Monday, April 03, 2006

Radical, dewd.

So here comes my own moment of snide: I am havin' issues with the term "radical," especially lately. And no, I expect, it is not entirely fair or rational.

First of all, yes, the denotative meaning of "radical" (as applied to politics) is one I am down with. Or, well, at least some of it:

rad·i·cal (răd'ĭ-kəl) pronunciation

1. Arising from or going to a root or source; basic: proposed a radical solution to the problem.
2. Departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme: radical opinions on education.
3. Favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions: radical political views.
4. Linguistics. Of or being a root: a radical form.
5. Botany. Arising from the root or its crown: radical leaves.
6. Slang. Excellent; wonderful.


1. One who advocates fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions: radicals seeking to overthrow the social order...


To me the true or best radicals are the ones who are mostly about

1): "going to a root or source."

It is important to do this, and there are people--some who style themselves "radicals," some who don't--whom I respect, very much so.

From there one tends to go to:

"One who advocates fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions"

--which, well, yes. Theory is no good (to me) unless you can eventually put it into practice. And sure, there is often a need for fundamental change. Depending on what we're talking about and--more important--how, specifically, one plans to implement such, I might be down.

"But if you're talkin' 'bout destruc-ti-ion...don't you know that you can count me out..."

As it happens, though, these days, at least 'round the circles I am most familiar with, "revolutionary" does not usually mean bomb-throwin', building burnin', KILL the fascist pigs. It could do, eventually, I expect, with some people, and that is one reason why I tend to be a bit leery. I mean, I suppose it is possible that that shit can work sometimes (as in has the effect of leading to what you say you want, positive sociopolitical change, better lives), and that it even works better than some other approach might have, or is really the only possible approach left. Maybe. And I'm not saying that I'm such a committed pacifist, or such an enlightened soul (easy enough to cry pacifism from the comfort and safety of one's own home, after all) that I'd vow I could never be violent, or advocate violence, any violence, no matter what the circumstance. But...

I just wonder, you know, what purpose it's actually serving, with a lot of people, this revolutionary zeal. Because I strongly suspect that far more often than not it's a form of expressing older, murkier, less coherent shit, not really calculated for long-term or even short-term consequences at all. Or, not calculated from a reality-based worldview, anyway.

But like I say, I don't currently worry much about this actually happening with the most of the self-styled "revolutionaries" of my acquaintance. Either they are using the term more symbolically, or at least concretely but nonviolently (which again, I could be on board with, depending); or, (she said, more cynically), they are using the Revolution the way certain religious folk use the Apocalypse: a big violently dramatic event in the indefinite future which will wipe out the Bad Guys and deliver them to the Promised Land. Pie in the sky, in other words, except in this case we're more about throwing the pies (which have grenades tucked inside) than actually eating and enjoying them.

Mostly, I tend to see radical as being used in the sense of

2) Departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme.

Well, sometimes this is simply accurate: relative to the "mainstream," such-and-such a person/group/position is "extreme." Which, fine.

Of course, one recalls that not only is "extreme" based on relativity, but that things change, and what was radical yesterday might be perfectly mainstream today, or nearly. Or, what's radical in one context/setting might be "so what?" in another.

Which, again, fine. ...You would think.

But sometimes, and this is where my knee starts a-jerkin', I do get the strong impression that certain "radicals," far from being delighted that their position is indeed starting to become more widely accepted and practiced, (if perhaps not perfectly so) are, well...rather put out. Oh of course one never says so. Not in so many words. Instead, sometimes, the radical becomes ever-more radical. Everyone I know is starting to eat raw food, just like I advocated? Well, I'm a fruitarian now. Better get with the program and stop eating those legumes; you don't need them. ...What, you think I'm right? Well, uhm, I don't need to eat anything at all! I'm a breatharian! Top THAT. (And, Buy My Book).

More often, instead, a certain stubborn myopia sets in, and, if you don't watch it, you end up coming off a bit like Little Britain's Daffyd, bless your heart.

(DAFFYD dressed from head to toe in shiny latex slutboywear, dripping his rainbow jewelry, nursing a drink in a small local pub full of elderly Welsh people)

DAFFYD: “Oh, Myfanwy, I’m so down. It’s so hard being the only gay in the village. I dream of the day when I will meet other gays who will know what it is like to be a gay.”

MYFANWY: “Oh! That reminds me! Mrs. ___has a new boarder, and do you know! He is a gay!”

D: “What?! What?!”

M: “Oh, look, here he is now.”

(second screaming queen comes into pub, and DAFFYD proceeds to drill him mercilessly, finally determining that he is *not* a Real Gay. newcomer flounces off in a huff:)

“Prrrrrovinical queens!”

D: “This village has a gay already, and that’s me! We don’t need another!”

M: “Daffyd, you bloody fool! You could’ve had a bit of cock, there! ‘I’m the only gay in the village’–you’re full of shit, you are!”

D: “This is exactly the kind of homophobic attitude I’ve come to expect from this village! Good day!”


Of course, my first exposure to the term "radical" was used as in

6) Slang. Excellent; wonderful.

Actually, not "radical;" "rad." The antonym of which, btw, was "gay."

"Dude! Duuuuuuuuude. That's AWESOME, dude. Raaaaaaad."

And, it is hard to shake that off entirely.

Nu, what can I tell you.


Anonymous said...

Get this out of the way: the Daffyd bit had me crying.

Get this out of the way, too: I'm probably a little more...not prone to, but maybe a little more...supportive of Unabomber types. I suspect that I'll accept violence as an answer faster than many, but I hear you as it perhaps being sourced in a murky area indeed.

As to the rest, there's a lot of what I think of as smartest-kid-in-class syndrome. You see it everywhere, the fetishization of obscurity. Obscurity asd autheticity. Authenticity as Legitmacy. Legitamacy as the end all. Nothing changes, but I am Pure. Flock to my mountain for wisdom. Or, buy my book, as you say.

belledame222 said...

Oh, do you know Little Britain? 'cause the first two series are out on DVD/vid now. Run don't walk.

And yeah: "fetishization of obscurity" is a good way of putting it. Or, even more so, as you say, Purity.

Anonymous said...

OK. with the fuller explanation i get it now.

i hadn't really seen it in terms of that one. i think we're all very confused about authenticity. the entire 90s seemed to be about people trying to explode the idea tht it was important.

but people thought that, to speak, you had to be coming from a certain place. and it all became important because the theory of revolutioanry or even evolutionary change that underpins every lefty movement is the notion that there is a subject that, because of its marginalized status, sees truth more clearly than the rest of us ideologically blinded wankers.

you know? (It comes straight out of Hegel ... )

but practically speaking it gets played out in weird ways! Over at Woman of Color Blog, Samhitra started out by criticizing the concept of authenticity -- that it didn't exist -- and then said, "And none of you people upset about the Red Burka ad are even authentic!"

OK. So which is it. Deconstruction or modernity?

blah blah blah. i should but back on the coffee.

Bitch | Lab said...

Correction: I should CUT back on the coffee.

belledame222 said...

I dunno, but whatever it is, it makes me laff, and sometimes roll my eyes. That's all I know.

belledame222 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
belledame222 said...

per violence, Jean: see below re wishing broken-off fingernails (in Duke case) could've been lodged in rapist fuckers' eyeballs, at least.

yes, I'm a tad ambivalent, there, clearly. I...well, that's yet another whole post, no doubt.

Sage said...

Waaay rad, dude.

I see it as all as an addiction to the status symbol of being the outsider rather than being an outsider by refusing to accept the way we live as the way we *should* live without further, deeper exploration. Once they start looking normal, they've got to establish a new difference. I look forward to the "new different" being our current mainstream and the radicals (the useful type) running the show.

Bitch | Lab said...

@ belle

I never thought much one way or another about violence -- like I was pretty sure I wasn't a supporter. The thought of war just turns my stomach. Death row. I just. I cant' deal.

Then I had a kid. Then the county I lived in was threated with a radioactive waste dump siting. Then one day I was protesting with the cops pointing rifles at us and the people who in positions of power in Albany, NY were calling us a bunch of dumb ass hicks and rednecks (in so many words).

I saw those guns, I thought of my kid, and I was, at that point, ready to die because no way would I let my kid or any kid grow up in a world wear mofos with guns think they can do WTF they want.

I confess that it was like another worldly state of mind I was in. All your energy just focused, ready to fight back with anything you have.

It was the indignity that Jean writes about on her blog. The daily indignities just build up and culminate until there is this one indiginity that just blows it all apart. It can be big, like a gun pointed at you, or just another small one, like the loss of a job.

So, yeah, like Jean I can sympathize. In my everyday state, oh, the thought of war and fighting and bloodshed -- it jsut ain't my thing. But that one day, facing the barrell of a gun? Totally changed the way I think about my so called tendencies toward non-violence.

belledame222 said...

Well, it ties back into what I was trying to get at wrt trying to become more whole versus more pure. We're all capable of it. To some extent it's unescapable. Life feeds on life. You draw your lines, you pays your money and you takes your choice. That's all you can do.

Bitch | Lab said...

@ belle

I simply loved the way you pointed out earlier today that the fact is, everyone's trying to carve out this radical thing or maybe it's the authenticity thing. But whatever it is, the 'click' was there. I hadn't really thought of it before.

I'm waiting for the book and the radical errrr. consciousness raising street theater and performance art. O! and the stand up routine. This is just awesome stuff.

belledame222 said...

: )

Veronica said...

I'm pretty sure that "radical" lost all meaning by 1971. 'Cept for BMX racers and mutant turtles in the 80's.

Fidelbogen said...

Eh, I don't know if your Blogger photo is actually YOU or not, but. . .
I would say that the impression it conveys is not so much "cheap" as retro tacky.


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