Abandon Your Values and Support John Kerry, Like Kerry Did

A group of actors under the direction of conceptual artist Rod Dickinson has staged a reenactment of Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment, using transcripts from the original experiment as scripts.

Milgram’s experiment, in its Platonic form, stripped down to its essence and then rebuilt from the particulars at hand, rises like dust devils here and there all the time, without the benefit of self-consciously conceptual artists. Any one of us may be called on stage at any time to play a part, and so it pays to rehearse ahead of time.

What does the way forward look like? I’m watching the Kerry voters digest their loss — and what belches their sour stomachs produce! There’s a lot of talk of “values,” such as that from George Lakoff which preceded the campaign, or the more panicky talk since, which seems to boil down to something like this: “The swing voters swung Republican because of something called ‘values’ — is there any way we can fake some of those convincingly ourselves?”

Kerry’s slogan might as well have been “abandon your values and support the Kerry campaign — I did!”

To recap: Kerry voted to authorize the war in Iraq, and used his apologia to broadcast the familiar lies about weapons of mass destruction and the like. He voted shamelessly for the Patriot Act, knowing all the while who was going to be holding the reins of that horse. He spent his campaign bragging about the weapons systems he’d voted to fund, and most grotesquely of all: he bragged about how proudly he’d defended the United States by killing people in Vietnam. He vowed to fight the war in Iraq more tenaciously and viciously, with more troops and (with any luck) more allies.

Now perhaps those repulsive stands did represent his values, but what of the rest of us? Those Democrats who opposed the war were counselled not to vote for their values in the primary but to vote for the “electable” candidate, and that’s what they did. And then after the primaries, there were the daily pleadings to Nader leaners or disgusted non-voters not to waste their votes on their values but to vote for Anybody But Bush instead.

And now the discovery that people who value “values” abandoned Kerry at the polls. Listen to the wailing and gnashing of teeth. They cry: How can opposing gay marriage be considered a value and opposing the ongoing bombardment of Iraq not be? It’s a bit late for that.

In the values war, the Democrats unilaterally disarmed — worse, they turned traitor. Gay marriage? Oh, we hate it too. The war in Iraq? We’re no wimps.

It’s as though they forgot that people who find such positions valuable already had a candidate to vote for and didn’t need a new one.

Those of us who are against the war are doubly-humbled. Not only did we not come close to bringing the country around to our point of view, but we couldn’t even convince the opposition party, which not only might have been able to make hay from a stand against an increasingly unpopular war, but which could have become a useful bullhorn for promoting anti-war views.

Part of our problem is that we too often express our “values” not in our actions but in our petulant demands, petitions, and opinions. The United for Peace & Justice Position on Ending the Occupation of Iraq, for instance, is all about what “The Iraqi people” and “The United States” and “The United Nations” “should” do. None of those bodies of people, alas, give a flying fuck what United for Peace & Justice thinks they should do. Pardon my French.

What distinguishes a value from an opinion is that for something you value you’re going to put your money where your mouth is. An opinion as to which mouth somebody else “should” put their money at is an opinion cheaply had, and worth about that much.

When people who are anti-war move from having opinions that are fit for bumper-stickers to having values that motivate their actions, this in and of itself will be more persuasive than any number of opinions, whether expressed as ad campaigns, petitions, letters-to-the-editor, or protest marches. And beyond persuasiveness, it will be the first step toward change. People will work for what they find valuable; opinions just make for more blogs.