Cary Tennis at Salon answers a letter from a young academic wondering if he/she should quit school and become an “activist”:
Here’s part of the response:
You are to be commended for trying to show your students what courage and personal commitment are required of those who would fashion themselves radical philosophers. Though I do not know what school you are teaching at, I imagine that few of your students have much experience fighting police. It is not one of the extracurricular activities one’s parents urge one to engage in while in high school, in order to highlight it on college applications.Me: Oh the earnest posing! Prepare for battle Foucault peddlers the revolution is nigh! But first, let’s sing a round of “I gave my love a cherry” and hope Dick Cheney’s Delta House fascists don’t smash our guitars!
And yet fighting police can be crucial to understanding what power really is — as hearing the clang of a metal door can be crucial to understanding what confinement is. And thus it can be educational. One must know and accept the consequences of one’s ideas.
At a certain point in the near future, if the current oligarchy cannot be removed via the ballot, direct political action may become an urgent and compelling mission. It may then be necessary for many people in many walks of life to put their bodies on the line. For the moment, however, although pressing and profound questions have arisen about whether the current government is even legitimate, i.e., properly elected, there still remains a chance to remove this government peacefully in the 2008 election. (Or am I living in a dream world?)
I do think this regime’s removal is the most urgent matter before the country today. And I do think that at a certain point the achievement of that goal might take precedent over our personal predilections for writing, teaching and the like. We might be called upon to go on general strike, for instance. We might be called upon to set up camp in the streets for weeks or months, to gather and remain in large public squares as the students in Tiananmen Square did, and dare government forces to remove us or to slaughter us in the streets.
This is all terrible and rather fantastic to contemplate. But what assurances have we that it is not all quite plausible? Having discarded the principles that Jefferson & Co. espoused, the current regime seems capable of anything. I know that my imagination is a feverish instrument. But are we not living in feverish times, in times of the unthinkable?
Nod to Instapundit who rightly wonders why Tennis isn’t signing up for a militia.