Monday, August 07, 2006

Some more thoughts tangentially related to shame, politics, spirituality, etc.

This one is from a response over at Bitch | Lab's. and is a sort of companion piece to this earlier post. like I bin saying: this is a work in progress.


...I've said it before and I’ll say it again: if you are writing off huge chunks of the populace as hopeless “sheeple” (god i hate that term), whatever movement it is you’re creating– to whatever degree it actually succeeds, by definition, it will -not- be small-d-democratic.

because if the majority of people are "morons," *and* we’re concerned with making things “better” for “everyone,” well, assuming we actually want to -accomplish- anything and not just sit around and bitch about it, that’s gonna have to mean there must be a chosen few who know better than everyone else.

bzzt. game over. you’ve already lost.

this is why political movements/leaders that have that tacit belief -and- have hierarchy and authoritarianism built right into the ideology are much more successful than their supposedly more liberal/progressive counterparts and always will be. at least in establishing power. the actual maintenance of the golden “thousand-year reich” is another question, of course, but by the time those problems become evident to everybody, the jackboots are pretty firmly locked on their necks.

point being, though: if you believe you and yours are actually better/smarter/more fit to rule than anyone else, and generally despise most of humanity, frankly your work’s gonna be a lot more straightforward if you simply say so up front. you attract the sort of people who also want Strong Leader and everyone in their place; and the well-oiled machine starts to run.

If you -don’t- want that kind of structure, then, I submit, you’d better look long and hard at your own feelings about your fellow critters before taking on the mantle of leadership.

because the -most radical revolutionaries- have always been the ones who -genuinely- loved people. in all their faults and imperfections. even through their own grief and anger. love. unconditionally.

many talk that talk, but only a very very few actually walk that walk.

if, like most of us, you’re not able to go that far, in your heart of hearts, then (I submit) you can still be someone who’s working for positive change;

but, if you’re a “radical revolutionary” -and- you think that basically “most people are morons”–well, I for one don’t want any part of it.

which is why i am and for the time being remain a reformist, more or less.

because i can’t walk that walk, and until such time as i’m able to, if ever, i don’t want to be responsible for helping to install yet another round of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”


Alon Levy said...

I think it's worth noting that many movements work exactly like this: they start by attacking authoritarianism and talking about their utopian alternative, and then they come to power and become as authoritarian as ever.

Communists out of power promised the withering of the state. The Nazis out of power promised to fight communist tyranny. The fascists out of power sounded not that different from the communists. The libertarians out of power promised that free trade and capitalism would promote peace and prosperity. And every ethnic movement promises equality when out of power and then proceeds to oppress other ethnicities once in power.

Now, there are similar movements that attacked "the sheeple," had nothing but contempt for liberals, and eschewed any kind of moderation, but did not become authoritarian. Not coincidentally, these are exactly the movements that never got any real power. How could anarchism engage in mass murder when the closest it got to controlling a government was during the Spanish Civil War? How can African-American nationalism oppress whites when it's never had the opportunity to?

Jean said...

But I love people! Some of my best friends are people!

Seriously though, thanks for this.

LtL said...

For some thoughts on revolution and the nead to be of the people rather than for the people, I suggest Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. He talks at length about what it means to be a revolutionary leader and the need for each and every act to be one of "humanization" rather than "dehumanization."

LtL said...

Hmm, tags seemed to get screwed up on that last comment - sorry! The title of the book is Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire.

belledame222 said...

>Now, there are similar movements that attacked "the sheeple," had nothing but contempt for liberals, and eschewed any kind of moderation, but did not become authoritarian. Not coincidentally, these are exactly the movements that never got any real power.>

Right, exactly.

which is why they instead resort to petty internal policing power trips on the micro scale. gotta get that high from *somewhere.*

so: inefficient *and* oppressive, not in the Big Real World oppressive way, but rather in the "cramped airless room full of seriously unpleasant people" way. What fun! Who wouldn't sign up? I simply -can't understand- why the marginalization continues. It must just be because the ideas are -too radical.- Yes. That must be it.

belledame222 said...

ltl--I have that somewhere on my 1,001-item'd reading list.

and i am in possession of Boal's "Theatre of the Oppressed." i -think- Boal is going off of Freire's ideas, no? i could be wrong--it's been a long time.

Renegade Evolution said...

i have been pondering a post on the use of shame as a weapon and tactic that is used to keep people (namely women) in line, but I have not managed to pull it together yet. This of course gave me more to ponder...

belledame222 said...

ooh, do it. I'd been meaning to tackle that aspect more specifically as well; as you can see I get distracted easily...

not only is it a tool used ON women, i think there's a particular way(s) in which it's used BY women.

which you can certainly blame the patriarchy for if you like, this...female training, or whatever it is.

but it's all tied up with the need for approval and the injunction against getting angry, imo.

Renegade Evolution said...

i am to tired to write it now, but soon, soon...mwuhahahah....

Blackamazon said...

* applause long bouts of applause*

Cash said...

I am with you. I actually am smarter than everyone else but I never get all Al-Gore-sighing-when-someone-disagrees about it.

Most people aren't dumb just because they disagree with you ( or me ) ... because most points of disagreement aren't fact. 'Progressives' shriek about it being the end of the world because "dumb" people vote for George Bush and 'Neo-Cons' shriek about it being the end of the world because no one cares enough about ending gay porn. It's a lot of shrieking and it's unnecessary because the solution is obvious:

Turn it all over to me.

No one will be allowed to wear designer jeans without my approval and Britney Spears can never be on a magazine cover again. All of our problems will be solved.

Oh, and no more Emo haircuts. No more Britney Spears covers but especially no more Emo haircuts.

sailorman said...

Brilliant post. I left a feminist blog for good after one too many arguments with the blogowner about whether she was really trying to break the chains of the patriarchy and empower women to make ANY choices they wanted (which would be very good, IMO) or whether she was merely trying to break the chains of the patriarchy and repace them with her own, "approved" set of chains. Needless to say that conversation went downhill fast :D so off I went.

Most revolutions (political or social) claim to offer "freedom." But it's only "freedom" to the extent the new rules happen to coincide with what you already wanted to do.

Renegade Evolution said...


okay, shame post up...not my finest work, but well, at least sort of gets my take on it out there...

Bitch | Lab said...

id' have to agree with whoever said that it was liberals, greens, and progs most likely to think people are stupid shits.

in marxist circles, you nearly always hear that from people who are lefty, but largely reject more thoroughgoing marxist analyses. Generally, they think that capitalism can be reformed but largely left intact.

i tend to think of some factions as self-hating USers. Because, in the end, they really do think that social change is all about educating people to think differently. (This is not what a marxist or socialist with a marxist critique of capitalism thinks.)

when you expect social change to come about through educating people, you are going to be keenly insulted by those people who refuse to get it.

it also comes from an odd reaction that I've seen happen to people who's consciousness has been radically transformed in rather quick time.

All of a sudden -- snap -- they get it and see the light. but there's a part of them that's angry with themselves for having not seen the light all those years. thus, they turn on anyone who doesn't get it and write snarly things about the stupid fucks they have to work with or live with or go to school with.

They are weeding out themselves -- seeing themselves in the sheeple and they are angry each time they see themselves.

my arm chair psychoanalysis of the day.

FoolishOwl said...

B|Lab, that sounds about right.

Belledame, I have to argue against your labelling yourself a reformist, since the surest sign you're dealing with a reformist and not a revolutionary is that the reformist is alienated from the mass of people, and sees them as objects of pity and scorn.

The essenctial trait of a revolutionary is the faith in the ability of ordinary people to break their own bonds and seek their own destinies. That's a reformist's idea of disaster.

I've been arguing that radical feminism is not really radical; it may be more clear to say that radical feminism is reformist -- at least the strains of radical feminism I've encountered.

belledame222 said...

Well, maybe I'll have to just reassess my whole everything then ;-)

Seriously, I have a jaundiced view of "radical revolutionary" mostly because pretty much most people I've encountered who refer to themselves that way (feminist or otherwise) I have thought were essentially 1) utter misanthropes, possible personality disordered to boot in some cases 2) totally ineffectual 3) hilarious discrepancies between what they practice and what they preach and 4) thus, utterly fulla shit.

so when I say "reformist" I mean: I believe in (CONSCIOUSLY) keeping what -does- work rather than "we must raze it all to the ground and start afresh!"

I realize that technically the latter is -not- necessarily "radical" per se, but somehow ime it always seems to play out that way. Nihilism/perfectionism disguised as genuine passion for the People. something.

Alon Levy said...

the surest sign you're dealing with a reformist and not a revolutionary is that the reformist is alienated from the mass of people, and sees them as objects of pity and scorn.

On the contrary, the view that the people are to be led by the vanguard is generally radical, and has marked every Western and Western-influenced radical since Lenin.

The standard organizational structure that radicals use demonstrates that well: the cells/groups report to no one but themselves and sometimes the Supreme Leader, and the common people must submit entirely to that structure to be considered okay. The entire view of the cause is similar to this of a religious transformation induced by a life-changing experience similar to conversion, such as consciousness raising.

In contrast, the reformist structure typically mirrors this of a representative democracy: leaders are elected, a plurality of views is tolerated, and the people are generally considered allies whose role is to speak and not just be spoken to. Even when leaders are not elected, as MLK never was, they are typically close to the actual movement and take a broad, coalition-building stance (hence the integrationist rhetoric of MLK and Betty Friedan).

belledame222 said...

I'd call MLK a radical as well as a reformist. Friedan, not so much.

Alon Levy said...

Well, it all depends. In the 1960s he said he found himself caught between the oppressive establishment, which included the moderates, and outright separatists who engaged in violence. Radicals seldom say that kind of thing; on the contrary, they usually admire those even more extreme than they are (in fact, I think schisms occur mainly when two factions consider themselves more radical than each other, as in the sex-neg/sex-pos case).

FoolishOwl said...

Alon, you are complete wrong about communism, Lenin, what the vanguard is, and about what real radical organizing looks like.

My experience of political organizing has been of years of organizing for basic democratic organization within movements, for movements controlled by their own rank and file, and it's precisely the political tradition of Lenin I draw upon, and it's precisely the elitist anti-democratic policies of reformists that I most often must oppose.

Reformism means trusting the existing power structures, but those structures exist to enforce oppression, not accidentally, but by design.

Arguing for rank-and-file democracy within a movement is precisely what revolutionaries do. The people in a mass movement who demand rank-and-file democracy and the chance to be heard -- that's the vanguard. It's my job to find them and bring them together.

Alon Levy said...

How are reformist organizations like NOW and the ACLU elitist and anti-democratic?

Bitch | Lab said...

Fo -- yeah, I think that, WRT what I've seen in the blogosphere of late, that radicals are not radical. which is to say that, because they rely on educating people -- transformation of consciousness -- solely through idealist efforts (rhetoric, persuasion, speeches, tracts, phamphlets, etc.) then they fall squarely in the tradition of Liberal Enlightenment. They do not challenge structures of power. They work on individuals.

When they leave the material world and focus only on ideas, they're lost. They Platonists, writing colorful tracts about how everyone sees shadows on the cave wall.

But although you might get people to see the light, this does not change their material practices at all. And whatever it does do, it is so superficial that it cannot be sustained.

That is more a sociological theory of what it requires for ideas to take route and social movements to actually move -- drawing on a little reseource mobilization theory as it were.

Alon Levy said...

The liberal Enlightenment both worked on individuals and challenged structures of power. Locke explicitly endorsed the idea of political violence to remove tyrannical governments, which the French Revolutionaries and American pseudo-Revolutionaries put into practice. Paine agitated for democratic revolutions; while his main method of agitation was pamphleteering, it's hard to blame him for not knowing about Gandhi's techniques of non-violent protest, considering that Gandhi wouldn't be born for another century.

The rhetoric/direct-action dichotomy makes sense in certain contexts, then, but not in distinguishing liberals from radicals. For that there are other characteristics that create a rough spectrum that more or less gives you the expected Lenin - Chomsky - MLK - Roosevelt continuum.

A big part of it is whether you want to reform the capitalist system or overthrow it, but there's also whether you look at incremental changes as positive or illusory, or whether you regard people as individuals or instances of a group, or whether you focus on real injustices or moral crusades, or whether you care more about political effectiveness or personal integrity, etc. I still think Left Equals Right? is the best guide to radical pathologies around.

FoolishOwl said...

Alon, I think that page is best answered by the opening passages of Trotsky's Their Morals and Ours, in which Trotsky points out that from any political position, you can lump together all other opposing positions as essentially identical. All it takes is a bit of reductivism, and ignoring the material roots of the different political trends.

I have to point out that part of the trouble is that actual direct experience with democracy in action is astonishingly rare, and surprisingly few people have much experience with it. The ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas of the age -- and the bourgeoisie is all about meritocracy.

Part of the difficulty is that it's often accepted, within the US at least, that the US political system is genuinely democratic, even by people who really ought to know better. The US system is all about providing a pressure release valve that makes it look like the majority participate in decision making, even though the electoral system is carefully controlled, and most critical political decisions are made by inaccessible and unaccountable bureaucracies. Bourgeois democracy is all about deflecting actual democracy.

So, when I'm saying that reformism tends towards anti-democratic and elitist attitudes, I'm pointing out a distinction between them and revolutionaries. Reformists as such are still to the left of most other political tendencies, meaning they're generally more open to democratic organizing than most.

I tend to think of Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities as the archetypal reformist liberal statement, in that while Dickens is clearly sympathetic to the plight of the poor and oppressed in France, he sees their actually taking power as disastrous, and wants to hold it up as a threat: grant reforms, or the masses will revolt, and none of us want that.

Some of us do want that.

Unfortunately, I'm all too familiar with the sorts of anti-democratic radicals of which belledame complains. Most of the socialist and radical groups I encountered before I joined the one of which I'm now a member seemed to have problems with internal democracy. However, the liberal groups I was involved in were no more democratic. At least some of the other radical groups I've encountered since were better about internal democracy. And in any popular movement I've been a part of, I've seen both spontaneous demands for democracy and spontaneous expressions of trust in apparent leadership. Harmonizing the two takes experience.

To get to the ACLU and NOW: fundamentally, they're lobbying organizations. While they have nominal memberships in the tens of thousands, in practice, they've got small professional staffs and a few hundred activists at the most. I've done some anti-death penalty work, and had some limited contact with ACLU representatives, but didn't have any particular difficulty with them. I suppose I could dig up some news item somewhere, but I was generalizing from personal experience anyway.

My last encounter with NOW, on the other hand, was on the occasion of a large demonstration against abortion rights, which my socialist group and a few others were counter-protesting. NOW and NARAL both opposed the counter-protest, and instead organized an event miles away, which as far as I know was unpublicized and had no one in attendance. I find it unbelievable that the majority of NOW and NARAL supporters would have actually been opposed to counter-protesting a demonstration against abortion rights.

belledame222 said...

>grant reforms, or the masses will revolt, and none of us want that.

Some of us do want that.>

While I agree that Dickens is very much about a certain uhh mentality, (I like Orwell on the subject), I guess my question is, well, when you say you want a "revolution," what do you mean by it? And why? And what about it is appealing, and how do you envision it coming to pass?

Because I think that Dickens' horror, you know, was based on the violence and anarchy of the French Revolution. the, well, Terror. and y'know, Marat, Roberpierre, and this:

"Terror is only justice that is prompt, severe and inflexible.
Terror without virtue is disastrous; virtue without terror is powerless. (also sometimes quoted as …virtue without terror is impossible.) ("La vertu, sans laquelle la terreur est funeste; la terreur, sans laquelle la vertu est impuissante")
– Maximilien Robespierre


So, you see, the people I've met who call themselves "radical revolutionaries," most of them, I don't think it's just a coincidence that besies being (thankfully and often hilariously) completely incompetent, they tend to be puritanical, sadistic, little nosegoblins, filled with incoherent rage but completely unconscious of it. And that (I suspect) what attracts them about the notion of "revolution" is -not- in fact the notion of a "better world" but the "terror" itself. Power, you see. And the fine fine high that comes with burning the mother down. Which is frankly what I think the whole notion of "permanent revolution" is all about; at least as per how it manifested in the Cultural Revolution, say.

and clearly I'm gonna have to do more reading on Lenin; because my own impression of Lenin and Leninism is, well, hard for me to reconcile with the idea of any kind of revolution I'd actually want, given what historically transpired.

NOW and NARAL, I think they're not only "reformist" but have fallen prey to the organizational bloating/timidity (arguably that was in NOW from the start, or ever since the "Lavender Menace" business; Friedan's certainly got plenty of critics from non-radicals as well) that seems damn near inevitably with structures of that size; it becomes about perpetuating the organization itself rather than, or at least as much as, the purported goals.

belledame222 said...

...and yeah, I can only guess at what would've been going through their minds wrt not wanting your counter-protests.

I am now thinking though of the whole A.N.S.W.E.R. vs. United for Peace and Justice business wrt the anti-war demos. The people who supported ANSWER argued that hey, they're the ones doing the work, that so what if they're Maoists and support this that and the other extremist (to most minds), alienating cause; the important thing is solidarity, right? the UFPJ people, for their part, said they had -tried- to work with ANSWER (and they did come to a compromise at some point in there, alternating events organized by one with events by the other, datewise), saying that basically ANSWER had done what they could to "corner the market" wrt the media attention and so forth.

and then people, myself included, had a lot of problems with ANSWER's insisting on including speakers (not just hte marchers, obviously--i.e. the people who were meant to be getting the media attention, if any) speechifying about what to -most- peoples' minds were highly disparate and tangential subjects, everything from free Palestine to (the eternal subject) free Mumia.

For me it was exasperating not even because not everyone agrees with them on all these other positions, and thus might be alienated; it's, um, hello, can we focus, people? We don't want us to invade Iraq. It's really fairly straightforward.

anyway, it all seems moot now, doesn't it? I think the problem with both is that people kept and keep going on the assumption that what worked last time is gonna work this time. You can't appeal to the conscience of people who have none; more important in this instance, you can't appeal to "hello, reality check" to people who have contempt for the "reality-based community!" Admittedly it is hard to know what to do when faced with this particular combination; in a way, it's not the evil, it's the stupidity. There's nothing wrong with appealing to "hey, better not do this 'cause ultimately it's your own ass on the line as well" if that's what's gonna work; but if you have someone who's so insulated and arrogant that they don't or won't believe it, well...

ANSWER keeps its NY headquarters in the building where I do volunteer peer counselling work for the LBGT community, btw. there is a distinct whiff of moldering yellow newspaper about the place, metaphorically speaking.

belledame222 said...

> I've seen both spontaneous demands for democracy and spontaneous expressions of trust in apparent leadership. Harmonizing the two takes experience.

Word. recognizing that you do need both is at least a start I'd say...

FoolishOwl said...

I should tread a bit carefully, but yes, I'm entirely too familiar with the problems with ANSWER and UFPJ, neither of which are good examples of democratic organization.

I'm in the International Socialist Organization, by the way. And I'll freely admit to being profoundly angry, but I understand that as an aspect of compassion.

On Lenin -- well, one good way to cut through the crap is to read through him, but it can be a little tricky, because Lenin's easy to misunderstand out of context, so you'd want to pair that with some general history.

On revolutions, for the Russian Revolution, I recommend reading John Reed's Ten Days That Shook The World, Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. There's a good book on several near socialist revolutions in the 60s through 80s, Revolutionary Rehearsals.

FoolishOwl said...

Also, you might try reading Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and watching Ken Loach's Land and Freedom, both about revolutionary militias in the Spanish civil war in 1936.

belledame222 said...

cool, thanks.

I've been meaning to read "Homage to Catalonia;" I've read pretty much everything else by Orwell. one of these days soon.

belledame222 said...

per anger: I think that's probably worth a post in itself sometimes soon.

My own thing in general is this: trying to connect the personal-psychological with the political consciously, because otherwise it just ends up informing the political -unconsciously.-

I don't mean you; I mean, I think this is a big part of what happens, historically.

Alon Levy said...

Homage to Catalonia is a fairly anti-radical book, I think. The anarchist fervor that Orwell describes at the beginning is slowly revealed to be empty, pathetic, and ultimately abortive, and the revolutionaries eventually exhibit the same pathologies that Zompist describes on Left = Right?. In fact, Orwell may have been the first advocate of the communism = fascism theory, certainly the first one on the left.

belledame222 said...

he was against "all the smelly little orthodoxies fighting for our souls"

which is why i -heart- him, still

FoolishOwl said...

Orwell was part of the POUM militia, POUM being the Worker's Party of Marxist Unification. They were Marxists, not anarchists, and critical of Stalinism. Both Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and Land and Freedom deal with the POUM, and its conflict with Stalinism.

It's critical to understand the difference between Stalinism and the authentic revolutionary tradition.

Alon Levy said...

I do understand it, Foolishowl. But I also understand that the authentic revolutionary tradition wasn't much better. Stalin committed two kinds of crimes that Lenin didn't: ethnic cleansing, and intra-Party purges. Everything else, including man-made starvation, murder of dissenters, and destruction of civil liberties, was just a difference of degree, and not a very large one at that. So while Lenin didn't deliberately starve 8-10 million Ukrainians to death in 9 months, he did starve several million peasants to death over 2-3 years via agricultural collectivization.

belledame222 said...

(settling into lawnchair, cracking open a beer)