This is a work in progress; it started as a response to this archived post at PunkAssBlog ("The value of substantive insults like godbags") As I'm looking at it it's really more of a riff, because I've been meaning to talk about these things for a while.
What I said there was this. (Bear in mind that I'm coming in a month after a conversation that was itself a response to an older conversation; this is probably more representative of my own process than an entirely fair or accurate reading of what was going on there). Anyway:
Mm. Two points here. First of all, I think shaming has very limited political value except as a temporary consensus-building/strengthening tool (let’s you and me bond over the fact that at least we’re not as stupid as this fuckwit over here). It also provides a nice warm glow, which in turn can bring a much-needed boost of energy, because, let’s face it, mocking people as a group sport feels really good. Which, because i am a meen bastard, in itself I have no problem with–to a point.
But I don’t believe it does, in fact, bring on-the-fence people over to one’s side, no. in fact I’d say lately I’ve been seeing rather strong evidence to the contrary–people think, oh, fuck, well, that sounds like they’re making fun of -me,- now…well, I have the choice of either abandoning these things that are deeply important to me and have been for a very long time, or abandoning these people/ideas I’ve only fairly recently discovered and have been trying to decide whether or not I agree with them. Know what? Screw you, new guys/ideas; I’m goin’ home.
And once they’re home, of course, they’re far more likely to indulge in whatever the “shamed” behavior is. Particularly if the behavior in question is not in fact a social no-no (fuck, I caused damage when I did that, I can see exactly how, or at least kind of) but is something that -isn’t- immmediately obviously hurting anyone else (goes to Mass, stays at home with the kids, wears microminiskirts, likes consensual blowjobs, whatever).
Far more important, they're probably gonna associate whatever cause it is you've been trying to win them over to with "those people who tried to make me feel bad for blahblah." Which means in turn that chances are? the other, more crucial aspects of whatever cause you were trying to sell will -also- be associated in their minds with the nasty shaming behavior.
And if you -do- win people over to your side by shaming them for being a superstitious fool/brainwashed sexbot/cultureless hick, you know something: it’s a hollow win. Because deep-down people always know that you’ve made them feel like shit, and they’ll resent you for it. And if they’re the kind of people who respond primarily out of wanting to avoid feeling like shit–you’re gonna have to work hard to keep them, especially if you’re any kind of progressive and particularly small-d democrat. Because frankly, authoritarians are better at that bullying (for that is what that is) game. Always have been.
And, too, we're still just talking about tactics with a cold and calculating eye. Let's not even begin to start speculating about what happens to one's idealism after one has been at this game for a good while. Or what kind of new society you were planning to build.
Now: if you’re saying you can win people in the great middle over by holding up the excesses of the truly deranged for ridicule, that’s something else. Sure. Happens all the time. And by all means, no mercy for the truly irredeemably when they (finally, blessedly) fuck up. But the thing is, in that instance, -they- did all the work for you. All you have to do is turn the spotlight on them; at most, feed them some more rope.
So if you call extremists funny names that actually have the potential to make certain people in the great middle of that demographic think, “hey! are they talking about -me?-”–well, as long as you do it with the understanding that there’s an excellent chance you’re gonna lose a goodly chunk of those people. If you don’t mind, then full speed ahead.
And what I hear you saying here is that you don’t particularly mind offending religious folk.
I may be misunderstanding.
But if that’s the case–well, personally? I don’t think the left can afford it. Not in this country.
And lord (ha) knows I have no love for the theocrats. and no, I’m not always so careful–nomenclature’s a bitch, I know who I’m talking about, no doubt someone else might not. I know I used to use “godbag” fairly frequently. As terms go I actuallly think that one’s potentially useful–provided you do, in fact, use specifically for people who are using their supposed piety as a cover for the fact that they're basically just being 'bags. Blowhards. Bullies. Yes.
But here’s where I part ways:
As I see them, most religions promote outdated, ugly values. They tend to subjugate women, endorse magical beliefs over empiricism, and seem to discourage critical thinking at certain times. Yuck. Not only does it express these values, but it has _institutionalized_ them. They are accepted by our culture as a-ok. I think that stinks out loud.
Moreover, that institutionalization has led to the development of two distinct classes of people: those who follow religious leaders (sans much critical thinking when it comes to their values) and those leaders themselves, many of whom I believe to be corrupt, or at least manipulative. This allows the leaders to promote values and causes that harm our society (in my opinion) while releasing a whole flock of people to go forth and spread these ideas without questioning their correctness.
I think it’s not nearly that simple; and I think that dividing people roughly into “people who have critical thinking skills” and “people who follow religious leaders and/or partake in religious institutions” is both inaccurate and impolitic. Allowing as to how some of the latter are no doubt nice people isn’t enough. That’s hardly the point; and -that- -is- a pat on the head. No one needs or wants pats on the head.
But we do need the religious left and even middle.
I don’t have time or energy to get into all the reasons why–it’s been a major thesis of mine for quite a while. For now I’ll just point to the work of Sojourners and Tikkun and the National Council of Churches, among others. These are smart and passionate and funny and skeptical people who, on the whole, are indistinguishable from their “secular” counterparts (belief in the separation of Church and State pretty much included) except for the fact that they see their politics as stemming from their faith.
And faith, you know, really can move mountains sometimes.
Would Martin Luther King have been more successful if he’d abandoned the pulpit entirely? I doubt it. I doubt it very much.
Anyway, back to the main point: I agree that insults are not oppression, no. I also agree that they aren’t really criticism either. They’re nasty & handy little tools for the toolbox, is all. Use ‘em or eschew ‘em; but I don’t think anyone’s ever built a lasting movement based on them alone.
I want to say a lot more about the religious left at some point.
Right now, though, I'm also really interested in the notion that shaming is an effective tool for winning people over to your side.
The funny thing is, I'm fairly certain that the religious right has, if not an actual patent on the tactic, a black belt in wielding it.
Which is why it always strikes me as funny when people who are adamantly against the "patriarchy" or "godbaggery" or somesuch are apparently possessed of the belief that this is a really good tool to tear down the edifice in question. Even more strangely, that it can be constructive, in itself, somehow.
It's not. I use it, I know. Hell, you can scroll down just a post or two and see me gleefully using that sucker (see above re: meen bastard). But it's not. In the long run.
It's a good tool for tearing down people. A weapon, in point of fact.
I believe that sometimes, some very specific ideas and movements and even individuals do indeed need to be taken down, politically speaking. When it's too dangerous to do anything less. For such occasions, shame can work very well indeed. And sometimes, true, you might just be feeling fine and feral and fucked-off and figure, hey, I need some target practice. That can work, too, in less honorable ways. If you choose carefully and aim well.
And of course, take into account that it can always backfire.
update/edit the twenty-third or so: in response to a response over there, I said:
but also I do think there’s a fine line between “mock your enemies effectively enough so that they look bad to reasonable people” and “shame your allies in an attempt to bring them back in line.” not saying the latter’s being done here; like I say, two separate themes I’m working out here. also not saying i walk that line particularly well myself.
I am now wondering if this isn't really about my own ambivalence about human beans, on the whole.
when I was over there I mentioned Obama wrt religious progressives and/or the not alienating of such--I get that people have had other issues with Obama; I could've said MLK.
I mean, religion per se be damned; I really admire that level of compassion and empathy (that's genuine spirituality); and I think it's been sorely missing from the discourse for quite a while. and i have been trying to develop it myself.
at the same time, like I said: I am a meen bastard. and i am not entirely sure to what degree my indulging of this is a genuine belief that sometimes, indeed, it is a valuable and necessary weapon (if nothing else it beats the hell out of more literal ones, I feel); and how much of it is a rationalization, because I enjoy it, because I am so very good at it and can make people laugh. I go back and forth a lot.
but also, I have observed that, I think, this is not just me; there are quite a number of people who both genuinely want all the best for the human race and at the same time really can't stand most of the disappointing, disgusting little fuckers.
I relate. A lot. And I kind of don't want to, because I feel like it's led to a...stuck place. Both personally and politically.
at any rate, I both believe it and look at my own schadenfreude with a jaundiced eye when I say to myself, "they deserve it."
because I do think that -some- people---not- "most" people--are geuninely awful, even evil people, because of the damage they do to others; and that no amount of Kumbaya and "come, let us reason together" is gonna get through to them, and therefore they must be stopped some other way.
but it's a really really fine line between holding to that, just that, and indulging my own appetite for destruction for its own sake.
it's hard enough developing the ability to tell the difference between the people who can be reached, ever, and those who can't, without that factoring in.