Words that obscure

There's some rhetoric out there that I would like to see fade out of the so-called "Left." Life is politically pointless in America for the "Left" now, the main contests being between competing versions of the "Right," and we ought to ask why. So here are a small number of phrases which should eventually go away from the "Left" lexicon if "Left" politics is to have a point once again:

1) "Carbon emissions." This is the big bugaboo of the "climate change" people. We all need to reduce our "carbon emissions," or so they say. On a simple level, this seems obvious. If everyone reduced their "carbon emissions," we are told, climate change would be mitigated. The short version of this idea is presented in a piece on Open Democracy; please read it. At any rate, the problem with the rhetoric of "carbon emissions" is that in real life we are all obliged to create "carbon emissions" whether we want to or not, because "carbon emissions" have been socialized. For instance: you drive a car to work. Mass transit sucks where you live. You are supposed to give up your car to reduce "carbon emissions." How are you to do this?

You shop, exercise, and go to school (at least) at places where "carbon emissions" occur. Should the Left tell you that you are to give all of these things up? Social change is not to be enacted by monks. Here's an alternative term to "carbon emissions": physical climate change mitigation. How is it to be accomplished? Will guilt-tripping liberals into reducing their "carbon emissions" solve the problem? Probably not. How about creating a society in which "carbon emissions" are not necessary? It can be done only if we try to do it.

2) "Allies." The idea, I suppose, behind "allies" is that white people are to be "allies" in supporting, for instance, reparations for Black people who are descendants of slaves or of victims of "Jim Crow." The goal of reparations is admirable; I'm for it. Reparations now! But there is a problem with the "alliance" explanation as an explanation for how reparations are to succeed. It's that alliances are supposed to come from somewhere; they don't necessarily sprout out of the ground like mushrooms after a heavy rain. I want X, you want the same thing, and thus we are "allies" -- but that's called SOLIDARITY, and not "alliance." "Alliance" is between a few nice people and a few other nice people, for things each group wants separately. Alliance is what we had with Stalin, to defeat Hitler in World War II. "Solidarity" exists across society, and we want solidarity with anyone who, say, wants something real from government, so we can put bread on tables or in soup kitchens and people in homes.

I would, then, greatly prefer that we discuss solidarities, rather than who is and who isn't an "ally." If we happen to want the same things; let's fight for them. What we want is what we fight for; if we say we want it but we don't fight for it, our words are meaningless even if we're pretending to be "allies." "Ally" is too easy to get wrong, and "solidarity" easy enough.

3) Privilege. Yes, some people are privileged and others are not. What's the goal? To make everyone privileged? I'd be in favor of that. Millionaire status for all! Of course, if everyone were a millionaire, me, you, everyone, it wouldn't be called "privilege" any more, but rather "universal entitlement."

But that isn't how the word "privilege" is typically used. Instead, "privilege" is used to bring naive people the truths of racism, or of sexism. Hint: it's not going to work. The white privileged are eventually going to say that they like their privileges, that life as petit-bourgeois suburbanites is preferable to life scavenging recyclables from the Manila City Dump, and if other people happen to be not so privileged, well that's too bad. Are there any statistics of the effect of the rhetoric of "privilege" in promoting the anti-racism movement, or of its failing to do so? Once again, we need to ask: where do antiracism and antisexism come from? Ermagerd some of it comes from racist and sexist white people! So for instance you had openly racist white guy Lyndon Baines Johnson pushing the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress. Johnson was bad, but not because he pushed the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress. And litmus tests for purity won't eliminate or universalize privilege, but legislation might help.

Instead, the ideal of the union of free producers could easily be in the self-interests of people of all races and genders. In the union of free producers, everyone would produce something good, the fruits of society would be shared democratically, the ecosystems would be productively negotiated, and everyone would be in solidarity with everyone else. The fact that the working class is, now as yesterday, mostly women is a good place to start.

****

The main failing of the "Left" in all these usages happens to be: failure to ask the question of where does the good "leftist" stuff come from? Repeated failure to ask this question will reduce the "Left" to nothing again, as indeed it has done so now.

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riverlover's picture

for so long, that ball is rolling. I still prefer to call myself a Leftist than a Progressive; I still see residual power in L vs P, maybe because of parental parentage. Dunno. Reading Ramparts as a teen? Growing up as middle-class privileged?

Carbon emissions is still vague and indescribable to many. I plant trees, in recompense, and maintain my Carbon sink, partly to assuage "guilt" ascribed to us all. My hillside 20 acres are also considered a water recharge for the valley and Cascadilla Creek below. And wetlands..., also below.

So what have Leftists done? And where did Bernie supporters come from? Mildly Left or Socialist.We are still out here; got a big smackdown again. Coherent message (soundbytes) could turn this ship, maybe. Unions. Cooperatives. Local organization. I suppose the Right thinks they have done the latter. Anti-corporation sentiment is building.

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Hey! my dear friends or soon-to-be's, JtC could use the donations to keep this site functioning for those of us who can still see the life preserver or flotsam in the water.

Socialism had 100 years of development, that has not happened in response to The New Climate Regime which will require a global mobilization.

Socialism influenced architecture, the arts, politics, economics, etc. with a body of work including written works, founding of countries, etc..

In the climate wars, there has been a reliance on scientific facts to convince but that has failed to engender the response to the emergency. Science has been characterized as a political force, a lobby, rather than the way to understand the near and the far and Gaia.

Mann's perfect title The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy

The award winning climate scientist Michael E. Mann and the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Tom Toles have fought at the frontlines of climate denialism for most of their careers. They have witnessed the manipulation of the media by business and political interests and the unconscionable play to partisanship on issues that affect the well-being of millions. The lessons they have learned have been invaluable, inspiring this brilliant, colorful escape hatch from the madhouse of the climate wars.

Through satire, “The Madhouse Effect” portrays the intellectual pretzels into which denialists must twist logic to explain away the clear evidence that man-made activity has changed our climate. Toles’s cartoons collapse counter-scientific strategies into their biased components, helping readers see how to best strike at these fallacies. Mann’s expert skills at science communication aim to restore sanity to a debate that continues to rage against widely acknowledged scientific consensus. The synergy of these two commonsense crusaders enlivens the gloom and doom of so many climate-themed books–and may even convert a few of the faithful to the right side of science.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@DonMidwest

In the climate wars, there has been a reliance on scientific facts to convince but that has failed to engender the response to the emergency.

Scientific facts are not going to magically produce the desire to do something. That desire has to come from somewhere.

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"Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently.” -- Rosa Luxemburg

@Cassiodorus

People typically want healthy kids and lives for them and themselves.

What about using these scientific facts?

The planet is dying and fossil fuels and their derivatives are sickening and killing us both individually and as a whole.

There are greener energy (and other) alternatives which will do far less damage to us both individually and as a whole

and which are far cheaper, especially when the massive externalized costs of fossil fuels are taken into account,

especially as these do not frack up everyone's water supply until we all (apart from the billionaires, of course) run out completely of potable and safe washing water and bottled drinking water becomes worth its weight in gold - or more,

and we can start changing over to these and maybe be in time to save enough of the life support system supporting all life on the planet that life will continue, maybe even past this current century, rather than likely perishing, along with the global life support system of which it consists, within the next decade/next few decades.

And good long-term jobs - unlike the short-term pipe-line building jobs so misrepresented by self-interests - could be created by increasing the production of and installing this life-saving greener energy tech.

It's not 'just' the climate change, but also the gradual poisoning of us all - and the deadly levels and effects of industrial pollution - predominately involving fossil-fuel/fossil fuel derived petrochemicals - often aren't even mentioned, even though air pollution alone is admitted to kill millions annually... Earth's population levels of pollution are apparently negligible on a global basis when compared to that of corporate polluters...

And I'd doubt that most people would dispute that fossil fuel/petrochemical pollution sickens and kills humans and wild-life, including trees and other plants, even among those unconcerned about climate change. So maybe including more of the issues at stake might generate more concern which cannot be propagandized-knee-jerk-denied by 'disproof' claimed by variations such as a cold day or a frigid winter?

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Psychopathy is not a political position, whether labeled 'conservatism', 'centrism' or 'left'.

A tin labeled 'coffee' may be a can of worms or pathology identified by a lack of empathy/willingness to harm others to achieve personal desires.

Cassiodorus's picture

@Ellen North

The planet is dying

It benefits us to identify, specifically, who or what is killing who or what. The planet has become a desert before: see e.g. the Permian/ Triassic boundary, or the Precambrian Ice Age. It appears to be going back to that stage again. Capitalism is at fault. Capitalism is extinguishing species like crazy, moving fossil fuels as the commodity to rule all others, transforming the landscape as an instrument of commodity fetishism, and instituting the utopia of money. The end-result is likely to appear as something out of Mark Lynas' "Six Degrees."

and we can start changing over to these

Is that what happens? My understanding of capitalism is that the new sources of energy supplement the old ones. In this way, as Bonneuil and Fressoz so rightfully point out, "there has never been an energy transition."

but yeah, generally, the dream to pursue, the one "carbon emissions" does so poorly, is one of a world w/o fossil fuel consumption.

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"Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently.” -- Rosa Luxemburg

detroitmechworks's picture

have been turned into the right's weapons for years.

1. Carbon: Ever hear about them talking about cutting down on commercial air travel? Considering that technology supposedly allows us to communicate constantly, do we really NEED to have people traveling 3-4 rimes a week cross country? I'm looking at YOU every, single senator. Honestly, I have two simple solutions: Either stay in Washington ALL THE TIME and do your fucking jobs, or stay home and telecommute your votes in. You don't get to fly back and forth sucking from both the local and federal trough.

2. Allies bothers me, because it claims that you can never truly understand the plight of those you support. Message of this place needs to be reiterated. We are the 99%. I don't care who you fuck, associate with or enjoy in your spare time. If you're rich, you're part of the problem, even if you claim to be "Doing such good work for the oppressed."

3. Privilege is another word used to shut down discussion and to tell you that you're wrong. It's an argument "Winner". It's one they save until they have no other way to silence you. It's the rhetorical equivalent of a nice, shouted "FUCK YOU!"

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I do not pretend I know what I do not know.

thanatokephaloides's picture

@detroitmechworks

1. Carbon: Ever hear about them talking about cutting down on commercial air travel?

And not just for Senators, either.

We need the modern equivalent of the passenger rail network we had in 1960. Commercial air travel and surface road transport are the two largest contributors to our carbon footprint, the only ones larger than that created by electric power creation. Rail travel and transport, even if carbon fueled, is quite efficient by comparison; and electrified rail transport can be easily provisioned by exclusively renewable means in this day and age.

The only reason we (the USA) aren't the leaders in rail now that we were then is political will. China, France, and Japan have it. We don't.

Considering that technology supposedly allows us to communicate constantly, do we really NEED to have people traveling 3-4 rimes a week cross country? I'm looking at YOU every, single senator. Honestly, I have two simple solutions: Either stay in Washington ALL THE TIME and do your fucking jobs, or stay home and telecommute your votes in. You don't get to fly back and forth sucking from both the local and federal trough.

Actually, there's good reason for some travel back-and-forth. Even in this day and age of instant communication, a need does exist for all the nation's representatives to gather in one place to govern the nation. In fact, one of the greatest objections we have about these in recent days is that despite the fact that they are so gathered, they aren't actually doing the "governing the nation" part, but collecting their inflated salaries for doing (at best!) nothing at all. And the "back home" part of their jobs is really part of their jobs: it exists so that the people can have face-to-face meetings with their alleged representatives, a right that more and more of us are insisting upon, to the " representatives' " chagrin. But again, this could and should be done by rail. Commercial air travel is a clusterfuck from a climatic viewpoint.

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

@thanatokephaloides

My father used to voice considerable disgust with the early shut-down of electric 'trolley buses' for exclusively internal combustion engines... I wonder what the world would look and be like if we'd all guarded our democracies better, even just from the 1950's onward and kicked/kept out self interests from public policy...

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Psychopathy is not a political position, whether labeled 'conservatism', 'centrism' or 'left'.

A tin labeled 'coffee' may be a can of worms or pathology identified by a lack of empathy/willingness to harm others to achieve personal desires.

thanatokephaloides's picture

@detroitmechworks

3. Privilege is another word used to shut down discussion and to tell you that you're wrong. It's an argument "Winner". It's one they save until they have no other way to silence you. It's the rhetorical equivalent of a nice, shouted "FUCK YOU!"

I hear the distinct sound of a Daily Kos alumnus!

Wink

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

Lordy, Cas -

What you have written on Climate issues has gotten me warned and threatened with banning (As if that worries me) more than once at the groupthink place. For years I have been saying that clamoring for the price of fgasoline to be doubled just might not be politically effective - esp. for those who have to drive twice as far to make half as much. (Read Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Penna)

And coalition building? Yes, indeed. Since when have the people of West Virginia become the enemies of the left? If you have been to McDowell County - and I have many times - you would understand why the hammer of "white privilege" plays poorly there. Similarly, the sneers of "Racism!" Yes, there is racism in West Virginia, but West Virginians ignored Goldwater and Wallace in the 1960s. And Boston in the 1970s was not, exactly, a Sunday School classroom for tolerance.

Identity politics will fail the left. Judis & Teixeira were sooooo wrong in "The Coming Democratic Majority". Demographics do play a role, but they are not the primary mover. ANd anyone who has read David Roediger's work on race knows that the definition of "whiteness" has expanded significantly over the past century and a half. Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants were hardly considered white in 1911. Now there is little question. The same will apply to Hispanics by the 3rd generation. Yes, there is pervasive racism - but using the widest brush possible to paint groups as racist will not win elections.

When progressives begin to address core material issues - like wages, cost of housing, cost of education, and access to healthcare - then maybe they might start gaining support. It was certainly a recipe for success in post-WWII America.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

of discourse.

Here's to ya, brother. I'll drink to that.

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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

MarilynW's picture

as in
carbon emissions = physical climate change mitigation

just won't work. I'm starting to just use the old-fashioned "pollution."

But some words/phrases used here are starting to bother me:
so-called left
so-called progressives
"left"'
"progressives"

The quotation marks are hostile in this case. I keep wondering where I am in those designations? I haven't changed that much in my views, but the political climate has certainly changed. I notice that the more power the right has, the more in-fighting the Left produces. (Caps on the Left = the real Left Wink ).

Not that I believe in solidarity to the max and "please don't cause disharmony in our echo chamber." I do think strategy on how to survive the political dominance of the Right is what we need to think about. Let the Right criticize demonstrations, discount them, call them orchestrated and paid for, but in reality they are effective and they are all we have in the face of the Right power grab.

I agree with the essence, words do matter. Notice we don't use "global warming" anymore. Maybe because the Right would stupidly point to heavy snowfalls and severe winter weather as proof that the globe was not warming.

In the meantime, the UN has declared a human-caused famine in South Sudan. I wonder if there will be some words from Agent Orange on this.

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Cassiodorus's picture

@MarilynW So many of them using right-wing talking points for right-wing ends. Didn't they all spend most of last year saying "Let's all support Hillary y'know because omigod Trump"? And did any of them listen when we told them it was a disaster in the making? And let's go back to my statement at the beginning of this piece:

Life is politically pointless in America for the "Left" now

Am I really risking much in arguing against people whose self-professed opinions are repeatedly denied by their voter behaviors?

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"Freedom is always, and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently.” -- Rosa Luxemburg

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@MarilynW It depends on who you think "the Right" is and who you think "the Left" is. Not trying to be difficult, but that's the worm in this particular apple and why we can't have nice things.

There is no reasonable sense in which the Democratic party, for instance, can now be called "the Left," nor even "liberal." If you want to accept them as "the left" or as "liberals" then you have to be willing to accept the redefinition of those terms by them. And it's a pretty ugly redefinition, and getting uglier all the time.

Actually, this is a deeper and more complex issue than I thought and will take more than a comment to deal with--but I don't see Trump as any more "Right" than Hillary, and I don't see all these movements to reform the Democratic party, without any clear path toward fighting the corruption at its heart, as anything other than attempts to waste people's time on a right-wing organization, which is what the Democratic party is.

That's why shaking one's fist at Trump instead of at the system that provides us with the choice of Trump v Clinton doesn't strike me as being the same thing as opposing the right wing. It's actually opposing one right wing guy that a sizable portion of the right wing also opposes; removing him will do nothing to reduce the power of the right wing in this country or the damage they do to the rest of the world.

The fact is, we don't have a left wing here at this time. And it would take a lot of careful, thoughtful work, mostly done in person, to build one. That's why I would use quotation marks if it were me--cause we don't actually have a left wing right now.

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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

MarilynW's picture

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

Trump. One of his biographers said he has no party, no affiliation. He was a Democrat for years. All he believes in is Trumpism. "What's in it for me?" and he will attach himself to whatever/whomever answers that question positively.

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thanatokephaloides's picture

@MarilynW

I agree with everything you wrote except Trump. One of his biographers said he has no party, no affiliation. He was a Democrat for years. All he believes in is Trumpism. "What's in it for me?" and he will attach himself to whatever/whomever answers that question positively.

And his "Democratic" opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was a Republican "Goldwater Girl" for years. She only believes in Hillarism, etc.

As I have said here many a time, Hillary is Trump. Trump is Hillary. Only the package on the outside is different.

(And I may still be guilty of disparaging Hair Chump at this point.....)

Diablo

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"I say enough! If Israel wants to be the only superpower in the Middle East then they can put their own asses on the line and do it themselves. I want to continue to eat."
-- snoopydawg

shaharazade's picture

I'm sick of people telling me I'm hurting The Left with such talk. Who defines the political, ideological breakdown of left/center/right? You can take a test online which will tell you which position you fall under in relation to Gandhi or Ghenghis Khan. The questions that determine where you land are inane and binary. My father a 'moderate' Republican scienceman used to say the left and right taken to an extreme end meet and merge?

Is climate change not global warming? Are they separate or related terms? Carbon emissions pushes the nitty gritty even further way from cause and effect and allows people to think they are off the hook by buying a Pious or an SUV hybrid. Urban density is green and will make people not drive but take public transportation or bike/walk. The left who are demolishing the city I live in profess that ripping out the tree cover and building canyons of toxic monstrosities that cost a fortune to rent is somehow green and will save the world. As a bonus the developers and investors will make a lot of money and the markets will thrive.

As a result of this green remaking or the city the narrow streets built in 1910 are now clogged with gas guzzling earth destroyers that barrel down the narrow canyons of cement with 100 unit apt. buildings that are slums of the future. No working class person can afford the rent. This is a 'socially liberal' city. 'Socially liberal' is another term I'm getting sick of. You can comfortably be a supporter of the nasty global cappie free market agenda because you have a Black Lives Matter yard sign and feel guilty about your privileged lifestyle. Nice and safe protest's within the system are okay but don't participate in any demonstrations that are full of far lefty violent troublemakers who do not respect property or law and order.

Solidarity or coalitions would require people to rethink the false divides that are used to divide and conquer. Oh no's my 401k and my investments would be threatened if the far lefties actually managed to create an equitable,just economy. Don'tchaknow that this disaster cappie world as we find it is inevitable and cannot fail. Winners and losers are part of human nature and the losers need to face the fact as Obama stated 'there will be blood'. Ignorance is strength when the so called left refuses to rock any boat other then symbolically empathizing with the plight of people who are losers in the inevitable NWO. Were all hypocrites and cowards as staying alive and having a decent lifestyle in this cruel meritocracy depends on it. The current definition of the left however is a step too Orwellian for me.

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MarilynW's picture

@shaharazade
There's a Left beyond the USA. As a Canadian I ignored the Clinton campaign and hoped that Bernie had a chance.

There must be a strong Left in the US for Bernie to get as far as he did. No matter what he does now, that Left still exists. So the system is rigged in favour of the 2 party system, is that the fault of the Left?

I'm Green anyway, Greens can be hated by both sides.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@MarilynW What there is in the US is a strong, widespread support for the ideas and ideals that are traditionally associated with the Left. There is currently no vehicle for the expression of this feeling/opinion.

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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

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

@shaharazade I, too, am worried about the direction that high-density multi-use has taken in my town. I'm starting to think that corporate power simply can't make good choices.

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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

@Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal

Profit blinds the eyes with dollar signs, it's all that they can see.

Corpsetocracy...

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Psychopathy is not a political position, whether labeled 'conservatism', 'centrism' or 'left'.

A tin labeled 'coffee' may be a can of worms or pathology identified by a lack of empathy/willingness to harm others to achieve personal desires.

of political classification (Left vs Right) is losing much of its descriptive usefulness. There's a Manichaean quality to it that creates two abstract categories into which every person and every issue is obliged to fit. But many of society's most contentious problems can neither be accurately described nor rationally addressed by using a Left/right paradigm.

There is nothing eternal about this system of classification, and in no way does it describe "the human condition" generally. IMO it no longer describes much of anything very well, other than various entrenched political and financial interests.

Rather than trying to define what "the Left" is supposed to mean, or what "the Right" is supposed to mean, it might be better to refrain from wholly identifying ourselves according to this dichotomy. There's a good chance that it won't last much longer anyway.

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native

MarilynW's picture

@native
Sorry for the late reply. i think you put it very nicely.

So the only safe designation for me besides Green is that I am definitely not right-wing/conservative.

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@MarilynW

Often these internet conversations move by too quickly for my brain to keep up with them.
I'm glad you agree. I find my political orientation has evolved radically, and surprisingly fast, over the course of the past year.

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native

PriceRip's picture

@native

          My "not right-wing/conservative" designation was the result of my radical upbringing in the 1950s. I had no choice in the matter, Reality was a constant during those critical moments my brain functions were developing. So, I never experienced the evolution to becoming the political being I am today.

          I had a very good friend that was a savant with respect to politics. I met the very cynical Richard Luehrs in the early 1980s. His knowledge was encyclopedic. I learned of all these unknowable, behind the scenes, characters and their nefarious deeds. I was introduced to the likes of Obama, Sanders, and many more before the main stream media cared to acknowledge their existence. Between the two of us, we constructed scenarios for the eventual demise of the corrupt to the core democratic party and the establishment of a kinder more egalitarian social order.

          It is so very sad that my friend and co-conspirator did not live to see the day Bernie ran for President of the U. S. of A. Richard would have been so stoked, even though he predicted the very sequence of events we witnessed in real time.

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shaharazade's picture

@native your comment is exactly what I was trying to say. both you and Marylin summed it up nicely. Reality is not binary.

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