Faith in the Future

by | Jan 9, 2018

TAA 0002 – In this episode C. Travis Webb and Seph Rodney discuss faith in the future. Is faith in the future justifiable or naive? Contrasting Ta-Nehisi Coates with Jeffrey Goldberg (the editor of The Atlantic), Webb argues that “faith” isn’t the point, and Rodney emphasizes the importance of honesty in any assessment of the American project.

*full transcript below

C.T. WEBB 00:15 [music] Good afternoon. Welcome to The American Age Podcast. Today we’re going to be talking about faith in the future, what that means, what that doesn’t mean, and to begin I’d like to situate us with a quotation from– a brief quotation from Emerson. An essay he delivered in 1844 called “New England Reformers,” and he says, “When the literary class betray a destitution of faith, it is not strange that society should be disheartened and sensualized by unbelief. What remedy? Life must be lived on a higher plane.” And then a little later on he says, “What is it men love of Genius, but its infinite hope, which degrades all it has done? Genius counts all its miracles poor and short. Its own idea it never executed. The Iliad, the Hamlet, the Doric column, the Roman arch, The Gothic minister, The German anthem,” there’s a lot of Sturm Und Drang there, but, “When they are ended, the master casts behind him.”
C.T. WEBB 01:25 So let’s– Seph, let’s just bracket the will to power overtones with Emerson there, and just– why I wanted to open with that and how I thought it was relevant. A conversation you and I started briefly was the idea that Genius involves hope, and not in that it’s not a kind of naivety but is in fact a gesture of strength to confront the world with hope. And what’s prompted this topic was the email that I got from Jeffrey Goldberg. Not me personally, but you know I subscribe to The Atlantic, and he sent out this thing and he said that he has faith in the future, and I really, I found it irritating. And you and I spoke briefly about that, and you had something interesting to say. So why don’t you just go ahead and jump in.
S. RODNEY 02:20 Well what I said was that it reminded me of the moment when Ta-Nehisi Coates was on Stephen Colbert’s show, Late Night. I forget what it’s called, but Colbert–
C.T. WEBB 02:43 Probably Late Night with Stephen Colbert or something.
S. RODNEY 02:46 Probably, yeah. Colbert is exactly the way I should pronounce the name, and not what I was doing. He posed the question to him which was really a kind of softball question, right? I mean it’s the kind of– he posed the question to Coates, well do you have faith in or hope in- it was one of those terms- in essentially the American future? Do you think that we’ll rescue ourselves? Do you think that the American project can sort of right itself and keep going? And he had said that– he had posed the question on the heels of Coates talking about how reprehensible this presidency, this current presidency is, and how much footing we’ve lost morally, ethically, and in terms of our international standing. And he said, “No,” he said, no, he didn’t. And I love that because there’s this moment in most late-night talk shows where the host expects you to just be the trained monkey. Like, “Here’s the softball question, just take the bat and knock it out the park. It’s easy, it’s easy. I’m setting it up for you.” And he didn’t. It’s almost like– I mean to follow on the metaphor and the analogy, it’s almost like you get the softball pitch, and the guy who’s standing at the plate puts down his bat, catches the ball, takes it, and eats it [laughter].
S. RODNEY 04:29 Right? Like, no, I’m not playing this game. I’m not doing this. No, I don’t have hope in America’s future. No, I don’t think that the project will– and I’m not sure that the project will outlast this. I don’t think he was really definitive about it, I don’t think he said, “No, it’s not going to happen.” He said, “I don’t have faith in that.” And I think that that’s, in some ways it’s good to have that moment of negation. It reminds me too of that story by Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener, which Bartleby says, “His only sort of politics is the politics of negation. I prefer not to. I am not cosigning this.”
C.T. WEBB 05:21 How is that not a story just about a disaffected millennial though? Like, “I don’t really want to work. I’m good. Why don’t you just pay me?” I’m obviously joking. Clearly there’s much more to the–
S. RODNEY 05:35 I mean, clearly the man is not that because he’s done the work. I mean he’s produced a couple of books that have been really well received from what I’ve heard.
C.T. WEBB 05:47 Isn’t he writing like a Black Panther comic or something like that now? Wasn’t he the guest–
S. RODNEY 05:50 Yeah, he’s working with Marvel.
C.T. WEBB 05:52 Like how does someone like that not have faith in the American project? So I have very little patience for that. I would say, I said disaffected millennial. Like that level of cynicism. I just– psychological dispositions are precisely that. They are psychological dispositions. The future is barreling down on us. That is our portion of self-awareness that we all must bear is the awareness of our future, and a future in which ultimately we will not be. There is no, of course, any sort of ultimate destiny for the United States, and its survivability, and its perpetuity. Of course, ultimately, no. The United States, America, whatever you want to call us. No, we won’t endure forever. But I would– when someone that is that high up on the heap, when they’re Yertle the Turtle on the faraway island of Salamasond, and sitting on top of all those turtles, and surveying with that kind of survey. Sitting in a seat on Stephen Colbert’s late-night talk show, guest writing Marvel comics’ best selling authors–
S. RODNEY 07:32 He’s a millionaire.
C.T. WEBB 07:34 Yeah, I don’t really care what he has faith in, or doesn’t have faith in, right?
S. RODNEY 07:39 Mm-hmm.
C.T. WEBB 07:39 That’s a psychological disposition. But I do care what his project is, and what that person engages in, and their labor. And how can that not be the work of hope?
S. RODNEY 07:53 Well he said actually that he had– and I don’t remember– see I didn’t look at this. I actually did not look at the video of the– broadcast. I only read about it. And apparently one of the things that he said at the end was that he believed– oh actually, no, let me be clear. It was something that Cornel West said in his critique of Coates.
C.T. WEBB 08:25 The one in The Guardian, right?
S. RODNEY 08:26 Right, right. He said that Coates cited black atheism as a place in which he had some hope. And I actually agree with that only because– and this is– I feel like I’m stepping in it now, but here we are. I feel think that part of the sort of paradigm shift that is happening right now is that there is finally a kind of legitimate voice for black people who do not subscribe to Christian, particularly Christian, but generally religious traditions in a way that they’ve not been privileged up until now.
C.T. WEBB 09:24 Well, but wait. James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison. There’s a black intellectual tradition that is not beholden to Christianity.
S. RODNEY 09:30 Yeah, but how many times have you heard- and I really want an answer to this if you can give me one- how many times have you heard from people when they mention those people, and those are critical people, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison. How many times have you heard people say, “And they were not Christians, and they did not have a religious belief system they adhered to.”
C.T. WEBB 10:00 I don’t know that I’ve heard anyone say that.
S. RODNEY 10:03 Ever.
C.T. WEBB 10:03 I don’t know that I haven’t heard anyone say that.
S. RODNEY 10:04 Right, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “James Baldwin was an atheist.” In fact, now that I say it out loud, I’m more sure that I’ve never heard that.
C.T. WEBB 10:19 Right. Well so let me ask you a question, why does the atheism component matter? In this context why does it matter?
S. RODNEY 10:28 Right, so and this is where it gets hairy because I think it’s– it matters because being able to say that publicly, and essentially without shame means that there is a kind– there’s something that’s happened in the culture to allow a space for black people who don’t come from the sort of rhetoric and ethical traditional of Martin Luther King. I mean when we talk about the great heroes of black liberation struggle, almost always the first name is Martin Luther King. It’s not Marcus Garvey, it’s not necessarily Malcolm X, it’s Martin Luther King. And he comes out of this tradition of service, of public service, of loving those who hate you, of taking the beating. And taking the jail time, and responding with nonviolent practices. And I think that the shift that Ta-Nehisi Coates points to or indicates is one that’s more sort of canny and savvy. It’s not necessarily about relying on this Christian tradition.
C.T. WEBB 11:57 So you would say that Ta-Nehisi Coates is savvier than Martin Luther King?
S. RODNEY 12:05 No, not– no I’m not saying that. I–
C.T. WEBB 12:09 Because I actually think the King was really savvy.
S. RODNEY 12:11 Yeah, no. Right no. And the strategies that he used were really well suited to the times. I almost said perfect, but I don’t know what that means. But they were very well suited to the sociopolitical situation in which he found himself. No but I guess I’m thinking out loud here, so I’m actually kind of cutting my way through the forest as we go.
C.T. WEBB 12:37 Fair enough, and I’m like in your way [laughter].
S. RODNEY 12:39 No, you’re asking really good questions. What I think what I’m getting at is that any hope that we have, if we have a thing called hope, it is actually not seeded in a tradition, but it’s seeded in a question– an attitude of critical consciousness, of critical rigor. And looking at the inheritance that we have so that it’s no more about– I mean what he’s pointing to, what Coates is pointing to is saying, “If you’re an atheist, if you don’t believe, that’s actually a good place to start.” Because you begin from the place of– if someone’s Cartesian, right? Like I don’t know that there is such a thing as universal love. I’m not going to assume that there is. If I’m starting from the place of what’s rationally in front of me, what can I do strategically to actually make a space for myself to just– to live. To exist.
C.T. WEBB 13:54 So a couple of things, one, I want to make sure that– I am not– I’m not sure which of us brought up King. I think you may have, but I don’t–
S. RODNEY 14:06 I did.
C.T. WEBB 14:06 — I don’t– I personally would not deploy him in this kind of discussion or in most arguments because I do feel like it’s kind of a tired and probably facile gesture for white people to do, right? I mean it’s like, so well you know King, let’s all get along kind of thing. So I–
S. RODNEY 14:27 But that’s exactly why I do it. But that’s because he’s a lone star, right? Like he’s–
C.T. WEBB 14:30 No, I know. Oh yeah, no. I know. I’m saying– but I was defending him a little bit because I admire him for reasons other than that. And so I was just– I wanted to signal why my defense of him is a little bit more sophisticated than that, so I say that self-consciously and owning that. So because obviously we don’t– I mean it’s a podcast so we’re not signaling our racial affiliations or whatever. But I do feel like there should be some delicacy around discussions of race on my part. Even though I have pretty well thought out arguments that might be somewhat contrary, but. My issue with Coates and the discussion of atheism being a location where we might draw some inspiration. I think the impulse we’re discussing, the critical impulse, the prophetic impulse, whatever you want to call it. Different traditions call it different things, different social groups want to signal it differently. Prophetic impulse might make some people uncomfortable. That is a fugitive minority impulse in every time, in every place. There is no ism, I would argue, there’s no ism, there’s no school of thought that cultivates that discomfort with hypocrisy. Which is I think ultimately what we’re talking about. When we look out at the world, when someone like Coates looks out at the world and sees rampant inequality, cultural inequality, economic inequality, that pricks our conscious, and men and woman of character are unsettled by that.
C.T. WEBB 16:29 But there’s no tradition to draw on that we use these ready at hand traditions to signal our displeasure. But you can draw those from atheism, you can draw them from Christianity, Hinduism, Paganism. I just– they’re all just frameworks that allow men and women of conscience to articulate their displeasure with the world. And I can bring this back to the issue of why Goldberg’s faith in the future, he declares in this email, I have faith in the future. I think that’s a nonsense statement. It offends me as much as Coates’ disaffected opinion on the future does because faith is precisely besides the point. It has nothing– what are you willing to work for? Are you in the business of lifting up your fellow human beings? Are you in the business of trying to imagine better epistemological and moral frameworks for human beings to live inside of? If you’re not, get the fuck off the stage. You’re just taking up oxygen, and you’re taking up that capital. And I mean that in the broadest sense. And if you’re Pollyannaish about it, like I have faith in the future, get the fuck off the stage. Like I don’t care what you have faith in, or don’t have faith in. What are you willing to labor for? What are you willing to work for? You and I both like to reference regularly- even though we’re self-conscious about it- Ginsberg’s, America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel. Yeah, put your shoulder to the wheel.
S. RODNEY 18:24 Yeah, but I mean because– well, I suppose the conversation is sort of edited towards this kind of makeshift opposition between Coates and I don’t know, the straw horse that is Martin Luther King, Jr. Or maybe just belief in atheism, I think that what Coates says actually points to an attitude of work. And partly, clearly– not clearly, but partly I’m assuming this about Coates because of the work that he has done already. The books that he has written already, and the way that he has conducted himself as a public intellectual. I–
C.T. WEBB 19:16 Have you read either one of the books?
S. RODNEY 19:17 I have not.
C.T. WEBB 19:18 Yeah, me neither. I’ve read a number of his articles, but I haven’t read any of his books.
S. RODNEY 19:20 Yeah, I’ve read a lot of his articles. I read the one about Donald Trump being the–
C.T. WEBB 19:27 The first white president.
S. RODNEY 19:27 — president, yeah. Yeah. I feel like I–
C.T. WEBB 19:35 I feel like that’s got to go to Thomas Jefferson. I’m sorry, I just don’t think that– but anyway.
S. RODNEY 19:39 Well, okay. Well, we can get into that.
C.T. WEBB 19:42 [laughter] That was a joke.
S. RODNEY 19:43 Okay. We can get into it. But– so what I’m realizing now as I’m speaking is that I’m putting a lot of my own feelings and thoughts around atheism into this because it’s been a long journey for me up to the point where I can say, “Yes I don’t have any theistic beliefs at all.” And I actually think that having the attitude that he has means that we are– those who do say we are not subscribers to any sort of theism. What we’re saying is we are ready to put our queer shoulders to the wheel. That we want to do the work of critical inquiry, of saying, “Okay, here’s the situation. What’s the evidence for whatever position we want to take?” I’m assuming that. I don’t know that Coates does this. I don’t know that he necessarily subscribes to this kind of intellectual rigor, but I would assume so because you see it in his writing.
S. RODNEY 20:58 But what that position– taking the atheist position means for me is that I cannot presume that, one, my inheritance is just going to carry me through the trials and tribulations of being a human being. I have to actually critically engage with the people, the circumstances, the ideas that I encounter. And I have to do so from a position of looking at, rationally looking at what evidence is in front of me that will allow me to make a reasonable choice? I like that because that’s actually giving me work to do that I want to do. And I think that more of us need to do because here’s the thing. Ultimately, when they went down, they– people in the media- I mean that just sounds like such a stupid phrase, I need to find a better way to say that- but people who work at giving us the news, went down to Mississippi. Or was it Alabama? Wow. Wait a minute. To talk to Roy Moore’s supporters?
C.T. WEBB 22:14 Alabama.
S. RODNEY 22:14 Alabama, right. Went down to Alabama to talk to Roy Moore’s supporters, what they said was, “I don’t care what the New York Times says, or what the Washington Post says, or what some people said. I don’t care about that. I support Roy Moore because I know him.” So there’s this sort of anecdotal knowledge, right? That carries the day for them, for a hugely important political decision. It’s this anecdotal thing, like I know him personally. There’s no resort to evidence, there’s no resort to critical thinking. And I just feel like if the atheists have anything to bring to the table, it is that. That they say, “It doesn’t matter what I personally know, show me the evidence. Let’s start there.”
C.T. WEBB 23:06 I just– I don’t have faith in atheism- and I mean that obviously in its ironic sense- that you are describing. Again, I– that willingness to judge and weigh based on one’s own critical faculties puts you in the minority of every tradition, including atheism. I know plenty of really annoying, knee-jerk followers of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and these are both publications which I read regularly, and which I rely on for my news. So I’m not painting myself outside of that, but that unwillingness to do the work to come to one’s own conclusions, or that resistance, or that lack of capacity, or time, or whatever the case may be, that’s a space that we’re all living in, and you and I just have– probably defensible, I’m not going to go that far. I know that I could defend the outlets that I draw on. I know I could defend the writers that I draw on for more than just, you know faith or something like that.
S. RODNEY 24:44 Well, you know they’re not David Brooks, so yeah you probably can.
C.T. WEBB 24:48 [laughter] I actually like David Brooks–
S. RODNEY 24:49 Really?
C.T. WEBB 24:50 I don’t agree with him a lot, but I– he is at least aware of the fact that there must be some kind of glue in place to keep communities of strangers together. Now, I don’t like the factor he draws his glue from. I don’t like the horses that he uses, but he’s not wrong that there must be shared principles that keep us together. That can keep us–
S. RODNEY 25:37 You’re right, actually. And you are convincing. And as reprehensible as I think he is, you’re right about that. You are correct. And it’s actually a really, not pretty, it’s a really sophisticated nuance position to take vis-a-vis David Brooks. And so I’m learning from that. But I want to get back to something you said earlier, which I think I glossed over and I shouldn’t have. You said something about how what I’m marking out, essentially as this sort of idealized atheistic intellectual position, is essentially about being aware of our own hypocrisy, right?
C.T. WEBB 26:38 Mm-hmm.
S. RODNEY 26:37 And wanting to avoid the pitfalls of that hypocrisy. I wanted to ask you about that because you really think it comes to that?
C.T. WEBB 26:52 Could you ask the question a different way? I’m not sure [crosstalk].
S. RODNEY 26:53 Yeah, it’s really unclear. You said that what I was getting at essentially with my– I’m going to say idealization of the atheism. What I was getting at was a way to check ourselves from falling into our own hypocrisy. And you say that other traditions do that as well. And I–
C.T. WEBB 27:27 Yeah, so I think–
S. RODNEY 27:28 So the question is do you think other traditions do that potentially as well as atheism could?
C.T. WEBB 27:35 So I guess– okay. It’s a fair question. I’m going to give a definitive answer that, on a different day I might give differently because what I do want to do is leave the door open to the idea that, yes, there are frameworks that can foster independent, intellectual inquiry and integrity. That being said, no, I don’t think that atheism has any special purchase on that very rare characteristic. And I would point to the Chan or Zen traditions in Buddhism, I would point to some of the more radical Sufi critiques within Islam, I would point to some of the negative theological positions in Christianity, and Hinduism has the Advaita Vedanta tradition, the non-dual tradition. Anything that throws you back on yourself, and your own limitations I would say is a very long tradition in the history of the world sometimes called the wisdom tradition. Harold Bloom calls it the wisdom tradition, he wasn’t the first to do that. Aldous Huxley called it the wisdom tradition as well.
C.T. WEBB 29:12 And this idea– this principle that we have to check our own intellectual ambitions, and question our own feeling of inerrancy and certitude is definitely something that visits many times and places, but never frequently. And I just– I’ve known a lot of atheists that seem pretty– Sam Harris is someone that I think is a pretty good example of that although I do think some of his arguments are a little bit more sophisticated than they used to be. But no, I think you’re talking about a very, very small tribe. And I think if you belong to that tribe, you have a responsibility to help your fellow human beings realize that things aren’t quite as certain as they appear to us when we are ensconced in our own particular world views.
S. RODNEY 30:29 Right. Well I just grimace because you made me think of that Bruno Latour argument. And I’m not going to be able to find the quote now although a few months back I had highlighted it, and I’d actually kept it by my bedside. So this is the quote from Bruno Latour from the article, Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. “And yet,” quote, “And yet entire PhD programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up. That there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth. That we are always prisoners of language. That we always speak from a particular standpoint and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard won evidence that could save our lives.”
C.T. WEBB 31:32 Yeah, so obviously I– and you and I have spoken about this before, of course I completely agree with that sentiment. Definitely– and I don’t mean this defensively, but just to clarify, definitely not what I meant in what I was saying sort of defending the idea of the wisdom tradition. I think what has happened in the American academy is its divorced itself from its roots in that wisdom tradition. What I would characterize as a wisdom tradition intimately acknowledges the facticity of the world, and its overwhelming presence. And that is not, though it may be gated, mitigated by language, it is certainly not fully circumscribed by it. And even before the Latour I always– someone like Gary Snider was ray-laying against postmodernism years before that, and he loved to give the example of, he was in some Pacific Northwestern region working on some poetic series, and he was of course talking to a lumberjack at a table. And slams his hand down on the table, and people jump and look around. And he was–
S. RODNEY 33:05 The authentic experience.
C.T. WEBB 33:06 That’s right. The ways in which our animality far supersedes our linguistic sophistication. And so I just– I mean obviously when I was younger, an undergraduate, I sat in those seminars literally with Derrida and all the Doc Martin undergraduate students that would sit and hang on his totally unintelligible and broken English. And I mean Derrida would regularly sit at the Baskin Robbins at UCI before he would go teach, and you’d always see him there. But anyway, I don’t do that in a name dropping way, I do that to say, “I drank that Kool-Aid for a long time. I understand what those arguments are.” And honestly, they’re kind of sophomoric, and completely divorced from, as Latour says, the hard won knowledge that we now have of the world. The things that scientists and engineers and historians have labored to construct. I don’t want to throw any of that stuff out.
C.T. WEBB 34:23 What I’m saying is that it is our responsibility as intellectuals, it is Coates’ responsibility. It has nothing to do with their faith or their opinions about whether the future is going to arrive or not arrive. It’s coming, and we have created fantastic machineries of war and peace. And it’s our job to use those things responsibly. It’s Coates’ job to teach the next generation how to be responsible members. How to move past sort of ridiculous racialized notions of epistemologies that you can somehow know something about a person because of the color of their skin. And I don’t mean that in a new agey way. I mean it in a– it’s just fucking stupid. It’s just dumb. It just really needs to go as an idea, and I don’t– by doubling down on the racial politics the way in which– now this is going to take us too far off field, and so I won’t even come back from it. I’ll throw it out there, maybe we should talk about it at another time. I understand that by disbelieving in the efficacy of a racial narrative doesn’t mean that black bodies don’t get policed in ways that white bodies don’t get policed. It doesn’t mean that women are not subjugated in ways that men are not. So I understand that, I get the social facts.
S. RODNEY 36:05 Yeah, but I mean but what you’re doing now is you’re just kind of mounting a defense against people who just think that, “Oh here’s this white privilege guy who doesn’t get it.” You think all–
C.T. WEBB 36:17 I’m trying to head that off at the pass, yeah. That’s exactly right. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 36:19 Exactly. No, and it’s fine. But let me jump in to say this, or to ask this actually. So implicitly, the person who sent out that email that grand, eloquent–
C.T. WEBB 36:39 Jeffrey Goldberg.
S. RODNEY 36:40 Thank you. Jeffrey Goldberg. You don’t think– you think he got it wrong?
C.T. WEBB 36:45 Yes.
S. RODNEY 36:45 And you also implicitly think that Coates got it wrong?
C.T. WEBB 36:49 Yes.
S. RODNEY 36:49 So what’s the– so let’s go back to Colbert show, and he poses the question to you. What’s the right answer then? What should Coates have said?
C.T. WEBB 37:01 Faith–
S. RODNEY 37:01 Do you have faith in the American future?
C.T. WEBB 37:03 Faith in the American future is irrelevant. It only matters the work that I put in today.
S. RODNEY 37:09 Okay, good. Alright. Now, and let me ask a follow up question because I’m feeling impish [laughter]. How does that answer differ from– because I can totally see, no yeah, I don’t want to ask the question that way. Can you imagine the same answer being given by Joe the plumber, by the infamous Joe the plumber?
C.T. WEBB 37:35 I remember.
S. RODNEY 37:35 Remember him?
C.T. WEBB 37:35 Sure, of course. Absolutely, yeah.
S. RODNEY 37:37 Can you imagine the same answer being given by him?
C.T. WEBB 37:41 That faith in the future is irrelevant?
S. RODNEY 37:44 Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 37:45 No. But that may just be a limitation of my ability to imagine Joe the plumber’s mental state. I don’t know.
S. RODNEY 37:56 No, just given everything that you know about him because I think actually I asked the question. I think I actually agree with you to a certain extent. I think that– no he wouldn’t–
C.T. WEBB 38:07 Not that I know Ta-Nehisi Coates’ mental state either. I’m not suggesting I do.
S. RODNEY 38:12 Right, no. We’re projecting clearly. But still, I don’t think he would say, “It’s irrelevant,” but I do think he would say, “It does matter the work that I put in.” So there’s a way in which– and this is what I’m getting at, right?
C.T. WEBB 38:26 Okay.
S. RODNEY 38:26 There’s a way in which this is still- and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this- but that’s very much the American ethic, right? Like I am just going to put work in to make the shit change because that’s all I can do.
C.T. WEBB 38:39 So here’s the thing. Okay, so I appreciate you saying that. I don’t think you’re wrong. And I want to own that. I think, so cultures shape us. Undeniably. They shape us for good and ill, and we said in a part of the first podcast that we axed when we went way off topic. But that we were talking about– or I was talking about whether or not it made sense to try and imagine the American project in a more positive way. And what I claimed was that it was time for America in the broadest sense of the term, in its ideological sense to grow the fuck up.
C.T. WEBB 39:32 It’s time for us to, as intellectuals, to do some of the work, to tease out what is best in the American idea, and to leave behind the adolescence. And I believe that that is the work to be done. And so, yes, what you just, I think absolutely, sensitively, and accurately called out an American idea, is in fact an American idea. And I would own that. It’s the same American idea that elected a black president. Where are the European black presidents? Where are they? Hello? I mean I know you’re all super sophisticated in France, and you’ve got all your forks and spoons and special cups and demitasses and all this other stuff. But no, I think that there are positive things to embrace about the American idea, and there are things to rip apart, and to rip out. And I want to rip the stuff out that needs to go, and keep the stuff and cultivate the things that I think are worth keeping.
S. RODNEY 40:49 Right. So to follow on that, then I would say that with Coates’ response, there’s much of that I would keep. I’m fine with being a member of a very, very small tribe. I’m really okay with that. I do believe that it’s important for me to understand this notion of a wisdom tradition. I didn’t know it existed before you talked about it. I think that that’s worth exploring, and worth talking about. I do think that I want to make that part the Red Sea really, and leave on one side the important notion that, yes, something about what happens to this country and what happens to me has something to do with the work that I put in. I do believe in that. I do. And it may actually be something in the Jamaican cultural heritage that I have that is very much about that. I mean it’s a sort of– you may know. It was the running joke in TV’s In Living Color that Jamaicans always had several jobs at the same time. And my father did, my mother did, I do. I have several jobs– but then that also has something to do with the times we live in. As–
C.T. WEBB 42:28 The gig economy as they call it.
S. RODNEY 42:31 Precisely, but there is something perhaps in my cultural inheritance that is, that privileges, that ethos. So I want to separate that out from the answer I think Joe the plumber would’ve given you know as to whether or not he has faith in the future. He probably would’ve said, “Yeah,” he probably would’ve said, “Yeah, absolutely. America’s great. God bless America. America’s the shining city on the hill, it’s nothing that no other place on the planet I’d rather live, and there’s no greater country.” And I have to say this, part of the reason that I took myself to London to do my PhD was that my father, I grew up in a household in which my father said constantly he thought that America was the best planet on– best country on the planet. And I wanted to always say to him, but I never quite got the gumption, “How would you know? You’ve lived in two places, how would you–?” I wanted to test it, I wanted to go to another G7 country, and live there for awhile, and see how it felt. And what I can honestly say is that I did miss that American ideal. The one that we’ve been talking about. The one that says, “Basically, I can do this shit if I put my shoulder to it,” because there is kind of attitude, I think, in– that was noticeable to me living in London that I attribute mostly to the English. Which is, oh this is a bit shit, isn’t it? Well– oh well. What can you do?
C.T. WEBB 44:30 Chin-chin.
S. RODNEY 44:32 Yeah, right. It feels to me, and this is a really off the cuff, unfair, facile reading of the English ethos. But there’s something about it to me that feels like you went through having your food rationed, so you’re used to, or you’ve been through a historical moment where you thought, “Oh well there’s nothing we can do about this. We might as well just get on with it.” And there is something that is a running kind of conversation in Britain which is, oh, let’s just get on with it. And I miss that American, no, no, I don’t like this. This isn’t right. Let’s do something, let’s put our shoulders to work, and let’s change it. I do think that that is worth keeping, and I do think if we’re going to- which is essentially what we’re doing- parse these sort of answers to these implied questions, “Do you have faith in blah, blah, blah?” It’s– no, yeah, I would agree with you. No, faith isn’t really the issue. The issue is can we get shit done, and how are we going to do it?
C.T. WEBB 45:51 Yeah. Alright, so next time we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it. We’ll solve it on our next podcast. You and I will come out with– the next podcast will be a plan. We’ll lay out exactly how to fix everything that’s wrong with America. We probably at least need to spend a good five or six minutes on policing, we’ve got to spend a little time on income inequality. So you know there’s some stuff to cover, but–
S. RODNEY 46:19 There’s some stuff. Tune in, tune in. It’s going to–
C.T. WEBB 46:24 I feel like we can get to it, so. And I also want to qualify if Ta-Nehisi Coates or Jeffrey Goldberg, if you ever happen to stumble onto this podcast, don’t be overly offended. Clearly both of you have a pretty solid work ethic even though I think you’re both totally wrong, so.
S. RODNEY 46:45 [laughter] And with that we bid you goodnight.
C.T. WEBB 46:47 Alright, Seph, I’ll talk to you next week.
S. RODNEY 46:50 Okay, bye.
C.T. WEBB 46:51 Bye. [music]

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