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Moral Failures in Oakland

November 12, 2011

As Oakland prepares to clear Frank Ogawa Plaza of the vestigial remnants of the Occupy Oakland protests, thoughtful members of the political class in my fair city would be wise to reflect on what got us to this low point.  Anyone who has been to a protest in the Bay Area since, say, 2000, and anyone with a pulse living in Oakland over the past five years knew that the Black Bloc would take over the protest, with disastrous consequences for the city, for the Occupy movement itself, and for individuals caught up in the crossfire.  It was completely predictable to everyone, except our mayor and her claqueurs among the professional activist-entsia.  And then the Quan adminstration– also completely predictably– bungled the response.  Anyone with a pulse in Oakland would also know that her adminstration would be brutally incompetent.  She’s holds much (or all) responsibility for Ebonics, the OUSD bankruptcy, the city being on the verge of municipal bankruptcy, the Dellums administration, the loss of Chief Batts, and much more.

Given the epic and now patently obvious failures of this administration, and of the last– both of which were championed by this small but vocal group of activists– you might expect this segment of Oakland’s political class to rend their garments, tear at their hair, and beg forgiveness from their fellow citizens for inflicting such incompetence on our city.

You would be mistaken.

In Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the protagonist Tomas writes an essay castigating the Communist leadership and its supporters after the Prague Spring in 1968 Czechoslovakia.  The intelligentsia that supported the Communist regime between the end of World War II and the Prague Spring claimed that they were innocent of the crimes perpetrated by this regime, because they could not have known things would turn out badly.[1]  They claim innocence; they claim their ignorance absolves them of any sins.

Tomas contrasts this attitude with the myth of Oedipus.  Oedipus did not know that the man he killed in the wilderness was his father; he did not know that the widowed Queen he married was his mother.  Yet when he finds out the truth, his ignorance does not diminish the overwhelming shame he feels.  He stabs out his eyes, and exiles himself from his kingdom.

In the case of the intelligentsia in Kundera’s novel, they at least recognize that a moral crime has been committed; they simply try to evade guilt.  In Oakland, the folks who brought us Quan and Dellums have simply circled the wagons.  In the immortal words of Sergeant Schultz: “they see nothing, they hear nothing, they know nothing.”


[1] This is not as far-fetched as it sounds to 21st century ears.  Communists had a great reserve of moral credibility after WWII.  Communists were one of the few organized political groups that had boldly resisted Fascism and Nazism from the beginning.  And at the beginning of the post-war era, these regimes had yet to take on their darker characteristics.  By 1968, there was no longer any ambiguity about the evil of these regimes.


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