The Clare Spark Blog

January 21, 2010

Citizenship and emotional maturity

Clare Spark, June 1993

My daughter Shulamit Chocron, née Jennifer Loeb, took this picture of me and my inner (Carmen? flower child?) self the day of the hooding ceremony at UCLA for the Ph.D. I look extremely pleased with myself, for my graduate work in U.S. History had brought me into conflict with numerous members of the Department of History, not to speak of visitors from other campuses or UCLA departments with orientations to science, history, and the Enlightenment that clashed with mine. Moreover, it took me eleven years of study, research, and writing to pass my exams, and then to satisfy my reading committee. So why was I elated? For one thing, I had escaped from a hopeless fight with Pacifica Radio (the “listener-sponsored” “alternative” radio network that was the model for and precursor to National Public Radio). For another, throughout frequent heated disputes with faculty, I never lost my cool, though I sometimes teared up on the way home. And I could appreciate the positive contributions to my education of even my most ardent antagonists: they all had something of value to teach me.  I do admire self-control in myself and in others, which brings me to the subjects of this blog: 1. hating one’s political or intellectual opponents, or, alternatively, worshipping certain authority figures who offer visions of protection, solidarity and “community,”  while simultaneously offering persons or groups or belief systems as objects of hatred; and 2. using conflict productively, testing the validity and usefulness of one’s world view and opinions, while learning how others think and feel about the most vital subjects.

1. Citizenship in a diverse society. As I have said before here, citizenship in a democratic republic places unprecedented demands on its electorate. Those demands are both intellectual and emotional. Citizens cannot allow media pundits and politicians or other would-be mind-managers to pull them back to the unmodulated, unsublimated emotions of childhood and adolescence, e.g., adoration, hatred, or defiance.  Unfortunately, the history of the United States has numerous unsettled conflicts–between sections and ethnic groups, for instance. All the leftover fights that have been around for six centuries in the transition from tribalism or feudalism to a would-be free market society remain in play. Moreover, our country remains polarized over the role of the state in a globalizing world. The bad thing about polarization is that it breeds unthinking rejection of whatever the opposition proposes as legislation or cultural practice. What to do? We should be demanding not just more open, clean government at the local, state, and federal levels, but a detailed exposition of the policies that will rule our lives for the near future. This is a job for parents, the schools, and all the media at our disposal. 

   2. If we don’t engage the arguments of our opponents, we can’t tell if we are doing the right thing. Forget the buzz words such as “moderation,” “bipartisanship,” or “balance.” These are vague abstractions that take us away from the concrete policy that we must analyze: is it class legislation? what are its economic consequences? how do we differentiate between reconcilable and irreconcilable conflicts?, and so on.

     To combine these two points, I finish this little meditation with a proviso: learning cannot take place in an environment that is felt to be dangerous. Without safety and an adherence to rules of engagement, there can be no rational dialogue or imaginative leaps into proposals for improved, reformed institutions and policies.  We are a long way from national agreement on anything I have written here, but we had a start with our Constitution and the amendments that corrected its flaws. We should love the search for truth, love the courage that leaps into the darkness to discover new things, and above all have patience with ourselves and those who make us angry.


  1. Yes. I think inner “Carmen.” Many thanks for your wonderful blog.

    Comment by G.M. Campbell — January 29, 2021 @ 1:12 am | Reply

  2. Great blog, great picture!

    It seems we are more comfortable with regressing to school yard type polarization because it feeds the infant mind and emotions. I get that staying young is important but I believe striving to become a wise child is far superior to being an angry infant. The latter of course brings a false sense of expression of one’s “feelings”. The former is contemplative and objective and has the ability to act with compassion without compromising the principals that govern us.

    Comment by Maimon Chocron — November 22, 2011 @ 8:52 pm | Reply

  3. I took and made notice elsewhere that tossed-about labels mean nothing: Democrat, Republican, progressive, conservative, socialist, etc. Key has become who will give us the truth and no civic blasphemies of lies. Signal will be if they cite recognizable authorities rather than lean on their emotional partisanship and practiced ranting and raving.

    To me, as experienced over decades, we now get barrages of lies; e.g., as if politics is built on them. Yet, it accustoms us to lie to our very selves. Our incivility is seen as some kind of tit-for-tat. And, rarely has any of us been refined to golden reason in the harsh fires you endured to receive the honor and awards of your advanced degree. That this is so of you is partly why I like reading your blogs. They cool my own passions, result of which might be imagined in an exchange where I would tell you “He called me an X, so I spit on him.”

    Sadly, I have progressed but to silver-plated bronze reason, and with an Italianate fury to control. So, I say, still, of the persistent and nearly pathological liars in our leadership, I can condone a final service to us from out of their self-service: to leave and exile themselves out of the limelight. And, yet, if I will not engage them much in debate – they choose to hear me even less than I choose not to listen to them – then, if they won’t budge toward oblivion, I would just as soon to hound them down with the truth. If truth would set me free, lies meant to enslave me notwithstanding, maybe that they could not enslave me with their mendacity means they would shrivel in the presence of the truth. For, think, dear lady, how much sooner your own reason would have been so grandly refined in civilized discussions in truth.

    Comment by Warren Jewell — August 1, 2010 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

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