April 15, 2005

The Peace and Quiet Movement

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I have written often about the need of people like me — who were once Left/liberal Latte drinkers (well, espresso in my case) and are now wandering in the rain like King Lear trying to comprehend that everything has fallen apart — to start letting go of the Cold War concepts of 'Left' and 'Right.'

I keep thinking I've done that. But you'll notice I've described myself as 'Left/liberal.' Part of the problem is: how do you get a handle on what is going on in the world now?

There's a political humorist (among other things) named Jim Hightower who I used to think pretty highly of. These days I can't stand to listen to him or read his stuff. But back before 2001 I remember him saying that the politics of Left/Right was starting to recede into history and that it was being replaced by the simple politics of up vs. down. Class, privelage, access…these were what it was all about. This resonated with me and still does. This is Left wing populism. Where I think he's failed to take his own point is in his continuing practice of portraying the Republican party as the enemy.

So who's the enemy? (Must there even be an enemy? That's for the enemy to decide. The ball's in his court). The enemy is greed, wanton brutality, anti-democratic violence…there are a thousand ways to say it. Totalitarians both Left and Right (I know, I know) are the enemy.

Here in the U.S. there are power pimps in both parties, Republican and Democratic, just as there is a (small) populist wing in each. This is the up/down party line. And it's world wide.

But another manifestation of this is the 'speak out!'/'shut up' divide. This could not have been better exemplified than in Lebanon where hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets, daring to tell Syria to get the hell out. Then the official counter protest designed to shut them the hell up. Then the counter-counter protest…followed by the amazing pro-democracy movement that Michael is narrating first hand as we speak.

This also manifests as the conflict between those who recognize that the world is being transformed by an era of unprecedented transparency (think both big and small: Oil-for-Food, Abu Ghraib, Dan Rather, Enron, even Michael Jackson. If you're counting on getting away with something because no one will find out, you might want to be careful) versus those of the 'see no evil' class.

It's along these lines that I got in the habit of referring to the contemporary anti-war crowd as the 'peace and quiet' movement. The fact that fascists were exterminating people in Afghanistan and Iraq was not a big talking point on the Left — though it was OK to distribute pamphlets about starving Iraqi children because it was possible to blame that on American Imperialsm — until the U.S. actually did something to stop it. Then it became fashionable to decry all the suffering. This is like not caring much that your neighbor down the street is beating his wife and kids to death to the extent that you don't know any of the parties involved. That's the Peace and Quiet movement.

And this cartoon by the Argentine cartoonist, Quino, though I doubt he agrees with my views lately, illustrates this point very nicely (click image for larger version):


Quino, whose real name is Joaquin S. Lavado, is a genius. The cartoon above came from a collection called 'The World of Quino.' It seems to be out of print, but you can buy it used.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at April 15, 2005 7:29 AM
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