The Hot Club of Cowtown, with an appropriate theme song for this post
Dear Progressive Blogosphere;
This decision, like the decision Brittney Gilbert made yesterday to quit her job after becoming the target of the latest “progressive” mob torch parade, has been coming for a long time. What she said in her resignation holds here: recent events didn’t cause this, but they did precipitate it.
I’ll still be writing, here and anywhere else I’m allowed. My politics haven’t changed except in the incremental, nuance-building way they would have anyway, generally sliding me further left, which some may not have thought possible. I’ll certainly still be writing about those politics when I’m moved to do so. And more importantly, I’ll continue to exercise those politics in what we once quaintly referred to as the “real world.”
But though I may be a person with “progressive” politics who writes, among other venues, on blogs, I wish to inform you that I am no longer a “Progressive Blogger,” and thus my continued membership in the Progressive Blogosphere is inappropriate.
So I quit.
I admit that part of the problem has been my own naïvete. I’m an old fart, and I’m obviously stuck in a sort of 1970s time warp in which ¡Villa Alegre! is still on PBS, the bourgeoisie wears Qiana shirts, and progressives have made a commitment to self-criticism, connection of different political issues, and front-building among diverse people and cultures. These days I see “progressives” who, given a time machine and a bad haircut, would have felt more at home inside the International Amphitheatre in Chicago in 1968 than they would have with the people outside.
That’s not a perfect metaphor. For one thing, the male 1960s radical leadership had an even longer way to go on feminist-related issues than your run of the mill 2007 moderate conservative male does, to say nothing of GLBT issues. But I still think it apt. I’ve written before to compare the “progressive” response to radicals in the electoral process with the Republican response to their own radicals: for those disinclined to click a link for that all-important context, here’s a summary:
1992: A third-party candidate arguably costs the GOP the presidential race. GOP response: find out what the disaffected wanted that the GOP failed to offer, and offer it.
2000: A third-party candidate arguably costs the Democrats the presidential race. Democratic response: demonize the disaffected.
We see that second one repeated every time the Progressive Marshmallow Consensus gets poked at from any perspective that could be interpreted as to the PMC’s left: accusations of the Perfect Targeting the Good, accusations of Destroying the Coalition, accusations of Not Subjugating Our Petty Issues to the Greater Cause. We play along, if under protest. It is crucial, after all, that the current gang of genocidal kleptocrats be tossed out of power ASAP.
And then what? Again, 1992 is an instructive year. Liberals rejoiced when Clinton defeated Bush. And then they went to sleep for eight years. This despite Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Forest Summit sellout, the betrayal of Lani Guinier, the abandonment of paltry CAFE standards, the ascendancy of the Right in the 104th Congress, and the list goes on.
Assume the most conservative Democrat in the field of Presidential candidates wins the general election. Tell me — with a straight face, I mean — that at least 70 percent of Progressive Bloggers won’t suddenly go eerily quiet about her policies, even if they’re substantially similar to Bush 43’s. Say a date is set 18 months in the future for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, with an option to postpone at the President’s discretion. You tell me there’ll be a chorus of outrage across the Progressive Blogosphere. If there is, it’ll be a departure from past performance.
It’s always been about winning. Those of us for whom the issues are paramount are political — and sometimes not just political — cannon fodder. Which is why the PMC reacts so poorly to observations of its innate sexism, or racism, or otherphobia. While such criticisms are helpful to people who truly want to make change in the world in the long term, they’re distractions, or even obstacles, to those who want to win in the short-term. The left, the Greens, feminists, anti-racists, Rainbow Nationalists, any of us in the diverse range of concerns that make up the lower-case p progressive movement? We’re exactly as useful and important as our contribution to the electoral win of the New Face Of Progressivism!
Yes, the PMC treats the radicals as consumables and discardables. But this wouldn’t be a real “GBCW” post if I didn’t say something about the radicals as well, now, would it?
I have this to say about the radicals: I love you. But you don’t have to look to hard to find examples, among us, of some of the same things being rightly criticized in the Brittney Gilbert blogswarm referenced above. An example: It’s a fine thing to slam someone for writing something you find offensive. It’s another thing to slam someone for not writing something they way you would have, or for writing about a subject other than the one you think they ought to have picked. It’s a fine thing to criticize someone moderating comments on their blog in a way you don’t agree with, but it’s another to slam someone for not moderating comments on their blog 24/7. It’s a fine thing to decide that your blog has a specific mission. It’s another to decide that your blog’s mission is the only mission any blog should have.
In short, it’s one thing for you to be disappointed in or angered by bloggers with whom you share some political viewpoints. It’s another to assume they owe you anything other than basic human respect because you’ve done them the favor of reading their work.
The notion that individual people are best thought of as metaphorical cannon fodder isn’t restricted to the PCM. We do it too. There are people whose Ideal Left consists of lots of outwardly diverse people all saying the same thing at the same time, an online Worker’s World march with all the banner slogans written in the same hand, and those people fancy themselves the ones best suited to determine what those banners say. But I like my diversity more than skin-deep. I want a world with both subtlety and slapstick. Anger and reflection. Deep importance and trivia.
And I want a world where people are willing to try to remember that one person can indulge in all of the above.
You know one of the things I like least about my blog? The fact that I felt compelled to add “satire” to my list of categories. I thought it a necessary evil: for every person who gets a joke, there’ll be twelve who think I think professors are all Maoists. It’s tempting to just sit back and snicker at people who don’t get the joke. Still, I’ve always been suspicious of in-groups without an open admission policy, and making a sense of humor a prerequisite sets a bar too damned high for some people to jump.
But one of the common assertions made by the mob of torch-wielders demanding Brittney Gilbert’s head was that their failure to comprehend her intent was a mortal sin on her part. Sure, part of writing well is making one’s intent clear when appropriate. I’d probably have made my disgust for that link a little clearer, especially as I’ve been burned by people’s incomprehension more than once. But as in everything else in life, balance between competing interests is important. Explaining that jokes are jokes will help the pathologically humorless avoid embarrassment, but it ruins the jokes for everyone else. Saying that every time one discusses a bad thing, one is obliged to point out that it is a bad thing, and that bad things are bad, and that failure to point this out every single time is an offense punishable by witch hunt, firing, ostracism and the like? Fuck that noise.
I recognize that some of the very Progressive Bloggers who most need to read those last two sentences will likely have missed them because their eyes have glazed over in the absence of blink tags to denote the important points of this essay, so let me repeat them in bold type for the clue impaired:
Saying that every time one discusses a bad thing, one is obliged to point out that it is a bad thing, and that bad things are bad, and that failure to point this out every single time is an offense punishable by witch hunt, firing, ostracism and the like? Fuck that noise.
Given a choice between — on the one hand — retaining membership in good standing in the Progressive Blogosphere by writing to the lowest common denominator or — on the other hand — not insulting the intelligence of the kind of reader for whom I prefer to write, I pick that second thing there.
So let this function as a courtesy notice. If your reading this blog, or linking to it, or liking it, is based on what I actually write, you’ll notice no change. But if it’s predicated on my loyal membership in the Progressive Blogosphere, you may want to update your blogroll to include me out [underlined text added post-publication for that all-important clarity]. Have a nice day. I mean that sincerely. And that. Etc.