I really loved reading this Rebecca Solnit article on “leftsplaining” after being attacked on Twitter all day yesterday from self-proclaimed lefties because I suggested that those who urge us to vote for Gary Johnson because of Obama’s terrible drone policies can do so because they are privileged enough to ignore what a Romney or Johnson presidency would do to poor people in this country. Glenn Greenwald has basically spent 24 hours attacking this site on his Twitter feed and essentially claiming that we are mouthpieces of the Democratic Party. Which if so, where’s my paycheck from the DNC? I hope it’s as much as Glenn makes from CATO.
O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we’re talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities.
I don’t think we should be grateful to Obama for his successes. But it is OK to recognize them for the limited wins that they are without going completely ballistic about all the bad things in the world. As I’ve been saying a lot lately, we need a smarter left that understands the mechanics of the American political system if we want to create long-term meaningful change at the government level. Like myself, Solnit sees a lot of people who don’t get this:
So here I want to lay out an insanely obvious principle that apparently needs clarification. There are bad things and they are bad. There are good things and they are good, even though the bad things are bad. The mentioning of something good does not require the automatic assertion of a bad thing. The good thing might be an interesting avenue to pursue in itself if you want to get anywhere. In that context, the bad thing has all the safety of a dead end. And yes, much in the realm of electoral politics is hideous, but since it also shapes quite a bit of the world, if you want to be political or even informed you have to pay attention to it and maybe even work with it.
Instead, I constantly encounter a response that presumes the job at hand is to figure out what’s wrong, even when dealing with an actual victory, or a constructive development. Recently, I mentioned that California’s current attorney general, Kamala Harris, is anti-death penalty and also acting in good ways to defend people against foreclosure. A snarky Berkeley professor’s immediate response began, “Excuse me, she’s anti-death penalty, but let the record show that her office condoned the illegal purchase of lethal injection drugs.”
Apparently, we are not allowed to celebrate the fact that the attorney general for 12% of all Americans is pretty cool in a few key ways or figure out where that could take us. My respondent was attempting to crush my ebullience and wither the discussion, and what purpose exactly does that serve?
This kind of response often has an air of punishing or condemning those who are less radical, and it is exactly the opposite of movement- or alliance-building. Those who don’t simply exit the premises will be that much more cautious about opening their mouths. Except to bitch, the acceptable currency of the realm.
As Solnit points out, being yelled at by leftier-than-thou people does not build movements. If you can’t engage a diversity of opinion, forget about making change. It alienates people immediately. Yet, in our atomized and hyper-individualistic modern left, a modern left very much shaped by the fetishization of individualism pushed upon us by the consumer capitalism it theoretically rejects, each individual feels that have the right and responsibility to yell at the top of their lungs about the issues they care about and to personally attack anyone who doesn’t show their commitment to purity.
Of course, there are many, many committed activists who don’t do these things. But it doesn’t take a lot of people to tear apart movements when purity is demanded in loud voices. See the inability of Occupy Wall Street to continue in its present form for example.
Let’s let Solnit close this post with a statement I could not agree with more:
You could argue that to vote for Obama is to vote for the killing of children, or that to vote for him is to vote for the protection for other children or even killing fewer children. Virtually all US presidents have called down death upon their fellow human beings. It is an immoral system.
You don’t have to participate in this system, but you do have to describe it and its complexities and contradictions accurately, and you do have to understand that when you choose not to participate, it better be for reasons more interesting than the cultivation of your own moral superiority, which is so often also the cultivation of recreational bitterness.
Bitterness poisons you and it poisons the people you feed it to, and with it you drive away a lot of people who don’t like poison. You don’t have to punish those who do choose to participate. Actually, you don’t have to punish anyone, period.