In response to my posting about Catholic centrism and American politics earlier today, Adam Fisher responded to my citation of Jeffrey Eugenides with a quibble. And so I'd like to talk very briefly about what I hear Eugenides saying in the citation I took from his book Middlesex.
Eugenides writes, "Before movements emerge there are centers of energy . . . " (Middlesex [London: Bloomsbury, 2002], p. 488).
I take Eugenides's point to be the following, simply put: movements of constructive social change are preceded by alternative imagination. And the alternative imaginations that result in movements of constructive change almost never come from the center of society or the center of institutions.
Such alternative imaginations come almost always from the margins of society and the margins of institutions.
And it is to their own peril that centrists blind themselves to these alternative imaginations and deafen themselves to the voices that propose such alternative imaginations from the margins. Not all the knowledge a given society or institution needs in order to function humanely comes from the center.
It might well be argued, in fact, that the most crucial knowledge society and institutions need in order to function humanely (and even efficiently, if the norm by which we measure efficiency is maximizing the talents and contributions of everyone) comes quite specifically from the margins of society.
I'm certainly not saying, nor do I think Eugenides is saying, that the alternative imaginations that emerge from the margins are self-validating simply because they're spun by those on the margins. Such imaginations and the movements they spawn with their agendas for social change always self-evidently demand critique.
Everything depends, however, on who's doing the sifting that permits new imaginations to arise and have an impact, and on who's doing the testing that tests the strategies for change proposed by social movements. If the sifting and testing proceed from the center, the predictable result is that the imaginations of the new will almost always be squelched even before they have the power to spawn a social movement envisaging constructive social change.
When those on the margins begin re-imagining their societies, those in the center predictably respond by talking about how revolutions always go astray. It strikes me that these precipitous warnings about revolutions going astray are quite frequently not about critiquing alternative imaginations in the least: they're all about refusing to permit new imaginations of a society even to arise.
They're about conserving the power and control of the center and shielding it from the possibility for constructive change represented by alternative social imaginations, that is to say.
And when new movements arise from new imaginations of a society and its institutions on the margins, the testing of those movements needs first and foremost to take place within the movements themselves, in a dialogic way, by those who are actually living with and experiencing the social changes they're attempting to set into place. There's a precious and irreplaceable knowledge gained by such experiential struggle for constructive social change by people acting in solidarity on the margins of society, which we in the center dismiss to our great peril, since we fail to read the signs of the times when we lack that experience- and solidarity-based knowledge.
(And does any of this have anything to do with the U.S. national elections, the Ryan budget and the GOP economic plan for the nation, and Catholic social teaching? Or does it have anything to do with ongoing critique of the unmerited power and privilege heterosexual males enjoy in many societies simply because they're heterosexual males?
To quote Ms. Palin, You betcha!)