Fighting Words

I could barely stand listening to Sarah Palin last night.  After a week of high ideas, we get a week of snide mockery.  As an antidote, I just listened to one of the speeches I missed during the Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama’s, where she talks at length about her husband’s distinction between the world as it is and the world as it should be.  Too often we settle for the difference between the two, but as Barack said, and Michelle remembers, we shouldn’t.  We should fight to make the world the way it should be.

I like this kind of fighting.  It’s what is otherwise known as ethics, what we in philosophy teach as moral philosophy.  In my own work I take ethics to be a performative practice aimed at bringing about a better world.  What we take to be “better” isn’t based on moral foundations but on our real, lived aspirations; what we hope would be a more decent and humane world, a world we’d like to bring about and belong to. It’s always to easy to settle for and try to make the best of the world that is.  If everyone is out to make a buck, why shouldn’t I.  If people have low ideals, why not do the same.  To hold out for the world as it ought to be is to fight what is.  Let’s fight what be and work for what ought to be. This is the same impetus that Christine Korsgaard noted in Kant’s moral philosophy, the same that motivates Levinas, the same that seems to motivate Barack Obama.  It’s not about fighting the power — power is good when we can put it to good use — it’s about fighting the status quo.

Sarah Palin’s speech was also filled with fighting words; but her enemy wasn’t injustice but “their opponents.”  All her vitriol was aimed at belittling everything that happened at the Democratic Convention, including the insulting claim that elected officials do more to create change than community organizers do. There was precious little in her speech that explained what she thought would be a better world, what she was ready to have a servant’s heart for.  She didn’t mention the specifics, but note that they include teaching creationism, banning a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, and exploiting Alaska’s natural resources, even more than McCain has been willing to do.

As for her jab at community organizers, excuse me.  When was the last time that officials did anything without either (1) thinking about how it would play with the public or (2) acting because of public pressure?  I wouldn’t mind elected officials who acted independently for the public good.  I’d just like to see some.

The Republicans are coming on strong accusing the Democratic nominee’s camp of all the usual democratic sins (taxes, spending, big gov) never mind that none of this is part of the Dem’s platform.  I wish Obama and company would fight back stronger.  So far their language is that the Republicans are disparaging the American people.  No, they’re disparaging Obama. It’s time to come back at that.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

1 comment

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: