Friday, November 22, 2013

Reflections on political intimacy

I heard an interesting saying, long, long ago. "Intimacy is me being me, and letting you see me". Some of you might know where that comes from. I read it in a book called, "I got tired of pretending", by Bob Earll. Earll was one of the pioneers in the nascent recovery movement of the 1980s. He traveled the country sharing his adventures of recovery from alcoholism in the previous 25 years. I don't know if he is still alive, but that book changed my perspective on life in many profound ways.

One thing that I have learned in life is that intimacy is what Earll says it is. It's not just, "I gotta be me!". I need to feel safe to "be me". I need to know that I can freely express myself without fear of retribution or punishment for doing so. This is not a request for a grant of permission to insult or abuse others. This is about me, expressing my needs to others.

For no man is an island. No man (or woman) can truly live a fruitful and happy life without the care and comfort of other men and women about him. It follows that no man can meet all of his needs alone. As we saw in the movie, Cast Away, the character played by Tom Hanks just about goes insane living alone on an island. He was free, to be sure, but there was no one there to comfort him. In the end, before he was found, he only had a volleyball to comfort him.

But once among our brothers and sisters, we find comforts that we cannot find alone. We are social, industrious and commercial. We are social at gatherings of friends and family. We are commercial when we need to acquire things we cannot produce ourselves. We are industrious when we are being of service to others.

All of these activities involve a range of intimacy. When we are industrious and commercial, we engage in a type of intimacy that tends to the superficial. When we are social, we have more freedom to be vulnerable to our friends and mates.

There is one situation where intimacy cannot be found. When there is a great imbalance of power, inequality. Only among peers can we be intimate, because we know that among peers, we have the power to leave or retaliate. We have the power to speak our minds without hesitation and with the minimum courtesy.

But among those who have more power than we do, we are more circumspect. We pay a greater respect to those who wield power over us, for fear they might use it against us. The powerful may be missing something from the people they govern or deign to rule. An honest appraisal of their work.

In the early days of the formation of our country, political writing was often anonymous. The Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers were composed of numerous anonymous writings. The reason for the anonymity is that the authors feared almost certain reprisals from their rulers.

When the powerful among us refuse to be among us simply because they have the power to remove themselves, they may lose the joy of community, a form of intimacy that many of us know outside the gated "communities" in the most coveted neighborhoods. When the powerful among us seek to silence everyone else or disenfranchise the same through legislation they alone can buy, they lose political intimacy with their fellows and become disengaged with the people they seek to rule.

This is the reason for the debates concerning inequality. It isn't just about the money. It's about the right of redress, the right of suffrage, the rights of all men and women, the quaint notion that all men are created equal.
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