Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A word for young leftists

The much-noted age divide among Democrats suggests a bright future for the American left - but it also suggests that tonight's losses for Bernie Sanders will come as the first real political defeat many young voters have ever experienced.

I don't think it should be understated how personally traumatic this can be. When you live in a democracy, you are constantly conditioned to believe that your political problems, whatever they are, can ultimately be redressed through elections. In that light, when you lose, this is society telling you "no" in the most final and absolute way imaginable. All of this is ideology instilled to make people believe that elections are their only form of political agency, and this is untrue; but the lie is extraordinarily powerful, and its implications, for the losers, are devastating. Psychologically, in fact, this crisis is identical in structure to the so-called Oedipus complex, and with similarly shattering consequences: as Freud put it, "we cannot fail to be struck by the similarity of the process of civilization to the libidinal development of the individual."

I believe that the ways that we work through our uniquely brutal first encounter with political frustration will lay down a foundation for how we meet such challenges for the rest of our lives. The temptation is to turn to cynicism, or nihlism, or to delusional piety; the challenge is to maintain our hopes for the world that could be, while fighting in the world that is. And I've always felt that Nietzsche, for all his failings, captured that challenge better than anyone - so I'll conclude with this passage, which has always given me courage.

*   *   *
"Indeed, I know your danger. But by my love and hope I beseech you: do not throw away your love and hope." 
"You still feel noble, and the others too feel your nobility, though they bear you a grudge and send you evil glances. Know that the noble man stands in everybody's way. The noble man stands in the way of the good too: and even if they call him one of the good, they thus want to do away with him. The noble man wants to create something new and a new virtue. The good want the old, and that the old be preserved. But this is not the danger of the noble man, that he might become one of the good, but a churl, a mocker, a destroyer." 
"Alas, I knew noble men who lost their highest hope. Then they slandered all high hopes. Then they lived impudently in brief pleasures and barely cast their goals beyond the day. Spirit too is lust, so they said. Then the wings of their spirit broke: and now their spirit crawls about and soils what it gnaws. Once they thought of becoming heroes: now they are voluptuaries. The hero is for them an offense and a fright." 
"But by my love and hope I beseech you: do not throw away the hero in your soul! Hold holy your highest hope!"