I received some interesting blowback from a supposedly progressive commenter on my recent post, So Are We Britain or Rome? The comment exhibits a mindset that I think contributes to a serious deficiency in our discourse, so it’s worth another post.
The commenter’s identity, by the way, is entirely besides the point. He’s far from alone in his mindset, and it’s the mindset I want to address.
The problem with my post, according to this commenter, was that it was too depressing and my thoughts were too gloomy. I should refrain from writing such posts because I was just depressing him and others, and I wasn’t offering any solutions. I see the “you’re not giving us solutions” line a good bit. Apparently, it’s irresponsible to point out a problem and stop there. It seems there is a moral obligation to end with a hopeful solution.
I would argue that it was not my post, but the comment, and the mindset it embodies, that is depressing. Here’s why:
You could say I’m just a local hack with mediocre writing and critical thinking skills, so silencing me might not be such a big deal. But the impetus for wanting me silent had nothing to do with those shortcomings. The logic for my being silent would apply with equal force to Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, and Patrick L. Smith. And those guys are intellectual giants.
Would it be a good thing for the Hedges’, Chomskys and Smiths of the world to be silenced? No, it’s never good if intellectual giants are silenced. And these guys are the canaries in the coal mine right now. Have they been silenced? They’ve not been in a literal sense, but they’ve been so marginalized that their voices are barely heard.
Is the mindset of folks not wanting to hear too much tough talk about the state of our union a contributing factor here? My guess is yes. So many of us are so unwilling to be confronted with “our side” being part of the rank corruption in America that they’d prefer to shut down than listen. It’s much more hopeful to believe our side of the partisan divide is the side of good. That turns policy debate into sport. How fun!
So, what happens when the voices like those of Hedges, Chomsky and Smith are marginalized? Voices on the other side of the spectrum, Limbaugh, Hannity, and Cruz, for example, are enhanced. This throws everything off-kilter.
This has devolved into what Hedges, quoting Tariq Ali, identifies as the “extreme center.” Hedges, in Tariq Ali: The Time Is Right for a Palace Revolution, explains:
The devolution of the political system through the infusion of corporate money, the rewriting of laws and regulations to remove checks on corporate power, the seizure of the press, especially the electronic press, by a handful of corporations to silence dissent, and the rise of the wholesale security and surveillance state have led to “the death of the party system” and the emergence of what Ali called “an extreme center.” Working people are being ruthlessly sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit—a scenario dramatically on display in Greece. And there is no mechanism or institution left within the structures of the capitalist system to halt or mitigate the reconfiguration of the global economy into merciless neofeudalism, a world of masters and serfs.
“This extreme center, it does not matter which party it is, effectively acts in collusion with the giant corporations, sorts out their interests and makes wars all over the world,” Ali said. “This extreme center extends throughout the Western world. This is why more and more young people are washing their hands of the democratic system as it exists. All this is a direct result of saying to people after the collapse of the Soviet Union, ‘There is no alternative.’ ”
Hedges is rarely bright and cheerful. But the idea of people ignoring him because he’s not as bright and cheerful as they’d like? Now, that’s depressing.
Right on, Bob.
I would comment that when it comes to bringing your solutions with you to the “luncheon”, the thing is it takes the proverbial village to do all the good inventories, assessments, and action planning process to make positive, adapting progress, towards some real, probably collective, improvement. So, a commenter could be asked, “….and your own expertise is in what?”
“Thank you for that. May I ask if you a working working with others on the vision, and what is the cut of their respective cloth’s?”
I think that we can become a bit too purist about things political. I had recently suggested that progressives consider “tithing” or spending 10 percent of their income, on progressive causes and politicians. Bob’s response was to criticize my personal choice of the Sierra Club as a potential choice to support. I was really surprised by that, given that the Sierra Club is perhaps the brand name environmental group in America. If not them, who? PETA, Greenpeace? Fine, support them instead.
We all have power. I think Brian’s comment was about what we can do as individuals and working with others. I like Chomsky and Hayes fine, but I also work with groups like Sierra Club, ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Democratic Party because I want to achieve actual change in our society.
Debbie, I agree with you regarding the commenter getting credit for identifying himself. My point in not identifying him was that I didn’t know if that was what he wanted and his identity was not relevant to the point I was trying to make. Had I thought he wanted to be identified, I would have done so. That said, it’s actually a little more fun four us if the commenters don’t use their real names. Scratch that, it’s a lot more fun. Has life really been the same since Thucky left us?
And you’re right that it’s fair to ask me my recommendations on the way forward, but the comment was along the lines of “don’t identify problems unless you have solutions to offer.” See the difference? Questions are fine, but seeking to silence those who want to raise the problems and, for whatever reason, stop there, is not okay.
I’m actually not “increasingly frustrated” with the Democratic Party or our political process. I hold out little hope for it on a national or state level. It doesn’t disappoint me when Democrats cast moronic votes or make obscene compromises because it’s what I expect. I think real change will require a movement like Occupy or Black Lives Matter to overwhelm the politicians. I do think good things still can be achieved through politics at the local level. But real change at the national level will come through a powerful movement.
I can see why that may not have been obvious from my posts, because I do comment on campaigns, voting records and such. There are various reasons I do this, but there is no confidence in our political process underlying this practice. Typically, I have a personal friendship with a candidate or particular antipathy towards the candidate’s opponent, or both. I went after Romney a lot, for example, but only because of how odious he was and because he presented such great material, not because I liked having a President who decides every Tuesday whom to assassinate.
I hope that clarifies things a bit for you.
Bob, you seem increasingly frustrated with the American political process, the Democratic Party response to inequality and corporate power, and the candidates on Democratic Party tickets. When you raise the hypothetical question of will the United States go the way of Britain or Rome, it is fair for a commenter to ask you for your recommendations on the way forward for liberal and progressive minded Americans and Arizonans. Do you recommend not working through party structures? Which leaders do you suggest supporting? Although you write that the identity of the commenter who took you to task is not important, he deserves credit for identifying himself with his full name. I’m puzzled as to why some commenters shrink from honestly identifying themselves.
Hey, my reply was posted as a separate comment.