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The Fuck is Quietism?

November 2, 2010

TWO PEOPLE have recently used the term Quietism in response to an expression of my intention to not vote, (does that make it an unintention?) and upon my insistence that this action, (or do I mean inaction?) is no big deal. Being me, that is, inhabiting my own unique set of circumstances, I had no idea what Quietism was.

The first instance came in an email conversation from a correspondent whom I hold dear, a fellow malcontent. The other came from a blog commenter on the internet, the astoundingly prolific commenter who goes by Anonymous, in the comments on a recent post of IOZ’s, and the again in another thread, (though the last not directed specifically at me.) This peculiar word, having cropped up thrice in such a brief time period, got the better of my usually incurious nature. So, doing the second easiest thing to ignoring it and moving on, I consulted Wikipedia. As it turns out Quietism is an Islamic concept. It–

“HEY WAITAMINNIT, this is America, we don’t embrace and throw around Islamic ideas and terminology unless it’s to goad our opponent and make implications about their terrorist tendencies! WHAT IS THIS THOUGHTCRIME?”

“Ok, Montag, calm down. That may well be what Anonymous was up to, that clever bastard, but malcontents don’t play ball that way. You know, assuming that Anonymous and your email correspondent aren’t actually one-in-the-same, and you shouldn’t be feeling worse about the short shrift you gave Anonymous.”

Ok then:

Political quietism, defined as the withdrawal from political affairs or skepticism that mere mortals can establish true Islamic government, has been described as a tendency or school in Islam. [Wikipedia]


The quietist tradition obviously rests on the Prophet as sovereign, as judge and statesman. But before the Prophet became a head of state, he was a rebel. Before he travelled from Mecca to Medina, where he became sovereign, he was an opponent of the existing order. He led an opposition against the pagan oligarchy of Mecca and at a certain point went into exile and formed what in modern language might be called a “government in exile,” with which finally he was able to return in triumph to his birthplace and establish the Islamic state in Mecca. [Bernard Lewis, via Wikipedia]

Ok, the “withdrawal from political affairs” part makes sense if political affairs are limited to participating in the electoral system and petitioning elected leaders, but that’s not my quibble. I imagine the Muslim Quietist dreams of a Sharia Utopia where man is ruled in perfect accordance with God’s infallible will. They are Quietist, because they feel that as mere mortals it isn’t for them to impose their idea of law or governance absent the authoritative leadership of God or one of his Prophets. (These would be your Religion Of Peace dudes, and their Quietism is commendable because to impose of the power of a truth is disaster.)

Now back to my alleged Quietism, which is presumably not commendable. Here’s the rub: It’s not that I think mere men and women are incapable of governing a nation state of 300 million because they don’t possess the wisdom and/or divine authority to do so; it’s not even that I believe there may be a more perfect system of government that would equitably serve a nation state of 300 million that we just haven’t imagined yet; it’s that I don’t believe a nation state of 300 million is governable in an equitable way. What’s more, even if such a system were possible, the current political and electoral system is so bankrupt, that, as we say here in Maine, “you can’t get there from here.” You cannot combat alienation by means of alienated forms of struggle.

Also, again, this is America! There is no going into exile and forming an alternative government. Just ask that dude back in Waco.

As a postscript, one final statement about voting. I have reasons for not doing it based on an sense of ethics I have intuited, studied and contemplated, being me, inhabiting my own unique set of circumstances. My opinion is that electoral politics in America are empty and meaningless. That voters possess no power whatsoever in influencing the conduct of the politically and financially powerful. This is not a claim of some higher moral understanding, or to moral superiority over voters. This is only to say: Vote or not, to my mind, it is meaningless either way. There is no blood on your hands from going through the motions in the voting ritual, but you still might want to wash up afterward. You never know what kind of bug you might pick up in the voting booth. Cold and flu season is upon us.

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