Monday, October 02, 2017

Spain's mad knight may still have a message for our times

Plaza de España
The Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) responded to the last crumbling of Spain's colonial empire (that would the seizure by the United States in 1898 of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines) with the
realization that, in hopeless times, quixotic lunacy could save people from the paralysis that often accompanies defeatism.
According to Mariana Alessandri, embracing the "madness" of the fictional Don Quixote de la Mancha who tilted at windmills and "dreamed impossible dreams," undergirded Unamuno's principled denunciation of Spanish fascism at the end of his life, a story I've recounted previously. The philosopher's thinking seems highly relevant amidst political inertia, lies, corruption, and folly.
... Unamuno urged his fellow Spaniards to practice quixotism, which meant adopting the moral courage necessary to fight for lost causes without caring what the world thinks. ...

Quixote didn’t charge the windmill because he thought he would defeat it, but because he concluded it was the right thing to do. Likewise, if we want to be legitimate actors in the world, Unamuno would say that we must be willing to lose the fight. If we abandon the common-sense belief that deems only winnable fights worth fighting, we can adopt Unamuno’s “moral courage” and become quixotic pessimists: pessimists because we recognize our odds of losing are quite high, and quixotic because we fight anyway. Quixotic pessimism is thus marked by a refusal to let the odds of my success determine the value of my fight.

... Warning: quixotic pessimism will not go over well in public. If you choose this life, Unamuno says you will face disbelief, judgment and ridicule. He writes that moral courage “confronts, not bodily injury, or loss of fortune, or the discredit of one’s honor but rather ridicule: one’s being taken for a madman or a fool.” In a real-life context, quixotic pessimism will look like constantly face-planting in public, and we will need moral courage to accept it. People will laugh at us as they do at Quixote. ...
In our time, some windmill tilting seems to have its moments. Who thought that the horror of unified Republican control of government would end up exposing that a substantial majority of us actually believe that it is the government's job to ensure access to medical care for all? Apparently we collectively are not afraid of "socialized medicine" any more. Let's see what other longstanding truisms a determined resistance can knock over ...

1 comment:

Hattie said...

We are rapidly moving toward failed state status. Citizens can no longer count on the protection of their government. This latest massacre shows that. The NRA gets to decide what kind of gun control we have, and if a lot of Americans lose their lives because of that,it's just the way things are.