I have been wondering recently about the need that some people have to be right at all costs. Conviction politicians- especially those who say, “There is no way but this way”, always terrify me – whereas I respect someone who operates in the world of realpolitik and understands that most human situations are profoundly nuanced. Just as I have always been just a little dubious by anyone who tells me that their ‘faith’ – religious or otherwise – is the key to the most important metaphysical truths in the universe. And then – on a more banal basis – there are those among us who have to win an argument at any cost, or get all defensive or victimized when it is hinted that they may be in the wrong. There was an expression that was popular among the Nixonian moral majority during the era of Vietnam and campus mayhem: “My country right or wrong.” I remember thinking at the time (and I was only thirteen): “That’s dangerous.” And the reason it’s dangerous is because it’s embracing nationalism without moral frontiers. If you look at American literature, one of its many strengths is the way our writers have relentlessly questioned the national psyche, the prevailing body politic. Our greatest living novelist, Philip Roth, is deeply, profoundly American – but he is also relentless in his anatomy of our hypocrisies and our more absurd mythologies. What has been interesting about the Obama years to-date is the way an intellectually nuanced and cerebral president has been up against the Manichean political atmosphere of the past decade, where political debate has often been reduced to the language of a western (we the good guys, everyone else the bad guys), and where the culture wars grew even more ferocious.
Personally speaking, I sidestep anyone who proclaims that they have the answers. As I have often said: the function of a writer is to tell stories that raise questions about the way we live now… but never to provide answers to any human dilemma, big or small. We all have our ways of answering those questions – but if we’re honest about it, we all know that, in most human situations there is rarely a ‘right’ answer. There is simply “an answer.” And after that, there is still the ongoing mess that is life.