Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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November 19, 2008
Ayers on NPR

Newly broadcast interview, here.

Ayers addresses, among other things, his alleged "unrepentant"-ness.

TiR found his most pause-(for us)-inducing utterance to be this (approx. 12 mins. in):
The truth is -- you can't get to be 60 years old with your eyes even partially open and not have a lot of regrets. And I have plenty. Some of them political. Lots of them personal.

Listen to Ayers' entire interview together with the one from last week, and it's hard not to hear him -- perhaps surprisingly, one might think, given how he's been most often publicly characterized this year -- as a person positively welled up with "repentance." And regret. And self-aware, conscious remorse, sadness and mourning . . . you name it. His thoughts later in the NPR interview about the centrality of doubt appear heartfelt and are moving.

Yes, he's unrepentant about other things. In the interviews, he strives to explain and delineate all that.

We wonder whether the most fascinating aspect, to TiR, of Ayers' disconnect from -- or almost complete communication breakdown with -- (at least some of) his recent detractors is that he's neither unrepentant nor repentant in the specific dissection of ways that they are deeply invested in imagining him to have been.

He seems to pose no threat whatsoever of the kind that his hottest haters (to maintain their relevance) need him to, i.e., he disavows any present plans or desire to plant bombs, or to encourage others to do so.

Though perhaps Ayers' this-year's critics intuit that, beneath whatever substrate of unthreatening agreement and comity they probably share with him, there exists an even deeper and more fundamental level of clustered disagreement, e.g., about US foreign policy; the moral justifiability of the state's monolopy on and use of violence in its citizen's names; the honorableness of the Vietnam war and those who waged it, etc.

Ayers is good at persuasively articulating and defending his position in that foundational opposition.

Hence, who knows? all the more reason for some to preemptively cut his mic with a public cone of silencing, shaming, demonization. This year especially.

[Or as the old Peanuts cartoon put it, "I had to hit him quick . . . He was beginning to make sense!"

"This year" = one of some razor-thin electoral margins.]

Meanwhile, Ayers had his own parallel reasons for silence. This year especially.

However these things work (& what does TiR know, really, about anything? not much), the dynamic gives us another opportunity to scratch our heads over one of TiR's favorite species of disconnect: one in which the participants can't even agree on why they disagree. And logically prior to that, can't agree about or see key aspects of the first impasse.

In Ayers' case, it's almost as if he and certain others of his generational contemporaries spent the 60s and 70s prioritizing attention to completely different things, or totally divergent aspects of the same reality. So now they can't agree on the most basic facts about what happened, when and why; the premises or framing to interpret those facts; or the best language jointly to use to sort it out, if both sides even wanted to try it.

Both Ayers and his enemies of today agree that he went through and walked away from the 60s & 70s with a deep misunderstanding of what was going on. Both sides agree that he needed to learn some humbling lessons from that history's events, and from his own blindness and misunderstanding of them at the time.

However the accord breaks down over the immediate and inevitable questions: Why the misunderstanding? Blindness to what? Ayers alone is the one who needs to learn lessons and humility, right? Which lessons? Humility before what larger entity or truth?

The other oddest thing about the interview is how similar Ayers' twentysomething mindset (as he now describes it) uncannily matches the mindset(s) (or so we imagine) of those who are now sending death threats to Ayers (threats to him have increased since the election, he says) and others.

What storehouse of role models and off-the-shelf blueprints is available for those today who, post-election, hasten to "go [waay beyond] John Galt," gird their loins for civil war and fantasize about cutting loose their moorings from "civilized" society and its state sanctioned dispute resolution mechanisms (the ballot box, the soapbox, the courthouse)?

TiR wonders idly (is there any other way, especially for the exaggerated, schticky character "I" despite myself lapse into when performing this blog?) about whether some of those who most violently hate Ayers today could learn a great deal -- about what they seem to want to know, who they want to be, the outlaw lifestyle, the romantic identity they want to develop -- from the person Ayers was 40 years ago, whom they profess to despise. They're almost kindred spirits.


[update 12/12/08:

See too Ayers on 11/27/08 w/ Doug Henwood, listenable here:
The fundamental educational gesture is one where you learn as well as teach. . . .

Doing something is the first step. . . .

And then, and this is a very important aspect, and then you should doubt that everything you did was all that great, that everything you did was all that wonderful.

In other words, if you don't doubt, you become self-righteous and dogmatic. If you don't act, you become cynical and despairing and kind of deterministic.

So it's that trickiness. . . .