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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Antipartisan Party People

When it comes to it, most Libertarians are just Republicans who lack the discipline demanded by partisan politics but who want to pretend to play at them anyway. And most Greens are just Democrats with similar deficiencies. That the Republican Party could not protect itself from being taken over by bigot grifter Donald Trump reveals that there are few people with the discipline demanded by partisan politics within the Party itself after the generational debasement of the Southern Strategy and the Bush foreign war adventures and domestic looting sprees. The Democrats were organizationally healthy enough to ward off a hijacking attempt by Bernie Sanders -- and contra the media horse-race narratives and True-Believer hyper-ventilation about rally crowds and states won over the actual votes and delegates that are all that matter, the primary contest was more or less over by March 15, and given the Democratic Party's proportional delegate allocation Clinton's victory over Sanders (by most measures incomparably greater than Obama's prior victory over Clinton in 2008) is far from a close thing, but precisely the shellacking everybody expected it to be and was right to expect it to be. The Libertarians and Greens or independent Democratic Socialists on their own are little likely to manage to be spoilers except here and there around the edges and will have no more impact on actual historical change than they ever do, even in the year of Trump.

If I may dispense with the historical resonances prompted by observations of this kind, Nader pissed me off in 2000 because his party equivalence thesis was a damned and damaging deception -- even if the Democratic Party wasn't and isn't exactly love's young dream from my perspective as a democratic eco-socialist feminist anti-racist anti-militarist vegetarian atheist queer aesthete academic than it was and is for him. Nader certainly didn't piss me off for "losing Gore the election" because, as it happens, Gore won the election and Republican appointees to the Supreme Court stole the election for the utterly catastrophic George W. Bush.

Now, when I denigrate would-be radical Third Party political efforts I do want to be quite clear that my point is not to extol political moderation or diminish radicalism or deride ethical conviction. Radicalism invigorates public life and is a motor of necessary progressive change. The simple fact is that there is more to politics than partisan politics, of course. And quite apart from that, there is also more to doing good and making progress than politics -- there is making art, there is offering up support in communities, there is living ethically. And confining the focus on politics, I always say the partisan politics of problem solving, compromise and reform is indispensable but inadequate to sustain progress and the movement politics of education, agitation and organization to transform our sense of the possible and the important is just as indispensable and just as inadequate.  Neither is adequate on their own, both are indispensable all the time.

You know, I truly respect people of conviction who don't have the stomach or the stamina for the fraught compromises and heartbreaking slowness and exhausting effort of partisan politics and decide to direct their energies elsewhere. In my own life I've moved in and out of movement politics -- my Queer Nation days and a few more recent moments of adjunct organizing are different from the times in my life that I've devoted myself to teaching and writing and the occasional editorial or candidate contribution. My convictions haven't diminished and I hope I never retreat from doing my measure of work to nudge us toward sustainable equity-in-diversity in whatever form -- but definitely I understand that sometimes partisan politics are quite demoralizing and feel too constrained and contaminated to bear. Even in such moments I must say that simply doing one's least part and voting for the best candidates or initiatives on offer doesn't take that much time or energy, after all, and figuring out who to vote for in this moment of utter Republican debasement isn't really that difficult.

What I find quite ridiculous, however, and even frankly contemptible, really, are those who seem to want to denigrate partisan politics while focusing on quixotic hijacking or sabotage efforts within... partisan politics. It is hard to imagine anything more frivolous than someone who wants to declare their radicalism, or even their revolutionary sentiments, who then directs all their attention into a party primary fight of all things. Every candidate is a politician, every politician has compromised, anybody who would seek the highest political offices has to have a touch of the sociopath in them, and nobody remotely plausibly electable (for the Democrats at any rate) will be as far to the left in office as are the radicals of their Base who grasp the real extent of injustice and real danger of climate catastrophe.

A nationally viable party in the wealthy insulated continent-scaled multiculture of the United States will never be a revolutionary organization. Even in the terrible days of DLC capitulation and GOP ascendance, and certainly ever more so as the Party has moved left in the aftermath of ruinous neoconservative war crimes and neoliberal privatization schemes, in the storm churn of Occupy and BlackLivesMatter and queer feminism and climate change activism -- the Democratic Party is a vast, diverse, dynamic, storied, and indispensable collective instrument for transmitting progressive history, addressing shared present problems, and pushing in the direction of sustainable equity-in-diversity. But partisan politics in the United States are not revolutionary, they are reformist. The landscape in which they operate is continent-scaled, resource rich, intersectional in its oppressions, multilateral in its powers. It is not to not concede any measure of righteousness to incumbent elites or reactionary communities that I recognize as viable parties must do their actually real power and actually shared existence in this country demands political compromises I nonetheless morally disapprove. Generations of radical activism and expression might alter culture in ways that bring present radicalisms into a prevalence a nationally viable party might well accommodate (this has repeatedly happened historically), but there are no short cuts for arriving at such accomplishments. People who pretend voting in a party primary are engaging in some kind of Revolutionary activity are mocking revolutionary politics no less than tech-talkers who declare bitcoin revolutionary or marketers who declare a soft drink is revolutionary are mocking revolutionary politics.

More extreme political factions -- the ones that agree with me about ideal social and environmental justice outcomes very much included -- are unable to build or maintain nationally viable parties. This is evident in our Libertarians and Greens, to return to the post's opening salvo. Nor will marginal radical or revolutionary factions be able to hijack a nationally viable party, as independent kinda-sorta-socialist Bernie Sanders has tried and failed to hijack the Democratic Party... Nor, I must add, even if doing so is adding insult to injury, would marginal factions be able to maintain control over a nationally viable party were they to manage a hijacking in a moment of crisis. Such a party hijacking either announces the dissolution and supersession of that party or more pragmatic and mainstream-legible authorities regain control and mobilize a working coalition within and through the party soon enough, as I would say Donald Trump will find to his cost if I thought Donald Trump actually cared one way or another about such a thing.

I daresay our present party duopoly is quite terrible in its way, especially given recent geographical and ideological sorting and consequent polarization, and I might say some sort of Parliamentary system would be more accountable and more efficacious if this were some genial thought experiment. Saying so looks to me just about as relevant as the Founders warning against factions rather than better checking their predictable pathologies in the Constitutional system. It seems to me that in pretty much every practically conceivable instance (for me, you no doubt are smarter and more imaginative than I am), the politics through which one would create and maintain a nationally viable party to accomplish some more radical policy outcome than is presently entertained within the confines of one of our present parties are incomparably more difficult and slow than would be the effort to bring one of those parties around to the effort through education, agitation, and organization. Nationally viable parties are coalitions and they are susceptible to change from within by clear-sighted long-dedicated well-organized forces within them, especially when these changes afford the party electoral advantages in a nation that is also changing. Running a protest candidate, by the way, can be a form of such activism -- but do be sure your protest candidate knows that using a campaign to do issue education is not going to look like a campaign that is trying to win an election. So long as it remains a better bet to work through than outside of parties when what one wants is specific legislative accomplishments, then third parties are going to remain at utterly marginal spoilers at the edges or highly personal settings for indulging in narcissistic purity cabaret.

That state of affairs doesn't exactly thrill me, but the simple truth is that there are far worse problems that demand our attention and that progressive change from movements on the ground and representatives in office is the struggle at hand. If you're not up for partisan politics -- just vote for the best available candidates by your lights and then do such good as is otherwise available to you. But don't expect those of us who know better to indulge the pretense that purity cabaret or hijack fantasies or this-time-it's-happening protest candidates amount either to real radicalism or real reformism. Such efforts are useless and confused and the proper province of pampered narcissists and mis-educated dupes.


jimf said...

> . . .independent kinda-sorta-socialist Bernie Sanders. . .

Noam Chomsky calls him "just a New Deal Democrat".
(Of course, Chomsky also says that mainstream Democrats
these days are the equivalent of Eisenhower-era Republicans.)

> . . .the simple truth is that there are far worse problems
> that demand our attention. . .

Absolutely! In fact, I've been hearing in the news that misuse
of bathrooms threatens to spell the End of Human Civilization
As We Know It.

Dale Carrico said...

It's a world gone mad.

jimf said...

> It's a world gone mad.

Nah. Just, well, . . .

Noam Chomsky on stupid people

Dale Carrico said...

No truly smart person calls other people stupid. That's one of the reasons why I know better than to think myself so very smart when it comes to it. It is interesting that Chomsky is mostly being gracious to his interlocutor, and in most of his response he emphasizes that "stupid people" like market ideologues and climate-change denialists and belligerent war-mongers are for the most part not just behaving stupidly but are caught up in forms of uncritical fanatical True Belief or are defending powerful parochial special interests with which they identify at the cost of general/long-term good. The recognition of such states of affairs actually suggests very practical strategies of resistance -- education about real effects, exposure of specific corrupt ties, organizing of communities susceptible to cultural distractions from shared problems, and so on. Satisfying though it may seem in the short term, because it bolsters the dull mammalian me in the we that glibly expels a they, calling people stupid is a pretty useless and demoralizing business, fixing people, and soon enough when you really get in the habit great masses of people, in hopelessly unreachable pathologies of stupidity that look like the kind of destiny that leave you pining for violence or acquiescing to the status quo or just stewing in self-congratulation or usually a sloppy pot of all of these unseemly irresponsibilities. I have no doubt that as a long-time reader and friend you will strongly suspect by now, and rightly, that I am speaking in the knowing, castigatory tones of the confessional.

jimf said...

> No truly smart person calls other people stupid.

Yes, I agree that "stupid" is not a useful term in this context.
It (i.e., "the problem", if you agree there is one) is
not simply correlated with anything as crude as an IQ score.

> It is interesting that Chomsky is mostly being gracious to
> his interlocutor. . .

Who at least has the saving grace of a British accent. ;->
"But why do you care about **stupid** people?" What a --
dare I say "stupid" -- remark?

> . . .caught up in forms of uncritical fanatical True Belief or are defending
> powerful parochial special interests with which they identify. . .

Yes, of course, though "uncritical" and "fanatical" can be alienating
trigger words as useless, in the end (unless you're preaching to the
choir) as calling them "stupid".

> The recognition of such states of affairs actually suggests very
> practical strategies of resistance -- education about real effects,
> exposure of specific corrupt ties, organizing of communities susceptible
> to cultural distractions from shared problems, and so on.

It's a very interesting question how people (the minority who ever do)
manage to "jump ship", as it were -- abandon the "memeplexes"
(or systems of belief, or world views, or whatever simple term
you want to use) they once held. I think I've said this before -- I don't think
you can simply argue people into or out of such things. It's a great
mystery how such transformations are engendered in people (often
at great cost).

I think Christopher Hitchens says somewhere that he thinks atheists
are often born, not made -- at any rate, he mentions Pascal's correspondent, who
wrote "I am so made that I cannot believe" in _God Is Not Great_:
Christopher Hitchens - One Who Cannot Believe
"There's been some research in cognitive science, I'm told, that
discloses that there have always been perhaps 10 to 15 percent of
people who are, as Pascal puts it, so made that they cannot believe.
To us, when people talk about faith, it's white noise. But I'm
very intrigued with it, and I have a lot of friends who are
very deeply religious." ( ).

But what is the **germ** of a (de)conversion such as that
of ex-Mormon John Larsen (who is no longer producing a podcast,
but who has gathered together a "best-of" selection of past
'casts -- one of the most passionate of which is
Episode 25: How we Know Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt that the Church Isn’t True )?

At least it is true that once such a seed of doubt has germinated,
modern technology (literacy, mass availability of books, and now
the internet) makes it more likely than ever before that such
folks can talk to and support each other. There's still hope. ;->

Dale Carrico said...

It is an interesting question. I think pragmatism/pluralism is helpful, reminding us that the substance of belief is the work it is doing for us, and hence providing rhetorical wiggle room to disarticulate and divert bits of our bundles of belief from one place to another so long as the work continues to get done -- as I know that my own youthful Roman Catholic religiosity such as it was (sometimes I think it was mostly incense, candles, weird magic spells and fear of Hell) was not merely cancelled but some of it became aesthetics, some of it became intellectualism, some of it became Elven/Vulcan/BeneGesserit fandom, some of it became liberal guilt and self-deprecation, some of it became democratic commitment, leaving the rest isolated enough to get rejected and replaced by consensus science advocacy and anti-authoritarian politics.

jimf said...

> . . .fear of Hell. . .

Ah yes, there you put your finger on the heart of it. Fear.


[Woodrow Wyatt] interviews Bertrand Russell Part 2 of 6 [1959]
Wyatt: What is it that makes Man, over the centuries, demand
a religion?

Russell: I think, mainly, **fear**. Man feels himself rather
powerless. . . There are three things that cause him fear.
One is what Nature can do to him -- it can strike him by lightning
or swallow him up in an earthquake. One is what other men can
do, which is that they can kill him in war. And the third, which
has a great deal to do with religion, is what his own violent
passions may lead him to do. Things which, in a calm moment, he
would regret having done. And for that reason, most people have
a great deal of **fear** in their lives. And religion helps them
to be not so frightened by these fears.

Or SF author Peter [not Alan ;-> ] Watts:

Peter Watts - God, Jackboots, and Rule 34 - Part 2
Now it's pretty obvious that, historically at least, fear is
adaptive. And given the whole "seeing faces in the clouds" thing,
it's not too surprising that fear and religion are correlated.
What is perhaps a little bit surprising, for something based on
spurious pattern-matching and with no bearing on objective reality,
is that religion is actually pretty adaptive in its own right. . .
[R]eligious communes. . . tend to live longer
than non-religious communes. . . [E]ven amongst religious communes,
the ones that survive longest are the ones with the most pernicious,
nasty, vindictive gods, the onerous repressive authoritarian
patriarchs who sort of see you masturbating and send you to Hell
for the wicked thoughts in your heart. These societies generally
last longer than even other faith-based communities that believe
in a more loving and forgiving deity. Bottom line is that authoritarian
religions based on fear and surveillance have an observable competitive
advantage in Darwin's universe.

Also turns out according to findings reported by Doug Oxley and
his colleagues, that political conservatives are not only generally
more religious, which should come as a surprise to no one, than
liberals; they're generally more fearful as well. . . So the implication
is that right-wing/left-wing beliefs may to some extent be hard-wired,
making them relatively immune to reason and debate and evidence.
Now this is speculation. . . but it would explain. . . why a quarter
of all Republicans honestly seem to believe that Obama is the
anti-Christ (at least that's what they say on surveys). . .


Sure, ignorance breeds fear, but so does knowledge. . .


Worst of all, you come to realize that if there really is no God and there is
no afterlife, well then you're gonna **die**. And that's pretty much
gonna be it. And this is a pretty primal, pants-crapping revelation
to drop on a species with a self-preservation instinct that's got
four and a half billion years of reinforcement behind it. I'm going to
hazard a guess that most species out there don't worry about it too
much. They just do what feels good because that's how they spread
their genes. But the moment you become sapient, the moment you
start looking around and asking these questions, you have basically
two options: you can either live in a state of constant denial. . .

Peter Watts - God, Jackboots, and Rule 34 - Part 3

. . .or you can live in a state of abject terror. . .

Dale Carrico said...

I do think there is a rich religiosity of love rather than fear out there, even if the bigots and bastards make most of the noise we hear -- and I won't deny there was fear there in my own very early Catholicism (and not a small amount of perplexity), but I really cannot shake the suspicion that the draw for me, encouraged by my mother who liked to drive into the City to attend candle-lit midnight masses in some of the bigger cathedrals, often with choirs and stringed instruments and all robed figures and bells and incantations in the mix, was that it was very resonant with Merlin and Gandalf and Oz... and even a little bit of A Chorus Line.

jimf said...

> . . .all robed figures and bells and incantations in the mix. . .
> it was very resonant with Merlin and Gandalf and Oz...
> and even a little bit of A Chorus Line.

Why Popes Dress Like That
Stuff That Must Have Happened