Friday, October 10, 2014

Goodbye to Partisanship

I really think I'm done blogging politics. Am I naive for thinking so? Perhaps. But this conviction has been building on me for a long time and I find myself increasingly detached from things I thought I cared about. I recently removed all posts with a politics tag from public view. Besides making a severe dent in my publishing volume, this decision is problematic because of its face-saving implications. Am I just conveniently hiding six years of poorly reasoned, embarrassing, and at times offensive posts? The lack of transparency is obvious. Yet, if this were just about face-saving, I would have many more posts to delete. I've been writing about race, too, for six years. Ouch. Tomorrow, hopefully we'll realize how ignorant we were today. In the meantime we press on as best we can.

The reason I removed the politics posts is because I'm closer to understanding what's important to me. I don't want politics to compromise my message. People might look at my recent Ferguson commentary here and in other venues and say, "What do you mean you're done with politics?" But that gets close to my point. Ferguson is only superficially political, but many of us have lost the ability to see other classes of people in non-political terms. There are millions of culturally isolated White Americans, for example, for whom Black Americans appear as political opponents before they are human beings. Their primary engagement with them is political. We can write about politics in a way that encourages this dehumanization. In the past I have been guilty of reducing human and Christian concerns to political issues. I have taken things that are incidentally political and made them fundamentally so. I acted as though politics was basic; now I find that it is built on the foundation of other things. Politics is not where the action is at. Let's work on the foundations.

What I dislike--what I've come to fear--is unrooted politics. I am still political. But my politics come from the archive.* My politics come from the block. I'm not talking about the arrogance of the historian who think his very particular expertise is transferable. I'm not talking about the arrogance of an epistemology that unduly values personal experience. Expertise is counter-productive without humility, and my block isn't inherently more knowledge-giving than your block. But these two very different worlds do provide grounds for useful political engagement.

I want to make a difference on my block, and I want to make a difference in the intellectual circles I occupy. The social filters up and the intellectual trickles down. I can't be an activist without first being a neighbor. And those books I will write will change the thinking of people who never read them, because that's how ideas work. Intense engagement in these very different social and intellectual worlds makes it difficult to approach politics with the same old partisan points to score and trivial allegiances to uphold. The Christian vision of shalom is so category-busting, so utterly weird to the modern American, that our politics cannot serve as a container for it. We shouldn't want it to.

*I realize I'm indulging in historian-speak here. By "archive" I mean the primary sources that are the foundation of the historian's work.

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