Philosophy Weekend: Redemption Song

I’ve been thinking about the word “redemption”. Since utopian political ideologies are currently out of style (as we discussed last weekend), “redemptive ideologies” might be a less off-putting term for similar ideas. The term does not carry the same sense of overreach, the connotation of a naive attempt to build a transcendent and perfect Platonic society. Few people will admit to being a utopian, but perhaps many people will admit to believing in redemptive ideologies?

Well, wait a minute. Something is going wrong here, because I searched Wikipedia for “redemptive ideology” and got sent to the Ideology page, only to find this slap in the face awaiting me:

Today, many commentators claim that we are living in a post-ideological age, in which redemptive, all-encompassing ideologies have failed, and this is often associated with Francis Fukuyama’s writings on “the end of history”.

So redemptive ideologies are out of style too — and this is a funny thing, because I know for sure that redemptive ideologies are wildly popular today. They drive our beliefs, our practices and, every election day, our votes. So what’s this denial all about?

Actually, the fact that redemptive ideology is out of style only masks the fact that many of us hold these ideologies privately close. This is true on all sides of the political spectrum: left or right, anarchist or fundamentalist, liberal or conservative, Occupy or Tea Party, Democrat or Republican. It shows how potent these redemptive ideologies are, because we are clearly ashamed to admit we hold them. Like the secret Jews in Spain following the Spanish Inquisition, we conceal our redemptive beliefs deep inside our hearts, and only talk about them openly with our trusted friends.

How do I know this? Well, first of all, I know it because I talk to a lot of people about their political beliefs. and I always make an effort to dig beneath surfaces when I do. When I ask people directly if society will ever improve, they often brush off the idea: “nothing will ever change”. But if I insist on talking further, and examine the way they vote, and study the causes they care about, and read the bumper stickers on their cars, I see a different story.

Last weekend I pointed out how two controversial topics of the day reveal widespread utopian or redemptive tendencies, and the point is so revealing as to be worth mentioning again. First, there is an active campaign throughout the United States of America to make abortion illegal. I do not support this at all. I’m sure a law against abortion would only drive the practice underground, and that the only practical result of the law would be to empower the police and the government to put doctors and pregnant women in jail.

When I confront anti-abortion activists with this problem and persist in seeking a direct response, I eventually discover that they do not wish to put doctors and women in jail, and they are sincere in their beliefs that laws against abortion will help society by gradually changing our culture and improving our souls. It’s only the belief in the possibility of a broad societal redemption that makes the anti-abortion position coherent.

The second controversial topic of the day is gun control, and in this case I do support the proposed change, which is to make it more difficult to buy guns in the United States of America. But here the campaign I support has the same problem as the anti-abortion campaign I don’t support. New laws against gun ownership will only drive gun sales underground, and the only practical result of the law would be to empower the police and the government to put hunters and sportsmen and earnest survivalists in jail. So, then, why do I support new gun control laws?

In this case, I’m the one clinging to a redemptive ideology. I believe gun control laws would help society by gradually changing our culture and improving our souls. It’s only the belief in the possibility of a broad social redemption that makes the gun control position coherent.

Maybe we all need to embrace our inner utopians, and stop pretending to be too cool to care about healing our society. Even though we often disagree about how to heal our society, it might be a step forward if we all admit that this is, in fact, what all political activists are trying to do. It’s what political activism is all about, regardless of what causes you support. We may agree or disagree with any proposal for change, but we should at least be honest and straightforward about the transformative nature of the changes we support. This will help us to have clearer and better discussions and debates.

In this light, here’s a great song by Bob Marley — and an unusual item in his catalog, because it’s not a reggae song at all. “Redemption Song” is just straight folk chords, and the quiet simplicity adds to the song’s eerie power. This is Marley’s “Imagine”, his “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

Sing along, if you dare. “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery …”. And, as 2012 ends and 2013 begins, let’s all see if we can find the courage to hope for a better world next year.

14 Responses

  1. …utopian and redemptive
    …utopian and redemptive thought is certainly alive. it’s what encourages hope. unfortunately, you are right about many holding the ideas to themselves, with only isolated bursts of political or social cries. that is why it is important for the creative and methodical to nurture these utopian ideas. create something fictional that can alter seeds of thought and influence politics and culture. since your utopian post, i’ve finally found a term for a project i’ve been developing called texico days. it’s a utopian quest. if curious, take a look/listen…certainly utopian and redemptive.

    so many talk about ‘wouldn’t it be nice if..’…. as writers, we can make it so…

  2. Are the gun-nuts against
    Are the gun-nuts against abortion?
    Abortion is a moral issue. Ted Turner pointed out that funerals have never been given for miscarriages.
    Pro-life only seeks control over women. Control is their only agenda.
    But their should be no control over guns?
    I do not know the history of the legal code but there is a seperate crime for assault with a deadly weapon.
    A psycho can get himself half a dozen Glocks and a couple of shotguns and shoot a 150 people without reloading.
    In Texas, you can get a permit to carry a concealed weapon without drug-urinalysis. If you are carrying a pistol and feel threatened, you can shoot the person you feel threatened by and it is a legal defense. This was passed by the 80th Texas legislature in 2007.
    Here is a list of rampage killers. The international ones are often without guns.
    at the bottom, under “See also” is this list
    List of events named massacres
    List of postal killings
    List of serial killers by number of victims
    Mass murder
    School shooting
    Spree killer
    School shootings are an international problem.
    The 1989 Stockton, California shooting came to my mind when I heard of Connecticut but I heard nothing in the media about it.
    “All of the fatally shot victims and many of the wounded were Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants. The multiple murders at Stockton received national news coverage and spurred calls for regulation of semi-automatic weapons. “Why could Purdy, an alcoholic who had been arrested for such offenses as selling weapons and attempted robbery, walk into a gun shop in Sandy, Oregon, and leave with an AK-47 under his arm?” Time magazine asked. They continued, “The easy availability of weapons like this, which have no purpose other than killing human beings, can all too readily turn the delusions of sick gunmen into tragic nightmares.” Purdy was able to purchase the weapons because the judicial system had not convicted him of any crime that prevented him from purchasing firearms. Neither had Purdy been adjudicated mentally ill, another disqualifying factor. In California, measures were taken to first define and then ban assault weapons, resulting in the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989. On the Federal level, Congress struggled with a way to ban weapons like Purdy’s aesthetically military-style rifle without being seen to also ban more sporting-looking rifles. Later in 1989, President George H. W. Bush signed an executive order (the Semi-Automatic Assault Rifle Ban) banning importation of assault weapons. The Federal assault weapons ban was enacted in 1994, and expired in 2004. President Bill Clinton signed another executive order in 1994 which banned importation of most firearms and ammunition from China.”
    And now they can’t keep .223 ammunition and assault rifles on the shelves.

  3. If you want to reduce the
    If you want to reduce the ability of the individual to defend himself from violence by limiting the sale of guns, you’re not clinging to “redemptive ideology” – you’re clinging to fear.

    A redemptive ideology would direct itself to the heart of the issue. A redemptive ideology would note that people buy guns out of fear. A redemptive ideology would address the fear.

    You want to limit the sale of guns. By your own admission, guns and gun violence are symptoms of a larger problem. By your own admission, you would create or increase the problem of an underground market, and might not even affect the very thing you fear (gun violence, mass shootings, armed minorities, etc.).

    A redemptive ideology seeks to solve the larger problem. The classic example is Christianity, which proposes “love” as a solution and further suggests one might achieve this “love” through a focus on Christ (either his sacrifice or his mercy).

    A redemptive approach to “gun control” would seek the root of people’s fears. It would engage honestly with the right to self-defense. It would address the differences in perception of “public safety” and actual public safety as exemplified through crime statistics.

    The fearful approach is to reduce the access or presence of the object causing fear. Once this is done, the frightened person is able to return to normal life. One need only address the perception of fear rather than the actuality of danger in order to calm those fears. This was seen in the previous assault weapons ban, promoted by fearful people, many of whom later went out and bought handguns in record numbers, accounting for the explosion of handgun sales in the last decade.

    Fear is a mind-killer. Frightened people don’t think clearly and don’t act rationally. Redemption and reason go hand-in-hand. Fear is not redemptive. Fear is reductive.

    Fear leads to less liberty, not more. Less liberty is a condition that itself must be redeemed.

    A redemptive ideology seeks freedom, not more restrictive laws.

  4. Great article… definitely
    Great article… definitely spurs a lot of thought in me! I’ve also been struck by similarities in stances (both for and against) with regards to gun control and abortion laws…

    I’d like to respond to the idea that “It’s only the belief in the possibility of a broad societal redemption that makes the anti-abortion position coherent,” because I’m not sure I agree.

    Here’s my take on it (and let me preface this by saying I’m generally liberal, and have conflicted thoughts on abortion/abortion laws, that I haven’t fully reconciled yet in myself):

    – the point at which human life begins is a DEBATABLE idea; there is no clear consensus, no clear answer.

    – it is reasonable to say that destroying a life-form AFTER human life has begun (wherever/whenever that might be) is murder, and should be outlawed.

    – IF someone believes that human life begins pre-birth (at conception, 3 months, 6 months, when there’s a heartbeat, whatever), then at THAT point, destroying the unborn life-form would be destroying a human life, and so murder.

    – IF someone thusly believes that abortion (in general, or at a particular point) is murder, it’s reasonable for them to support the passage of laws outlawing it, even if others do not agree (because others believe human life begins at a different point).

    So really, the debate comes down to trying to reach a consensus regarding WHEN human life begins – not an easy task!

    Personally, I’m still trying to work out the point at which I believe human life to begin – and so when destroying a life-form would be destroying a human life. So while I’m strongly pro-equality, pro-liberty, hold dearly the sanctity of individual choice, and have been called and consider myself to be a feminist, I’m not sure where I stand on abortion..

    And, w.j. wiippa, you make a good point – but I would also add that, while as a culture we do not perform funerals for miscarriages, they ARE very often followed by painful grief, deep and prolonged mourning, and a sharp sense of loss… food for thought!

  5. Daniel, your thoughts on this
    Daniel, your thoughts on this controversy are certainly valid, but I don’t think they supersede mine. I think that everybody who tries to think about the morality of abortion must struggle with the questions you’re asking (whether abortion is murder, what is the definition of a life). But I’m trying to address the question in an entirely different realm. I’m pointing out the practical fact that making abortion illegal will not stop people from having abortions.

    Large numbers of people had abortions in the USA back when they were illegal, and they will continue to have abortions if they become illegal again. A law against abortion would be easy to break, and violations would be difficult to prosecute. This is what I’m referring to when I suggest that the anti-abortion position is incoherent. It would not directly result in significantly fewer abortions — though, tentatively, it could if it turned out that passing the law would have a secondary effect of changing the way people behave. Thus, it seems to me that unless you can support the idea that passing the law would change the way people behave, you cannot construct a coherent argument for banning abortion. I think this is a very important point to consider when discussing this issue.

    The questions you ask are important too, of course, but I think these are the questions that are always asked. I rarely hear anyone ask the questions I’m asking.

  6. Mm, I see what you’re saying.
    Mm, I see what you’re saying… allow me to respond with an illustrative satire, if I might 🙂 I’ve had this idea stewing in my head for awhile…

    “It’s time we came to be rational about things folks.

    Murder has been categorically illegal in this country for hundreds of years – is it really doing anything to STOP homicide though? Or just banishing homicide to back alleys and clandestine nightfall – where it’s more likely to be horribly more painful and gruesome than death need be!

    Let us be pragmatic: people are not going to stop killing one another. Criminalizing homicide simply DOES NOT prevent homicide!

    Therefore, let us respond with reason, rather than ideological fruitlessness.

    Let us give our citizens legal and pain-free as possible avenues to pursue homicide.

    Mortal Offense Litigation – Organized Court Homicide (MOLOCH for short).

    If someone feels aggrieved to the point of wishing to kill another human, they will bring their case before MOLOCH. Both sides will present their perspectives, and a jury shall decide whether A) the prosecution is justified in their homicidal wish, or B) the defendant does not deserve to die. If A, the defendant will be put to death; if B, the prosecuting party will be put to death.

    The civil homicide will be carried out by MOLOCH administration. Let us look to history for an inexpensive, painless, and liberal method of administering death: the guillotine.

    Though the above resolution may leave some feeling squeamish, we must be reasonable about this. People will always kill one another – whether legal or not. Are we to banish homicide to the dark and painful corners of our country? Or deal with it civilly and with compassion?”

    …of course not exactly the same issue, but I think more similar than not.

    To be frank – the questions you raise are really only coherent to someone who DOESN’T think abortion is murder. IF one has the view that abortion is murder, then the idea of “well yes, but it’s going to happen regardless, so let’s at least be reasonable and make it safe” is somewhat silly. Those questions aren’t the primary focus of debate (in those unfortunately uncommon cases were abortion is met with genuine debate rather than vitriolic attack) because they beg the question of the primary issue at hand.

  7. I get your point, Daniel.
    I get your point, Daniel. But, all satire aside, I do think it’s pretty hard to get away with murdering a person. First, the person has the ability to fight back. Then, a full-size body has to be disposed of without leaving traces. Then, people will notice that a person has disappeared. None of these things are true in the case of an aborted pregnancy.

    This is a serious issue, of course, so I will try to address your question about whether abortion is murder as seriously as I can. I don’t know if it is murder or not. I don’t think this is a question that anybody can answer. This is why I’m trying to find new ways to think about the question of the legality of abortion, without getting bogged down in unanswerable questions.

    I think it’s a clear principle that many people can understand and will probably agree with that the government should not pass laws it cannot enforce, and I still think this is a persuasive argument for why abortion must remain legal.

  8. Well, I guess on this point
    Well, I guess on this point we must agree to disagree! I’m still of the disposition that the perspective of analysis you’re offering is hindered by begging the question, but I do see the value of exploring the issue from different angles and different questions!

    I think another possible way of taking your above points into consideration might be the following: “IF the government were to pass a law prohibiting abortion, then it would also need to address abortions by trying to eliminate the perceived NEED for them” – which, to me would translate to things like a) free, safe, easily available birth control; b) increased education about birth control and safe sex; c) a reformed and significantly revamped public orphanage/child-care/adoption system. I think whether someone is for or against legal abortion, those are things that the majority of us could happily support!

    And just to be clear – I didn’t mean to be satirizing YOU or the viewpoint you’re offering! I just sometimes like to use the form, and I do think it can be uniquely illustrative (and relevant to the discussion). Meant no disrespect, hope I wasn’t unclear in that regard 🙂

  9. Thanks, Daniel — yes, I didn
    Thanks, Daniel — yes, I didn’t feel at all put off by your response. I want to discuss these issues — that’s what it’s all about — and discussion often requires confrontation, satire, etc. As long as we are talking reasonably and listening as well as talking, it’s all good with me.

    I think what you say about addressing the perceived need for abortion IS in fact something we should all be able to agree on — pro-lifers and pro-choicers — and I wish we could take steps to move forward on these initiatives without passing a law that is guaranteed to fail, and that would feel like a violation of private rights to many people.

  10. As Chomsky pointed out, those
    As Chomsky pointed out, those who oppose abortion do not necessarily oppose wars of aggression (however these wars might be dressed up, sold, and justified as morally sound).

    He points out that the opposing of abortion SEEMS to indicate a fundamental respect for the preservation of ANY and ALL human life, while on another issue along the same moral continuum we will often find a (seemingly?) contradictory viewpoint held by the same individual, i.e. that not ALL life is to be viewed as “sacred” or some other such highly loaded term.

    This does not speak to the issue itself exactly, as to whether it is “right” or “wrong”—for a woman to have the legal right—to have an abortion performed, but it does speak to the moral basis of the argument, in that this incongruity of moral outlook poses questions about human nature, about where we ought to begin the discussion on the “right to life”, about whether (and if so, why?) it is just to do with children, particularly the unborn?

    I mean, gosh, it is very complicated indeed, and that is just for a man. For a woman, there is a whole other layer of moral and physical identification that comes into play. And I do not mean that patronisingly or sycophantically. It is simply and unarguably true.

    Note: I have no idea whether the above argument is original to Chomsky. It just so happens that I saw him put it once, on a Youtube video.

  11. …And I would add: both of
    …And I would add: both of these issues involve very primal areas of the brain. The are to do with life and death and protection. So let’s get Freudian for a second and say that the id (or, if you don’t want to get Freudian, some other un-acculturated set of paradigms and pathways) would have a lot to say about these issues. That is why it is difficult to have a purely intellectual discussion about any notion involving violence, whether it be to an unborn child or a born individual. The discussion needs to be emotional also. We are animals, and we need to accept that, however much we would like to think otherwise.

  12. Hi Katie — not sure exactly
    Hi Katie — not sure exactly what your question means, but I think the answer must be “no” — for all the good the Beat Generation did for literature and poetry, I don’t think the Beats can take any credit for Reggae.

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