Signal Wave

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Left and Right

Last week, I wrote about the assault on the left, and some asked “Why talk about left and right at all?” I thought I would answer that question before going on to the rest of my essay. Actually, the answer replaced the rest of my essay!

First, where we agree: the terms left and right are, indeed, almost unusable at present. They have been misused to the point that you can now find multiple assertions on social media that Nazism and Marxism are the same thing, because both groups use the term “socialist.” Hey, Nazis even have the word “socialist” in their name, right? So they must be another part of the left. I guess World War II was a left-wing quarrel all around. All in the family.

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On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who call the Stardew Valley computer game socialist merely because it portrays a kind and humane anti-corporatism.

Actually, the game is not socialist; when you win, one of the rewards is that the small local businessman gets to keep his shop open seven days a week instead of six. (Having to be on the job every day of your life is not a socialist victory. Just sayin’.)

The confusion over what the terms “right,” “left,” “liberal,” “conservative,” and “socialist” actually mean results from a multi-decade abuse of language. This abuse began as part of a systematic ongoing assault on the left by the Christian right and the neoconservative movement, and it was a favorite tool of both factions. The Christian right justified the abuse of language by saying that, as long as your faith and moral principles were in the right place, you could tell reason to go hang. Language had to submit to the ideological demands of the faithful.

For the rest of the neoconservatives, it was all about power. They knew they had no hope of dominating America without rewriting the dictionary and playing Calvinball with logic. (The chance of them successfully making rational arguments in support of their terrible policies was fairly low). In the eighties, I once came across a handbook for conservatives called “How to Drive Liberals Crazy.” Its basic premise was that left-wingers rely on reason and the rules of argument; ignore reason and the rules of argument, and the left-winger will be left helpless. The tactic has worked well for forty years.

Since the neoconservative movement began, destroying the left’s ability to describe itself has been a key part of its agenda. If you can’t describe yourself and your beliefs pretty quickly, you will lose credibility and political support (particularly with a populace that, as its work hours increased, had decreasing amounts of attention to give to political matters). They had pretty much achieved that by the 90s, which is why more mainstream parts of left wing started teaching its advocates to make thirty-second speeches. Quick, put your values into a sound byte! That’s how we’ll defeat the right.

But the neoconservatives didn’t stop there. They wanted not just to undermine the left’s popularity, but to end the left altogether: liberals, social democratic reformers, progressive anti-corruption types, socialists, all of it. They aimed to create a political system in which they could not lose, and the only way to do that was to eradicate the left from political discourse. That was really the aim of their abuse of language: to render left-wing thought unspeakable.

They say you can’t kill an idea. But actually, that’s not quite true. You can get very close to killing an idea if you constantly redefine the words used by proponents of that idea. Get the public entirely confused about what the words “left,” “progressive,” “liberal,” and “socialist” mean; ideally shift the meanings of the words whenever it suits your convenience. Without a significant counterweight provided by the educational system or the media, you will soon find that words mean whatever you want them to.

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"I don't know what you mean by 'glory'," Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't- till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!'"

"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

Neoconservatives needed only follow in Joe McCarthy’s footsteps. McCarthyism had already removed the word “socialist” from American political discourse, except as an epithet (until 2016, “socialist” was used in American politics about the same way a scarlet “A” was used on Hester Prynne.) But that left a great deal of room for left-wing thought. Why let the left have any room? Most of the left were calling themselves “liberals” by the late eighties; why not make “liberal” a bad word too? George H.W. Bush did that quite effectively by turning his Presidential debate against Michael Dukakis into a constant repetition of “You’re liberal. You’re liberal. You’re liberal.” When Dukakis replied, somewhat desperately, “No, I’m not liberal, I’m not!” he basically helped George H.W. Bush shove liberals outside the pale, implicitly agreeing that being liberal was a disqualification for public office.

By the time Bush’s son took office, being liberal was held to be almost treasonous. Disagreeing with a sitting President after a terrorist attack must mean that you side with the terrorists. The cultural shelling was so bad that when Markos Moulitsas started his website with the words “I’m a liberal and I don’t apologize for it,” people flocked to it, thinking they had found safe haven, and were more than willing to give Moulitsas their trust and attention—for years. When Moulitsas and others who called themselves “liberal” turned out to be right-wingers apparently tasked with managing dissidents, people started calling themselves “progressives” instead.

I was one of them. The word “progressive” had a historical meaning I liked; though the Progressive Movement in early twentieth-century America was far from perfect, they were anti-corporate and anti-corruption, and that sounded like exactly what was needed for early twenty-first-century America as well. But the same thing happened to the word “progressive” as the word “liberal.” The only discernible difference was that, having the Internet to help the process along, the junking of the word happened faster. By the time Hillary Clinton called herself “a pragmatic progressive,” the process was almost complete. Too many corporate establishment shitheads were calling themselves progressives, redefining what the word meant according to their convenience. So what did I do?

I changed what I called myself again, using the words “left” and “socialist.” By that time, we had been given back the word “socialist” that had been taken from us some 60 years before, courtesy of the 2016 Sanders campaign. I believe extending the Overton window in that direction was the real aim of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 run, not the presidential nomination. He had no reason to believe he could come within a mile of taking the nomination from Hillary Clinton (when it turned out he might actually take it from her, he was utterly unprepared to do so.) I think Sanders knew it was urgent to regain discursive ground because we were headed toward a binary choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: a choice that leaves no conceptual room for any left at all.

We are being driven out of the words we use to describe ourselves, and we have been for years. At first the Republican right identified those words with infamy; later the Democrats, in a far more effective move, took every word we used to describe ourselves and used it instead to describe corporatist fascists who happened to be members of the Democratic party, and who were not, by any stretch of the imagination, left-wing. Having lost the words “liberal” and “progressive,” I guess now we’re supposed to abandon the word “left” and head for the land of no labels. Unfortunately, the right got the jump on us there, too, and has established a “No Labels” non-profit organization founded by Joe Lieberman and his staffer.

https://newrepublic.com/article/152483/no-labels-corporate-shill

Like all roads leading to Rome, every political name leads to the same beliefs, politics, policies, and people.

If we simply abandon the term “left,” then we erase a lot of history, including the history of repression I just described. If we continue to let ourselves be driven from one word to another, we will remain at the mercy of those driving us, and will eventually be left nameless. Names and labels exist so that other people will be able to identify you. Unable to name ourselves, we will be unable to express our political beliefs in any way likely to be understood. That is how you stop the signal: not at the moment of transmission, but at the moment of reception. The goal of both right-wing Republicans and right-wing Democrats has been to drive us out of political discourse, preferably erasing not only our presence but our history. Should we simply allow them to do it?

What are our alternatives?

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Raggedy Ann's picture

I am nothing.

I am tired of labels.

Labels divide us.

Enjoy the day! Pleasantry

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8 users have voted.

The UFO’s are coming to unify us.

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@Raggedy Ann

I hope things are going well for you. Smile

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"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

wendy davis's picture

@Raggedy Ann

Once you label me you negate me.

~ Soren Kierkegaard

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

I'm more than happy to call ourselves something else, if we can do so without erasing our history--and if we have any assurance that the right won't just take that label from us too.

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"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

Lily O Lady's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

It’s what they do. The reason Bernie was successful, was because he defined himself with issues. Names became secondary, though “BernieBros” was used to great effect for awhile.

The ultimate power of TPTB is money/wealth. That is why they are always seeking more. How we fight that, I don’t know.

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"The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

wendy davis's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

how many different flavors of 'ourselves' do you expect there are? and are you speaking of c99 members, the USA, or the planet?

may i offer:

David Graeber (may be ret in power)
Are You An Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You!’

Chances are you have already heard something about who anarchists are and what they are supposed to believe. Chances are almost everything you have heard is nonsense. Many people seem to think that anarchists are proponents of violence, chaos, and destruction, that they are against all forms of order and organization, or that they are crazed nihilists who just want to blow everything up. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists are simply people who believe human beings are capable of behaving in a reasonable fashion without having to be forced to. It is really a very simple notion. But it’s one that the rich and powerful have always found extremely dangerous.

At their very simplest, anarchist beliefs turn on to two elementary assumptions. The first is that human beings are, under ordinary circumstances, about as reasonable and decent as they are allowed to be, and can organize themselves and their communities without needing to be told how. The second is that power corrupts. Most of all, anarchism is just a matter of having the courage to take the simple principles of common decency that we all live by, and to follow them through to their logical conclusions. Odd though this may seem, in most important ways you are probably already an anarchist — you just don’t realize it.
Let’s start by taking a few examples from everyday life....

what label would fit someone such a i who is: anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist (thus out of NATO and Africom), pro civil rights 2.0, a radical free-speech advocate, advocate for all resources aiding the populace, a food sovereignty and Medicare 4 all advocate, anti-nuclear, both bombs and power stations...

a Great Idjit? : )

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@wendy davis

But I suppose I was also thinking of the rest of the independent left, mostly resident now on podcasts.

I love David Graeber, and am angry that he's dead.

what label would fit someone such a i who is: anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist (thus out of NATO and Africom), pro civil rights 2.0, a radical free-speech advocate, advocate for all resources aiding the populace, a food sovereignty and Medicare 4 all advocate, anti-nuclear, both bombs and power stations...

a Great Idjit? : )

I would say, a left-wing populist. Could be any one of many varieties, but clearly not a liberal or social democrat, since those people are capitalist. Could be a Scandinavian-style socialist, a Marxist, or a left-wing anarchist. Smile

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"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

usefewersyllables's picture

simply self-identify as agnostic.

A minister I once knew said "An agnostic is just an atheist with commitment issues..."

I thought that that lacked nuance at the time. However, when applied to politics, it is pretty spot on- and there are no commitment issues here... (;-)

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Twice bitten, permanently shy.

enhydra lutris's picture

ample distraction. Names, labels, and the like are a necessary evil, beset with problems.
Overgeneralization as to application or intention, either one; reification (rare) and similar problems are inherent in class or category or group or collective labels. It is almost impossible to define them by strict denotation and, with respect to subjects like politics, descriptive definitions will invariably drift off into "believes x, y, and z", "feels this way about that' and the like which cannot themselves be clarified without more labels and the like and which are subjective from pretty much all frames of reference. HINT: always relying upon "operational definitions" in discussing such things is, IMHO, greatly preferable even though, at any given moment will be vastly narrower than the intended class or category. An operational definition of a progressive, if detailed and specific, would bore everybody to tears long before it is even 5 or 10 percent complete.

I could go on, but that was intended as merely prefatory and risks devolving into far more.
A digression that I cannot keep from popping into my mind is Here Lies Miss Groby by James Thurber. I read it ages ago in A Thurber Carnival but I believe that it was originally published in The New Yorker back in the back when. Now, that's out of the way.

Trying to define a term on the political spectrum may be thought of in terms of trying to write a party platform or parfty agenda for that term. This highlights the problem of universality, you will not get univeral buy in and commitment for more than a very limited number of items, often themselves a bit general, broad and fuzzily defined. The more items and the greater the specificity, the more people will find themselves disagreeing with this or that particular point or idea.

The second you have a label, people will speak to and deal with the label and not the individual, as noted above by RA, especially speakers not self-identified as partly or fully covered by the label. Worse yet, outsiders will impute assorted additional characteristics to said label and emphasize them when using the label to replace the actual members.

Those problems need to be addressed, managed and somehow dealt with if we are to come up with some viable term for self and group identification.

For myself specifically, I use my long ago willful adoption of terminology used by the popular press and the more wishy-washy "liberal" factions of the broad ad hoc coalitions that kept popping up in the sixties: "Berkeley Radical". That was always intended as a big "fuck you", and folks either get it or they don't.

More seriously, I like to push back against the destruction of "left language" and use "progressive", annotated as follows: "Progressive (and progressives) are about constant continuous progress. Progress isn't necessarily change and change is most assuredly seldom progress, but adherence to the status quo never is. By definition. Many think of themselves as "Liberal" because they think that they did or would've opposed segregation and Jim Crow in the south, which is not, in fact, remotely liberal, but that is besides the point because it is most assuredly not preogressive. Progressive means moving forward, here and now, not merely eschewing reaction and reactionary beliefs, policies and goals."

Put simply:
Bringing back the past or pieces and policies thereof, unless they were great things that fell through the cracks is reactionary, by definition; the bulk of what today's media calls "conservatism".

Maintaining the status quo, also known as being liberal, centrist, pragmatic, realist and a host of other terms and ideologies is conservative, by definition; this is what the media will usually call centrist, liberal and even progressive should the practitioner thereof so self-identify.

Working for constant and continuous progress, improving upon the status quo instead of glorifying it, is progressive, by definition; this is what the press calls radical or simply refuses to name or discuss.

The details of the progressive agenda and goals, at any instant, need to be set by the participant progressives themselves and there will be a lack of unanimity, guaranteed. Nonetheless progress is imperative and possible. Take what you support and run with it. Work with others to resolve differences where possible.

Avanti Popolo

be well and have a good one

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@enhydra lutris

I think it's a fallacy to believe that "bringing back the past" is always reactionary, if by reactionary you mean right-wing.

I don't have to idealize the past or ignore the sins of American history to know that we've lost something, or, more accurately, had it stolen from us. Actually, many things. Preferring the past to the present, at this point, is like preferring even a shitty republic to oligarchy. Even if you look forward, you have to look forward in such a way that incorporates the past, because if you don't, you're normalizing and rendering invisible the damage that was done, and forgetting it could be any other way than it is now.

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5 users have voted.

"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

enhydra lutris's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal
a comma after "cracks" to make it clear that it was a qualifier -
...unless they were great things that fell through the cracks...
anything that was better needs to come back to make progress, contradictory as that may sound.

be well and have a good one

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Lookout's picture

Right/left labeling divides us. For example, an antiwar message resonates across all ideologies. Eighty something percent of Americans want to end these wars.

We are all individuals. The Atlanta country dance used to be held in the Existentialist Church. As you enter the door was a picture of the congregation, and underneath it said "One church, 153 (or what every the membership number was) religions."

Politics are that way too from my perspective.

All the best!

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

enhydra lutris's picture

@Lookout
some degree. On any given issue there are some who disagree with the majority (sometimes it is us) and there is not always a compromise available that will accomplish anything positive. There are some who are more likely than not to be outliers on multiple issues. There are also psychopaths and sociopaths. There are a great many who would refuse to enter that church,

Yest left right can divide us, if used that way, but they needn't, if used simply for discussion analysis, planning, and goal setting, etc. It may be that 85% oppose war, (I suspect, push come to shove, they say that but 75% tops would be refuseniks, if that). That still leaves 15%, and thus pro-war and anti-war "divide us". I know pro-war types as well as those who conditionally oppose war, but who have yet to find a specific war that they wouldn't, or at some point didn't, support. Any and every "welfare" program, like food stamps and even unemployment has opponents, I know, for I have met and argued with them.

You can't discuss proper care for your dog unless you are willing to divide canines from felines from fish and birds. So realistically, you cannot discuss how to make things better without figuring out what those tending to be conservative or reactionary are likely to find ffault with and why, and how to respond and if possible accommodate them. We can try to work together with the generally rightist on such matters as we can work with them on without pretending that there is nothing that we disagree on.

be well and have a good one

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That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@enhydra lutris

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"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

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The Anatomy of Revolution

is a 1938 book by Crane Brinton outlining the "uniformities" of four major political revolutions: the English Revolution of the 1640s, the American, the French, and the 1917 Russian Revolution. Brinton notes how the revolutions followed a life-cycle from the Old Order to a moderate regime to a radical regime, to Thermidorian reaction. The book has been called "classic,[1] "famous" and a "watershed in the study of revolution",[2] and has been influential enough to have inspired advice given to US President Jimmy Carter by his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski during the Iranian Revolution.[3]

Revised editions of Brinton's book were published in 1952 and 1965, and it remains in print.[4]

Brinton summarizes the revolutionary process as moving from "financial breakdown, [to] organization of the discontented to remedy this breakdown ... revolutionary demands on the part of these organized discontented, demands which if granted would mean the virtual abdication of those governing, attempted use of force by the government, its failure, and the attainment of power by the revolutionists. These revolutionists have hitherto been acting as an organized and nearly unanimous group, but with the attainment of power it is clear that they are not united. The group which dominates these first stages we call the moderates .... power passes by violent ... methods from Right to Left" (p. 253).

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I read this book half a century ago and can barely remember the text -- but the basic idea was so well explicated that I remember it clearly as summarized here by Wiki. The mass of any society are not looking for revolution unless the whole system is collapsing. At that point, a cadre of revolutionaries capitalize on the rising tide of Fuck This Shit and force a set of compromises with the existing authority which fail to provide long term stability. This leads to the assumption of power by the most strident among the original revolutionaries.

Wiki elaborates on Brinton's analysis of the revolutionary process:

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At some point in the first stages of the revolutions "there is a point where constituted authority is challenged by illegal acts of revolutionists" and the response of security forces is strikingly unsuccessful. In France in 1789 the "king didn't really try" to subdue riots effectively. In England the king "didn't have enough good soldiers". In Russia "at the critical moment the soldiers refused to march against the people" and instead joined them (p. 88).

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Brinton argues a revolution succeeds when the people hired to keep order refuse to turn their guns on their fellow countrymen.

He also reviews the biographies of revolutionaries:
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Revolutions "are born of hope" rather than misery (p. 250). Contrary to the belief that revolutionaries are disproportionately poor or down-and-out, "revolutionists are more or less a cross section of common humanity". While revolutionaries "behave in a way we should not expect such people to behave", this can be explained by the "revolutionary environment" rather than their background (p. 120). "'Untouchables' very rarely revolt", and successful slave revolutions, like Haiti's, are few in number (p. 250). Revolutionaries are "not unprosperous" but "feel restraint, cramp, ... rather than downright crushing oppression" (p. 250).

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Whether this guy's interpretation of history has any predictive value is of course utterly unproven. The end of the Soviet Union took place without any massive uprising of average people. And we have seen a bunch of revolutions fomented from the outside, courtesy of our own government.

With those concessions out of the way, as a lifelong professional organizer, I find Brinton's take on the subject of mass rebellion to be spot on. You cannot make people do what they do not want to do. It is hard enough to get people to do what they DO want to do, TOGETHER.

But when the system itself fails to provide food, shelter and personal security -- everybody suddenly gets ready to say Fuck This Shit.

Revolutionists and more modestly ambitious organizers like myself must bide our time for the crystalizing moment where people feel a profound disillusionment. The complacent and highly rationalized world view that most people adopt can withstand lots of bad news and a sickening amount of abuse before collapsing. But it can and does collapse. I saw it happen during the Vietnam and Civil Rights controversies of the 1960s.

It is on the way again.

It has nothing to do with labels or policies or strategies. It has to do with people's minimal expectations out of life being taken away by something like a draft notice. Or in our century, an eviction notice.

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To the extent that electoral politics can ever have any relevance at all, I agree with the OP's take on the operational terms. But as of 2021, I believe that elections are more irrelevant than at any time in our history.

The folks who make policy at the Federal Reserve and the other central banks around the world may or may not have fear of revolution in their conscious minds, but they are making sure that the global economy does not crash by pumping liquidity into the stock and real estate "markets" to offset the economic disruption of the pandemic and efforts to fight it.

Maybe the markets can just keep sailing higher and higher up the charts forever. If they do, there will be no revolution.

OTOH -- when the bills come due for this year and a half ride on The Credit Card, you will not be able to stop the revolution.

Who will come out on top after it all settles out? Stay tuned.

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I cried when I wrote this song. Sue me if I play too long.

or be can be independent, and describe ourselves as best we can.
I self-describe as a bleeding heart liberal. Others describe me as their commie pal.
I grew up on the farm/ranch philosophy: Need to feed your hungry livestock, neighbor? I got 2 bales of hay, go get one. I picked 8 bushels of peas, have room for 8. Get those 2 extra.
Every single article of clothing I had from first grade to high school graduation was given to some kid my parents worried about.
Not every white farmer paid regular wages to black cotton pickers, but my parents did.
Not every white farmer paid black farm hands in purebred calves in addition to wages, but my parents did.
Tell me how any of my mind set works with fucking politics?
I associate "progressive" with Teddy Roosevelt, saving national lands for parks, slaughtering trophy animals...
I think we need to "label" ourselves as fair, decent, and generous people, and then BE fair, decent, and generous people, and kill off the fucking arguments.

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Apologies for the lengthy comment.

I think the underlying issue here is a power struggle at the herd level over "who we are" and "how we ought to live". Based on the way the sides split up and the mentalities involved, we should continue to expect that anything and everything with any power in it, including language, will continue to be weaponized, and our best strategies are probably guerrilla.

When I say something like, "People can't afford their medicine or their housing or their food," and someone replies something like,"Go ahead and vote for Trump then," and proceeds to call me derogatory names that may or may not even have a passing similarity with my actual categories/flaws, we're barely speaking the same language. What coherent argument is possible? How can it matter what label either one of us is using? By that point we're just two monkeys grunting at each other.

There's an old episode of Roseanne in which Dan (Roseanne's husband) and Mark (married to their daughter Becky) are talking about an argument that Mark and Becky are having. Mark is hot mad about the argument because he KNOWS he's right but Becky won't give in, and Dan keeps trying to explain to his son-in-law that it doesn't matter if he's right, because not all conflicts get resolved based on rules, or fairness, or what or who is correct. Every time Mark tries to, "But --" Dan keeps repeating, in a softer voice, until he is just soundlessly mouthing the words, "It doesn't matter." The joke works to increasingly hilarious effect because the audience knows Dan's 20+ years into a marriage with Roseanne and has thus lost countless arguments despite being right.

It matters to me, too, what's correct and what's not. And ethics matter to me just as much as logic. Even as a little kid, I loved both the way some other little kids loved crayons and cookie time. But none of it matters to literally billions of other people and they cannot be persuaded or strongarmed into caring about any of it. They do not drive through life using this kind of navigational system. They don't come to conclusions the same way, they do not WANT to, and sometimes they decide that, "Logical conclusions are just more manipulative bullshit, man." They didn't reason themselves into that position and none of us can reason them out of it. And some of them don't even have a navigational system, at some point they noped right out of building themselves any kind of system and just decided to follow the Insane Clown Posse or whatever. Fuckin magnets, how do they work?!

Almost everyone will claim they want society to operate in a knowledge-based/fact-based, fair/ethical way but many people have never stopped and will never stop to define all the relevant terms, so while they're sincere, they're also incapable of behaving in a manner consistent with their stated goals. A bit like insisting on wearing shoelaces but refusing to ever learn how to effectively tie them, or to learn to identify when some asshole has crawled under the table and tied them together when you weren't looking. And a lot of people on Team Asshole are very good liars, which means they can generally persuade the injured party that they were not responsible for tying their shoelaces together but they know who did it, and then they get themselves named Head Asshole in Charge.

There was a pop culture book in the 90s called Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, which did a pretty good job of unpacking the nature of the power struggle/conflict I'm talking about. The book mostly took the form of a telepathic conversation between a guy and gorilla, and the conversation was really more of a Socratic format laydown about ethics, sustainability, the fuckier aspects of human culture, how our cultural myths/the stories we tell ourselves were going to lead to catastrophic consequences, and how it didn't have to be this way.

A lot of the conversation was framed in terms of an ongoing struggle between people Quinn calls Leavers and Takers (moar labels!) (lol), by whom he means people with a pre-agricultural revolution mindset and people with a post-agricultural revolution mindset. (It's really not just about farming, it's more about how we get our beliefs and values from the stories we tell ourselves.) He fleshes out more of the differences between these mindsets by writing about how there are observable "biological laws" (which he defines basically as the principles which best foster life) and that by ignoring these laws or considering humanity "above" them or otherwise exempt from them, the Taker-mindset has made a harmful, destructive culture and set humanity up for catastrophe.

Loosely stated, I think we have a lot of Leavers here at C99%; the Takers have been ruling the culture for longer than any of us has been alive, and not only do we not really speak the same language, we don't even use language as the same kind of tool -- for them it's a gun because for them everything is a fuckin gun, so of course they're going to weaponize language, but for us it's more effectively deployed when used creatively, like the contents of MacGyver's pockets: couple paperclips, Swiss Army Knife, flattened out roll of duct tape, waterproof matchbook, pack of gum.

In this regard, being Named is a bit of Master's Tool, in the sense Audre Lorde meant it. Sure, it will grant you some "legitimacy", but that will always be used to cage you or eventually be weaponized against you for the reasons Lorde laid out in her work, same as you laid out in your OP. Being unnamed is scary but it's also a chance to get outside the master's house and look for weak spots in the architecture.

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Dawn's Meta's picture

The essay is grand, providing substance and information to sink one's teeth into. The comments have added to the depth of the discussion. So much to learn, as this is a topic I have so much to study. Will reread all of it.

Thank you all so much. And it does feel like the time is coming or we will end up like Russian serfs who volunteered for lifetime servitude knowing they would have food and a roof. Many people in our society have neither.

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A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. Allegedly Greek, but more possibly fairly modern quote.

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