Van Jones

To those whose investment in politics focuses on the horse-race and questions of who’s winning or losing, Van Jones’s resignation may be an interesting issue.   However, if your concerns are more about what’s right and what the aims of politics should be, there is not much of a story here.

Van Jones’s support for a 9/11 truth petition was outside of both intellectually serious opinion and mainstream American opinion. There is no principled reason for defending his stance, whether you are a milquetoast liberal like myself, progressive, green, Marxist or anarchist. The fact that many of his critics were themselves just as far from being respectable makes no difference.  Case closed.

If there’s any serious ground for doubting the pressure on Van Jones, it would be doubts about the coherence of personality. That is, just because a man believed something crazy about one topic, do we really have reason to doubt their judgment in general?   We’re surrounded by people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job, or that the earth in 6000 years old, or that colon cleansing is the key to health, yet they are not necessarily stupid or unreliable.

I have substantial sympathy for this idea, which you might see as an “intellectual situationism” or some relative thereof. Nonetheless, this is a radical idea.  Not ideologically radical, but radical in how it would destabilize our opinions about politics. If a person’s views and actions lack coherence in this way, then are we prohibited from thinking that Bush was lazy and careless, and McCain was a hothead, while Obama was cautious and cerebral?

I’m still wrestling with the proper way to think about character, both intellectual and ethical. My interest was initially philosophical, and I’ve only subsequently started to notice how often the topic is relevant to politics. My point here is not to prejudge that issue, but to stress the substantial commitments you’re taking on if you’re disinclined to take a scandal like Van Jones’ seriously.


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