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More Notes from Union Meetings

So. Your Humble Blogger is in a Union Meeting yesterday (and by the way, I can't decide if it's great or awful that I belong to a union whose leadership reads children's books at meetings for inspiration) and Our Leader mentions, casually, how important it is to have a sense of your place in history. Both for an individual to have that, and for an institution.

Whew.

Well, I'm in many ways retarditaire; well behind my historical context. I mean, the major artistic trend of the day (which I define, broadly, as fascination with the border between reality and fiction) leaves me pretty cold. The major political trends of the day, right, left and center, leave me pretty cold as well. The two genres of music I listen to by preference are from the 1930s (more or less) and the Elizabethan era (more or less).

But that's not her point. Her point was that if you want to change the world, if you want to repair the world, you need to see the world, and know where it's going, and where you want it to go. That's all. Know where the world is, where it's going, and where you want it to go. And no, she knew it couldn't be done, but that doesn't mean it isn't important to do it anyway. And Your Humble Blogger agrees with her.

On the other hand, C D B is by far a better book.

Redintegro Iraq,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

V., what do you see as the major political trends of the day, right, left, and center, that leave you cold?

Given your deep engagement with politics, I'm a bit surprised that you would feel this way, but it mainly makes me curious, esp. about where you see the Left trending at present?


Two aspects of the New Left bother me particularly. First, as we've discussed in this Tohu Bohu at some length, I'm an internationalist, and much of the the Left is obviously anti-globalization. Second, there is a substantial anti-government attitude on much of the Left, which I find particularly perplexing. Many people seem to dismiss the actual work of politics as being unworthy of the Left, and fail to respect legislators (both State and Federal) who do a lot of yeoman (and, er, yeowoman) work.

In a broader sense, such of the Left as I read (and I can't actually claim to be well-read and up-to-date) seems to be strident and priggish, having given up on compromise and on democracy. I doubt they would characterize themselves that way, but that's the way they seem to me.

I also find, more and more, that like Aleksii Antedilluvianovitch Prelapsarianov (the Last Living Bolshevik) I am waiting for a Theory.

Redintegro Iraq,
-V.


you're suggesting the anti-government sentiment is restricted to the left, or that such feeling in the wider population is somehow more natural or more sensible.

also suggested, that successful leftie movements in the united states have always been pro-government. most that i can think of regarded the government as hostile to them and they were often right. not just socialists either.

opposing "internationalist" with "anti-globalization" suggests that exploitive behavior by transnational corporations needs to be checked by labor movements rather than by guerilla tactics. if labor were stronger i'd agree with that, probably.


I didn't mean to suggest that the Left is more anti-government than anyone else; I do think that the Left needs to be less. As for more sensible, I think the wider populace would be more sensible to be further Left.

And it depends what you call Leftie movements in the US. The most succesful (in my opinion) was the New Deal, followed I suppose by the Populists; both were pro-government in the extreme (even if the Progressives were against the government officials of the time, they were pro-government).

And, yeah, I'm pretty solidly in the Labor movement. Perhaps that's why I'm out of context.

Redintegro Iraq,
-V.


hmm yes i would say if you're anchored by your involvement in or with a labor movement, your boat is in much need of bailing. the general feeling of "corrupt old thing" is just as strong about unions as about... "the" government.

we've talked about this before but i think being upset with "the democrats" - says a lot about american politics, doesn't it, calling "them" "the democrats" and "the republicans" - is not the same as disliking the government.

maybe the party establishments have lost support the same way union establishments have, is that the problem? everybody looks similarly incorporated, similarly distant?

i wonder, i wonder. impatience, distrust. sometimes i feel like the political climate here now is something like a game show: "in 5 seconds, explain why 5 seconds isn't long enough"


V, thanks for your thoughtful answer. My thought in response is that the things that you identify as lacking on the Left seem to me to be most characteristic of the Center, at present, or at least of the Centrist Democrats.

On internationalism vs. anti-globalization: is it not the case that the majority of the Democratic presidential hopefuls are internationalists? That was the impression I got from your summaries, and that seems to me to be where the Center is, right now. The question that the Center ought to be asking itself is, "what does a good internationalism look like?"

On anti-government sentiment: the far Left is certainly much more anarchistic than it used to be. This swing is partly the inevitable consequence of the general rejection of Communism as a worthy political system, though the rise of identity politics has contributed to it also. I'd also say that, given that the Left has very little voice in the U.S. government, it's not surprising that many on the left have concluded that government in general is hopeless, though of course such a conclusion is short-sighted. A chicken-and-egg thing, of course. The Centrist Democrats still care about government, though they don't think it can or should accomplish as much as they once believed.

Why not be an enthusiastic centrist Democrat, then? The shift of the Democratic centrists in the past 15 years from pro-Labor to pro-Corporate must sap one's enthusiasm for current Democratic centrists. They don't seem to care much about repairing the world, either. At best they are not about actively flaying it, which seems to be the Right's purpose these days, a purpose they seem committed to with great ingenuity and passion.

Where is the Theory? I think that the theories we need are being formed out there, on the Left, but they need to be adapted to fit the citizen as well as the rebel-on-instinct.


the citizen, meaning, the people who at least occasionally vote?


Chris,
Your comments deserve, as they always do, careful and thoughtful response. Sadly, I ain't got the time right now. Rather than fail to respond, I'll do the annoying internet shorthand of pulling quotes and responding to them. Pretty it isn't, but I hope it's better than nothing.

...things that you identify as lacking on the Left seem to me to be most characteristic of the Center, at present, or at least of the Centrist Democrats.
I don't mean to say that the trends I see are unique to the left, just that they are true of the left, and that they leave me cold, so that the left leaves me cold.

On internationalism vs. anti-globalization: is it not the case that the majority of the Democratic presidential hopefuls are internationalists?
Well, I don't know about a majority. Kucinich, Gephardt and Sharpton are not internationalists; Kerry and Lieberman are, and I believe that Graham and Edwards are, too, at heart. I don't know where Dean and Mosely Braun stand (I should look it up, but there it is).

The question that the Center ought to be asking itself is, "what does a good internationalism look like?"
I agree; I rather think everybody concerned with public policy should ask themselves that. The people providing answers that I find interesting and compelling are people who could set historical trends I would be happy to swim in. The problem, for me, is that I find so few people of that sort out there, and so few people swimming with me.

Why not be an enthusiastic centrist Democrat, then?
Among other reasons, because I'm far, far to the left on policy issues and philosophy. Much further than the centrist Democrats. For instance, I favor nationalizing essential industries. So I'm scarcely a centrist in that sense.

On the other hand, I believe in compromise. Many people confuse the two; they think that the ability to compromise means that your basic position must be in the center, or must move to the center. That's not how compromise works; compromise is about working together with people with whom you disagree, continuing to disagree (and, ideally, defining that disagreement carefully), and getting stuff done. One of the amazing things about political compromise is that when I support legislation that I feel is inadequate or shortsighted simply because it’s the best legislation that can get passed, I can say "this legislation is inadequate and shortsighted but it’s the best legislation that can get passed." See the floor speeches of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for details.

Where is the Theory? I think that the theories we need are being formed out there, on the Left, but they need to be adapted to fit the citizen as well as the rebel-on-instinct.
Hmm. Perhaps what we need is a theory that (successfully) asks people to turn from rebellion to citizenship

And to respond, presumptuously, to david's question, I suspect you were contrasting the rebel and the citizen as two ways of responding to the world, not as two different people. I would go further, and talk about the citizen (all jargony and whatnot) as a person who shoulders a share of the responsibility of the state (including voting, of course); the rebel-by-instinct tears down, while the citizen builds. There is much that needs tearing down. I have neither taste nor talent for that job; perhaps that, more than anything else, is why today's trends leave me cold.

Redintegro Iraq,
-V.


V, piecemeal responses are nevertheless valuable, but perhaps we'll have a chance to discuss these matter more fully soon.

I suspect you were contrasting the rebel and the citizen as two ways of responding to the world, not as two different people.

Exactly. I was in fact appropriating the "rebel" and "citizen" terms from Bill Moyer (not to be confused with Bill Moyers), who has a book called "Doing Democracy" that develops a model for effective activism that acknowledges that any social movement has a number of distinct stages, and at these different stages different kings of activist engagement are called for. At certain stages, activists need to rebel, at others, they need to speak as, and build as, citizens.

I haven't actually read the book, but an older article on which the book is based. I found it quite interesting and useful. If you're looking for a theory that asks people to turn from rebellion to citizenship, this is one such. In fact, I found parts of his argument a bit tedious because he spends a lot of time addressing the harm done to social movements by unnecessary and untimely rebellion, a point on which I do not need convincing but on which many activists do. I am instinctively a conservative (though I can and have rebelled when the occasion requires it), so I am often distressed by the many on the Left being stuck in permanent rebellion mode, and I see its negative consequences clearly.

I do think that we need more and better socio-economic-ecological theory, too. I think the pieces of this are out there, but it's hard to put them together or to express them in the forum of politics because the ideology of corporate capitalism is so powerful that contrary ideas tend to be shouted down, demonized, or ignored.


err, arrrrr, my question was rhetorical. i know we're not talking about classifying real people (at least, not much), but, comparing "the rebel" to "the citizen" doesn't work for me.

a citizen is, no more and no less, a member of the body politic, by birth or naturalization. unless they're palestinian, all activists are citizens already, and this is probably why they are called "activists" instead of "dissidents" or "prisoners."

if you're rejecting the actual, important meaning of "citizen" to set up some idealized citizen-in-mind, your proposed meaning is judgmental horseshit, because, couchspud or rebel, to describe a legal citizen as a non-citizen is to challenge the reasoning behind the organization of a democratic state and the legal empowerment of its people.

i'd take organizer, coordinator, advocate. i think there are some others going around but i'm tired right now. just, if you're convincing people to get back into society and build something, it's destructive to start with the idea that some people are more equal than others by turning citizenship into an earned status.

...the "rebel" and "citizen" terms [come from] a book called "Doing Democracy" that develops a model for effective activism that acknowledges that any social movement has a number of distinct stages...

i admit to being touchy about this, so, if you don't already, feel free to ignore it: acknowledges? as in, "unquestioned truth that too few similar books recognize"?


i know there is a secondary meaning around "citizen" that has grown in people's minds, or perhaps we're reverting, since what was new about our system here was the full and vested partnership in government, and before that citizenship was a prize. i think we're losing a little ground even as we gain it.


david,

Well, and it may have started as a rhetorical question, but now it's become a whole rhetorical investigation; I'm probably going to have to start a whole new post just on this issue.

Anyway, I think you are right. The primary meaning of citizenship is and ought to be the legal one, and legal citizenship can't be taken away just because a person doesn't fulfil my idea of the duties of citizenship. So I oughtn't use the term to mean the other thing, full and productive membership in the political community. I can't immediately think of a term to use for that, but y'all will help.

On the other hand, making that distinction has the effect of defining citizenship by its rights, and effectively ignoring its responsibilities. I mean, legal citizens have very few responsibilities that alien residents do not have; in the last ditch there's conscription, but that's about it. I would like to have people connect the rights and responsibility of citizenship (morally, I mean, not legally). I would like it if, when people talk about their rights, the same word was used to remind them, even if only vaguely and indirectly, that there are associated responsibilities. Those responsibilities are not legal obligations, but they are moral obligations. There is, in my opinion of course, an obligation to vote. Citizens are obliged to think about public policy, to the best of their time and energy, and to discuss public policy with other citizens. I think that citizens are obliged to contribute to the education of their children and other people's children, both in the schools and outside them. And citizens are obliged to think about our inherited IVSR's, and transmit the valuable ones.

That's not all the obligations, of course, nor are my opinions about the obligations of citizenship the last word on the topic. It is and should be a matter of open debate. But is that debate (which is another one of the obligations of citizenship) helped or hindered by the use of the word citizen to mean a person who shoulders a share of the responsibility of the state? Probably hindered, and thanks for pointing it out. But what words to choose?

Redintegro Iraq,
-V.


hmm hmm. in the shower this morning i suspected obligations would come up as we followed this and i wanted to point out that, thinking about citizen/rebel, we should remember that the original pair was citizen/slave, and that apart from obligatory appearances, it was the slaves who were obliged to serve and i'm under the impression they did most of the work.


It may be that the thread of this discussion is now headed towards definitions of citizenship, but I would like to hold that matter in relation not to the situation of citizens in general, but to the challenges that politically and socially active people face when they take action.

To try for precision, let me quote david and try to respond to his concerns:

a citizen is, no more and no less, a member of the body politic, by birth or naturalization. unless they're palestinian, all activists are citizens already, and this is probably why they are called "activists" instead of "dissidents" or "prisoners."

Certainly, and I am sorry if any of my words gave the impression that I thought that any activist or non-activist loses the legal rights of citizenship by action or non-action. I was trying to speak of the value of activists speaking and acting "as citizens," as one of many subject-positions available to speakers and actors as they identify themselves rhetorically in public. While one might argue that this is a needless gesture, given that activists are legally citizens, I would argue that it is by no means needless, because a typical defensive response in contemporary American society to calls to social or political action is for the listener to attack or deny the citizenship of the speaker. "America: love it or leave it," "Go back to Africa," "Get a Job," are among the phrases hurled at activists in various contexts. These rhetorical acts of alienating or disinvesting the activist speaker don't have any legal force, but they have significant rhetorical force. That force is directed at disempowering the activist and defining citizenship and the right to participate in governance that goes along with it in ways that exclude dissent. Activists need to think carefully about how they deal with this sort of rhetorical gesture and the jingoistic ideology from which it arises, an ideology that is widespread in this country.

I see two types of considerations as important in this context. First, activists would do well to gauge carefully how rhetoric and actions that reject social norms or particular laws (two different types of symbolic rebellion) provide fodder for those who are trying to exclude activists from the conceptual, not the legal, category of citizen. I'm not saying "activists shouldn't do these things," but that activists would do well to consider carefully their larger rhetorical effects before engaging in symbolic forms of rebellion. Second, activists would do well to claim more actively and forcefully to speak as citizens, as members of a community whose concerns arise in part out of that membership and can reasonably be shared by any other citizen.

if you're rejecting the actual, important meaning of "citizen" to set up some idealized citizen-in-mind, your proposed meaning is judgmental horseshit, because, couchspud or rebel, to describe a legal citizen as a non-citizen is to challenge the reasoning behind the organization of a democratic state and the legal empowerment of its people.

Whether or not my rhetoric is guilty of describing legal citizens as non-citizens, that kind of horseshit is flung very freely in this nation, and I'd like to see activists do a better job of claiming their status as citizens, both to take these particular horse patties out of the hands of their jingoistic opponents and to bring the categories of "activist" and "citizen" closer together. An activist in a democracy is a good citizen, and it is a significant part of our political malaise that activists are widely viewed as "bad citizens" or as people not worthy of, or at least disrespectful of, their status as citizens.

In my experience as a labor activist and as a peace activist, I have found it to be true that a significant percentage of activists are inattentive to or dismissive of the value of citizenship as a category for activists to claim for themselves. These attitudes have weakened the social movements these activists are seeking to foster, in my experience. Bill Moyer's work helped me to clarify my thinking on this issue, so I see his writing as acknowledging something that is often true in the world, though not true in every case. Maybe many other books on building social movements say the same thing; I don't know. This is how I know it for myself.


Some belated comments from the nontimely Kir

V: I didn't mean to suggest that the Left is more anti-government than anyone else; I do think that the Left needs to be less

Good heavens. My sweetie (who is a solid conservative in many respects) considers the Left to be pro-government, and to not particularly "trust the people" to do what's correct/ just/ neighborly.

I tend to see this also (although I wouldn't characterize the left with only this); perhaps I do not hang out with far enough Leftwards people? Fascinating, the ways we can differently perceive things...

---

D: i know there is a secondary meaning around "citizen" that has grown in people's minds

~wry~ I've heard the word has been replaced by the word "consumer".

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C: Activists need to think carefully about how they deal with this sort of rhetorical gesture [attack or deny the citizenship of the speaker] and the jingoistic ideology from which it arises, an ideology that is widespread in this country.

What have you learned about ways to deal with this, both rhetorically and otherwise? Specifically, HOW do I "claim more actively and forcefully to speak as citizens, as members of a community whose concerns arise in part out of that membership and can reasonably be shared by any other citizen."?

Ah well, mostly I'm looking for ways to deal with a certain aquaintance whose company I cannot always avoid and can hardly bear.


i think it would be fair to say that the left, wishing to be good, distrusts strength, and the right, wishing to be worthy, distrusts weakness, and that each of those two sides sees a part of the public sector as a questionable moral agent - doing wrong, or rewarding the unworthy.

both sides put faith in process and innovation, both sides detest haste and timidity, both sides bury enemies and mourn friends, both sides are primarily motivated by a desire to have their identity papers permanently authorized by someone.

in other news, i never figured out how to untangle the last post i was supposed to answer. i guess what i said was too aggro so i take it back! sorry.


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