Saturday, January 31, 2009

Being political vs. partisanship, Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti

I think there is a lot of confusion outside of the progressive world about this. Howard Zinn has declared that people can't be neutral on a moving train while Michael Parenti has said that reality is political. My guess is that folks read things like this and declare that progressives aren't really independently minded, but that's actually the reverse of what's being said. Looking at the world politically means that you look at social issues, moral issues, ethical issues, as potentially having a political component to them, political in the sense of politics as a general science or area, not in the sense of very particular political structures like a particular department of a state government. Social issues, which are usually widely thought about social facts, at least perceived facts, give rise to different responses that are in themselves political. Moral and ethical issues follow the same tractk with political philosophy, like that implicitly underlying conservative, liberal, and radical thought, being engaged, which can then lead to concrete political solutions. Partisanship, on the other hand, is no more than just agreeing with whatever party or philosophy that you subscribe to in a dogmatic fashion. Partisanship can be based on vague, seemingly philosophical ideas, for instance in the case of right wing thinkers in the U.S., but it's rarely honestly philosophical because the bias implicit in it undercuts whatever claims to objectivity are present. And objectivity itself is not incompatible with being political. Being objective doesn't mean having no opinions; instead, it can mean that one has thought about things from a neutral perspective and has come to believe in a particular political philosophy, but that despite coming to this position you still honestly evaluate claims based on their merits rather than on their conflicts or lack thereof with your personal position.

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