Driving one afternoon, I found myself behind an SUV with a bumper sticker that read: Liberal: Someone So Open Minded Their Brain Fell Out. Ignoring my internal squeaky protest of the plural “their” for the singular “someone,” I laughed out loud. This message was so much more clever and funny than the more common and often boring litmus messages that express blind allegiance or antagonistic pokes-in-the-eye. And I thought about why, or from what perspective, it might make sense, without arriving at any resolution, but with an aliveness throughout that comes from a lively political debate, in this case internal to my relatively open mind.
Recently I’ve started thinking about the bumper sticker again, as I’ve feared that political movements based on orthodoxies – by which I mean (more or less) logically coherent frameworks that include a requirement that followers adhere to the axioms and logical, discursive rules of the framework – marshall support better and more effectively “stay on message.” One would expect that political movements structured around an orthodoxy would potentially be available across the range of political right to political left. But increasingly I believe that the availability across the political spectrum is fuzzily asymmetrical. (Fuzzily, because anything that involves social dynamics can ultimately be analyzed and described only fuzzily; “rigorous” social scientific analyses, for all their clarity, can only present a lens for seeing, remaining ultimately inadequate to the worlds they aim to comprehend.)
The asymmetry and the fear are related, for as I – with my filters – see it, there is an immensely fertile segment on the left that thrives on dissent or heterodoxies of various kinds. These heterodoxies slip into babels of “pandoxy,” both competitive and harmonious, which, in turn, are commutative with “open-mindedness.” So what I find most enlivening often translates into distressingly ineffective politics. And that leaves me ambivalent – alive, morally and intellectually, as I navigate, initiate, join, or shun heterodoxies; and empty (but laughing!), as the bumper sticker has it.