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.