you got any better suggestions?
If you’d like to see all of the pathologies of the contemporary left laid out in exquisite, excruciating detail, please read through this whole thread by “Student Activism,” aka Angus Johnston.
Johnston makes the case that we need to stop talking about dialogue and debate because those are just tools of power. And he actually echoes something I’ve been saying for years, which is that the left needs to understand that the point is to take power. But not through dialogue or debate or democracy, though. What is Johnston’s secret to getting power? What’s his path forward? What’s the big reveal at the end of the thread where he says how to take power?
He doesn’t. The other shoe doesn’t drop. He never gets around to saying how we take power. He doesn’t give you his plan because he doesn’t have one. He doesn’t say how the left that disdains the basic work of politics can win because he has no idea. And that’s a perfectly common condition on the left these days: contemptuous of the essential work of persuasion but totally unable to articulate an alternative. It’s a kind of nihilism masquerading as tough critical inquiry. It’s people mistaking giving up for being savvy. It’s so-called activists saying “it’s not my job to educate you” when literally that’s all an activist is, someone whose job it is to educate you. It’s people taking their ball and going home when the other side controls every branch of government. It’s losers who posture like they’re running up the score.
This is why there’s been such an obsession with the utterly irrelevant violence at Berkeley in response to the utterly irrelevant Milo Y. This tiny incident, totally disconnected from any broader resistance campaign, which changed literally nothing about the state of contemporary American politics, is still getting discussed at length in left spaces. And why? Because people who have given up are grasping for straws, desperately looking for some route forward that doesn’t entail the rote, boring work of gradually trying to win hearts and minds over time.
I am so tired of the Beautiful Loser school of the American left. There are very many of them. The contemporary left is full of people who are keenly interested in fighting injustice, to their credit, but who are not particularly uncomfortable in their lives themselves, and thus are content to be the noble opposition, the righteous dreamers who can look on from the sideline and sigh at how fallen the rest of the world is. That fits perfectly with the “it’s not the job of the oppressed to educate the oppressors!” worldview. You don’t have to do anything! Just be right. And lose forever.
All of this left-on-left critique I do, all of it, is for the purpose of contributing to the left that actually has the ability to take power. That’s the only reason. This is all why I find the persistent praise of my work from conservatives funny. I am doing all this in an effort to crush you and your movement. And I recognize that the only way to do that is to motivate the great sleeping mass of apolitical America. And you know what hurts our efforts to do that? The widespread perception that the left is full of snide and arrogant people who disdain persuading others and who are so intolerant and out of touch that they can’t sit down with someone outside of their movement and say “this is why you should join us.” Fair or unfair, true or not, that is a popular perception among precisely the kinds of people who might be willing to come over to our cause, and if you care about organizing for change, you have to fight it.
Do you know what it sounds like to most people when you say “there’s no point in debating with those who oppress us”? It sounds like “I can’t win this argument so I’m not gonna try.” That’s what it sounds like. It doesn’t make you look noble. It makes you look weak.
Here’s the idea: we build a mass left-wing movement for change by persuading those who are able to be persuaded through appeals to their enlightened self-interest and their desire to build a better world. Then, we will have enough people on our side to take power through democratic governance and show the rest that our way is better for everyone. And we do all this through the slow, unsexy work of politics, which means going to meetings, walking picket lines, writing pamphlets, doing local radio, shaking hands, and yes, having a dialogue to convince others to join our cause. That’s it, that’s the only possible way to win. “It’s not my job to educate you”? That’s a suicide note, and I’m not interested. In a world where the possibility for violent revolution has been foreclosed on by the technological advantage of establishment governments, that’s it, that’s the only way forward. Doing the work.
You got any better fucking suggestions?