Why I didn't attend the One Nation rally.
after considering some of the thoughtful comments I received on this piece, I've modified it. Mostly the change is tonal, but some of it is substantial. I've backed off my 'we need more polarization' stance, and have broadened my view of mass movements a little. Thanks for the feedback.
I have been very critical of the tea party movement. Downright mean at times. Because of this, I thought it might be appropriate--indeed, called for--for me to comment on the One Nation rally that took place in front of the Washington Monument this past weekend.
Mostly, I was ambivalent.
Now, ostensibly I agreed with a lot more of the worldview represented at One Nation than I did at Glenn Beck's 'you can't spell Jesus without U.S.' orgy. But I still didn't care for it, because it rests on the same faulty populist notion that what is true is what is popular. One person, one vote. 80 million Elvis fans can't be wrong. The reactionary, One Nation affair seemed to be based on the principle that if they could only get a million more people down to the national mall than Glenn did, then they would win.
Boo. That's not how it works.
As much as I love crowds, I hate mobs, and think there can be a fine line between the two. I don't want us all to get along, and as long as our head-butting doesn't come with a body count, it is a necessary part of a functioning democracy. Conflict breeds creation, and any group with freedom and equality as its goal should have a certain amount of inner-tension that keeps everyone honest. Pep rallies are fine for what they are, and there have been many times in human history where it has been necessary for coalitions to form, and folks to march and give grandiose speeches. But that can't be all there is to it. I don't want to be a part of a movement whose entire platform can be summarized on the face of a bumper sticker. I also don't want to be a part of a movement that lacks an ability to look at itself skeptically, and to laugh at itself. That's the kind of organization we will build if we (progressives) ape the tea party too much.
I support the welfare state as it was originally conceived. It allows for personal growth, bolsters pluralism and egalitarianism, and allows the citizenry to deepen their experience and expand their culture. It also puts a parameter on chaos. Life is chaotic. Left unregulated, there would be no one to stand up for the minority. The strong would take from the weak...or, rather, the vicious would take from the principled. But we don't need the herd marching in lockstep. We need thinking folk with deep understandings of various aspects of our collective situation presenting evidence to us, teaching us,arguing with us, and nudging us in the right direction.
Besides, rallies and protests--with a few notable exceptions--are typically exercises in futility. They are energy burning enterprises that lead their participants to feel as if they have done something substantial when in fact they have not. The way to change isn't to hold signs in front of federal buildings and to stick your head into a partisan sound chamber where no alternative information can penetrate: the way to change is is through the betterment of individuals, and the infiltration of institutions. Rallies can be okay. The One Nation rally was okay...Glenn Beck's rally was okay too. What is not okay is treating morality and national politics as if it were a cheerleading competition: 'If we can get more people on this side of the auditorium to shout louder than the people on the other side of the auditorium, everybody gets healthcare! Yaaaayy....'
Rallies and protests should be to our intellectual and moral lives what twinkies are to our diets.
The welfare state can create an even playing field upon which everyone has the same opportunity to better themselves from, even though their success is not guaranteed. It is a thing worth defending, understanding, and vocally supporting. But it can't be defended by a giant Styrofoam finger alone. Being part of the rabble is easy. Engaging in rigorous research, debate, and observation is hard.
It's hard, but it's the better path. Better to be a thorn in the paw of humanity than another pair of marching boots.