On politics, shame and anger

Caryn Aviv
January 9, 2012
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“Shame is the work of memory against forgetting.  Shame is what we feel when we almost entirely – yet not entirely – forget social expectations and our obligations to others in favor of our immediate gratification….And nothing inspires as much shame as being a parent….The shame of parenthood – which is a good shame – is that we want our children to be more whole than we are, to have satisfactory answers.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Safran Foer was talking about the shame engendered by his disturbing research on factory farming of animals and seafood.  But he could have easily been talking about the shame I feel when thinking about the impoverishment of our contemporary political discourse leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

Yesterday, my 6 year-old daughter and I were on our way to the downtown public library.  We passed by the increasingly wan and freezing collection of tents, souls, signs, and soup pots known as Occupy Denver.  The area where they’re allowed to congregate across from the state Capitol building has grown increasingly smaller and more heavily policed as time grinds on.   As we walked into the library, she asked me ‘Ima, who were those people?  What did their signs mean, and what they were doing out there in the cold?’

I stammered and tried to find an adequate explanation while Safran Foer’s words about the ‘good shame of parenthood’ rang loudly in my ears.  And while I tried (lamely) to describe the Occupy movement in an age-appropriate manner, I felt a discomfiting post-Chanukah holiday blend of shame, anger, and worry:  would widespread protests around the world morph into any lasting concrete change?  Will the recent focus on outrageous levels of income inequality in this country translate into any tangible legislative or tax policy initiatives?  What was I supposed to say to Sasha about what these folks were doing, when I wasn’t so sure myself?

How do I tell my daughter that I feel despondent, ashamed, and angry about the state of our impoverished political discourse and I worry about our collective future?  That I feel alienated and disappointed by the repetitive capitulation of Democrats (particularly Barack Obama, in whom I invested such high hopes) to corporate and lobbying interests and the strong-arm tactics of Republicans.   How do I explain to my daughter that my partner and I still can’t get married even though gay people can now openly serve in the military and die in a war just like any other straight person (which seems like a hollow victory)?    Do I tell her that I fear for my graduating college seniors, who are facing some of the most dismal employment prospects in decades?  Or about my doubts whether Social Security will exist when I retire?

How do I explain that our current crop of politicians running for office are long on pragmatism and woefully short on prophetic visions for creating and governing a more just and humane polity?  How do I convey to Sasha how vitally important it is that she, as Jew and a woman, participate actively and vocally in political processes when she grows up?

No, I didn’t say any of that as we walked into the library.  What I said was, “those people are really mad about how the world works right now, and they’re letting people know it.  I think they want to re-imagine what life could look like if we cared more about each other.”   And I felt ashamed by the inadequacy of my explanation.  I want more satisfactory answers – for all of us.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how to feel less ashamed, more hopeful about the current state of our politics.    How might you re-imagine and help reshape our collective social and political landscapes?

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Caryn Aviv is Associate Director/Jewish Educator with Judaism Your Way in Denver, CO. Caryn taught Jewish Studies at various universities for ten years, and has published widely in the areas of contemporary Jewish culture, gender and sexuality in Judaism, and Israel Studies. In her voluminous spare time, she's an aspirational vegan yogini and is studying for rabbinical ordination through ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

1 Comment

  1. Caryn–as a 60’ish woman, I too, worry about all the same things, including my guilt of not joining the occupiers, mainly because it’s too cold and I couldn’t take the weather. I think what you said to Sasha was very age appropriate! I too am very worried about the state of our politics. I worry for my grandchildren—what will it be like for them. The present day Republican, the very conservative branch of them, will not and does not have any interest in, listening. It will be their way only. Only Christian, white bread thinking allowed. I am angered that there is no thought for other ethnicities, races and genders–birth control controlled by 1 group that doesn’t want choice for women. It’s absurd! Not to mention illegal–discrimination at it’s worst! Keep thinking of ways to explain to Sasha as she grows older–she’s such a bright child! You will have many questions!

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    susi
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