Everything is Problematic
December 5, 2014 6:27 AM   Subscribe

2012 was the year I hit peak radicalism...

I used to endorse a particular brand of politics that is prevalent at McGill and in Montreal more widely. It is a fusion of a certain kind of anti-oppressive politics and a certain kind of radical leftist politics. This particular brand of politics begins with good intentions and noble causes, but metastasizes into a nightmare. In general, the activists involved are the nicest, most conscientious people you could hope to know. But at some point, they took a wrong turn, and their devotion to social justice led them down a dark path. Having been on both sides of the glass, I think I can bring some painful but necessary truth to light.

...

I passionately support anti-oppressive politics in general and have only good things to say about it. My current political worldview falls under the umbrella of leftism, although not radical leftism. I’m basically a social democrat who likes co-ops and believes in universal basic income, the so-called ‘capitalist road to communism.’ I agree with a lot of what the radical left has to say, but I disagree with a lot of what it has to say. I’m deeply against Marxism-Leninism and social anarchism, but I’m sympathetic to market socialism and direct democracy. I don’t have any criticism for radical leftism in general, at least not here, not today. What I feel compelled to criticize is only one very specific political phenomenon, one particular incarnation of radical leftist, anti-oppressive politics.
posted by modernnomad (106 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
Adolph Reed said it better 15 years ago:
At bottom, identity politics rests on problematic ideas of political authenticity and representation. These derive from the faulty premise that membership in a group gives access to a shared perspective and an intuitive understanding of the group’s collective interests. This leads to two related beliefs that are wrong-headed and politically counterproductive: that only a group member can know or articulate the interests of the group, and that any group member can do so automatically by virtue of his or her identity.
He also has noted this world view's hostility to Marxism.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:46 AM on December 5, 2014 [37 favorites]


I think these failings are common to political groups of all stripes, common failings and pitfalls to watch out for when being extremely political in any way. Politics is most often a method to exert group movement and sometimes critical thought and individualism will take a hit in service of that goal. Inside the group dynamics, it can be hard to take a step back, whereas for those outside the group, the intense group actions can be an extreme turnoff. I'm reading the fantastic Red Plenty right now and see shades of these complaints all over in the novel. See also the Tea Party.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:51 AM on December 5, 2014 [5 favorites]




This wasn't published in a radical left source, but rather in a newspaper that serves a campus with a diverse range of positions and communities, and the comments expose the problem with having this discussion in public rather than within the community the author wants to address, which is that "hey, the radleft has problems" when aired not directly to the radleft but to the public in general is viewed by every kind of shitbag as an opportunity to go shit up the comments with "YES I AGREE DEATH TO THE SJWS DEATH TO THE COMMIES HAVE YOU READ MENCIUS MOLDBUG".

Or to use an analogy, if I felt that Metafilter's moderators were overaggressive (which I don't) and I made a MeTa post explaining my position, that would be appropriately addressing the community. If I posted that same text on The Medium as an article, that context would change from "Hey, I think we're doing things wrong" to "Metafilter is a site whose moderators are aggressive assholes".

And hell, maybe she's got a reason for doing this in a public venue rather than addressing the community she has a problem with- publicly distancing herself from the radleft may be useful in mitigating the sorts of possibly employer-hostile job results that a career in college radicalism can produce in this day and age, or it might just serve the purpose of making her feel better about her politics softening as she nears graduation and the radical purity that comes easily in an environment where you have a lot of free time and a paid-for dorm room and meal plan starts to become harder to maintain. But I have a hard time reading this article and looking at where it's published and crediting its author with making her arguments in good faith.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:02 AM on December 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


Template:

I have [radical credentials that make me authentically oppressed; avoid mentioning advantages]. Sad anecdote.

In the past I was so radical! I used to do [medium-difficulty things that will seem extreme to a non-activist audience].

But some of my peers were even more radical and used to do [things that establish me, by contrast, as a good person and a reasonable narrator].

Then my politics became too extreme because [of things that would, if accepted as true, make my audience feel guilt and discomfort].

[Anecdotes about things that are ridiculous.]

[Anecdotes about personal sadness provoked by a questioning of all that is.]

[Cultishness of radicalism. Alienation of "regular people". Group think. Totalitarianism. If needed, references to Stalinism, but do not use if audience does not remember Cold War.]

Now that I am [taking my place in the "real world" as a respectable adult like my audience] I caution you against being too radical because it only stands in the way of real progress.

People like me can make real change by [going forward with our lives much as we'd planned before our brush with radicalism, or possibly by getting a PhD and becoming a nonprofit director].

Remember that radicalism only hurts the people it claims to help! There are no radicals except rich college kids, because the authentic proletariat understands the need for incremental reform!

~~~

Adjust as needed per audience. Conversation will inevitably ensue in which everyone uses anecdotes about that one time that a college kid was in a black bloc and did something stupid as a way of patting themselves on the back for centrism.

~~~

Conversation will touch on how "identity politics" works against class-based organizing but will not mention any reason why women, people of color, queers, etc ever could possibly have grown disillusioned with platformist marxism. Conversation will not reference actual historical circumstances.

~~

Conversation will also touch on how there is nothing new under the sun and [modern affluent location] is just like Leningrad in 1930, Beijing in 1970, etc.

~~~
posted by Frowner at 7:04 AM on December 5, 2014 [172 favorites]


I completely fail to understand the point the author was making about a person's authority to speak on ethics--the example analogy was about sexuality, but I still can't understand the point trying to be made there. Can someone decipher it for me?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:05 AM on December 5, 2014


A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself/herself.

...But you'll still have to bum rides off of people.
posted by delfin at 7:06 AM on December 5, 2014


I think it's important to look out for dogma and group-think, and to actively pursue the contradictions in one's practice. This doesn't quite tip past that into a conversion narrative, but I wonder where it's leading.
I don’t hate capitalism or the state as if those were the names of the people who killed my dog. Well, that rings true, but I also wonder if there's not some personal resentment behind this analysis that is getting close to doing the same with left activists.
Anti-intellectualism: in the eye of the beholder; critiquing dogmatic politics can seem like rejecting (another's) theory.
Identity fundamentalism: there's been so much work on this issue, and the author's thought experiments verge on the offensive (why does this argument hinge on the fantasy of a gay person being "wrong" about the ethics of homosexuality?). I also think there's room to consider respect for experience as something other than letting identitarianism trump everything else.
Anyway, sounds like the author needs a well-deserved break, and is maybe taking it.
posted by Mngo at 7:11 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh lordy the Goobers and Neoreactionaries found that post _super_ fast.
posted by kmz at 7:14 AM on December 5, 2014


This happened to me in college. It was a very strange time.

I think that when you get involved with social movements based around systematic problems, there's a strong risk of just seeing it EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME and getting completely overwhelmed by how omnipresent oppression is and how big a hole we have to dig ourselves out of.

And this isn't wrong, per se, it's just not useful or healthy. This sense of overwhelmed burnout doesn't invalidate leftist social movements, it's just sort of an occupational hazard.

I think that if more people were more politically active in a general way, and if we didn't have a dichotomy of "apolitical apathetic people who prefer reality TV" and "professional activists saving the world", this wouldn't be nearly as much of a problem.

It was a huge load off for me when I realized I could be a leftist in my own life and work slowly and gradually for change rather than FIX ALL THE OPPRESSIONS.
posted by Sara C. at 7:19 AM on December 5, 2014 [29 favorites]


I completely fail to understand the point the author was making about a person's authority to speak on ethics--the example analogy was about sexuality, but I still can't understand the point trying to be made there. Can someone decipher it for me?
overeducated_alligator

I believe this is the key sentence that might help you understand:

The trait that defines a person’s group membership is treated as a source of innate ethical knowledge.

Her point is that just because someone is, say, gay, doesn't mean that they are therefore an automatic, infallible authority on the ethical issues surrounding sexual orientation and that whatever they say about the issue is the truth you must accept. Gay people are just people, and while their experiences being gay may give them better perspective, it doesn't mean they innately possess greater wisdom or understanding of the ethical problems involved.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:20 AM on December 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Every group has its zealots who carry things way too far. Even the good guys. (You will note that I am not defining who "the good guys" are, because it really doesn't matter.)

The moment when I started to sour on the actions of the super-radicals you can sometimes find at demonstrations came when I was at a march in 2004 outside the Republican National Convention, and a bunch of protesters set fire to a ten-foot papier-mache dragon puppet about a half a block behind me in the crowd and me and a bunch of other marchers had to flee down 34th Street in the resultant panic over the 10-foot fireball. I still don't know exactly what point a burning dragon was supposed to make, and so me and a crapton of other people nearly got burned or trampled to death because some zealots wanted to do something stunty. Fuck that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:24 AM on December 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


Pope Guilty: This wasn't published in a radical left source, but rather in a newspaper that serves a campus with a diverse range of positions and communities, and the comments expose the problem with having this discussion in public rather than within the community the author wants to address, which is that "hey, the radleft has problems" when aired not directly to the radleft but to the public in general is viewed by every kind of shitbag as an opportunity to go shit up the comments with "YES I AGREE DEATH TO THE SJWS DEATH TO THE COMMIES HAVE YOU READ MENCIUS MOLDBUG".

And it's still a perfectly valid channel for speaking about this. Guess what, she's not accountable for what random assholes say in the comments, and it's weird to see you try to guilt-trip people about that. And given what she says about about dogmatic rejection of criticism in her own crowd, limiting her channels sounds like a perfect way to ensure that the message has no effect at all. And that's not what you're after, surely?
posted by Anything at 7:26 AM on December 5, 2014 [40 favorites]


See also:

Justice does not take the shape of punishment eagerly dispensed

Hirsi Ali slams feminism's "trivial BS"

Feminism is in danger of becoming toxic

(I'm not trying to pick on feminism; these were just the links I had handy.)

There's absolutely institutional injustice out there – a lot of it – and I, for one, am in favor of rooting it out, exposing it, and fixing it.

But it's also true that politics in general doesn't do nuance well, that college kids and the movements that they dominate (of whatever political orientation) often aren't as clever as they think they are, and that the newly converted (to whatever cause) often act more from zeal and self-righteous outrage than from considered reason. (Outrage is often justified, but it's a poor tool for figuring out what to target, or what weapons to use against it. Outrage should be the motive to action; but to determine how to act, we should turn to other tools, such as the intellect.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:31 AM on December 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Oh, and just to clarify -

Every time I've told the dragon puppet story, I've always described the people who set fire to it as black bloc guys and someone always comes in to say that "how do you know it wasn't police PRETENDING to be black bloc guys?"

Who it was setting fire to the puppet isn't quite so relevant to the point that they did a dumb thing that nearly got me badly hurt. It ain't the politics behind what you do for me, it's what you do. Even if it was police trying to do some kind of weird infiltrate-y thing to smear a group's name, they still put a fuck-ton of people in danger and so fuck them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


The thing is, yes, activism can get pretty depressing, and it's certainly important to be able to look at stuff and say "this situation is toxic" or "this group work is not something I can healthily do right now".

And this person does put their finger on a genuine contradiction in activist stuff (and a big philosophical problem!) - how do we know what we know? how do we evaluate truth claims? how do we distinguish between truth claims? Who knows, right? There is no satisfactory answer; all we have are methods with varying problems. The "practical" and the "concrete" usually turn out to contain just as many contradictions and failures as the abstract, at least in my experience*.

At the same time, it's precisely when you come from a background where you basically expect that the world is going to be cozy that you just break apart when confronted with giant gaping bad things and contradictions. Like, you grow up assuming that you can have an analysis which will make sense and cover all eventualities and provide a way forward, and then boom, the world is this chaotic mess with people dying all over the place and horrible misery and decay and illness and wasted lives and all this horror stretches back to antiquity and apparently on into the foreseeable future, and it's very very difficult to know anything at all, and no one set of ideas is adequate to the world. So the usual result is to blame the left, on the assumption that a better radical left would somehow make all this make sense. And then there's the usual retreat to the nonprofit world and the upper middle class assumptions about knowledge and the benign use of power, because that at least feels familiar and makes you feel like you understand and can affect the world. Of course, it's just a reinscription of the way of life you learned when younger....

The thing is, these moments when college kids are all "I am going to eat only dumpstered food and never bathe and do dumb shit and argue and be angry all the time" - on the one hand, that can be very irritating, on the other, that's the crack where the light gets in. That's where there's this potential, usually lost, to refuse to accept the world as it is. It's a moment where people really can get this critique of this goddamn fucking world, this miserable shit we all accept as normal all the time, and maybe not get sucked back into respectable centrism and haranguing people if they don't engage in respectability politics. Refusal and flailing and anger are what you need to use to break out if you've grown up with a certain expectation that the world makes sense and can be a cozy place, but we're always taught to assume that just because refusal and flailing and anger are not themselves effective solutions then they are a waste of time.


*Honestly, just the other day I was in a meeting and reflecting on how some people got completely screwed a few years ago by the Green on the City Council - right when we had been trying to be practical and policy-based; he completely knifed us at the last minute - and how you can argue it either way - be practical and policy-based because you may get something concrete or just go ahead and dress up in gaudy costumes and demand the impossibly loudly in the street because practical people get betrayed by their political masters all the time. You can play it either way, and it makes just as much sense as far as I can tell.
posted by Frowner at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2014 [47 favorites]


Empress, I have it on somewhat good authority that the puppet fire you're referring to was actually police infiltrators and not "legit" protesters. I mean, no true Scotsman and all -- and oy, what an awful, awful thing to do -- but I wouldn't let that sour you on leftist activism as a thing.
posted by Sara C. at 7:32 AM on December 5, 2014


Another day, another #disqus_thread { display: none; }
posted by Quilford at 7:35 AM on December 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


"how do you know it wasn't police PRETENDING to be black bloc guys?"

My answer would be that anyone who knows anything about how undercovers operate would know that this is not how the cops would do it - if cops were looking to COINTELPRO people, they would have one or two people deep undercover to fuck up the organizing and turn people against each other, not just do something stupid with a puppet that everyone will be disgusted by but also laugh about. Someone deeply undercover might do something to make the protesters look like bad guys - break a window or start a fight - but not something that could get totally out of hand like a fire, and not something that would predominantly mess things up for the activists themselves and that could conceivably be taken as an accident. And someone who was just "undercover" for the day would have been spotted immediately if they'd set the puppet on fire because everyone would be like "who is this big cop-looking fucker who no one knows who wants to help carry the dragon?" And anyone who has been around activists knows at least one person who would have for some stupid reason decided that setting the puppet on fire was a good idea.

My skepticism about the linked article should not be taken as an endorsement of setting giant puppets on fire in the middle of a demonstration like a blamed fool.
posted by Frowner at 7:38 AM on December 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


I have it on somewhat good authority that the puppet fire you're referring to was actually police infiltrators and not "legit" protesters.

I would be super interested to know more about this by memail - although of course, not anything naming names.

It just sounds so much like fool things I've seen activists do. (I once saw a radical puppeteer let off fireworks inside and start a small fire in a very, very crowded space with one door.)
posted by Frowner at 7:40 AM on December 5, 2014


At the same time, it's precisely when you come from a background where you basically expect that the world is going to be cozy that you just break apart when confronted with giant gaping bad things and contradictions.

I guess, but I think this is probably equally true of all people. As humans, we want the world to make sense, and we want to feel that our actions matter. It seems kind of fucked up to put that on bourgie middle class college kids, as if people from lower class backgrounds or whatever group don't think the world is supposed to make sense in any way and are just cool with chaos and cynicism at all times.
posted by Sara C. at 7:41 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I guess, but I think this is probably equally true of all people. As humans, we want the world to make sense, and we want to feel that our actions matter. It seems kind of fucked up to put that on bourgie middle class college kids, as if people from lower class backgrounds or whatever group don't think the world is supposed to make sense in any way and are just cool with chaos and cynicism at all times.

I have to go and do stuff, but I will quickly say:

It's not so much "chaos and cynicism" versus "cozy and sensible"; it's "the world is deeply unfair and this is both difficult to explain and difficult to stop; also people and places are very different from each other" versus "if we just get our heads right and enact a few 'common sense' reforms, then the world will actually be the place I thought it was as a child".

I think it's a little bit like code-switching versus thinking that there is a universal way of speaking - if you grow up knowing that you need to code-switch and have different personas just to survive in the world, you know something about the world that comes as a big and uncomfortable shock to the kid who hasn't.
posted by Frowner at 7:49 AM on December 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


delfin: "A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself/herself.

...But you'll still have to bum rides off of people.
"

I think you have a point - I think I'll join up with Delfinism!
posted by symbioid at 7:53 AM on December 5, 2014


Just to clarify my crypticness.

I was at the height of my political activism during the 2004 RNC protests. I knew in passing people at the center of most of the usual suspect activist orgs, and I personally knew a lot of the people doing big artistic actions like BRING HUGE PUPPET TO PROTEST MARCH. In fact, many of them were staying in my house. Most of my friends got arrested that week. (I didn't, because I had to balance protesting and work.)

I didn't personally know the puppet burners. But I knew people who were in with that set, who were on the scene when it happened, and those people thought the whole thing was highly suspicious on multiple levels. Mostly, yep, for reasons of "wait a sec did any of us even know those guys????" I mean, maybe they were just being defensive because they didn't want anyone to think that their friends could do something that stupid and dangerous. Or maybe the people I know who were there and who were involved with political puppetry and thought the whole thing stunk to high heaven kind of knew what they were talking about.
posted by Sara C. at 7:54 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I should note that what you're playing is antismism
posted by symbioid at 7:54 AM on December 5, 2014


But the point I'm trying to make, Sara, is:

* Scenario A is that one of your friends knew a guy who knew a guy who was a Black Bloc who had the idea to burn the puppet as a RADIKAL THING. But it was a dumb thing for him to think of because innocent civilians nearly got badly hurt.

* Scenario B is that one of your friends knew a guy who knew a guy who was secretly COINTELPRO and got the idea to burn the puppet to make your group look bad. But - it was a dumb thing for him to do because innocent civilians nearly got badly hurt.

The only relevant point is: I was one of the innocent civilians who nearly got badly hurt. So I don't especially fucking care what you do or don't know about the identity of the guy who nearly got me badly hurt. Whoever he was an asshole FOR isn't as important to me as the fact that he was AN ASSHOLE.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Good job guys. You've successfully derailed this post into the ditch with your radical puppetry conspiracy theories.
posted by foot at 8:16 AM on December 5, 2014 [34 favorites]


I became an anarchist in college; still am ten years later. But I've been, essentially, a syndicalist the entire time — not an organizer, mind you; I can only wish to be that cool. But the very active, identity-conscious, lifestyle anarchism that I see in some people in the local radical community has always struck me as counterproductive and sort of useless. If you actually want to build socialism, don't go to protests and throw things at cops; go to working class neighborhoods and build cop watch programs. Don't dumpster dive (that is, don't pretend it's a politically meaningful action); organize community gardens or immigrant food industry workers or whatever you have access to. (Granted, most people reading this will have access to middle-class white establishments, not actual working-class society, which is basically my own problem. Also, crippling laziness.) Anarchism is built by changing how people respond to capitalism and the State, and most people only really change their minds about things when something has a practical impact on their lives. Getting your heart right with Jesus is commendable and all, but I'd rather see activists use socialist ideas to improve people's lives than try to get everyone to think the right things. Now if only I could figure out how to do this myself. ; ;
posted by cthuljew at 8:19 AM on December 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


I, like a disproportionate number of radical leftists, was depressed, and spent a lot of time sighing into the receiver. “I’m not worried about you killing yourself,” he said. “I know you want to live forever.” I let out a weak, sad laugh. “When I said that,” I replied, “I was a lot happier than I am now.” Losing my political ideology was extremely liberating. I became a happier person

This is a little-discussed part of these articles, but it's important. Long time activists, especially on the left, often become hideously depressed, and I don't think it's just because they become aware of how fucked-up the world is. When you're in an activist circle, you get approval (upvotes, likes, reblogs, attention) from pointing at something and saying "This is fucked up and bullshit!" Saying "there's a lot of good stuff in the world," doesn't get you any of that social capital, and saying "I don't think this thing you're pointing at is as bad as you say," gets you very active, angry disapproval.

So there's constant incentive to ratchet up and zero incentive to ratchet down, like Congress assigning mandatory minimums. The result is that you're rewarded for rage, and punished for anything that might moderate that rage. So of course people end up depressed, lonely, self-consuming– the system is designed to create exactly that state.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2014 [48 favorites]


Her point is that just because someone is, say, gay, doesn't mean that they are therefore an automatic, infallible authority on the ethical issues surrounding sexual orientation and that whatever they say about the issue is the truth you must accept.

Sure, this is absolutely true, the same way that there are female misogynists and whatnot. But if you're trying to learn about the experiences of a particular subgroup and how to treat them ethically, you will always be better served by talking to people - a lot of people, even! - in that subgroup and listening to their stories, than by talking to someone who can only tell you what they think might be true about how people in that other subgroup experience life. You'll find disparate stories and thoughts and ideologies, because we contain multitudes and all that, but that's why we talk to a lot of people across the spectrum so that no individual has the burden of representing their entire identity group. (This is, incidentally, also the argument for more diverse representation in media, but I digress.)

Is it possible to talk to a straight person who has a great understanding of the social dynamics around LGBTQ "ethics" and whatnot because they've spent the time to talk to people in the LGBTQ community? Sure, of course it is. But that also gets into an entirely separate topic of whose voices are hailed as expert and why.
posted by Phire at 8:24 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have seen maybe five radical puppeteer performances in my lifetime and they were all awful. I have given up on that as a whole.

Holy Christ have you missed out.

I was a lefty in my youth. Still am. Was a radical activist and a member of the Twin Cities anarchist community, got enmeshed in an internecine squabble, and turned toward other methods of activism. Mostly I try to support people who I think are doing good work, sometimes financially, sometimes just through doing grunt volunteer work. I don't know that my politics have become more nuanced, but my expression of it has become less theatrical and more practical, and less focused on smashing the system and more focused on trying to help take care of the day to day needs of people hurt by the system, which actually was what the rift in the anarchist scene was about anyway. I was part of a group that was providing free childcare, a food shelf, legal resources, a radical library, and other Digger-style approaches to activism, and was scorned for being an "evolutionary" rather than "revolutionary" anarchist.

But so be it. I think there is a place for all sorts of activism, and I think there is value in the more overtly demonstrative forms, even if I don't often participate in it. I certainly wouldn't presume to tell somebody the form their activism should take, and ask that they not do the same for me, and that neither of us do so while behaving as though we have the more nuanced or sophisticated approach.
posted by maxsparber at 8:25 AM on December 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


I think my comment about the puppetry was deleted, oddly.
posted by josher71 at 8:37 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


And, thank you for the link!
posted by josher71 at 8:38 AM on December 5, 2014


Template:

That's really easy to do and very dismissive
posted by Hoopo at 8:38 AM on December 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


I dunno, cthuljew, I don't see Direct Action and Lifestyle Choices as an either/or thing. Dumpster diving saves a ton of money in food costs, there's nothing wrong with going to protests (though how effective they are is a matter for debate), nor do I think there's anything wrong with sitting around with your buddies talking theory - if, during this time, you are actually constructively engaging with social progress in tangible, working, real-life ways.

The biggest problem any kind of flat-organization radical group is going to have to contend with is consensus. Whether we're talking about anarchists, syndicalists, or communists (and let's not forget there's a lot of overlap there), the idea of having a consensus-based form of organization is going to have its challenges. People sometimes go into these groups thinking that, because we're all on the same page more or less in the ideological sense, consensus should be easy to achieve. In reality, there's always going to be people who will try to become (or, more worryingly, the group will appoint) a defacto leader; people will factionalize; some people will discover other things about each other that will make them question whether they can put their reservations aside for the greater good or whether they have to leave. But when you do stand as one behind an action, it's amazing. The sense of solidarity can be tremendously fulfilling, and the action itself moves with incredible efficiency.

What burns people out, like the author in this FPP, is the expectation that people within a radical group of shared interests have no nuance, no ideas that might conflict with others, and any personality faults will be easily glossed over for the whole. I think if you go into this with these kinds of expectations, you're going to be let down. But if you get involved while having in mind that we are human, and even those subscribing to a very progressive radicalism can also have the same weaknesses and faults as anyone else, you might find yourself being able to maneuver towards people you can actually work with and get things done. That's been my experience anyway.

I also think there's a difference between airing grievances about a group within the group itself, and airing these grievances to a moderate audience to tar all radicalism with the same brush. If this is just to announce to the world that she's had a major ideological shift, that's great and all, but this approach usually only makes liberals feel better about not being more active, and conservatives feel smug about being status quo. Having said that, I hope the people she's talked about here find themselves in this piece and, if they can take something positive away from it, are able to do so.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:39 AM on December 5, 2014 [9 favorites]



It was a huge load off for me when I realized I could be a leftist in my own life and work slowly and gradually for change rather than FIX ALL THE OPPRESSIONS.

or as I realized somewhere around my eleventh acid trip, by which point I'd taken to wearing an army surplus trench coat and sporting an A-anarchy button ... maybe it's idiotic to worry about solving all the world's problems, maybe if I just took on one-billionth of them (or whatever), I might actually accomplish something other than self righteousness and its ever eager companion, depression.
posted by philip-random at 8:43 AM on December 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


That "Feminism is becoming toxic" article cites the case of poor oppressed Jian Ghomeshi ("convicted in the court of public opinion ") as one of its main examples of a feminist witch hunt. I think I've just saved you the time of reading the article.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:44 AM on December 5, 2014 [28 favorites]


Adjust as needed per audience. Conversation will inevitably ensue in which everyone uses anecdotes about that one time that a college kid was in a black bloc and did something stupid as a way of patting themselves on the back for centrism.

I guess this person wasn't a True Radical, and both the method and content of her critique can be comfortably discarded because [template].
posted by echocollate at 8:50 AM on December 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane: Just to be clear, my only point there was that lifestyle choices don't matter, unless the person thinks that those lifestyle choices in and of themselves serve as political action.
posted by cthuljew at 8:51 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


My first impulse was to snark about how if you're trying to win over the hearts and souls of the kinds of Americans who actually vote and your argument begins with "well, we have this GIANT PUPPET"... that it's already time to go home and regroup regardless of the flammability status of the puppet.

But I'm more conflicted about it as I keep thinking about it, in part because I've always had a soft spot for the windmill-tilters of the world. Their howls of rage may be incoherent and ineffectual but at least they're paying enough attention to be ANGRY, and what the fuck have I done today to try to change anything?

The best piece of advice for radical leftist puppeteers echoes both the linked OP and the words of Jello Biafra -- don't let yourself become a fundamentalist for ANY side. There are too many people who view the world in Manichean terms and when something happens to collapse their worldview, they flip all the way over to the opposite extreme and become just as rabid going the other way.
posted by delfin at 8:54 AM on December 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Frowner et al: It is relatively easy to template or trivialize any article that has a logical ( not necessarily correct) format/construction. But doing that adds nothing new to the discussion except dismissing it as formulaic. FWIW, I thought it was thoughtful, well put together and spoke to her own experiences. The four points in closing are probably good advice for all of us--humility, individualizing judgements, diplomacy and a systemic orientation. Though not terribly glamorous i would suggest those principles have accomplished more in the areas of long term social change than radicalization. They are a bit boring and pedestrian but applied over time they work. I hand most of the past victories in social change to those who labored behind the scenes writing/filing/researching legal briefs, grass roots campaigning, fund raising, writing/producing thoughtful documentaries, organizing voters, exposing their own vulnerabilities and yes--well organized, disciplined, well attended and peaceful protests/marches/demonstrations.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:55 AM on December 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


The best piece of advice for radical leftist puppeteers echoes both the linked OP and the words of Jello Biafra -- don't let yourself become a fundamentalist for ANY side. There are too many people who view the world in Manichean terms and when something happens to collapse their worldview, they flip all the way over to the opposite extreme and become just as rabid going the other way.

Yeah, this was exactly what I was getting at. What happened to me didn't put me off the causes of the left, or the idea of activism, or even puppets for that matter (shit, I was dating a puppeteer for most of the past year).

I just think that if you find yourself considering "starting a bonfire in the middle of an unaware crowd" as a possible way to advance your cause, and you come up thinking it's a good idea, then....you may wanna re-think your priorities.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 AM on December 5, 2014


More change has been made in the world with a few great puppets than with a million votes.

Says the guy who still makes life decisions based on what Kermit might think about them.
posted by maxsparber at 9:02 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


at least they're paying enough attention to be ANGRY

This seems to presuppose that anyone paying attention must reach the same conclusions, which would seem to be in tension with the Biafran injunction against fundamentalism.
posted by jpe at 9:02 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


And hell, maybe she's got a reason for doing this in a public venue rather than addressing the community she has a problem with

I think a critique that addresses problems of group think and lack of critical self-reflection and humility directed at a bunch of people who think as a group and lack critical self-reflection and humility would probably be pretty futile. I see your point though. It's a critique in search of an audience to whom it would be of any use.
posted by echocollate at 9:03 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


More change has been made in the world with a few great puppets than with a million votes. Says the guy who still makes life decisions based on what Kermit might think about them.

...The difference is that Jim Henson used Kermit to make plays rather than using him as the wick for a Molotov Cocktail.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:05 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


More change has been made in the world with a few great puppets than with a million votes.

Name one.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 9:06 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the author's got a lot of valid points irregardless of motivations. I agree it's a bad venue to air these grievances.

But as someone lacking the resources, the will, or the means to engage in what one might term radicalism, I absolutely agree with the article.

And it's quite frustrating to care about the issues that matter and then get shouted down by an endlessly recursive echo chamber of doom every time I might espouse a view that *gasp* violates the sacred dogma of a group inclined to radical leftist thinking. It's frustrating because it eliminates any opportunity for sane discourse, and it's doubly frustrating because I care about these issues just as much as the members doing the shouting. I'm just not inclined to take that approach when I don't agree with someone. People might call it concern trolling or being reactionary or whatever the hell you want to name it, but speaking for only me here, I just want to exist in good faith with my fellow humans. So I opt for the interrogative over the declarative because that keeps the ball rolling.

And it fucking sucks. Because the people I wind up fighting with are the people I agree with. Too often, I can't even waste breath on folks on the right because they don't want to engage in that good faith discussion at all. But radical leftist people should be the group I can turn to in those frustrating times. Instead, there's only a derisive chorus of "You don't agree wholesale! You're wrong!" And that's just the kindly way to put it. In reality, much more severe attacks on one's character get casually trotted out in the name of moral or intellectual superiority.

I don't want to call anyone out particularly, because I don't have the energy or the will for that kind of argument today, but it's already happened in this thread.

I love this community and those like it, but as long as that hostility persists, it makes me hesitant to engage at all. The costs are too high.

I should say though in counterpoint that I'm glad that people built of sterner stuff are out there being abrasive, loud, unpleasant, and downright hostile in the name of their beliefs. I suppose they're necessary in some fashion to further a cause. I'm just not one of them.

Just my two cents. I know nothing about the inner workings of activism. I've never rallied. I don't even live in an environment conducive to that sort of thing. And I have a tiny network of people to work with, and even less that give enough of a shit within that network. Ugh. There's my dose of impotent rage for the day.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 9:07 AM on December 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


Name one.

World Puppetry Day.
posted by maxsparber at 9:07 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Tomorrow is a 25-year anniversary in Montreal.

My days of marching are long over, but I remember why I marched.
posted by bonehead at 9:09 AM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Important disclaimer: I passionately support anti-oppressive politics in general and have only good things to say about it. My current political worldview falls under the umbrella of leftism, although not radical leftism. I’m basically a social democrat who likes co-ops and believes in universal basic income, the so-called ‘capitalist road to communism.’ I agree with a lot of what the radical left has to say, but I disagree with a lot of what it has to say. I’m deeply against Marxism-Leninism and social anarchism, but I’m sympathetic to market socialism and direct democracy. I don’t have any criticism for radical leftism in general, at least not here, not today.
so, basically, she's against oppression, except the kind of oppression built into everything in this society.

the only people who are for direct democracy only spend time with people who agree with them and whose interests are fundamentally aligned with them. anarchist groupings that practice this founder just on this point. David Graeber has written an unintentionally damning book about the politics of puppet based anarchist protest groups in his Direct Action: An Ethnography[big PDF].

Most of my friends got arrested that week. (I didn't, because I had to balance protesting and work.)

Which about sums up the problem with these kinds of protests. It's not that the protests are organized by people who have other sources of income or livelihood, but the tacit assumption that the protest *isn't* going to change anything, and so why would you get yourself fired for it. It goes hand in hand with the over-the-top radicalism, the less consequence, the more talk.

Here is the hallmark question for a radical left protest: are they protesting something that everyone hates or not. Radical left groups have an unerring instinct *against* protesting things that everyone hates. Occupy Wall Street is a perfect example of this. In 2008, literally the entire world hated Wall Street. However, the people organizing Occupy had deep roots in the anti-globalization movement, which has fought indifference the whole way. So, they were distinctly surprised when suddenly they're pretty standard protest got huge publicity and support. Their reaction: this protest is about "Occupy" rather than Wall Street. It's particularly damning if you read just how aware they were about the dangers of police "kettling" protest (see Graeber for instance.) Yet, Occupy was nothing if not a huge kettle and they went out with a bang whimper by kettling themselves on the Brooklyn bridge.

So, why did they pivot towards "Occupy" and away from Wall Street? Fundamentally, people on the radical left don't feel comfortable if everyone agrees with them. There's a huge streak of Fred Phelpsianism i.e. they define themselves by being against what everyone else likes.

Now, the professional protest class is kettling themselves on highways and streets yet again. And, when it comes down to it: would you really trust any of these people to march against the stormtroopers in Ferguson without setting off something worse than a burning dragon?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:14 AM on December 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think a critique that addresses problems of group think and lack of critical self-reflection and humility directed at a bunch of people who think as a group and lack critical self-reflection and humility would probably be pretty futile.

Which, again, shows that she still looks at everyone in these circles as thinking identically and incapable of independent thought on even a personal level, which is absurd.

I love this community and those like it, but as long as that hostility persists, it makes me hesitant to engage at all. The costs are too high.

Since you've said you've never been active in radicalism, let me offer this: the people who get defensive and shouty when disagreed with are usually getting their ass up because they're surrounded by their peers and don't want to look bad. However, more often than not something or some things will sink in on further reflection after the dust has settled, or with patient and fair engagement with the problematic party. It works here just as well as it works in an IWW chapter. And, like I said, if you take the approach that we are all flawed in some way, and it's OK to not at all get along with some of your ideological allies, you can find some great comrades along the way.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:14 AM on December 5, 2014


I have it on somewhat good authority that the puppet fire you're referring to was actually police infiltrators and not "legit" protesters

whatever -- if you're a Blac Bloc type and you can't see that your uber-cool radicalism (and its inherent divisiveness) is precisely what opens the door to police/FBI/whoever types sneaking into your party and making a mess of things, then ... I suggest you take yrrr hoodie off for a while and take a good look around, because you most definitely have a crucial life lesson to learn. Something to do with ... well, just read the article ...

Also this. Do you really want to be part of something that is so easily spoofed?


More change has been made in the world with a few great puppets than with a million votes.

Name one.

I believe he name-checked Kermit in the initial comment.

posted by philip-random at 9:14 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


whatever -- if you're a Blac Bloc type and you can't see that your uber-cool radicalism (and its inherent divisiveness) is precisely what opens the door to police/FBI/whoever types sneaking into your party and making a mess of things, then ... I suggest you take yrrr hoodie off for a while and take a good look around, because you most definitely have a crucial life lesson to learn.

Whatever issues there may be within the Black Bloc, infiltrators aren't something you can blame on them. Cops have been infiltrating groups working for social change for centuries, even supposedly mild and mainstream ones. This is no indictment on the people working for change; it's an indictment on the shitty lengths cops will go through to throw a wrench in the gears.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:17 AM on December 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Can we all pretend that I said they were burning a giant banner rather than a puppet? Because people are getting kind of weirdly hung up on the "puppet" part rather than the "starting a bonfire in the middle of a big crowd of people who didn't know they were going to do that" part.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:18 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


More change has been made in the world with a few great puppets than with a million votes.

Name one.


George Bush. Ha!

(I kid, I kid.)

I read this article like many others, a plea for a step back from zealotry. Or inoculation against such to future generations. Zealotry v. Zealotry is a recipe for scorched earth and a lack of progress.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 9:22 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Can we all pretend that I said they were burning a giant banner rather than a puppet? Because people are getting kind of weirdly hung up on the "puppet" part rather than the "starting a bonfire in the middle of a big crowd of people who didn't know they were going to do that" part.

Yeah, I think the fact that it was a giant puppet that was set aflame is so absurd that it takes away from the main point of safety issues.
posted by josher71 at 9:23 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This seems to presuppose that anyone paying attention must reach the same conclusions, which would seem to be in tension with the Biafran injunction against fundamentalism.

Not everyone who looks at today's America does so angrily. But a radical leftist, somewhat by definition, ought to look at the current state of America and find plenty to be pissed off about, even if they don't all have the exact same triggers.

Being angry at the world suggests that you at least took the time to examine the world and be repulsed by it.
posted by delfin at 9:23 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was one of the innocent civilians who nearly got badly hurt.

I'm sorry if this sounds callous, but I don't think this is a particularly valid way to think about political movements. I mean, if you almost got hit by a bus, you wouldn't conclude that this is why public transit is bad. If you almost died in a house fire, you wouldn't conclude that we should all sleep under the stars.

And why is it always leftist movements that suffer this logic, anyway? Someone gets hit by a cyclists, and therefore all bike commuters are evil and should be banned. Something scary happens at a protest, and therefore the left as a whole is condemned for years. You don't see people saying that capitalism is wrong because a worker lost a finger in a machine, once, several years ago.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on December 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


if you're a Blac Bloc type and you can't see that your uber-cool radicalism (and its inherent divisiveness) is precisely what opens the door to police/FBI/whoever types sneaking into your party and making a mess of things, then ... I suggest you take yrrr hoodie off for a while and take a good look around, because you most definitely have a crucial life lesson to learn. Something to do with ...

Nice. Everyone knows, of course, that nothing can ever change. Don't be too radical, just vote and stuff. Most people are inherently conservative, they don't do anything embarrassing.

One of the funnier scenes in David Graeber's book is when a local working class neighborhood in Montreal join the black block and start out-doing them in terms of throwing shit at the cops, taking down barriers, etc. And the poor black blockers are totally flummoxed, like, should we support this popular uprising?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:24 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


The biggest problem any kind of flat-organization radical group is going to have to contend with is consensus.

Yeah, this is one of the things that led to my awakening that I didn't need to be in a flat-organization radical group. That I could just go to my job and speak up when something in the script we were producing was sexist, and vote, and actually show up for jury duty, and not hide my politics under a bushel, and donate money when I had it, and maintain a diverse social group, and deliver the leftover CSA produce to the neighborhood food bank, and delete racist bullshit comments out of my facebook feed, and in general just live my leftist political beliefs out in the world.

I'm glad that there are 22 year olds negotiating the hell that is leftist activist groups, and said groups are doing the goddess' work, but fuck if I'm re-entering that headspace anytime soon. My place is out here, glaring at the idiot coworker who just made the homophobic "joke".
posted by Sara C. at 9:32 AM on December 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


And why is it always leftist movements that suffer this logic, anyway? Someone gets hit by a cyclists, and therefore all bike commuters are evil and should be banned. Something scary happens at a protest, and therefore the left as a whole is condemned for years. You don't see people saying that capitalism is wrong because a worker lost a finger in a machine, once, several years ago.

Leftist things are new, and scary and dangerous in different ways than capitalism, which people have accepted as "the way things are" and thus not worth being outraged over as badly, because you'd get burned out.
posted by Small Dollar at 9:37 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Since you've said you've never been active in radicalism, let me offer this: the people who get defensive and shouty when disagreed with are usually getting their ass up because they're surrounded by their peers and don't want to look bad. However, more often than not something or some things will sink in on further reflection after the dust has settled, or with patient and fair engagement with the problematic party. It works here just as well as it works in an IWW chapter. And, like I said, if you take the approach that we are all flawed in some way, and it's OK to not at all get along with some of your ideological allies, you can find some great comrades along the way."
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane

Yeah, but I don't have to willfully tolerate the sort of verbal lambasting that tends to occur in these situations. I especially don't have to tolerate it if the reasoning is to avoid looking bad. I mean what a head-in-ass thought process! And it gets brutal. I know it's fallacious to say so, but I've never once seen the kind of humility you're talking about, and it's sapped my will to engage. Once you've graduated to personal attacks, you've lost the high ground from a moral perspective. There's caring about the lives of people and there's jumping in front of bullets. Two very different things. And I'm sure the refrain will be "Well he just doesn't care enough."

And my response to that is, "Guess not. But I like my sanity, thanks."

I just think it's a shame because there are lots of deeply passionate people that care a lot and might be a little more thin-skinned, less actively hostile, generally not as demonstrative, and interested enough to ask lots and lots of questions rather than assuming the other side are a bunch of drooling morons.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 9:46 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed how the cultish, dogmatic commenters from the internet's nether realms read this article criticizing the cultish, dogmatic aspects of the radical left as somehow supporting their position. The mote in your brother's eye, indeed.
posted by Makwa at 9:47 AM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry if this sounds callous, but I don't think this is a particularly valid way to think about political movements. I mean, if you almost got hit by a bus, you wouldn't conclude that this is why public transit is bad. If you almost died in a house fire, you wouldn't conclude that we should all sleep under the stars.

Actually, Sara, your pushback right now is actually continuing to do more to dissuade me against the marching-in-demonstrations kind of activism because you're sort of implying that that is the One True Way To Fight.

And y'know, that's kind of bullshit. I never said that I was against political movements, only that I was against radical action, which means "things like starting bonfires in the middle of crowds." That's why I was taking pains to say that it didn't matter what side the person who lit the match was on, or even what cause you're talking about - my point is that sometimes, the ends do not justify the means.

But moreover, my point is also that there is more than one way to act. My much-more-of-an-activist friend got on Facebook an hour after the Eric Garner ruling went down and tried to drum up people to join him at Foley Square. He did the same after Ferguson. And I didn't join him - but, he didn't nag me about it, because he was standing right next to me in 2004 and also ran from the bonfire, and he knows that for me, that was too much. And he also knows that while I probably wasn't going to march, I was still acting, by writing about it. And in his mind, that still counted.

It's not necessarily a specific action or cause that I am complaining about, or that even the piece is complaining about. It is the notion that some people get that "well, your way of thinking about this/choosing to act about this isn't as valid as MINE". That's what the guys who started the fire were thinking back then, and that's also what you're trying to say to me now.

And frankly, fuck that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


And y'know, that's kind of bullshit. I never said that I was against political movements, only that I was against radical action, which means "things like starting bonfires in the middle of crowds."

I think Sara's point was more that "someone was careless about building a bonfire" is not really a reflection of radicalism. These two things seem totally unrelated to me. I mean, I've seen people do stupid shit with fire at group camping events. It hasn't dissuaded my opinion of camping, but it did underline my belief that a person should not be playing with large amounts of fire unless they know what they are doing.

I just think it's a shame because there are lots of deeply passionate people that care a lot and might be a little more thin-skinned, less actively hostile, generally not as demonstrative, and interested enough to ask lots and lots of questions rather than assuming the other side are a bunch of drooling morons.

Could not agree more! But you know, I think this is a symptom of any kind of political engagement, from mainstream to radical. It is all too easy to see your opponents as caricatures, and to see critics in your own ranks as Unbelievers. It sure makes "thinking" easier, anyway. I think you've touched upon a fundamental problem when it comes to political action in general. Knowing nuance and being reflective are crucial to being able to engage with your opponents effectively, and to re-consider ideas and courses of action. US Democrats and Republicans seem light years away from being able to figure this out themselves.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:57 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


And it's still a perfectly valid channel for speaking about this.

Depending on what she actually wants to accomplish, this may in fact be true.

Guess what, she's not accountable for what random assholes say in the comments, and it's weird to see you try to guilt-trip people about that.

She wrote a piece scolding the left and posted it on a public-facing, public-oriented site. She is either looking to attract the attention of the right or she is shockingly naive in ways that somebody of her claimed experience has no right whatsoever to be. If I wrote a piece on BusinessInsider about how /r/GamerGhazi is full of dicks and got upset because the comments were flooded with GamerGaters talking about how right I was and way to sock it to those SJWs, you'd either laugh at my naivete or incredulously ask me what I expected.

And given what she says about about dogmatic rejection of criticism in her own crowd, limiting her channels sounds like a perfect way to ensure that the message has no effect at all. And that's not what you're after, surely?

The point of the piece is to scold leftists. She chose as her venue for this scolding a venue which is not aimed at leftists and which does not target leftists as an audience demographic. If I wrote an article about how butterfly collectors could improve their kill jars, and had it published in a magazine for butterfly collectors, you'd assume I was hoping to improve the butterfly collecting hobby. If I got it published as a guest column in the New York Times, you'd wonder what the fuck I was doing and question my choice of venue.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:04 AM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I just think it's a shame because there are lots of deeply passionate people that care a lot and might be a little more thin-skinned, less actively hostile, generally not as demonstrative, and interested enough to ask lots and lots of questions rather than assuming the other side are a bunch of drooling morons.

And there's this perpetual tension, though. Like, some things have to be the province only of awful people - there is no situation in which I will accept that, for example, the gender of trans people is up for debate; there is no situation in which I will accept that we can debate whether one race is "genetically" less intelligent; there is no situation in which I am going to accept that it's okay for someone to die because they can't afford medical care. Those are all ideas which are "up for debate" in certain social circles (and would all have been totally mainstream things to think in the US in 1950) and the struggle to make them no longer debatable does involve basically treating the people who persistently want to debate those questions as wrong and/or bad. So there's this perpetual tension about where do we draw the line, and this perpetual pressure to move the line.

That's not to say that it's helpful to believe that anyone who thinks anything that is not on the cutting edge of your personal social formation's beliefs must be a bad person, but it's more complicated than just "listen to everyone and assume that their beliefs have some standing for discussion". The need to make some beliefs unacceptable is just like the need to eat - if you could just quit food cold turkey (so to speak) it would be easier not to eat junk food, but the fact that you have to go to the grocery store makes things difficult.
posted by Frowner at 10:08 AM on December 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


I was in a preschool the other day and I was noticing how many of the kids I don't think are getting their needs met. They don't want to sit still, they want hugs not to do work, they want to make super cool castle out of the counting activity instead of count.

Often these are kids knowing what they need and allowing them to engage in their own creative play or assert their emotional needs is often the healthiest way to treat a three or four old. Sometimes kids are very wrong about what they need. They do NOT need to run in front of a car. They do not need to eat ice cream for breakfast lunch and dinner.

You DO have to be the "bad guy" and say no sometimes. But often the structure is not built around kids needs but around the preferences of caregivers who are understaffed (chrnically), overwhelmed, and are being expected to manage kids bhavior in a way that will please parents despite parents not have a grasp on what is normal kid behavior in a large group setting with inadequate staff (And parents don't want to or can't pay for adequate staff but therin you might want to at least acknowledge realistically some of the kids are going to be crying for mom all day and the staff will run out hugs because they have a room ful of other kids to manage and they will resort to whatever makes the kid shut up best "Stop crying right now or you have to sit in the hallway!"

The kids are right.

The environments suck.

We break them so they forget what they need, so they fall in line. And it's wrong. I say... rise up and open your eyes and heart to the truth of the suffering we perpetuate on each other and ourselves. You can be forgiving and understanding that we are fallible, we do these terrible things because it's easier, and we are imperfect and limited and don't have the greatest impulse control.

But that doesn't mean it's the way it should be or the way it HAS to be.

Just for fun, some AF lyrics for the moment- Something filled up my heart with nothing, someone told me not to cry, but now that I'm older, my heart is colder, and I can see that it's a lie.
Wake up.

Don't just cry, scream. This is wrong and it's been wrong for too long.

Sooner or later you grow up, and you realize that we are all trapped in suffering and you have to swallow it and you have to watch others suffer for you and have to stuff your knowledge of that and fall in line to make everyone else happy so they don't look inside themselves and see the truth of the monster they've become or what they are perpetuating-- and then perhaps, you grow up further still-- and finally become strong enough to put teogether the resources and tools to say FUCK THIS.

Only now you are more intelligent, you know the problems with organizing, you know that even radicals have shitty human nature and need some degree of structure (anarchy is not a real thing we all work together in groups and will create structures around that so it actually would take a ridiculous amount of work to structurally produce a forced lack of structure)and many people are not able to take care of themselves and need assistance, and many are not safe and need to be supervised- and many have weird charismatic desperation to lead others into the oblivion of terrible ideologies that hurt people--

but... so we learn to understand and handle these things. We don't throw our hands up and say " FINE, therefore we give up and fall in line and only work for progress if the people in charge say we can and only in ways that won't offend them"

Any movement that doesn't value the welfare of all humans throughout the process of change is going to begin to take on sinister values. Violence and endangering people is the sort of thing only justifiable if there is literally a life in danger or heinous crimes being committed (and even then I still lean pacifist and debate whether this is good or a moral failing as I feel one or the other at different times). But peaceful activism and pushing change in a way that preserves the welfare of all involved as much as posisble, can actually get a lot done. And I DO think anger can fit into that although it has it's benefits and drawbacks. I agree with the above, that acting straight from outrage makes sense only if you're in a serious crisis (in which case it might be giving you the right feedback, like to fight off an attacker or stop an abuse of someone in front of you). Otherwise, there is time for reflection, processing, and focusing your intent on welfare of those being harmed rather than on hurting or injuring those who have done wrong. Sometimes saving oppressed people might involve some risks of harm to those doing the oppressing- if you have time and resources this should me prevented, mitigated, or gaurded against as much as is possible while still prioritizing those being harmed.

When we learn to fight wars with tools and resources to preserve the welfare not only of ourselves and the innocent, but even of our enemies too, that is when we show true military prowess.
posted by xarnop at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]



If "my goal is more important than the safety of bystanders" isn't a radical frame of mind, I don't know what is.


Less radical than profoundly self-centered. The etymology of the word radical comes from a Latin word for root--looking for the roots of a problem, and working to attack them. That's what radicalism fundamentally means to me, and why I continue to identify as such. Setting a massive fire in a public place isn't looking to find the roots of injustices, it's just self-centered. And yes, I do believe that right-wingers can be radicals too, though their ideas about what's corrupt at the roots will be vastly different from mine.

The gradual corruption of the word radical to mean "self-centered and destructive" rather than "seeking certain kinds of vast societal changes" is a great victory on the behalf of people wanting to hold the status quo. The easier it becomes to dismiss those people for stupid banner-burning, the harder it is to find the points where you agree and build solidarity.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:23 AM on December 5, 2014 [15 favorites]


The point of the piece is to scold leftists. She chose as her venue for this scolding a venue which is not aimed at leftists and which does not target leftists as an audience demographic. If I wrote an article about how butterfly collectors could improve their kill jars, and had it published in a magazine for butterfly collectors, you'd assume I was hoping to improve the butterfly collecting hobby. If I got it published as a guest column in the New York Times, you'd wonder what the fuck I was doing and question my choice of venue.

I don't know that this is totally fair. The McGill Daily is a campus newspaper for McGill University, run independently after it broke away from the student government in 1980. McGill might not be the most activist universiy in a city that also includes places like Concordia (though I'm not from Montreal so my judgement on these matters may be totally wrong), but Quebec universities in general have a relatively strong leftist, activist tradition. That's not to say the McGill Daily aims specifically at leftists, but I don't think this is at all the same as printing butterfly collecting artices as New York Times op-eds. There is a very good chance that this student's personal ruminations on the nature of leftist activism will resonate with a significant portion of the paper's audience.
posted by chrominance at 10:24 AM on December 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


Template:

I have [radical credentials that make me authentically oppressed; avoid mentioning advantages]. Sad anecdote.


I don't know, just because you can describe someone's format doesn't really factor into its validity. At this point, I could do that with pretty much every Metafilter thread before it starts.
posted by the jam at 10:32 AM on December 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I have never understood why left politics get this reputation for "groupthink" that doesn't also attach itself to conservative or "mainstream" or any other group or line of thought, even though those groups have basically the same issues. The conventional wisdom of US politics is just as groupthinky, if not more so, but nobody gets a bunch of shit about believing what the NYT or WSJ has to say that morning, or accepting Politico's new groupthink overton window-setting memorandum. The people who buy into those ideas are just as prickly about departure from them or adding nuance to them as anyone in leftist circles can be.

The problems she cites are problems that arise in basically every group of people, as far as I can tell, and it feels disingenuous to say "this is a problem with the left specifically" when it's a problem you could also find in conservative circles, moderate circles, knitting circles, sports fan circles, etc.
posted by dialetheia at 10:38 AM on December 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


The point of the piece is to scold leftists.

Or, she might be aiming to discourage beginning activists from going a route that she sees counterproductive and instead into something that she sees as productive.

She wrote a piece scolding the left and posted it on a public-facing, public-oriented site. She is either looking to attract the attention of the right or she is shockingly naive in ways that somebody of her claimed experience has no right whatsoever to be.

You say this as if it weren't possible for her to knowingly write this piece in spite of right-wing portions of the audience, but only to attract it. Again, there are perfectly legitimate reasons one can have for submitting such a piece, and the prospect of undesireable response from parts of the crowd is not grounds for segregating the discourse.
posted by Anything at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I have never understood why left politics get this reputation for "groupthink" that doesn't also attach itself to conservative or "mainstream" or any other group or line of thought, even though those groups have basically the same issues.

'Cos they're the status quo, and it's easier to just write the anomalies off as anomalies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:49 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


"YES I AGREE DEATH TO THE SJWS DEATH TO THE COMMIES HAVE YOU READ MENCIUS MOLDBUG".

Oh man, I thought you were exaggerating but someone literally does drop Moldbug links in the first response to the first comment. Jesus.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:57 AM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed how the cultish, dogmatic commenters from the internet's nether realms read this article criticizing the cultish, dogmatic aspects of the radical left as somehow supporting their position. The mote in your brother's eye, indeed.

Fanatics tend to fight with fanatics. They mostly deserve each other.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:08 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


problem is, they set big rabbits on fire and end up hurting bystanders
posted by philip-random at 11:13 AM on December 5, 2014


This thread is actually a neat illustration of why I got out of left-wing activism, because anything critical of radical tactics is greeted with "Ha, I knew you were Rush Limbaugh all along, how dare you?"
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:16 AM on December 5, 2014 [15 favorites]


Well that's a weird reading of the thread. To each their own I guess!
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:20 AM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Having been on both sides of the glass...

this is gross. rly? "both sides"? i should have stopped reading when i saw that.

if the author of this piece wants to cuss out her gross college friends who self-identify as radical, she should do that without writing in a way that triangulates herself as a "reasonable" "neutral" authority on radicalism as a whole. think about how big the world of radicalism is and how small her world is. like, from how she positions her identity in this piece, it would seem to basically consist of cis white people splitting hairs about economic philosophies.

i hope if i ever hit peak radicalism i deal with it far more gracefully than this.
posted by thug unicorn at 11:48 AM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


actually you know what this was an ok essay and the discussion of personal growth resonates with me. i'm just reacting in a strong way to how the author kinda defines "radicalism" as what the most "more-radical-than-thou" group of people are doing. thats not my own understanding of "radicalism", which i see as totally congruent with the four recommendations at the bottom of the essay.
posted by thug unicorn at 12:07 PM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think the lack of nuance can be attributed to this person still being in undergrad. Even people who grow into nuance rarely have their grips on nuance at that point in time.
posted by beefetish at 12:15 PM on December 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


"The biggest problem any kind of flat-organization radical group is going to have to contend with is consensus. "

I had a moment in 2003ish where I realized that my campus anti-war group took more time to use consensus to order pizzas than they did eating the pizza.
posted by klangklangston at 12:19 PM on December 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


[Cultishness of radicalism. Alienation of "regular people". Group think. Totalitarianism. If needed, references to Stalinism, but do not use if audience does not remember Cold War.]

[Allusion to scene in Life of Brian re: "Judean People's Front vs. The People's Front of Judea", adjust for nerdiness level of audience]

I think the lack of nuance can be attributed to this person still being in undergrad.

I concur, and one day, my hope is that she can come to the knowledge that radicalism can be put down to living as simply as treating every single person you meet with respect and compassion, not just from those on "your" side, but everyone from the the whacked-out person on the train, to yes, even David Koch.

That doesn't mean you don't protest injustice and not work toward justice, nor that you have to put up with shit from anyone, or that one is OK with injustice. It's just seeing that even the most evil person, the most willfully ignorant person, the most hateful person is still a human being and it diminishes us to forget that. Look at how Darren Wilson's description of Mike Brown diminished Darren Wilson.

Acting in an orthodox, hermetically sealed way leads to very bad things for any ideology in particular and for other people in general. It's a radical thing, I hope, to suggest that we all, in any course of action, ask ourselves if we're acting with compassion for our fellow human beings and proceed from there.
posted by droplet at 12:27 PM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Empress, all I hear you saying is that it's a dick move to start a fire in the middle of a crowd.

Well, agreed. But what does that have to do with protesting other than that it happened at a protest? I really don't see the connection. If someone started a fire in the middle of a crowd at a bake sale would you draw conclusions about bake sales?

I mean, I get that it was a traumatic event for you, but it really sounds like you are just mad at one person.
posted by 256 at 12:38 PM on December 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


I have no idea if the vast majority of comments after Frowner's "Template" comment are actual sincere comments or comments specifically constructed to fit within the template. I am confused and not sure if people are being serious or if this whole thread was a giant bit of performance art where, at the end, everyone will be laughing at me and saying "You couldn't believe we were serious with this, right?!? Puppets? Didn't you get the joke?"

Which is kind of exactly how I believe I would feel if actually went to go see radical puppetry, so I guess I'll end up staying home and keeping to myself, as usual.
posted by roquetuen at 12:48 PM on December 5, 2014


droplet: Substantial agreement. In the event that I ever figure out how to balance compassion for all beings with clear-eyed recognizance that structural injustice predisposes us to be more compassionate toward some than others... then I'll be on to something.

roquetuen: I have no idea who you are personally on account of this is the internet, but I can tell you that on the whole my experience of radical happenings has been orders of magnitude less contentious than internet discourse chambers. You can definitely find bickering and shenanigans if that is your thing, but there is more space out there in the big blue room.
posted by beefetish at 1:29 PM on December 5, 2014


foot: "Good job guys. You've successfully derailed this post into the ditch with your radical puppetry conspiracy theories."

COINTELPUPPET?
posted by symbioid at 1:39 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Empress, all I hear you saying is that it's a dick move to start a fire in the middle of a crowd. Well, agreed. But what does that have to do with protesting other than that it happened at a protest?

The people that did thus were trying to call attention to their cause by virtue of creating an attention-getting stunt. Same reason the Westboro Baptist Church pickets funerals, in fact.

If someone started a fire in the middle of a crowd at a bake sale would you draw conclusions about bake sales?

If bake sales were likely to attract the kind of person who believed that it was okay to pull off attention-getting stunts to advance their cause? Yeah, I would.

I mean, I get that it was a traumatic event for you, but it really sounds like you are just mad at one person.

Give the man a cigar.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:54 PM on December 5, 2014


The people that did thus were trying to call attention to their cause by virtue of creating an attention-getting stunt.

Or it was an accident.

Or it was someone who didn't think it through.

Or it was someone from out of town or overseas who drastically misunderstood how protest marches in major American cities work.

I don't think even the most rabid anti-freedom-of-assembly reactionary ever thought that puppet fire was set by someone who was deliberately trying to kill their fellow protesters with fire.
posted by Sara C. at 2:08 PM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Overall, this essay — and its place in the overall MeFi leftism discourse — seems overhyped and under-baked.

There's a general problem in in regarding the left of thinking of it as a monolithic bloc, and generally defined by anything more progressive than mainstream Democratic Party platforms. Even more confused is the use of "radical." I'm arguably a leftist (I don't really consider myself one, even though I believe fully in a lot of things described by our more reactionary members as leftist shibboleths). I'm pretty emphatically not a radical — Frowner and I have gone 'round on this more than once; they're a self-described radical, I'm entirely comfortable being a reformist. I don't actually think that society would be improved by smashing the state or eliminating all capitalism, even though I have no problem identifying as a socialist, broadly. My views ultimately aren't too far from the author of this essay.

I think there are good arguments against radicalism, but the author here (and MeFi commenters in general) fail to make them because they don't understand the terms they're using and mistake common group dynamics as something specific to radical leftism.

(And frankly, it's kind of surprising that so many critics of the left miss out on using the People's Temple as an example of how dogmatic, cultish leftism can go too far.)

But too much of this article is getting treated like, "SEE, THIS CONFIRMS WHAT I'VE KNOWN ALL ALONG" by folks more to the right of the author, when really it's not as applicable as they'd like and this undergrad is not as wise as she'd need to be to write about this topic for a non-campus publication.
posted by klangklangston at 3:47 PM on December 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


Funny, it seems to me the author is making some of the same mistakes that they accuse "the radical left" of (esp. wrt anti-oppressive politics).
e.g.,

"Having been on both sides of the glass, I think I can bring some painful but necessary truth to light."

"What I feel compelled to criticize is only one very specific political phenomenon, one particular incarnation of radical leftist, anti-oppressive politics."
Their experiences aren't "truth". Nor is anti-oppressive politics so "very specific" that everyone who subscribes to it will exhibit the same flaws; to believe that it is, is essentialist. For an article that's crying for nuance, its premise seems to be needing some nuance itself.
posted by tybeet at 4:42 PM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


This confirms what I've known all along.
posted by fraxil at 4:45 PM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This confirms what I've known all along.

I love when that happens!
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:17 PM on December 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


*sigh*

Sara, not only have you entrenched me in my decision to avoid protests with your stubbornness, you are driving me out of this thread. If that's what you wanted, then congratulations, I guess.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:23 PM on December 5, 2014


Sara C.: I'm sorry if this sounds callous, but I don't think this is a particularly valid way to think about political movements. I mean, if you almost got hit by a bus, you wouldn't conclude that this is why public transit is bad. If you almost died in a house fire, you wouldn't conclude that we should all sleep under the stars.

And why is it always leftist movements that suffer this logic, anyway? Someone gets hit by a cyclists, and therefore all bike commuters are evil and should be banned. Something scary happens at a protest, and therefore the left as a whole is condemned for years. You don't see people saying that capitalism is wrong because a worker lost a finger in a machine, once, several years ago.


I'm probably punching something i don't want to punch here, but no.

This sort of "lighting something on fire because it's RADICAL! ANARCHISM BRO!" manarchist bullshit is not a one off thing, and it deserves to be criticized. Yea, i get that there's a whole right wing machine tut tutting at a bunch of "dumb kids busting shit for no reason", and there's the whole seperate omg black people one, but i'm talking specifically about white RCP type kids here.

I've gone to a bunch of these protests, i've been at a few where it got stupid. I'm not going to tally off some card of who i knew or what i did or whatever, suffice to say that i have enough experience with this to talk without being or sounding like a complete fucking idiot.

I think it's worth talking about that being dumb and dangerous because at every protest i've been to since i was like 15 where those hoodie and bandana radical type guys showed up they did something fucking stupid and dangerous. Like, most recently that i saw, trying to roll a huge dumpster down a steep hill in to the cops. And the most important thing is that they always skedaddle and it's whatever minorities or disadvantaged people, or even just innocent bystanders who get gassed/beaten/arrested by the cops in the aftermath.

So yes, they do stupid shit, other people who were just there get hurt either by them or by police response. This is nothing like some "oh someone got hit by a bike so bikes are bad!" thing. This is shitty behavior by a specific group of people who show up at protests like this, that i want to run over with a steamroller. I've posted about this more in the ferguson, and i think even martin threads or possibly even earlier. Decontextualizing it like you did is disingenuous and possibly even bullshit.
posted by emptythought at 6:10 PM on December 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I don't think even the most rabid anti-freedom-of-assembly reactionary ever thought that puppet fire was set by someone who was deliberately trying to kill their fellow protesters with fire.

And i think there's a legitimate angle to approach this from that it doesn't matter what it was, it was a fucking stupid impulsive thing to do that just like, totally seemed badass in my head maaaaan. It doesn't matter if how it went wasn't how they planned it to because that just means it wasn't well thought out. There's plenty of safe ways to light shit on fire.

I heard similar driven from people defending the morons who were lighting off firecrackers, roman candles, and smoke bombs in to the crowd at a recent protest here.

None of the reasons you gave absolve them of any responsibility or guilt. It's all kid-bouncing-ball-in-the-house-tv-breaks sort of excuses. You did it, it was dumb, it went wrong. You should have prepared for it going wrong and planned it in a way that nothing was likely to or could happen, or not done it. There isn't some inalienable right to light shit on fire or smash shit at protests.
posted by emptythought at 6:13 PM on December 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


The thing about the circular firing squad of the left is that people tend to forget about the bell curve aspect. There's a lot more people for every step you move center-ward. The center and the left each have their own ideology (pragmatism vs idealism, say), but it seems quite unlikely that the equally fallible humans on one side are systematically more subject to error than those on other side, even though I of course have my own position that I believe in on this spectrum. But the undeniable thing is that, when one decides to move center-ward, there are a lot more open arms waiting to welcome you than the other way. It takes no especial courage -- though it may be right -- to boldly proclaim you're abandoning the relative minority for the relative majority.

There's not much point in attacking an undergrad for her neo-Brooksianism, but to the degree that she is aware of what she is doing, it does not seem in good faith to me. The article is not just published in a non-leftist medium, it is targeted at centrists while pretending to be targeted at leftists. None of her four nostrums at the end are remotely aimed at the "you" they purport to address. "Don't drink your own kool aid" is not something you say to someone whom you respect but want to help, and no one would hear that and think "hey, you're right!" The same goes for most of her other recommendations and critiques -- no object of those critiques would ever see themselves in those descriptions, and rightfully so. She may (as an undergrad) think she is reaching out, but that's not it -- not in tone, and not in understanding.

By Brooksianism, I mean the specific tone and locutions centrists use when talking to the left; not just critical, but repeatedly imagining that their opponents would see themselves as unpragmatic idealists with no sense of reality. Who sees themselves that way? No one. But Brooks and she seem to imagine those people are out there. And that's why the "Template" response above is apropos: these essays are pretenses at speaking to the left, directed really at the self-congratulating center. They've followed the same pattern for decades if not centuries. The center probably doesn't even recognize the repetition because they mainly agree with it all. But the left hears it over and over, and recognizes the moves the way any target does.

To give a sense of how bad the faith is in this essay, here are a list of some familiar terms, deployed in apparent sincerity in her efforts to reach out to her one-time compatriots. Are these -- any of these -- terms you use with someone you are genuinely trying to reach out to or understand?

High on their own supply... dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality... extreme, irrational views... insular community... groupthink... heresy... dogmas... a lot of rhetoric and bluster... passionate railing... nihilists... hawking political vapourware... infallible... drink your own kool aid... hive mind

These are not things you say when engaged in honest argument, and as catch-phrases, their adoption is the opposite of self-discovery. But the great center knows these terms and awaits with open arms, ready and eager to grant her her happiness and "permission to be selfish."
posted by chortly at 6:28 PM on December 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


I skimmed through the essay. It's problematic, for the various reasons already given.

Instead, I am sure political philosophers and other thinkers have written specifically on the issue--the problems and pitfalls, of trying to be ("be") an activist or radical. I think many people would be glad to know of such a text.
posted by polymodus at 8:25 PM on December 5, 2014


The thing I find about this essay, and essays like this, is that they ring true for me compared to my experiences with the same sort of people in the same sort of situations. They're usually addressed to only a section of the left, usually towards the radical end of the radical left, and invariably include the author admitting to having been guilty of making these mistakes themselves; the author of this article specifically does.

However, the more dogmatic, zealous people being critiqued, so often the sort to give primacy to a personal narrative, especially from what regarded as an oppressed group, and are so quick to suggest people listen and learn and hear criticism and opinion, immediately shut down the idea that any of the criticisms of their way of doing things are valid. Everything is dismissed, the author is clearly a fake leftist, the idea of reasonable disagreements is always reduced to extreme examples, and the whole thing has to be completely incorrect.

There's no tactic or problem that only 'one side' has - all of the problems described in the essay have their equivalent forms in the zealous radical right. The key word was dogma, that blind acceptance that allows certain steps of thinking to be forgone.
All the examples of behaviour described can be seen, are demonstrably how groups of people act, which makes me most wary of the people who insist that these articles are all incorrect, that sure there's flaws (because nobody's perfect) yet somehow whenever someone says what they think those flaws are they're always wrong, or false, or even just too mediocre to listen to.

And I'd also suggest that, much as I like a good Mad Libs joke, it's somewhat dulled when told by someone whose own material can be templated just as easily.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:10 AM on December 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is shitty behavior by a specific group of people who show up at protests like this, that i want to run over with a steamroller. I've posted about this more in the ferguson, and i think even martin threads or possibly even earlier. Decontextualizing it like you did is disingenuous and possibly even bullshit.

Even if this were true - that there's some kind of bad element who show up at every single demonstration, rally or march and invariably put peoples' physical safety in immediate danger - I still don't think you could fairly tar all of radical action with the same brush. We're talking about a huge wide world out there, where all kinds of radicals engage in all kinds of action. When I hear about people getting hurt at such actions, the underlying cause is almost invariably Police Being Dickish. Not someone being careless with fire. To regard this singular act as something that defines radical action as a whole, despite the anomaly of the event and the wide, wide spectrum of direct action radicals engage in is, to me, what's actually decontextualizing here.

I hope Empress doesn't feel ganged up on here, but you know, being told "my goal is more important than the safety of bystanders" is the central tenet of radical thought is also pretty unfair, let alone having judgement passed on a lot of good people based on the actions of one individual one time.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 6:49 AM on December 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


I concur, and one day, my hope is that she can come to the knowledge that radicalism can be put down to living as simply as treating every single person you meet with respect and compassion, not just from those on "your" side, but everyone from the the whacked-out person on the train, to yes, even David Koch.

I like this idea- it's also the heart of Buddhism.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:53 PM on December 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


Even if this were true - that there's some kind of bad element who show up at every single demonstration, rally or march and invariably put peoples' physical safety in immediate danger - I still don't think you could fairly tar all of radical action with the same brush. We're talking about a huge wide world out there, where all kinds of radicals engage in all kinds of action. When I hear about people getting hurt at such actions, the underlying cause is almost invariably Police Being Dickish. Not someone being careless with fire. To regard this singular act as something that defines radical action as a whole, despite the anomaly of the event and the wide, wide spectrum of direct action radicals engage in is, to me, what's actually decontextualizing here

I guess the reason i came out with the position and perspective i did, which i should have elaborated on more at the time, is that a huge portion of the people who don't do stupid shit are total apologists, minimizers, and shields for the people who do. It's really hard to speak out in a space(or even at a protest, when you can see the dumb-wave cresting and something bad about to go down) full of radicals without IMMEDIATELY, and decisively, getting mass shouted down with all kinds of ad hominems, "what have you done/what do you know" garbage, and just generally "shut up".

So yea, this strikes me as sort of a #notallmen kind of thing. Even if it's just a few people, there's a much larger group that just waves it through the turnstyle and even gangs up on anyone who questions it alongside the shitty people.

When i posted about my recent experiences with this on social media, i got an outpouring of support of it being A Thing™, but more importantly, many accounts of witnessing this in action or directly experiencing it.

So while i'd agree on the "underlying cause is dickish police" thing, i've also seen cases where it was obvious these kinds of people were itching for some sort of confrontation, and did stuff like the aforementioned attempted dumpster rolling.(which is the type of stupid shit i especially saw over and over during occupy).

And seriously, the main thing that chaps me is that i've seen so many people get shut down by the circling of wagons and direct attacks that i was actually afraid of the response i'd get when i recently made that post. The defense of the shitty people, to the community, is worse than the actual shitty people as far as problems goes. And it's always "but we have to be inclusive!" "do you think their anger is invalid?" sort of garbage.

So yea, i don't think this defines radical action, but i think it's a structural problem that extends beyond a few bad eggs that aren't always present and bla bla bla. I got way too much agreement from others that this was A Thing they'd seen over and over to buy that.
posted by emptythought at 7:02 PM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


The problems she cites are problems that arise in basically every group of people, as far as I can tell, and it feels disingenuous to say "this is a problem with the left specifically" when it's a problem you could also find in conservative circles

I think the idea is that it is mostly taken for granted that the right is going to be informed by dogma and "groupthink." I mean "groupthink" is a pejorative way to put it, but I imagine even people on the right (if they are honest) are going to agree what's being described there is pretty much baked into conservatism.

The left--speaking broadly; I know that encompasses a whole lot of groups--actively repudiates that way of thinking. Part of being progressive and broadminded is a willingness to entertain ideas that are different from what you've always taken for granted. So when someone on the left feels that their group is dogmatic or restrictive, it's noteworthy in a way that it is not on the right.
posted by torticat at 3:37 PM on December 7, 2014


Blah blah blah I stopped reading after the 15th "ism" word.

Yes, at some point you need to stop being a politically aware and motivated douche bag.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:37 PM on December 7, 2014


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