Saturday, March 15, 2008

Kosi Fan Tutte: Unity and Division

Thus do they all.

There is a time in the life of a new movement when limbic outrage combines with the glimpsed promise of a new and expanded platform. The initial rush from nonentity to prominence has carried them forward together, but standing on that platform, however low or small, the view creates a burgeoning space in the self--a place of surprised importance--first that their voice is heard, then a question of deserving such a place, which becomes affirmed with each passing day that they hold their new small staff--a place where the narcissism of small differences can take over. "Can I?" The internal voice asks. So close to the emotions of the initial rush of emotions, which were felt together, this new rush of emotion must be right. If they can...if they did...if we can I!

Thus do half-formed, ill-considered second revolutions often take place. The first wave was too heady to consider the splinters of emotion, ambition, pride, and how these might combine with actual ideological difference. The move forward was collective, as was the new degree of influence--but the experience of power, however slight, was individual, and could be triggered into the disparate directions seen all too often in the impulsive spatters across time that we, if noticed, call history.

The impulse--anger, wounded narcissism--comes first, quickly followed by a now slightly practiced, or at least slightly observed, ambitious idea. It is then that words and concepts are appropriated, to provide apparent substance and heft to the initial reaction--"strike" or "abuse"; "freedom" or "censorship"; or, in other similar cases, "patriotism" and "nationalism". Thresholds are set and described after the reaction--a post hoc "it was too much" "we have had enough." Such justifications provide a new form of heady reaction--perhaps the impulse, raw and initially unmitigated, now propped up by the buttresses that follow, not only feels good...but is right!

In such ways does unity often fall apart. The smaller purposes--which we must, we must put forward upon principle, rarely consider the larger principles to which they, often moments before, were firmly committed. It creates the seemingly paradoxical but historically common situation in which a small excitement is able to fully cover a larger objective to create a blind spot, a canyon into which the blinded march with excitement, until the excitement passes, and they survey the terrain around them. We have seen this in 1917, in 1946, in 2002--three examples among countless manifestations across time. Such splinterings typically lead the electorate to search for solid ground in the midst of seeming chaos under "strong", "solid", "traditional" leadership.

Many of those who would today march into the canyon are those who decried Ralph Nader's 2000 stand--who saw the narcissism within the "principled stand", and the larger consequences that such blindness could create.

We have lived under 7 years of an Administration that can be plausibly credited to the excited, impulsive acts, narrowly bounded by limited justifications beyond which was a willed sea of darkness, of that time.

Now, in the acts of a group still fresh with the sense of a new and unexpected influence, we see this phenomenon again: moving impulsively into action, without providing even a full consideration of what it is that they call their act (a "strike" like those taken by workers who give up their jobs and pay?); without providing the evidence upon which they base their claim (to demonstrate the "abuse" would only be to repeat it--or to demonstrate their similar use of language against those that they found unsuitable or unworthy); and without--or perhaps, excitedly, with--a consideration of the consequences.

We see much of the media drawn towards similarly small differences. One such example, as cited in today's LA Times:

CBS CEO Les Moonves "is cheered by the fact that the Democratic race is continuing and that John McCain is raising lots of money to combat the eventual Democratic nominee. 'That's music to our ears,' Moonves said. 'We want this to be as long and as dirty as humanly possible.'"

However, online leaders, at the very least, are subject to considerably fewer constraints, such as shareholders and ratings, than major media, and have considerably greater latitude to shape and drive a new dialogue towards substantive change.

With self-importance comes actual importance. With excited, elevated action comes consideration of and responsibility for the actions.

We should all be proud of the force that we, collectively, have brought to bear on an electorate that, only a decade before, was far less informed on issues of political and personal consequence. The ease with which our voices can reach into the world can create a more powerful unity of purpose towards overarching goals that we share--or a greater and more rapid ability to splinter amongst our smaller differences.

Take a deep breath. Recognize and appreciate the importance and impact of your role--with the human responsibility that your impact now has, and without the tendency towards defense and excitement that exists in all of us. Consider your stand. Ask what you really want for yourselves and for others in the next four or eight years.

A quickly and tenuously built stand can provide a temporary, if illusory, exhilaration. However, a considered and firmly built platform provides a view that lasts for years, can see over and past the canyons--and beyond for many miles.

-Dr. Alan J. Lipman