Wednesday, April 14, 2010

rules for radicals

I was just rereading the first chapter of "Rules for Radicals," which I assigned on Monday in conjunction with an exercise we did in class. Today, we'll debrief the exercise and discuss the reading.

I've read this chapter probably a dozen times over the past decade, but today it seems particularly profound.

Presently I'm struck by the fuzzy truthfulness (fuzzy, because all good truth is fuzzy) of Alinsky's disdain for dogma. (You can almost here him muttering--ok, it's me muttering an imaginary, utterly fabricated Alinsky--an imitation of the Prince of Cats: "Dogma? Dogma. I hate the word. As I hate hell, all Montagues.") From page four:

"Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice."

Alinsky follows this up with a quote (context unknown) from Justice Learned Hand.

"[T]he mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right."

I feel good about that sentiment, whether the context is political ideology, religious conviction, or an opinion about program planning in an university academic department. It sits right with me perhaps because I have learned to be suspicious of certainty. Deep professions of "I know" immediately turn me off. Why not I believe, I feel, or I think?

(I think) we would be a healthier and more civil society if we were quicker to acknowledge our doubts. But to be uncertain is so uncomfortable...

I'm also struck by Alinksy's observation that our collective reverence for revolutions of the past contradicts our enacted passion for the status quo. (An apt description of the uninspiring rhetoric that seems to guide the modern Republican party. Full disclosure: I'm no Democrat, but it's hard to imagine ever voting for a Republican.) That contradiction is perhaps nowhere more powerfully exemplified than a university campus. Universities are full of young, energetic, potentially interesting people with potentially interesting ideas. So much passion and optimism. At the same time universities are bastions of traditionalism. They are the archetype of institutionalism.

And now it's time to go to class. So, mid-thought, it's over...

1 comment:

Nevada said...

Enjoyed this post.