Sunday, March 3, 2013

no enemies (because they are) to my left

A common complaint I've heard, occasionally in real life but usually just here online, is that I am "leftier than thou," that my primary purpose is to be the furthest to the left rather than other, more fruitful goals. (To pick one example, that was the tack Gawker took.) That's actually not the purpose of my orientation towards spectrum and extremity. I'm not the leftist-of-all. I'm sure there are dozens of people, if you were inclined, that you could make the case are further to my left. The point is never that I am the most leftest guy. The point is never to define my disagreement with someone as a product of their left-wing extremity. I don't need to be the further to the left. I do need to never, ever say that somebody else is too far to the left.

I emerged into adulthood in a flagrantly reactionary time in this country, the immediate post-9/11 world. And I watched as the nominal liberals undertook daily rituals of exclusion and rejection, endless "Sista Souljah moments," calls for purges of the unworthy ala Peter Beinart.... It was one of the most sickeningly McCarthyist displays I can imagine. I was opposed to it for reasons of fairness and basic commitments to intellectual and political freedom. Since then, I have also come to oppose this shameless behavior for political reasons. I believe that the tendency to hamstring the person to your left is one of the many self-destructive pathologies of the American left, along with the learned helplessness and the chronic refusal to express straightforward pride in what we believe. I've said it a thousand times: conservatives drag the center to the right; liberals chase the new middle over there, so that even if they win the center, they've lost ground. What's more, the tendency of people to support specific liberal policies but to identify with conservatism seems to me a consequence of the profound sense of shame that many prominent liberals still project about their own politics. Conservatives project pride about their beliefs, and operate as if their preferences are straightforwardly correct and better for their country. Liberals project embarrassment about their beliefs, and operate as if their preferences are always in danger of being exposed as out-of-touch, irrelevant, or flat wrong. Is it any wonder that conservatives often enjoy rhetorical success that exceeds their demographics?

I am perfectly willing to disagree with people to my left. I refuse to ever call them too far to the left, or to engage in the purge mentality that has handicapped American liberalism for so long. It is a destructive, ugly impulse, and no real victory is assured for progressives or leftists until it is abandoned.

So take Charles Davis, the anarchist and journalist who writes a lot of great stuff about America's horrid foreign policy. I think Davis publishes some of the most vital and necessary work out there, on a topic that people work very hard to avoid. I also don't doubt for a second that he would look at a great deal of the stuff that I write as the worst kind of collaborationist liberal squish bullshit. That's okay. He might even be right, sometimes. Davis's work will continue to be necessary and vital. When I disagree with it, I can disagree with it without that being indicative of some kind of sectarian split. I can also continue to agree with him even if he thinks I'm wrong. That's true of tons of people I critique, am critiqued by, or argue with.

(My one piece of advice for The Youth of Today: never let someone else's dislike for you ensure that you dislike them. Why give them that power over you?)

I go after many people under the conviction that conflict makes us strong, just as I have been made stronger by the people who have beaten me up in the past. I hope that people will recognize that my purpose lies in getting stronger and getting righter. If I think that someone is genuinely anti-progress or counterrevolutionary, I'll make that perfectly plain. Otherwise I criticize because I see value, because I want the good to get better, and because I deeply believe that the prerequisite of respect is totally unsentimental appraisal. And if you want to take me down, I'm a big boy. I can dig it. I lose sometimes. I'm like a contestant on The Bachelor: I didn't come here to make no friends.

Now let's get free.


Will Shetterly said...

Yr. advice for Youth of Today is damn fine.

And Gawker? Anyone who'll let you buy "sponsored posts" ain't worth two thoughts. These are the people who brought the rage on Reddit's up-skirt pics while hosting their own selection. "Integrity" may be in their spell-checker, but it's not in their mission statement.

Charles Davis said...

Some of my best friends are collaborationist liberal squish bullshitters.