Sunday, September 11, 2005

The trouble with progressives...

The progressive movement is consistently undermined
by its relationship with authority. It rejects too promis-
cuously, it whittles itself down to essentials far too readily.
It is a demographic which, more often than not, seems con-
tent just to criticize. The horror of any particular era can
be judged by how uselessly enraged these people are, how
impassioned their promises of action become. This action
never arrives. Action is ugly and uncomfortable, but sanc-
timony can be had on the cheap. Moral purity is the poison
that keeps the left feeble. A leftist nowadays, typically, is
most comfortable opposing; he or she prefers to take a
stand rather than to exercise power. When all is said and
done, what is important to them is registering their dis-
pleasure at the depredations of their ideological enemies.

Those enemies have learned to ignore the noise. They
carry on with their depredations regardless, and their
toothless adversaries are the ones who wind up disgust-
ing the country. Look at the miracle the right has worked:
self-righteousness is fatal, except when it comes from
them; stridency is appalling, except when they can score
some points with it; arrogance is unpardonable, but fully
expected of them. Why has this happened? The short an-
swer, I feel, is authority. Those flabby and craven whores
use it in a way that suggests they own it, while the left
wears it like a checked polyester suit. They look ridi-
culous and they know it. Their self-consciousness undoes
them. Their reluctance to be in any way like the Repub-
licans–a noble urge, God knows–winds up looking like
amateurishness at best, dishonesty at worst.

The left has an unhealthy fixation on the outsider. The
problem is that the outsider is a better literary figure
than a political one. The glorious and free rebel might
be a nice story, but it has little to do with the actual run-
ning of a complex society, much less with bringing to
heel the most powerful and uncontrolled nation the
world has ever seen. Mainstream culture is something
many progressives long to be rejected by, very few have
any real will to take its reins and change it into something
better. Even avowed activists often seem to be operating
under some ridiculous "lonely voice in the wilderness" de-
lusion. Their passion for change is their lust to be holy,
their cause is their ego trip.

The conservative analogue of this is, of course, their repul-
sive Ayn Randism. While they preen around their think-
tanks as make-believe awesome supermen in a world full
of dimwits and unquiet servants, the left does its own little
dance, the ballet of the wise hipsters beaten down by the
moron, corporate state. As a liberal, a proud liberal, I
think we ought to give that up. We’re like a movement
of scared six year olds, we long to hear the same bed-
time story every night as the world gets worse and worse
outside our windows. We need to wake up. Taking the
country away from the people who are running it into ground
will be a hard, filthy business, but our James Dean alter-
egos don’t like to get dirt under their fingernails, do they?

Understand. I am not arguing that we should rethink our
positions on the issues, nor am I arguing that we should
settle those positions amongst ourselves once and for all.
We don’t have to. We always think that we need a little
P.R. to make our beliefs palatable to that mythical
"average American", but this is only part way true. Our
beliefs are already common currency. Our beliefs are
largely uncontroversial. When we act like they aren’t,
we perpetuate the myth of the impractical and emptily-
idealistic liberal, a myth both the timid left and the bel-
lowing right seem to have a vested interest in keeping
afloat. What we need to do is make ourselves palatable.

This will require that we make peace with power. To
take charge of this country will require a ruthless
streak progressives in this country have always been
unwilling to adopt. We will, finally, have to abandon the
notion that we can be the most virtuous person in the
room simply because our hearts are in the right place.
Our good intentions keep piling up while the nation is
ransacked. Our virtue gives no succor to anyone. The
people we want to speak on behalf of–the poor, the
struggling, the working class, and the soldiers getting
shot up in the Middle East–might agree with us, but
they also view us with well-justified suspicion. Our
stirring words say little in the face of our decades-
long abdication.

Today’s dim brand of conservatism thrives in the
rhetorical spaces liberalism leaves for it. They slip
a lot of dismal business into the public domain by
playing on the other side’s well-founded distaste
for intolerance. Take "intelligent design". The
theory of intelligent design is, to put it mildly,
utterly asinine, yet in offering it as a sop to their
religious contingents the right-wing has so far
successfully played to the sympathies of a liberal
nation that feels, wrongly, that even the most dub-
ious ideas are worthy of respect if they seem to be
sincerely held. Liberalism has allowed itself to be
reconfigured as unending acceptance and so we’ve
reached the point where people who have no use for
its principles will nonetheless demand that we indulge
them while they dismantle our freedoms. This is silly.
There is nothing to being a liberal that requires us to
be considerate to retrograde and oppressive mindsets,
we have no duty to extend our generosity to those who
would do us harm.

To reclaim the country, we need leaders who under-
stand this. We need cold blood. Progressives must be
confident enough in their beliefs and selfless enough
in their actions to bring about their vision, no matter
how many pundits screech about it, no matter how
many backwards fools whine about being persecuted.
Authority won’t come to us by accident, we have to
seize it and, once we have it, we can’t be afraid to
wield it. We can’t quail at being loathed. The Bush
base will always loathe us. We should want them to
loathe us more. The more they fear us, the worse they’ll
get, until they reveal themselves once and for all as
what they are: a tiny, overfed alliance of the bitter,
the greedy, and the medieval.

But for that day to come, we’ll have to stop patting our-
selves on the back for being so enlightened and start
slapping them around for being so foul.