A very cool and useful and good thing we all have to read about these days is the callow perpetual discourse over how mean and nasty Bernie supporters are. Hack journalists beholden to the capitalist framework and Hashtag Resisters™ suffering from socioeconomic Stockholm Syndrome that think Going Back To Normal is good enough alike love demanding that Bernie answer for the high crime tweets of his supporters. It goes without saying that actual threats and harassment campaigns are both gross and also not helpful to the movement but it seems like typically the general attitude Bernie is eternally on trial for is his supporters saying things like “fuck you asshole I can’t afford my medication and I’m going to die” or some such permutation of an exhausted insult paired with contempt for the structural violence and inequity americans have to contend with. There’s a ceaseless dirge about the vitriol of the left and it’s utterly divorced from the reality that there are magnitudes of shittiness these people just can’t seem to put in order. This may come as a surprise to some people but as it turns out, a leftist calling you a shitmop loser actually isn’t as bad as fossil fuel companies threatening indigenous communities or having concentration camps for immigrants or our healthcare basically being Eugenics For Poor People. (Also I’m begging people that try to apply horseshoe theory to this to stop doing that, leftists angry about inequality are not the same as Trump supporters being cruel for the sake of bigotry. Bernie and Trump are not the same just because they are loud and lots of loud people like them and honestly it’s excruciatingly embarrassing that I even have to think that I should preemptively address this.)
I could spend a good (“good” in a Pyrrhic victory definitely not worth the effort sort of way) amount of time digging up the countless “Rules For Thee, Not For Me” energy tweets that are out there from fans of all of Bernie’s opponents past and present that are as vile, if not worse than the establishment white knight talk show goblins paint Bernie supporters as because shockingly, everyone ever is capable of being a caustic jerk and we could have a good old cathartic laugh about it. You know the laugh, the really exhausted one that’s like “haha it’s absolutely ludicrous that we live in this timeline and I’m so fed up with it my brain doesn’t know how to process my burnout other than by laughing in resignation”. I could also bring up the point that the label Bernie Bro erases the massive intersectional support Bernie has from women because that is definitely a thing. Maybe it shouldn’t be a thing that lots of women from diverse backgrounds who support the policies in Bernie’s platform are just brushed aside, I dunno. I’m not a prosaic moderate verified on twitter so maybe there’s some arcane knowledge I’m missing out on here.
I could talk about how the content of Very Online Bernie supporters coalesces in such a way that memetic symbolism (snake emoji for Warren, rat emoji for Pete for example) emerges in a more cohesive manner that is more conducive for the media to latch on to than that of other camps and therefore gets more coverage that skews perception. But frankly, if you live in reality and talk about all of this in good faith with more important priorities than peeing your pants in public about how cranky The Bernard Brotherhood is to shield the status quo, I shouldn’t have to talk about all of that so let’s cut to the chase.
There’s a lot about all of this that is unbearably infuriating to me and I’m gathering all my scattered pissed off thoughts in real time as I type this like a frantic game of Elefun where the butterflies are replaced with wasps crossfaded on sleep deprivation, energy drinks, and hypertension but now that we’re here let’s talk about the title of this; Civility As Social Means Testing. To discuss what I mean by that, it would help to make sure we’re on the same page with what means testing is so if this is your first time hearing the term, means testing as defined by Merriam-Webster is “an examination into the financial state of a person to determine eligibility for public assistance”. Basically, “are you poor enough (and preferably trying hard enough to stop being poor) to justify helping”. Now that we’re on the same page, I’m sure you can guess where this is going.
Civility, or at least what it represents in the context of modern political discourse, is a tool of the status quo. It’s a measuring stick, a social means test where you or your ideas must be *this* civil to justify helping or pursuing. All those angry posts you see aiming acrimonious derision at Hashtag Resisters and CNN anchors that perpetuate this discourse saying things to the effect of “a Bernie bro was mean to me and now I don’t think poor people should have healthcare” are basically talking about what I’m talking about here. Civility is weaponized as a defense protocol for the ruling class, it’s used to tone police and grade what rhetoric and dissent is valid. Of course the very idea that people being exploited, neglected, abused, and oppressed should be polite and patient about these things when they pursue change is outrageous nonsense yet here here I am typing this at 5 in the morning [because I’ve lost control of my life]. There are people who do not have time to be polite and there are people who are not safe enough to be patient. Native tribes have their land invaded and destroyed at the behest of resource extraction companies, police brutality continues to leave black bodies in its wake, immigrants are in camps, asylum seekers are turned away to die, we kill brown people in other countries to fill the bank accounts of fossil fuel companies indifferently destroying the world, poor people have to beg on GoFundMe to survive illness and emergencies, we could be facing the spread of a pandemic spurred on by america’s lack of paid sick leave, and queer people’s rights are still imperiled, yet if your movement is not civil enough, some pithless milquetoast philistine with #VoteBlueNoMatterWho in their twitter bio that treats politics like a spectator sport will look down their nose at you and tell you that you’d better learn respect or you’ll get 4 more years of Trump then blame you if he gets elected. It’s so awesome how the most vulnerable people who need change the most and are willing to fight the hardest can somehow also be at fault for their circumstances, isn’t it? Very cool.
One of the greatest insults to injury in all of this is the fact that while many people are very literally fighting for their lives, the PMC (professional managerial class) creeps, perfectly safe suburban political dilettantes, DNC members, banal media pundits and trite centrist comedians that scold leftists for being too uppity about the various crises that pose existential threats to them and people they care about have no real skin in the game. They dictate how the fights should be fought and they’re not even in the ring with the people they criticize. It makes no real difference to the DNC if Trump is defeated or not, they’re insulated from consequence by wealth and power, their privileges are safer with a racist demagogue than a democratic socialist. (Sidenote: any future damage control vote we’re forced into needs to paired with direct action outside of voting, just something to keep in mind.) Rachel Maddow has a net worth of $20 million, she can afford to interview Warren and keep talking about mean tweets. If Trump is reelected, the people in media who continue to means test the left on civility will keep getting paid thousands of dollars to talk about how bad he is while marginalized people call suicide hotlines. They’re not at risk and it’s utterly insulting that anyone should be expected to give a damn what they think about civility. Not to make a Harry Potter reference because JK Rowling is festering transphobic landfill but Civility™ is a rancorous sorting hat shaped by capitalism that decides what qualifies as acceptable politics, praxis and dissent in order to shield capitalism; a vacuous, detestable, craven sham of an excuse to hide behind while withdrawing your support when people’s lives depend on the future we build (or don’t).
People live and die based on the shape of our socioeconomic environment. This isn’t hyperbole, this is reality. There is justified fear, anger, bitterness, heartbreak, and urgency in that and there is a twisted callousness in ignoring that and denying progress and solidarity to someone like keeping a treat from a misbehaving animal you’re trying to train. Snake emojis aren’t threatening the Sioux tribe at Standing Rock, rat emojis aren’t keeping Flint from having clean water, and diabetics don’t die because of rude tweets. The real world isn’t recess in elementary school. Racists, colonizers, fossil fuel lobbyists, fascists, and the american healthcare system don’t play fair or nice. If you deliberately withhold solidarity in deference to order that is abusive at best and outright genocidal at worst while oppressed and exploited people’s lives hang in the balance, you’re assisting the oppressors and you absolutely deserve to be brutally roasted. If you expect imperiled communities to be polite about their material conditions, hey, so, so sorry about the mean thing I’m about to say here but fuck off. Civility and decorum being used as touchstones for the merit of the movements of the working class and the vulnerable isn’t just petty (although it is very, very petty), it’s abetting oppression and exploitation. You’re not the victim when people retaliate to you standing in the way of progress they need or patronizingly telling them they can’t have it until they ask nicely. We’re talking about human rights and needs, not an allowance. Get over yourself.