In the midst of my involvement with Occupy Los Angeles, working my way through Philosophy in the Present (Zizek and Badiou) and exploring various political ideologies and how they function, I recently attended a talk by Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. Prior to attending, I did a quick bit of research into West’s CV. One of the more interesting interviews I found was conducted by Jonathan Judaken and Jennifer L. Geddes, speaking with him largely in regard to ‘intellectual life’.
You know the idea that the ‘condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak’ actually comes from the next-to-last line of the section called “The Speculative Moment” in Adorno’s Negative Dialectics. He said the condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. That’s very much like Hebrew scripture, very Judaic, and I resonate with that even though he’s got a secular mode of it and a very sophisticated, negative, dialectical way of conceiving it. But he’s always looking for the defeated. It’s important to focus on the most vulnerable, the widow, the stranger. It comes very much out of Hebrew scripture, couched in their very stories and narrative…As you speak a truth, you can do it with a generosity but also with a bite. You speak the truth, expose the lies, but most importantly, you bear witness.
Two of my favorite quotes by West came in response from a woman from the audience: a professor of religion at a local evangelical Christian college. She asked, simply, “Why, Dr. West, if we are all ‘in the faith,’ why do we read the bible so differently, especially in regards to the poor? How is it that there so many on the right and left that cannot see and agree on how we are to treat the poor?”
His response is as follows:
A) “Unfortunately, there are some who’d rather drink the kool aid than be washed in the blood!”
He then more soberly approached the audience and asked,
B) “Do you read the bible as a book of facts, or a book of truth?”
I loved this. It resonated within me-especially thinking personally of my religious/spiritual background. Though I’ll never ‘abandon my faith,’ I’m fear I’m guilty all too often for casting aside the truth that may be found in scripture.
Throughout the continuation of talks by both Smiley and West joined by Rabbi Steven Leder, I was amazed at how many times I simply felt chills run down my body. Calling things to my attention such as “The new poor are the former middle class” and “This is not a political posturing of the future-our democracy is at stake” (West) proved not only enlightening, but also motivated me to decide to get back down to Occupy LA as soon I can. An illustration I thought was very cool was the picture he painted in retort to the following question:
“Do the poor have power?
“Look at Hip-Hop.”
I truly thought this was fantastic-anyone knows the roots to the present state of this industry can see how the culture of any society would not be the same without the near-impoverished demographic. Just look at how it started. We have the term “Starving Artist” for a reason! Brilliant. In conclusion, I’d like to add one last thing I took from last night, and it’s in regard to every political disagreement, and now occupation I have ever been apart of. I’ve never encountered opposition from friends, family members and academic advisors in regards to my political/ethical ideologies like I have during the past couple of years. I am thinking now of my stances on the Egyptian people under Hosni Mubarack. Of those who were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib. Of Troy Davis. And now, of the occupiers around the entire world. But Dr. West has said it before, and he said it last night:
”There are some fights ain’t worth fighting even if you win; there are other fights you have to fight even if you lose.”
-Dr. Cornel West