At the beginning of the Haiti rescue effort, Auntie Cate and I were watching Sanjay Gupta take care of a bunch of people left in a hospital tent after their doctors had been told to pack all their supplies and were taken away. Auntie Cate said "I'll never say another bad thing about Sanjay, just for staying and treating these people".
"Oh please" I said (in pleading, not sarcastic tone) "let him be human. Let him still be held responsible when he says something stupid".
Then I watched this interview with Kathleen Hanna (who I love love love) and she says "If I am going to be a role model, let me be a really three dimensional role model who, like makes mistakes and learns from them and doesn't do everything right all the time".
Do you all know where my nom-de-blog comes from? Partly it's because I am always wearing something red, even if you can't see it. Right now I am rocking seriously chipped fire engine red nail polish on my toes. The other part comes from the Red Queen theory of evolution. The theory (in a very simplified version) is that species must keep evolving to keep up with a perpetually changing environment and the evolution of other species.
We humans haven't evolved much, at least not in the classic Darwinian fashion, for about 200,000 years. We are physically very similar to our ancestors. Where we can evolve and change and grow is in a Lamarkian sense, consciously through the willingness to try new things and sometimes make mistakes.
So Kathleen Hanna goes on in the interview to talk about how we are in a society where we "kill our leaders", meaning we build them up and then thrash them when they don't conform to our ideals. I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I've been thinking about how Ghandi wrote that the Jews in Europe during the holocaust who tried to escape concentration camps "should have offered themselves up to the butcher's knife". And I've been thinking about this fabulous post by Renee about Nelson Mandela. I've been thinking about the heroes of the Irish revolution, who finally succeeded on the backs of their socialist brothers and sisters at gaining independence, only to turn around and start killing off those radicals who didn't want partition or capitalism to be the price of their freedom.
When we build up people into idols, we remove from them the ability to evolve, to change, to make mistakes. We hold them in a sort of mental stasis that leaves them free from criticism and from improvement, or evolution.
I saw this happen to so many people during the primaries and election, the building up of Obama as a progressive ideal, the perfect candidate. Now that the idealism is a bit tarnished, perhaps we can help the president along in his evolution. But that ONLY happens when we allow for him to be human and make mistakes, and we CALL HIM OUT on them. You cannot lear anything new in a bubble, you have to be willing to take the knocks from the world.
Back to the Red Queen theory for a minute. Have you ever spent years learning a lesson when a 5 minute epiphany would have served you just as well. Like say, years spent with a romantic partner, trying over and over to fix the relationship, only to have a light bulb moment where you suddenly realize "s/he just doesn't treat me very well" or better yet "holy shit, every single time I diet I get fatter!" That's a wee bit like all the running around in circles the White Rabbit does for the Queen. I think we have to go through those kinds of laps sometimes to evolve.
I've also been thinking about revolution. I know, for a fact, documented and all, that change only comes politically when it is in the elites best interest. We got the New Deal under Roosevelt because socialism was a real live political threat. Parties were organized, candidates were running. Rather than loose everything to the collective, certain factions of the elites realized that they must evolve or die. Certain other factions of the elites were, uhm, less enthusiastic. But the real pressure to change was the threat of losing it all.
We don't have that kind of pressure to wield yet, people in general are still a bit too shell shocked from the new Great Depression. They may intellectually know that this is not the end result of personal failures, at least for themselves. But they are still holding on to outdated and false ideas of how success works. Soon, if we on the progressive side can stop acting like a herd of cats, we may have an opportunity to crack this country straight down the class divide. We have to be there, ready, when the entire American populace has it's epiphany moment and realizes "neither party treats me very well" or "every time we elect a new leader we end up worse off".
But that opportunity only comes if we let them be human, both leaders and regular folks alike. We must be willing to praise them when they are right and criticize them when they are wrong. But most importantly, like disaster capitalists, we must be ready with new ideas to push forward when that epiphany happens, and we must make ourselves a real and undeniable threat to the current power structure. Change will never happen otherwise.