Michelle Obama tells us to confront haters without drawing on the hate in our hearts. What, then, about fear and anger? Censor them too?
To my mind her view is noble but problematic. Going high while they go low is why Dukakis lost to HW Bush — Bush's scurrilous Willie Horton ads undid Dukakis, who, in his go high innocence lacked the rhetoric to counter them — and why John Kerry was trounced by GW Bush: Kerry was smarter, stronger, and, yes, more genuinely heroic than Bush, but accepted bad advice to pack all that in and be nice. So when GW went low Kerry went insufferably bland.
Brook Gladstone in her engaging essay "The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination On Moral Panic In Our Time", talks about our being locked in frames of reference that seek, only to reinforce themselves, blocking any signals from the outside. Following neuroscientist David M. Eagleman, Gladstone gives this example: "In the blind and deaf world of the tick, the important signals are temperature and the odor of butyric acid. For the black ghost knifefish, it's electrical fields. For the echolocating bat, it's air-compression waves."
"The small subset of the world that an animal is able to detect is its unwelt."
Gladstone concludes by urging us to insist less exclusively on the parameters of our tick world — I do love the comparison — so as to allow for the unknowns of what, following Eagleman, she calls the umgebung, the vast, uncharted, confusing world beyond.
But for one thing I haven't had the opportunity to mix it up with many from the adjacent tickworld. Not too many ticks of that persuasion venture into my unwelt, nor do the likes of me flock into theirs.
And how do we suppress anger and fear, a la Michelle Obama, who advises us to do so, when we feel strongly that not only are they coming for us but for our world? How then to maintain the kind philosophical calm Gladstone seems to advocate? How then to be Socrates, who claimed he knew nothing, when from their tickworld comes the cry that their big tick knows everything?
Gladstone sees the problem. Her opening to her book is a quote from Thomas Szasz: "The neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions."
She sees the problem but doesn't resolve it.
Nor am I going to pretend I can. I will say when they go low, their native habitat, the one to which they are best suited, we have to go everywhere, go full octave, not excluding the lower registers.
If it comes down to one ant colony against another, I want mine to win.
For the sake of all ants, all ant colonies, everywhere.