Quantcast

One More Try: The Rules Versus the Game | The Nation

  •  

One More Try: The Rules Versus the Game

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Editor's note: The following is a response to Dave Zirin's "Re-reply to Prof Lawrence Lessig: Where Does Change Actually Come From?"

[Dave Zirin has replied to my response. This issue about strategy is critical and important. Let me try one more time.]

About the Author

Lawrence Lessig
Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard Law School, is co-founder of the nonprofit Change Congress.

Also by the Author

The fight against SOPA awakened a giant. But do Internet activists know how much power they have and what they need to do now?

 A response to Dave Zirin's "Memo to Lawrence Lessig: The Tea Party Is No Answer for Occupy USA."

Still missing the point. Let me try, Mr. @EdgeofSports, one last time. This time with a sports metaphor:

Imagine you're a player with the Chicago Bears. You're on the field, about to begin a game with the Green Bay Packers. Just before kick-off, someone races onto the field screaming: "Guys, please, can't we all just get along? Enough of this fighting. Let's just shake hands and go get a beer."

I am not that guy, Dave. That's not my argument (now stated again and again and again). Instead, I'm the guy saying something like: "Hey, Bears and Packers: Can we have a conversation about whether a tackler should be allowed to use his helmet when making a tackle?" Or translated for the non-sports-readers (which, before my friend Mark Snyderman gave me these examples, I, too, would have been), I'm the guy saying: we need to have a conversation about the rules of the game, because they are not working for any of us.

Or once again: Imagine you're the pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (as most of the kids (boys and girls) where I come from do, at least once a day). You're on the pitching mound, about to throw against the Yankees' star batter. You look up, and some guy is flying a plane pulling a banner that says: "Look, I know some of us are Sox fans, and others of us are Yankees fans, but we're all baseball fans. Let's just stop all this fighting, link arms, and learn to work together."

I am not that idiot either, Dave. Instead, and again, I am your teammate (no doubt, I'd be in the dugout and you'd be pitching, but still), asking whether it might make sense to sit down with the Yankees (and others in our league) and rethink the instant replay rule. Baseball, I believe, should be governed by honest umpires, not HD cameras.

In both cases, I'm the guy saying we should think about the rules. I'm not trying to say we should dampen the competitive passion of our own team. Or deny the justice in our own cause. Or to betray our own objectives. But competition happens on a field; that field is governed by rules; those rules only get changed if everyone (or at least the 99%) on the field agrees. So I think we need to find a way to talk to the 99% -- Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, Libertarians -- about whether and how those rules should be changed.

Now as crazy as it is to race onto a football field and urge a kumbayah moment, or to buzz Fenway Park to urge inter-team love, it is just as crazy to label as disloyal a team member who is arguing that we need to sit down to talk about the rules of the game. It may be disloyal to argue that you shouldn't fight hard against the other team. It is likely stupid, as a coach, to start a game with a lecture about how decent and hard working the other side is. But it is neither stupid nor disloyal to push for a respectful conversation with the other side when you believe the rules of the game are not working -- for you and for the other side.

And that is my belief. I believe this system is corrupt. I believe that corruption hurts both the (populist) Left and the (populist) Right. And because I believe it hurts both of us populists, I believe there is a reason to try to engage with people I otherwise disagree with to see whether we can, first, agree about this corruption, and second, take steps to reform it. I believe that 99% of us -- Liberal and Conservative, Leftist and Libertarians, Moderates, Tea Party supporters, Coffee Party Activists, much of the ACLU -- could actually agree about the corruption that is this system, and agree to work together to change it.

It won't be easy to get that agreement. It isn't obvious how to even facilitate the conversation. But a good first step in that project would be to resolve not to call (again, baselessly, but put that aside) the other side "racists." Instead, that conversation begins by acknowledging our differences, and accepting our different loyalties, yet working with respect to engage people we disagree with about the possibility that there might be something more fundamental -- like changing the rules of the game -- that differences notwithstanding, we might agree upon.

I get that respect is not your style. I doubt our politics are much different, but I do lean more to Gandhi ("What makes you think I hate the British?") than to Malcolm X. But you rally hate not only of your opponents, but also of your allies, with prose that reek of condescension ("put down the high school citizenship textbook"), attack with falseness ("Please don't tell me to love the Tea Party" -- where have I ever told anyone to support, let alone, love the Tea Party?) and repeatedly demand that I just go home ("please get out of the way"; "don't be surprised if theres no US. Just 'you.'"). I get that makes things simpler -- the Tea Party is racist, and I'm ignorant -- but in my experience, I've not actually seen that style do much to convince anyone of anything.

At the very least, you've not shown me how hate gets you to 67 Senators, or 75% of the States. Dr. King didn't need to change the Constitution. We do. And nothing in what I've said suggests anyone should "wait" to fight for anything of substance: please, coach, rally the team to fight for all the things you and I believe in. What I've said, again and again and again, is that as well as fighting for what we believe, we need to identify what we all believe, and use that common belief to end the corruption that blocks us, and them, from getting what we, all of us, want.

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.