What concerns me is how the politicization of culture and of individual consciousness encourages people to adopt stereotypical, patronizing, and dehumanizing views of those who are on the other side of a political issue. This has been glaringly apparent in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, and it has been an ongoing feature of the presidential campaign.
Who among us is in a position to adopt such views? Do those who hold these views realize that they are in fact dehumanizing themselves in the process? They have become exactly what the politicians, political "activists," and media oversimplifiers and crisis-mongers want them to be: political animals.
Neither Out Far Nor In Deep
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be --
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?
Robert Frost, A Further Range (Henry Holt 1936.)
Be careful before you make any quick judgments on what the poem "means." Depending upon how you read the poem, you may be a misanthrope or you may be a lover of humanity. Or both. Or neither. In his fine study of Frost's poetry, Tim Kendall says this of the poem: "This is what I can see happening, the poet tells his reader. Make of it what you will." Tim Kendall, The Art of Robert Frost (Yale University Press 2012), page 356. But this much is certain: you are standing there on the sand, dear reader, as are we all.
Osmund Caine, "Wedding at Twickenham Parish Church" (1948)
Being politicized leads to evaluating and judging the world and other human beings in terms of classes, categories, and clichés. Never underestimate the allure of a priori conclusions. For the politicized, everything appears to be simple and subject to explanation. Us and them. The enlightened versus the benighted.
All of this has nothing whatsoever to do with the individual human being or with the individual human soul.
Because I see the world poisoned
by cant and brutal self-seeking,
must I be silent about
the useless waterlily, the dunnock's nest
in the hedgeback?
Because I am fifty-six years old
must I love, if I love at all,
only ideas -- not people, but only
the idea of people?
Because there is work to do, to steady
a world jarred off balance,
must a man meet only a fellow-worker
and never a man?
There are more meanings than those
in text books of economics
and a part of the worst slum
is the moon rising over it
and eyes weeping and
Norman MacCaig, in Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).
"The School on Peggy Hill, Ambleside" (1952)
Each of us has a far better opinion of ourself than we ought to. That is a given. A part of human nature. But, when you add politics to the mix, the opportunities for superciliousness expand exponentially. Vast territories of grandiosity, oversimplification, and unexamined assumptions lie open for exploration. And you can be sure that the politicized -- left, right, and center -- will undertake the expedition.
To believe you are magnificent. And gradually to discover that you are not magnificent. Enough labor for one human life.
Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1998).
W. B. Yeats could be as supercilious as they come. But every once in a while he experienced a moment of clarity.
Indignant at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite
Of our old Paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind
Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light;
Until a curlew cried and in the luminous wind
A curlew answered; and suddenly thereupon I thought
That on the lonely height where all are in God's eye,
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.
W. B. Yeats, Responsibilities and Other Poems (Macmillan 1916).
"A single soul," yes. Yet something else comes to mind as well.
Aboard a Boat, Listening to Insects
As though delighting, as though grieving, each with its own song --
an idler, listening, finds his ears washed completely clean.
As the boat draws away from grassy banks, they grow more distant,
till the many varied voices become one single voice.
Ōkubo Shibutsu (1767-1837) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Kanshi: The Poetry of Ishikawa Jōzan and Other Edo-Period Poets (North Point Press 1990).
George Charlton, "Welsh Chapel" (1950)
I am well aware that there may be those among you who find this disquisition (diatribe?) to be supercilious in its own right. Apathy and quietism as the world goes up in flames. I see your point. Ah, well, we are all in "the vale of Soul-making." We each choose our own path.
You say a thousand things,
And with strange passion hotly I agree,
And praise your zest,
A blackbird sings
On April lilac, or fieldfaring men,
Ghostlike, with loaded wain,
Come down the twilit lane
And what is all your argument to me?
Oh yes -- I know, I know,
It must be so --
You must devise
Your myriad policies,
For we are little wise,
And must be led and marshalled, lest we keep
Too fast a sleep
Far from the central world's realities.
Yes, we must heed --
For surely you reveal
Life's very heart; surely with flaming zeal
You search our folly and our secret need;
And surely it is wrong
To count my blackbird's song,
My cones of lilac, and my wagon team,
More than a world of dream.
A voice calls from the hill --
I must away --
I cannot hear your argument to-day.
John Drinkwater, Tides (Sidgwick and Jackson 1917).
But life is more than a matter of blackbirds singing and lilacs blooming, isn't it? Thus, please forgive me as I return once again to some of the best advice that I have come across during my time on earth:
. . . we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
Philip Larkin, "The Mower," Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1988).
James McIntosh Patrick, "A City Garden" (1940)