Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'With the best intentions'

"Even within families with the best intentions, race can intrude in ugly ways. We can't escape ... this historical legacy that this country's created."
-- Barack Obama, 1995

There's probably some kind of profound essay I should write about this, but between the "dog whistle" smears and everything else, I just don't feel like it right now.

What Obama is dealing with here, in his ultra-sincere bien pensant manner, is the nature of identity in a multiethnic society. At some level, we cannot escape who we are -- the subtitle of his book, after all, is "A Story of Race and Inheritance."

Non-Obamamaniacs, I think, will focus on his contextualization of his own identity within "historical legacy that this country's created." What, exactly, does he mean by this? Any conservative, hearing a liberal speak that phrase in such a context -- essentially smearing his own grandmother as a bigot -- automatically senses a classic anti-American sentiment, the idea that racism is something invented by America, a sin of which America is uniquely guilty.

That Obama seemed so drawn toward his Kenyan father, who had abandoned him, and so indifferent to the American family who raised him, is the kind of puzzle that would tempt an armchair psychologist. But as I said, I'm weary of the whole subject, and merely note a few points on the graph, perhaps for future reference.

Please feel free to comment. By the way, there are two other segments of that 1995 interview online: Part 2 and Part 3.

1 comment:

  1. You asked for comments, so I'll have a go at it.

    This was really interesting, in a grotesque sort of way. I was so intrigued (appalled is probably a better word) by part 1 that I went on to look at parts 2 and 3. Painful...but I felt I should watch the whole thing before spouting off.

    I've got to say, I'm at a complete loss. First off, I have to admit that I don't have the benefit of a Harvard education; I'm one of those that had to make do with going to Yale. But a Harvard degree makes him wiser than us, according to the MSM. That probably accounts for my inability to understand exactly what the Chosen One was saying. I understood the part where he threw grandma under the bus, but after that, he lost me. His rhetoric is denser than the spent uranium projectiles fired by the A-10 Warthog.

    Listening to Obama is as miserable an experience as trying to read French philosophers like Jacques Lacan or Michel Foucault. There are lots of words, but no substance; only a lot of impenetrable, post modern jargon. Race seems to be his primary obsession. Al Sharpton with a Harvard degree comes to mind.

    Funny, but my wife and I were discussing this, and suddenly a memory from my college days came back to me that I think is on point here. Forgive me if I'm a little long winded.

    In my sophomore year, I took a course from the great Tom Gould, ironically a product of same University of Chicago where Obama taught, and a student of Leo Strauss. The course was ancient Greek philosophy, and it was the first class of the semester. Professor Gould began by asking us to define "reality." He listened patiently to anybody who was inclined to venture an opinion.
    The comments were, as you might expect, sophomoric. They made no real sense that I could discern, and were heavily laced with jargon, including wise sounding words like ontology and eschatology.

    When everybody had their say, after about 30 minutes, he smiled and said that he would humbly submit his definition of reality. Reality, he said is "that about which you can't afford to be mistaken." Finally, some common sense piecing through the impenetrable murk of incomprehensible jargon thrown out by my classmates! I was impressed, and figured I signed up for the right course. This was a guy I could learn something from.

    He then went on to relate a Zen parable about a master who was attending a religious festival with one of his disciples. The master, in true Zen fashion, preached to his student that all of the perception that we mortals had of reality was mere illusion, and that true reality was something that existed only in a higher plane of consciousness (which coincidently he had achieved) than that comprehensible to most mortals. The two were at that moment walking by an elephant, who was chained by the leg to a stake firmly planted in the ground. Something spooked the elephant. He broke the chain and ran off, headed towards the master, who at the last moment stepped nimbly out of its path and certain death. His student smiled, thinking that at last he could find a flaw in his master's philosophy. "Master," he said, "you have taught me that all that we perceive on this earth is not reality, but mere illusion. Why then have you found it necessary to run from the mere illusion of an elephant." The Master looked at him, smiled, and replied, "I only appeared to be running."

    Obama's high sounding rhetoric is, in my opinion, quite similar; slippery, defying common sense, and without any concrete meaning. But it sure sounds wise: wiser than us ordinary folk can comprehend. It is the product of a being more enlightened that we mere mortals. Its opacity and incomprehensibility is designed to make us feel that we we're in the presence of an intelligence vastly superior to us. The fact that we don't really understand is proof of the fact.

    Of course, it's merely an exercise in sophistry of the kind that Professor Gould warned us against on that first day of class.
    When I compare Obama's take on reality with John McCain's, as evidenced in the Saddleback Forum, it's the difference between Professor Gould's definition of reality and that of his sophomore philosophy students, the difference between crystalline clarity and nonsensical, "thoughtful" academic sounding jargon intended only to obscure and mislead.

    Barack Obama would have been well served by taking a course from Mr. Gould early in his academic career. If he had, he might have avoided the problems of his own making that are confronting him today. I have confidence that Americans will see through the bull (elephant?) and make the right choice in November.