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Why a Blog, Why A Website? Some Thoughts

June 16, 2007

 

I probably should have written this entry in the beginning, for openers, but didn’t.

In the end it (it = blogging, the website) comes down to a number of broad themes.

1. Finding a voice, my voice…For whom do I write? Think?
I must admit first and foremost I write for myself, to work through the humanitarian, political and historical challenges unfolding in the Middle East, to struggle with myself, to come to understand the issues and relevant movements better, to reflect upon them. I basically have come to trust my own political judgement more or less but questions remain. How to help build a peace movement? What at 62 years of rich life experience, little of which has been marketable, can I contribute? Can I be honest with myself? Believe it or not, blogging – sharing one’s ideas in some kind of public arena, helps and is important.

To date, every issue of my little newsletter – the Colorado Progressive Jewish News – presented a challenge to me. I would stumble across an issue and the tension would build. Maybe I should just avoid it? Oh that one will provoke a storm. There are so many other points I might make. Whatever. A pattern emerged that went something like this: the issue that I most wanted to avoid, would be the one I would ultimately decide needed to be address, the principle being in my argument with myself: schmuck: show a little courage.

2. Try to Avoid Selective Memory

Very difficult

A part of the challenge: to have as few illusions as possible. Illusions – be they personal or social (utopias) – have devastating consequences. Maturing (to the debatable degree that it happened) in the 1960s I grew up with and accepted much of the utopian thought of that era. It still provides – on a broad humane level – the basis of my thought and values, first and foremost being a belief in the potential for social change, a personal commitment to human equality and dignity. Don’t have faith in very much but on some level I retain the belief that it is social movements and the social forces on which they are based which can be the engines of positive historical change. This has put something of a limit on what is in many ways an increasingly unbridled cynicism.

Over the lifetime of `my generation’…an interesting time to be alive, we have witnessed the rise and fall of many social utopias, at one time or another people `believed’ in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, African Socialism, Third World Secular Nationalism, psychotherapy and who knows what else. A generation – nay, a nation – in search of whatever – it soul, its historic mission – believing the world could and should be a fairer more just place. It was an age of ideologies. How could it be different during the Cold War that shaped us?

A potent relevant memory was watching a friend here in Denver jump from one utopia to another. In the early 1970s he was ardently pro-Chinese, a Maoist early onwith his stupid little red book (he actually read it) and his blue cap (I did like the cap) but a decade later had the honesty to finally see the direction in which China was heading was something astray from socialism. He still needed a utopia though, and pathetically settled on Albania. He used to go around Denver making an ass of himself quoting Enver Hoxha (the Albanian Communist leader). I wonder who he’s quoting today. I’m sure it’s someone. Jim Ringer, one of my favorite alcoholic folk singers summed him up – and many others – metaphorically in one of my favorite lines ever written: ” He used to take acid and now he loves God…but he still has that look in his eyes’. The content might change…but `the look’, the narrow mental framework remains quite consistent.

All of these movements were experiments – attempts at something new, a different, more decent way to organize the human experience. All of them had some legitimacy – a basis in fact for wanting to change the world, a humane quality propelling it – whether it was deconstructing racism or colonialism, a searing critique of capitalism (that still deserves it) or coming up with a national project that would fulfill the twin promises of modernism – greater democracy, greater material prosperity for more people. None of them worked particularly well, albeit for different and complex reasons and in one way or another they collapsed. The USSR collapsed like a house of cards, still in my view one of the more extraordinary events of the past 100 years. Algeria, a left model of national development that I have followed rather closely, degenerated into a horrific civil war in the 1990s from which it yet to recover, its claim to being `socialist’ little more than a mask on the face of a military that controls oil profits. Etc. Etc.

And yet there were reasons, humane reasons – there still are – to sympathize with oppressed people everywhere and not become completely cynical. But can it be done without cheerleading? Without that incideous missionary spirit which permeates both religious and secular do-gooders in the developed world? Without being blinded to their shortcomings or the complexity of history. There was a tendency, it is very humane in a way, that results from solidarity – it is to know well and publicize the shortcomings, seemy side, if you like, of political adversaries, while downplaying if not denying (in public where it counts) the shortcomings of one’s own movement. History becomes selective. One remembers in vivid details all the hurts history, the world, `the other’ have hurled against `your group’. One forgets, downplays or simply denies, the hurts – often the profound destructiveness – done to others and one compromises one’s values and something of one’s humanity in so doing.

Thus it was, that in the name of building socialism in the Soviet Union, many (not all by the way) Communists either downplayed or denied the crimes of Stalin, Christians would like to forget the Inquisition and the Religious wars that plagued Europe, the Serbs forget what it was like to be Croatian or Bosnian in Yugoslavia before World War II, the Turks lose their cool when confronted with the genocide of the Armenians and Israelis often deny their oppression of the Palestinians living under occupation. All live in carefully constructed social bubbles. Soviet Communists preferred speaking of capitalism’s shortcomings, Christians of the early period in their history when they were oppressed by the Romans and others, the Serbs of their suffering during World War II, the Turks prefer to remember European attempts – largely successful – to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and the Israelis turn their heads from the Wall and check points in the West Bank and pounding Gaza to concentrate on the suffering of Jews in Europe before and during World War II as if the one (past suffering) somehow justifies oppressive policies. Selective memory a very dangerous and all too common phenomenon. Within the context of the Middle East, such tendencies are rampant.

3. Entering into dialogue…
I have a friend, he will remain nameless. He is exceedingly intelligent and has learned economics – including some very complex concepts – on his own. He’s a working man’s intellectual in the best sense of the term and a profound humanist. He’s read and understands and thought about history. These are important points to me and among the indicators by which I (admittedly) judge people. He has done much of this largely alone, and here in lies the problem for as bright as he is, some of his theories are flakey beyond belief and as he has embraced these ideas, he figures he must now defend them. It has been very difficult to shake him out of his situation and actually, I haven’t succeeded. It took me a while to understand how one could be so intelligent and so short-sighted (dumb)at the same time. I have come to conclude that it is not so unusual by the way, but the main point here is that he developed his ideas in isolation, without social interaction, and herein lies a good part of his problem (as I have come to understand it). He seems to sense this intuitively, although he hasn’t admitted it.

It is through dialogue – honest, historically based dialogue that we learn to see through illusions, cut through selective memory. It is through dialogue that we can penetrate the workings and motivations of that elusive entity – political power, and get a better sense of how it works. It is through dialogue that certain historical processes can be more accurately understood. For example, yes, of course, there is a religious element to the events transpiring in the Middle East. But to understand that as the primary element in the struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is to have a skewed – and inaccurate – view of the conflict. So many other elements (modern nationalism, oil, the sale of weapons, attempts to retain hegemonic power) are missing from that approach as to make it unsatisfactory and inaccurate. Dialogue helps to cut through a good deal of bullshit. Dialogue combined with a bit of moral courage and a careful and systematic study of history – seem to be the key. And dialogue has come to mean, among other things, entering into discussion with people with whom one does not agree.

Human intellectual growth has a number of components – practice and theory (the heart of the scientific method) and social interaction…but to what end? Here the validity of Marx’s dictim of the need to change the world, not merely to understand it comes to mind.

In any case, a website, a blog is a way both to find one’s voice (and perhaps refine it) and to enter into dialogue with…the world.

4. Meeting new friends and interesting (and often not so interesting) people,.

It is true.

There is a way to find out how many people visit a website. Servers (who manage the websites) can keep track. In this respect, I was surprised to learn that in the first week that this website went public, that 1200 and something people visited and many of them downloaded something from the site. In the first two weeks of June an additional 850 have visited, this with hardly any publicity so to speak. People seem to find the site. Of course it would be interesting to know more about who it is that has stopped by, but in time I believe that I’ll have a better sense of that too through emails, telephone calls and the like. One does meet people and exchange ideas through this medium. It’s kind of cool.

In a like manner, I have been surprised at how many people read the Colorado Progressive Jewish News in its printed version. It is such a shoe string operation. I usually print and circulate about 500. There has been feedback on virtually every issue, many contacts made, and echoes constantly coming back to me of its content. And that has kept me going, and wanting to do more. And I do.

Through this process I continue to meet a lot of people. It’s kind of what’s left of my fun in life. Happened again yesterday when someone here in Denver contacted me. He has wanted to get more involved in Denver’s Jewish Community and attended a state wide AIPAC conference, but was a bit taken back with the political atmosphere in the room. Does not appear to be `radical’ politically, but at least from his email, firmly believes in a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has few illusions as to what the Occupation means. Such contacts are becoming more frequent, more interesting. I think the website will help here too.

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