I have been constantly reevaluating my perspective on politics for the past ten years. My stance has been largely ambivalent—it comes from my heritage of attempting to be a documentarian. When you take sides, you must judge. Judgment is the antithesis to documentary aesthetics. Although the world is a political place, a documentary practitioner operates from the center of an eye in the hurricane. If you step outside that center, you become swept away by raging winds of propaganda. It’s a fine line between being concerned and being conned, and conning others.

As I’ve shifted my focus to the discipline of rhetoric, I see how problematic that position is. All language is loaded—there is no such thing as non-evaluative discourse. I suspect I’ve known all along that neutrality is a dream—an unreachable limit condition—to think that anything can be purely constantive (in Searle’s terms). All communication, I increasingly feel, is performative. If we weren’t attempting to accomplish something there would be no reason to communicate anything at all.

Rhetoric has turned me into a suspicious mind. No matter which direction the wind is blowing from, I always get the feeling that I’m being wagged—manipulated into sympathy with one position or another. It is ridiculous to say, for example, that someone who is pro-peace forgives tyranny in favor of inaction. It is equally ridiculous to say that someone who supports the forcible overthrow of tyrants is anti-peace. The issues are so complex that they do not easily submit to reduction. But rather than analysis, what we usually find from commentators is sloganeering. I find myself wanting to say no to being conned into thinking that its as simple as being pro-war or anti-war, or pro-peace or anti-peace.

I refuse to march—especially if it involves uniforms.

Jonathon’s suggestion that people might march dressed in black brought visions of the million Johnny Cash march. After I quit snickering, I started to wonder just why I’m so opposed to any sort of uniform. In a certain sense, the easiest way to settle a disagreement is to reach for, in Kenneth Burke’s terms, consubstantiality—we don’t just want people to think like us, we want people to be us. Arranging for a “peace uniform” (perhaps sans the patchouli stench) appropriates the strategy of the oppressor, in their starched black and white suit and tie—becoming like them to be different? Another vision was of the rigid Nation of Islam folks, with their immaculate dress, marching in solidarity. As for the silence—I find silence akin to madness. Voicing an opinion by choosing not to speak? This changes nothing. The people who speak up are the people who accomplish things, from a pragmatic point of view. To march without speaking is akin to signing a petition, to endorse whatever uniform position the organizer has released in the press release.

It always returns to the question of uniforms. Abbie Hoffman understood that better than anyone. The best medium for communicating the pathos of the human condition is the clown suit, not the black robe of the judge. Himmer is right to connect protest with street theater.

I also think that Shelley is right to remember the civil rights movement as an example of effective protest. The horrific circus of people being clubbed in the streets established that the constitution must apply equally in all parts of the country. However, the success could also be attributed to the impact of bad publicity on oppressors, shining a light into dark parts of the country forcing intervention from the federal government to alleviate the situation. Does standing on a corner waving a flag in solidarity or tie-dying a peace sign accomplish the same work? I don’t think so. The civil rights marches focused attention, but the real work was accomplished by court cases and economic boycotts.

Actually, I agree with Senator Kerry—we need a regime change. Marches in support of candidates that promote a more reasonable and less cowboy-oriented position in the world might be effective. Marches against the president and his imperialistic foreign polices might have some impact. At least it would send a message to the world that all Americans aren’t as idiotic as those grizzled faces on TV. However, the most effective steps involve limiting the powers of a president to wage war without the consent of the people through legislation—a right usurped by our republican congress. Or, better still, a huge voter turn-out to get rid of these idiots that have made us the greatest threat to world peace.

That’s it. I’m done now. I try to avoid writing about this crap, almost as much as I try to avoid marching. Every time I see Rumsfield pound his palm on the podium I think of Hitler, and wonder how the hell it ever came to this. I don’t want to goose-step to the beat of either Rumsfield or Chomsky.

I know that I’m perhaps a bit con centric. I just can’t think of any uniforms that I want to wear.

4 thoughts on “(con)centric”

  1. Oh, I’m glad you said the thing about the Johnny Cash march because my _immediate_ reaction to reading about the marchers all in black was just that. It was a wicked moment of humor, I will admit.
    Unfortunately, it was a bi-partisan congress that gave Bush unlimited power in the wake of 9/11. And my biggest concern is that a huge voter turnout in this country won’t necessarily result in a regime change. I think with the exhortations to vote, we also need to remind people that they can’t vote from their fear forever.

  2. Excellent point. Comparing the 1991 Gulf war to this one, what is different (besides the unilateral action) is the rhetoric of fear that has been ramping up since 9/11. The emphasis on terror to mask the new “kinder and gentler” imperalism really sucks.

  3. ‘We’ve marched into a burnin’ ring of fire…’
    It’s Friday, I’ve nothing more intelligent to offer than that.

  4. I chuckled too, Jeff, when I read you comment and visualized a Johnny Cash lookalike march. (And even though I like country music, I didn’t realize it was a Johnny Cash song that Karl Martino had included as a comment.)
    Looks like the dress code might specifically have to ban cowboy boots, stetson hats, and belts with big silver buckles.

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