing-a-long to the tune of "We'd Like to Miss You but You Ain't Gone Away."

By waging a steady war of words to make us fearful, this Administration in the United States has succeeded in making us angry and impatient, the evidence would suggest. Angry and impatient about shrinking resources, shrinking privacy and individual rights, shrinking quality of life and the shrinking of a generation of young people who are the wealth of our nation in a vision of Perpetual War that is UnAmerican at its core.

Longtime Loyal Readers will remember that I spent some time visiting the widow of the great Black historian W.E.B. DuBois in my youth. She and her husband were labeled UnAmerican by the a U.S. Congressional committee and told to leave this country never to return.

When I met with this obstinate, opinionated, challenging woman – despite our disagreements – I could not but poignantly feel that there was something unethical and sinister in labeling anyone Un-Whatever. That sense has stuck with me over the years.

You see, my dears, I am a fool for inclusion and acceptance. My personal experience in this life has infused me with an anger and impatience with people who go out of their ways to exclude, ridicule and reject those who aren't carbon copies of themselves. One of the great gifts of thoughtful consciousness, I've always felt, is the ability to engage with and have civil disagreements with people unlike oneself. Here's the Point: I can't grow and learn and explore if all you have to say to what I say is "That's right! That's right!"

I have learned more from people who don't hold the same opinions as myself than from people who did. If you've listened, I suspect you have, too.

This latter conceit steps into the notion of "free will." I don't mean the theological notion but rather the philosophical (and, perhaps, psychological) one. There is a libertarian streak to the latter but it is libertarianism infused with a dash of sympathy and empathy. It is an important value, in this view, that recognition of common human experience be brought to the fore, even at points of disagreement. The human project, if we consider it, has been center around family relationships. In this late-stage age of nuclear families, we have often forgotten the tribal roots of that development – or perverted them (more on that I continue this essay) – and thus lost the sense of value that we once gave to legacy and memory.

Let me attempt to explain this last postulate. The end of the extended family, historically speaking and, for the most part, in the industrialized countries, produced a new way of looking at the world that has proven both liberating and isolating. I don't have to work as a janitor because my father did; I can choose my own path. At the same time and in that very act of attempting new options, I separate myself from a system of support.

[Brief Rhetorical Note: I could have used the pronoun "you" instead of the personal pronoun. Any decent rhetoritician knows the power of the world "you" and its misuse. "You" – particularly in rhetoric – is a manipulative locution. I share this with you, my lovelies, because I caution you to parse what politicians say. That was a "Rod Loops Back on His Own Rhetoric" moment.]

Much of what most of us learn about life, how to live it, how to deal with interactions successfully, is taken from our familial experience. The rest is part of the youthful experience of seeking acceptance from our peers. One example of this truth is that the children of abusive parents often become abusers themselves. There is a way out, of course, but that takes a leap to self-actualization. It requires a conscious effort to disconnect from learned patterns of behavior. Then comes adulthood.

Adulthood, if you've followed this reasoning, has to do with free will and making determinations based on reason, memory and the legacy of the tribe. In others words, on wisdom passed forward. Unlike insects, we don't get genetically hard-wired to resist mistakes or weaknesses. We only learn from having the ability to listen to and learn from what those have come before or those we encounter can provide us.

The ability to listen and consider what has been said is one of the greatest of human gifts.

I find that I spend a great deal of time going back over what people have said to me; how they have said it; what seemed most important, exciting or interesting to them. I conduct this mental exercise not only to understand my interlocutor better but also to understand myself and the rest of humanity better. I consider taking seriously what I'm told part of the larger search for knowledge about what it means to be human and how information is passed from one person to another.

The second part of this ruminative process I engage in is a consideration of what the other person felt was important in the information I shared with them. I'm often amused with what another person takes away from interaction, phrases they remember or fail to remember; incidents that they might determine were important or not to me.

Going from the personal and social, back to political, where I started this essay, I would suggest that it is only when one can listen to opinions and ideas that are diametrically opposed to one's own that growth and learning are possible. It's called heterodoxy.

As I look at the current crop of political candidates then, with these thoughts and beliefs in mind – when not being totally amused with the histrionics – I have decided that heterodoxy will be the scale by which I judge them. When I write a more traditionally political commentary on any of them, in future, keep in mind that I shall be asking, "Is this person capable of listening to an opinion that does not parrot their own?"
 
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