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Idealism Without Illusions




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Issue No. 120 (June 2009) – Mark Satin, Editor

Your editor
says goodbye

As those of you know who’ve been supporting this newsletter over the years (193 individuals who contributed a set amount each year), this is my last issue.

Ten years is the natural life of any original editorial impulse; after that, most editors are well advised to find greener pastures.  Irving Kristol said it, and it’s made sense in my life twice now, first with Renewal and New Options newsletters (26 & 75 issues each, 1981-92, with  New Options totaling half a million words from 1984-92) and again with Radical Middle (120 issues and 300,000 words, 1999-2009).

In the instant case, there is an additional reason, one tinged more by necessity than modesty.  I have been diagnosed with diabetes, and my eyes have contracted diabetic retinopathy and macular edema.  In plainer words, I have begun  losing my eyesight.  That is why the last five articles you've read here have been  relatively brief.

I would not be able to endure this without my loving partner, a poet and educator whom I met half a year after moving to San Francisco to reconcile with my father.  (She is the only life partner I've ever had, and I suspect it's no accident I met her soon after deciding to love and respect my father.)  Nor would I be able to endure this without my roots in spiritual thought, and the memory of all the wonderful (or at least heartfelt) ways YOU have responded to my provocations over the last five decades.

I. Yesterday

I go out with joy in my heart.

When I wrote my first political book, in the 1970s (New Age Politics: Healing Self and Society, Canada 1976, U.S. 1979), few of us felt politics had anything to do with healing, or consciousness, or being visionary and pragmatic at the same time, or being locally and globally oriented at the same time, or borrowing happily from every political point of view.

But in that book one very tempest-tossed 29-year-old (then living in Canada as a Vietnam-war resister – already branded for life as founder of the Toronto Anti-Draft Programme and author of its controversial Manual for Draft-Age Immigrants to Canada – somehow less than beloved by his World War II hero father and America-worshipping mother, and as much in need of comfort & healing as any of us), plucked up his courage and called for

. . . a radical politics, not so much in the sense of radical versus liberal as in the sense of going to the roots of things . . . a radicalism that is neither of the left nor right – a radicalism that is modest enough to borrow what it needs from each of the old political “isms” but bold enough to transcend them . . . a radicalism that is less interested in blaming groups and governments for our problems than in attempting to work out new and viable solutions to our problems . . . a radicalism that is more interested in healing society than in championing the exclusive claims to rightness of any one faction or segment of society. . . .

Renewal newsletter (published through the New World Alliance) and New Options newsletter (which eventually become the second largest independent political newsletter in the U.S., with over 12,000 paying subscribers) tried taking that message to my beloved activists and outsiders and dreamers.  Both newsletters were written from the heart.

Radical Middle newsletter, begun after a five-year sojourn through law school and the legal profession, was more button-down.  It tried to take that same message to policy analysts and professionals, as well as to practical activists.  And some were listening – over the last four years, we’ve averaged nearly half a million article views per year (see very bottom of HERE).

Who would have thought, 33 years ago, that the worldview I struggled to express as a young man on the run from the Selective Service System would turn out to be the common currency of millions of policy professionals and activists, and would even find its way into the thinking of a U.S. President?  But that is exactly what’s happened, which is why my heart is full.

Of course, I was never alone in my enthusiasms.  Even in the 1970s, people were expressing bits and pieces of the radical centrist / transformationalist worldview (see Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson’s book The Cultural Creatives, pp. 206-07, for a fun description of a couple of us).  But I know for a fact – I know at first- and second-hand – that many, many, many people (including some of our top politicians, policy analysts, political authors, and journalists) have learned and even borrowed from my writing over the years.

Most of them may never credit me in public, and that’s OK.  I know many want to avoid being tarred by my in-your-face draft dodging, or by my refusal to lead a more “reputable” life (see, e.g., HERE about one-third of the way down, or see Marilyn Ferguson’s piece about me HERE).  And I understand that.  I know the world often requires us to play separate parts.  And my heart is still full and my conscience is clear.

II. Tomorrow

I won’t abandon the Radical Middle website.  I aspire to get this space professionally redesigned (in large part because of your prodding!), and I will definitely re-arrange my articles so they can be maximally useful to anyone trying to make sense of the radical middle philosophy.

I also aspire to post the 25 best articles from my old New Options newsletter, and work them into the mix.  Many of New Options’s articles feel as fresh today as when they were written . . . a sad commentary, I suppose, on the course of American politics since 1981.

Most of the time, though, I’ll be trying to craft my political ideas from the last 33 years into some sort of coherent whole, laced with first-hand experience and a voice of bemusement and love.

Why do I think I can do that now?  Two reasons.  First of all, because I must.  And second of all,  because last summer I finally had sense enough to move out of my Oakland poverty warehouse (see one-third of the way down HERE) the better to receive the woman I love.

In the  meantime I’ll be rooting for the people and groups I’ve been writing about here – all my wonderful Advisors, of course, as well as Washington DC-focused policy groups like the wildly successful New America Foundation (you went where my New World Alliance could not go!), visionary policy groups like Alanna Hartzok’s Earth Rights Institute, radical middle professional groups like David Wexler’s International Network for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, and radical middle activist groups like Lawry Chickering and Jim Turner’s Transpartisan Alliance.

One of the nice things about, um, growing old, is that you find it easier and easier to glimpse parts of yourself and your dreams in other people.  I feel blessed to be able to see so much of myself at work in the world through other people.  And I feel doubly blessed to see that many of them are at least as vital and at least as original as I ever was at 29; and a lot more savvy, too.

Yeah, I see so much better these days.


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