Lessons from the 1960s
A few weeks ago, I listened to Bill Ayers interviewed NPR’s Fresh Air. As an interview, it wasn’t very good, but Ayers himself said some really interesting things, which I went through and transcribed:
You cannot live a political life—you can’t live a moral life—if you’re not willing to open your eyes and see the world more clearly; see some of the injustice that is going on. Try to make yourself aware of what’s happening in the world.
And when you are aware, you have a responsibility to act. And when you act, you have a responsibility to doubt. And when you doubt you can’t get paralyzed; you have to use that doubt to act again. And that then becomes the cycle. You open your eyes, you act, you doubt; you act, you doubt.
Without doubt, you become dogmatic and shrill and stupid.
But without action, you become cynical and passive and a victim of history—and that should never happen.
While the question was specifically about whether Ayers had doubts about what he did, I think what he says about doubt and action being symbiotic to be very powerful. And its nice to hear about this as his view from age, preceding that longer statement with “I live with doubt today, everyday, all the time. And it is different than being young and certain and jacking yourself up to do certain things…”.
Ayers also talked about American democracy in a way that resonates very strongly with me—and where I draw my patriotism from:
To me, in a wild and diverse democracy like this, each of us should be trying to talk to lots and lots and lots of people outside of our comfort zone and community. And that injunction goes even further for political leaders. They should talk to everyone. They should listen to everyone. And at the end of the day, they should have a mind of their own.
And I don’t want to get into the ethics or morality of what he (or the collective for which he identified with) did. Stick to the didactic.