Vision and Transformation

I feel both drawn to and wary of activism. I have involved myself in various ways over the years, but I’ve never identified as an activist.

I recently was feeling the attraction again with all that was going on. I started following closely some local activist groups. I attended a rally and talked to some others about writing a trade union resolution in support of the Ferguson protests.

I was reminded of my wariness. There is so much personal drama people put into their activism. I constantly see turf wars going on between activists. In private messages, I get warned about dealing with this or that person. A few loud people dominate almost everything and agreement is hard to find.

With the trade union resolution, the main guy interested is a strong left-winger where the ‘worker’ is the basis of his identity politics. He offered a draft and in it he went far beyond his original proposal. He made it into a far-reaching manifesto, from harsh criticisms of the police as terrorists to demands that major industries be nationalized. I was like, where did this come from?

Besides the questionable politics, it was extremely negative in tone and so broad as to be unfocused. I saw little practical value in it other than emotional catharsis. I couldn’t see it as the conversation-starter that he claimed it would or should be. Even with softening the language, it didn’t appear to be a fundamentally hopeful vision of a democratic free society. It was a demand for change by a perceived elite vanguard that would represent the workers and lead them in the fight against all that is wrong with the world. I found it the opposite of inspiring.

I was definitely not on board with his vision, but the experiece was helpful for me. At the same time I was reading Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Robin D. G. Kelley. The two gave me contrasting views, although both radical. In the book, Kelley writes about visions of hope. He purposesly steers away from ideological dogmatism and toward the power of imagination itself.

He writes, “the kind of politics to which I’ve been drawn have more to do with imagining a different future than being pissed off about the present.” Further on, he makes this even more clear: “There are few contemporary political spaces where the energies of love and imagination are understood and respected as powerful forces.” The author wishes to promote such spaces for inspiring dreams. That is namby-pamby liberalism, but in some ways I think this attitude is more radical than what what many left-wingers are offering, at least the dogmatic variety.

The guy who wrote the draft maybe is stuck in his own suffering (as he mentioned some major family tragedies in recent years) and I know how that feels. The difference between the two of us is that it seems he can’t imagine anything else other than the struggle. I understand life often involves struggle. It’s just I don’t want that to be the defining feature of my experience. Still, I understand the attraction of that worldview. I have just decided to resist that attraction because of the dark turn of mind it leads to.

Here is what really caught my attention in Kelley’s book:

“I did not write this book for those traditional leftists who have traded in their dreams for orthodoxy and sectarianism. Most of those folks are hopeless, I’m sad to say. And they will be the first to dismiss this book as utopian, idealistic, and romantic. Instead, I wrote it for anyone bold enough still to dream”

This relates to why I naturally imagine democracy as both means and ends. The trade union guy, on the other hand, only imagines it as a means and even then only a partial means. If he were given a choice between democracy and struggle for the ’cause’, I feel confident he’d choose the latter.

The worldview he is in is that of tragedy. It is a compelling worldview because it creates a sense of high drama and that can be addictive. When someone is dealing with much suffering, it is a natural worldview to be drawn to. But I’d rather live in a different kind of story, a different kind of vision of the world.

I really do believe it matters what we focus on. Also, the means matter as much or more than the ends, for the latter is implicit in the former. What we focus on and how we act will determine the path we take and the results that will follow. I’ll accept what struggle cannot be avoided, but I have no desire to seek out struggle for the sake of it.

I genuinely believe democracy is our greatest hope. I don’t mean voting and other official political processes. What I envision isn’t just a politics of democracy, but more important an entire society and culture of democracy. In a very real and basic sense, we are all in this together. Our fates are intertwined.

A turn toward that understanding can’t be forced. It must be embraced and given the space to grow.

“Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.”

35 thoughts on “Vision and Transformation

  1. “If he were given a choice between democracy and struggle for the ’cause’, I feel confident he’d choose the latter.”

    Struggle without democracy is extremely unpleasant, dangerous, and reduces your life-expectancy. But then, I wouldn’t expect a communist like that guy to understand that.

    • It might be more complicated than how I put it, but I’m not sure. Even after meeting him in person, I still wasn’t sure what his view entirely was.

      In his draft, he did use the word ‘democratic’ twice, once in terms of democratic rights and another time as democratic voting. Yet the references to democracy were brief and in passing. They weren’t central to the draft. When I brought it up, he resisted the notion that democracy should be an ends, although he relented a bit when I pushed the issue.

      It isn’t that he is anti-democratic. My sense is that democracy is just a secondary issue in his mind and maybe not even necessary to what he hopes to achieve. He never even said what democracy means to him, assuming he has ever given it much deep thought.

      I also wouldn’t entirely put this into the context of his communism. There are plenty of left-wingers, communist or otherwise, who are strong defenders of democracy. On the opposite side, there are plenty of right-wingers, capitalist or otherwise, who are strong critics of democracy, especially in their fear of democracy being applied to economics as well.

      The interesting thing about democracy is that it is a more open-ended kind of ideology. It is a clear set of values, but those values could be expressed in many ways and lead to many results. I would put the emphasis on the means as process and attitude. There is no way to know where democracy will lead for, in basic sense, it is nothing more than the freedom to go in many directions.

      I can take disagreements about many specifics. I don’t have to have the exact same ideological agenda to cooperate with someone around a particular purpose. Democracy, at its best, allows for a diversity of views. But for cooperation to be possible, there has to at least be agreement about democracy itself.

  2. It depends on the activists.

    On one hand, many activists become people who draw attention to things that would otherwise be overlooked. An example is the OWS movement, which did so for inequality.

    On the other hand, some become close minded and shut themselves to all competing opinions, even when the empirical evidence favors the other side. Working at a university, I once heard someone tell me about the animal rights activists that threatened his colleagues (he was conducting research for diseases for public health).

    Then you have the astroturfs, like the Tea Party, which of course are quite dubious in their activism.

    It is very much a grey area. There are some issues that I feel as strongly as activists on, but I don’t always agree with their methods.

    • It certainly does depend on the activists. My main problem is with identity politics. Most activism is about identity politics, including on the right. Almost everyone has their group and their turf. Very few people are genuinely fighting for the good of all people. Just because I’m working class doesn’t mean I want to solely focus on workers’ rights any more than my being a white, male American makes me want to solely focus on white, male American rights. That narrow-mindedness is plain stupid.

  3. It does seem like for many, at some point the movement becomes more important than the initial goal.

    Some are even quite destructive at times. You could argue that the Tea Party is an example. They demand that society pay them their Medicare and other benefits, while they refuse to pay out things like taxes. It’s destructive in that they demand the most advanced care for themselves, while being totally unwilling to spend money for research, university training for new doctors, and building up the social structure for quality medicine.

    I think that among the ones that have stayed true, the advocates for poverty reduction and some of the better (better I know is a highly subjective term) environmentalist groups I think are genuinely trying to help society. I would argue the ones advocating for more social investment, more scientific research money, and some of the consumer watchdog groups seem genuine too.

    • “I would argue the ones advocating for more social investment, more scientific research money, and some of the consumer watchdog groups seem genuine too.”

      That is a key point. I support those seeking practical change toward the public good. Many activists get so caught up in what they are fighting against that they lose sight of what they are fighting for. And I don’t mean small goals, especially not those limited to one particular group.

  4. I suspect that the genuine ones may very well be the ones that face the greatest of all barriers due to the problems of institutionalized corporate power and other obstacles.

    That’s because society is “business friendly”, which means whenever the good of society is fought against corporate profit, there’s a good chance that corporate profit will win.

  5. That’s how ya do it! Good job! http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/01/for_principal_nadia_lopez_every_scholar_matters.html

    Btw, here in town, there are charter schools called Success Academies that are based on the Finnish model. I think they’re a single school but they have several locations throughout the city. Admission is lottery.

    There’s a lot of “scenes” here I’ll say. You have this. You have rotting stereotypical inner city schools. You also have the upper-middle-class mostly white parents on the UES and UWS fighting for the elite schools, from elite preschools to high schools. The academic I spoke of rode the subway to his free, catholic elite HS on the UES. You have the working class kids of (many asian and Eastern European) immigrants in the piblic magnet schools like Stuyvesant. Both the public magnets of working class kids and the elite waspy are conventionally competitive places, with several kids to ivies, and in the case of the private elite schools, keeping-up-with-the-joneses and the obsession with giftedness.

    Personally if I were a parent I’d want to default to the charter schools and the schools like the one mentioned. This is maybe me, maybe I’m just a loser that way but I don’t have much desire for that type of scene. But I want to see people learn and reach their potential and be nurtured.

    • Very nice
      http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/nyregion/a-brooklyn-schools-curriculum-includes-ambition.html?referrer=

      Sometimes it’s nice to have not grown up here… Just cause it simplifies school choice. I had no choice but the public school. Here I walk by a school with uniformed kids coming out every day on my way to class. There’s a mandarin immersion school near Chinatown.

      There’s too much variation and inequality in the schools. The most important thing for me, is the sheer variation in QUALITY. This city is like a microcosm of the nation. I hop on the subway and go watch the yuppie parents’ kids go to their elite privates, or I can go to the south Bronx and see a shitty inner city school. The schools vary so much in quality, you have to actually think about what school to pick. Where just attending the closest school is a sign of lack of privilege. It’s a bit fucked up to be honest.

      • When I was a kid, I lived in the Midwest (Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa).

        My parents sent me to whatever was the neighborhood public school. All the kids in the neighborhood went to the nearest neighborhood school. I didn’t even know about private schools when I was younger, although I’m sure some existed around the places I lived.

        Eighth grade was the first year I spent outside of the Midwest. We moved to South Carolina. It is the Deep South and it is called that for a reason. It is a different world.

        Because of desegregation, kids were bussed to schools all over the city, and so few kids lived near the schools they went to. In order to avoid the desegregated schools, wealthier whites sent their kids to private schools. The family across the street from where we lived sent their kids to a private school, even though they were no wealthier than my family. Just comfortably middle class.

        Even though we were neighbors, we didn’t entirely exist in the same world. The inequality in the Deep South is stark. Everything is divided by class and race, from schools to churches. I never felt at home there. It didn’t seem like a good place to live, all that division and divisiveness with no sense of a shared society and a public good. It was everyone or rather every group for themselves. On top of that, there was a strong clannishness to how people socialized.

        I’m glad to be in the Midwest, especially small(er) town Midwest. I like the feeling of being part of a common community.

        Even the private schools seem less elitist and separate here. There is a school run by the Quakers who are an egalitarian bunch. There is a high school run by the Catholics, which doesn’t appear to be all that different than the public high schools. There is one other small private school that is run according to some alternative model, but I don’t know too much about it. Anyway, unlike the South Carolina, the public schools here in this town are all of a fairly high quality.

        I really do despise how divided our society is in so many ways. Even here in this uber-progressive liberal college town, there is still a strong sense of class and race conflict always simmering below the surface, even if it isn’t as bad as the South. There is no where in this country to escape the pervasive classism and racism. It is a society that is sick to the bones. We have serious problems and few Americans want to face this dark reality.

        • We had a private catholic school, but besides that there were the public schools. Still, there was a alternative program within the public system for middle and high school ages. It was a small school, with an open campus system (unlike at the regular high and middle school) and where students called the teachers by first name. Students often took classes at the mainstream high school and the local college as well. There weren’t any conventional subject classes there. The classes were all elective-sounding so instead of having “chemistry/physics/biology” there were classes like physiology or meteorology or disease mechanisms. Instead of 9th grade English there was Poetry, Shakespeare, Greek Mythology, etc. You graduated with the mainstream high school ceremony and recieved the same school district diploma… and you applied by filling out an application. No testing. They asked you what your interests were, why you were interested in the program, what are goals you have set, what is important for you to learn in school, describe a recent exciting learning experience, in what types of situations do you learn best, etc. I think it was pretty open admission overall, but it was pretty small. I myself wanted to enroll when I went through the typical adjustment issues to high school, but my parents denied, and I adjusted to high school the same. In my experience, the alternative program tended to attract INFP and closer types. xNFx types.

          • In whatever case, I seemed have a much easier time ‘clicking’ on average with kids in the alternative program. But that’s a smaller sample size. I clicked with some kids in HS as well, but I seemed to ‘fit’ better with the alt-programmers. My high school had like 2500 students 😛

    • “That’s how ya do it! Good job!”

      That is a good story to read about. I’d love to see more of that kind of thing. But it’s too bad that great leaders like that have to fight against a failing and dysfunctional education system.

  6. I was going to respond to this blog post earlier, but have not had the time.

    For one thing, if you are going to polemicize against something, you should at least point the readers to the original source…if we want to be all democratic and fair after all. I understand it was probably honest oversight, but either way it is a bad political method. Posting the source is a way workers can judge for themselves the merits of the argument. Here was the original trade union resolution referenced:

    https://fightingunionia.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/draft-trade-union-resolution-on-labor-defense-against-racist-police-terror/

    But why I am responding now is because the ILWU (Longshoremen) Local 10 have taken a position against racist police terror, even engaging in “emotional catharsis” and engaging in “harsh criticisms of the police as terrorists.” See ILWU statement below….

    Unlike the idealists who think they can close their eyes and click their heels together and usher in some abstract concept of “democracy”, militant workers have taken a stand in defending concrete democratic rights of the oppressed black, brown and immigrant communities. They actually seek to change material social reality.

    And by the way, the above trade union resolution discussed was mass tweeted to ILWU followers. Did it have any effect? Who the hell knows, but it points the way forward.

    This is not a strike but not insignificant either….

    Labor Against Police Terror ILWU Port Shut Down and Rally

    “ILWU, Local 10 is leading a Day of Action on May 1st, 2015 to call national attention in order to STOP POLICE TERROR. There will be no longshoremen working on that day in the Port of Oakland. The port will be SHUT DOWN. Disrupting commerce in this country is one means to find viable solutions to STOP POLICE TERROR. Please join us in this action and stand up against police terror.”

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2015/04/22/18771377.php

    https://occupyoakland.org/2015/04/ilwu-to-shut-down-port-of-oakland-on-may-day-in-support-of-blacklivesmatter/

    • Let me begin by saying I’m not in the mood to argue about it. I’m in a conciliatory mood right now. I have no desire to let myself be drawn into a sense of conflict nor do I want to antagonize you further than I’ve already done. I’m sorry that I offended you. I’m sorry that I came off as being dismissive.

      I realize you are probably feeling defensive. I know that, if I were in your position, I’d feel defensive. That is a legitimate response to when one perceives one’s views and credibility as having been challenged, but that wasn’t my intention in writing this post.

      It was never intended to be personally about you. I intentionally left out all personal details, because I didn’t want it to be personal. It wasn’t even about myself in a personal sense.

      Certainly, the trade resolution wasn’t the specific issue of this post. It was just something that got me thinking. If I were analyzing the trade resolution, I would have linked to it and quoted it, but that wasn’t my purpose. The trade resolution was a side issue, the starting point and not the ending point of my thoughts.

      I was thinking out my own attitudes in response to something in particular, but the particulars were irrelevant to my mind. I wasn’t polemicizing about what I am against. Rather, I was trying to suss out what I am for.

      So, this post isn’t really about you or my interaction with you. Neither was it about the trade resolution. I didn’t link to your draft for the same reason I didn’t link to my draft. But if anyone wants to compare drafts, here is mine as well:

      https://m.facebook.com/groups/1423145457941601?view=permalink&id=1450376798551800&refid=12

      Anyway, you aren’t being fair in your talk of idealists. You’ve claimed to want to unite people for action while you dismiss most potential allies. There is no way for that to end but in failure. I realize failing for a righteous cause feels good, but I hope for more than that and I know you do as well.

      Still, I understand. I’ve many times fallen into the trap of self-righteousness and no doubt I’ll fall into it many times again. I realize how satisfying it feels, the high drama of fighting the good fight, but it creates a black/white mentality where everyone is either for or against you. I try to resist the impulse to dismiss those around me (including you) for failing some belief or ideal I have in mind.

      I’d point out that not everyone who disagrees with you can be dismissed as an idealist. Besides, some of my wariness toward your views is the fact that they are so idealistic, maybe even to the point of rigid dogmatism (or such is my concern). Your criticism of the idealism seems to originate from your own ideals butting up against those of others.

      I admit that I have an idealistic side. Yet my own idealistic side is not necessarily any stronger than my pessimistic side. Do you want to have a macho contest about who can be the most hardcore cynical gritty realist? I might be able to beat you in such a contest.

      I know idealism and I know what idealism turns into after a lifetime of suffering, struggle, and frustration. As it has been said before, scratch a cynic and you’ll find an idealist. I recognize your harsh attitude toward idealism because I’ve expressed it myself quite often over the years. I also recognize where that is likely coming from.

      No one works as hard and fights as passionately as you do without there being an ideal as an inspiration. I realize you may have learned to hide your idealism from the world because people can be cruel, but ideals can also be a source of power and hope. That is my point.

      Idealism can lead you down a number of roads. There are those who become cynical realists who nurse their ideals in secret. There are those who become dogmatic ideologues who draw a fortress around their minds. But then there is a third option, that of radical imagination, which allows for an interplay of the dark and light, a balance of suffering and compassion.

      You may think that I’m criticizing you because you are a radical left-winger. That is not the case. If anything, I don’t think you are radical enough. Your radicalism only goes so far, and then you dismiss the radicalism of others. Your radicalism is realism whereas everyone else’s radicalism supposedly is just idealism.

      I’ll end by saying that, if you go around dismissing almost everyone you interact with, almost everyone will end up dismissing you. How does that do anyone any good? That isn’t an effective strategy… nor is it a happy way to live one’s life.

      Don’t let the ugliness of the world turn you ugly. That is something we all could keep in mind.

  7. I really don’t see what this has to do with me. The trade union resolution and the politics advanced are a collaborative effort of socialist trade unionists from the East and West Coasts that I contributed to. This makes your analysis of the personal motivations and psychology above fall apart as you have never met these people. For that matter, the Red Party members, one of who was a trade unionist who attended the meeting (other Red Party members not there actually live in the black and brown communities) generally agreed with the resolution (had some proposed changes/additions.)

    If you don’t want to discuss the politics then that is fine. Except you were and are in the posts above raising political critique (against call for nationalization in resolution, idealism, identity politics….which Marxism is not, nature of police, how to build struggle, etc), but will only go so far in your critique which then falls back on the individual and individual motivations, which as I said,doesn’t really hold water because the politics of the trade union resolution were a collaborative effort by people you have never met. If you want to discuss the politics further, I am game. Or not. I have made my political point and shown how the politics of the trade union resolution are relevant to social struggle today as can be seen with the May 1st ILWU action.

    I am rarely if ever offended by personal critique/attacks in politics as it is the stock-in-trade of liberal idealists who substitute it as a political method of “debate” /attack because they are incapable or unwilling to directly deal with the politics at hand. It kind of goes with the territory of advancing socialist politics and I run into it all the time from liberals and leftists, particularly in America which is very backward socially and politically.

    None of this is personal for me. Would I sit down and have a coffee with you and discuss movies or whatever sometime? Of course I would assuming I had time. You seemed like a nice person.

    • “I really don’t see what this has to do with me.”

      I’m not sure what you are referring to. If you mean my blog post, I already told you it wasn’t really about you and wasn’t intended to be about you. However, if you mean my comment, it was a direct response to what you wrote. So, if my comment is irrelevant, it is only irrelevant to the degree that what you wrote is irrelevant.

      “The trade union resolution and the politics advanced are a collaborative effort of socialist trade unionists from the East and West Coasts that I contributed to. This makes your analysis of the personal motivations and psychology above fall apart as you have never met these people.”

      I’m not talking about “these people.” If I was talking about other people, I would have said so. The person I was talking about was you, the person I’ve met and the person to which my comment was directed. This blog post and my comments aren’t about any particular trade resolution. I understand it is important to you, but it simply has nothing directly to do with what I originally wrote.

      “For that matter, the Red Party members, one of who was a trade unionist who attended the meeting (other Red Party members not there actually live in the black and brown communities) generally agreed with the resolution (had some proposed changes/additions.)”

      So? I’m not surprised that a few people who belong to the same small ideological group all mostly agree with each other. The guy who attended the group with me agreed with me and other people I know also agreed with me. People who agree with each other about ideology tend to agree with each other about that which expresses their shared worldview. Why is this significant?

      “If you don’t want to discuss the politics then that is fine. Except you were and are in the posts above raising political critique (against call for nationalization in resolution, idealism, identity politics….which Marxism is not, nature of police, how to build struggle, etc), but will only go so far in your critique which then falls back on the individual and individual motivations, which as I said,doesn’t really hold water because the politics of the trade union resolution were a collaborative effort by people you have never met. If you want to discuss the politics further, I am game. Or not.”

      I’m not sure anything fruitful coming out of our dialogue, but I’m usually open about discussing issues.

      I agree Marxism isn’t inherently identity politics, but that doesn’t mean those who use Marxist ideas never involve themselves in identity politics. Anything can become identity politics once a group identity forms around it, even that of Marxists. That is basic psychology.

      That actually is one of the potential problems I see. You are identifying as a worker and making workers rights the centerpiece of your activism, which is identity politics and which in the context of the original proposal I find to be too narrow of a frame, assuming there was a purpose beyond uniting a small group of Marxists.

      I see your views in some ways as not being radical enough, for they seem rather mainstream in how they are framed, the labor battles during the height of industrialization. It seems you are wanting to fight old battles, which to me leaves little room for new ideas for drastically changing conditions. The halcyon days of labor fights won’t make for a useful model of activism in an era of both decreasing employment and decreasing union membership.

      As I explained at the meeting, poor minorities are defined by their low employment rates and this is increasingly so for the entire population. Framing the political battle on old labor union lines will lead to a losing battle. The issue isn’t labor. Few people care about labor in and of itself. Labor at best is just a means to an end, the end being a life worth living. The problem is labor is going to become less of a unifying force, as unemployment (especially permanent unemployment) continues to grow. The highly unemployed permanent underclass is probably not overly inspired by your labor identity politics.

      That isn’t to say labor issues aren’t important to those who do have jobs. I’m just saying we need to think larger than that. This requires us to have more radical visions of what we are seeking. I’m also not saying identity politics can’t and shouldn’t play a role. It’s just we need a unifying identity large enough to make a movement.

      “I have made my political point and shown how the politics of the trade union resolution are relevant to social struggle today as can be seen with the May 1st ILWU action.”

      I’m glad. Like so much else, that is important. But that is one small area. It isn’t an expression of a greater vision that will unite enough people to make a difference. That is fine, though. Not everything has to be about the greater vision, but we should keep our eyes on the end game.

      “I am rarely if ever offended by personal critique/attacks in politics as it is the stock-in-trade of liberal idealists who substitute it as a political method of “debate” /attack because they are incapable or unwilling to directly deal with the politics at hand. It kind of goes with the territory of advancing socialist politics and I run into it all the time from liberals and leftists, particularly in America which is very backward socially and politically.”

      Why do you keep making broad generalizations and dismissing people out of hand? You know almost nothing about me, no more than I know about you. Your accusation of my supposed personal critique/attacks is hypocritical. If I am making personal critique/attacks of you because I’m a liberal idealist, then does that mean you’re a liberal idealist because you are making personal critique/attacks of me?

      Remember, it was you who began personally dismissing people as idealists and who continues to do so. From my perspective, it seems like there is some projection going on.

      Anyhow, in some ways, you are more idealistic than I am. That is sort of one of my complaints, although my complaint has less to do with the idealism itself. I’d have less of an issue with it if you’d own up to your idealism, for it is obviously so much part of what drives your activism. You are one of the most passionately idealistic people I’ve ever met and, unlike you, I don’t mean that as an insult.

      “None of this is personal for me. Would I sit down and have a coffee with you and discuss movies or whatever sometime? Of course I would assuming I had time. You seemed like a nice person.”

      Sure, it is personal. You are, after all, a person. It would be strange to deny you are a person. What you mean to say is that your feelings aren’t hurt. I’m glad to hear it. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings.

    • There is one thing that I’d like to clear up. You think you know me because I identify as a liberal, but I don’t fit into your stereotype of a liberal.

      When I call myself a liberal, I mostly mean it in the psychological sense. I’m strongly liberal-minded. Many liberals aren’t strongly liberal-minded and many left-wingers are. My politics are fairly left-wing, maybe to the left of you even.

      I don’t have all the answers. That is partly what being liberal-minded means to me. It is to have an open and curious mind, as opposed to a dogmatic mind.

      Trying to dismiss me as an idealistic liberal is meaningless. I’d rather you engage me as a person than as a perceived ideology. However, for some reason, you seem to have a negative response to what you think of as ‘personal’. That is odd, as the personal fundamentally just means that which is of a person. We are both persons, aren’t we?

      Your dismissal of idealism and the personal doesn’t seem helpful. You obviously are a person and you obviously have ideals. The same goes for me. Why can’t we relate on this level of our common humanity?

      A central point to my post had to do with the power of the radical imagination to get beyond what divides us. What good does it do for you and I to focuse on what separates us when we could work together? Why promote a divisive vision that only a small ideological group will support? Ideology isn’t what makes us humans, isn’t what gives meaning to our lives, which isn’t to say ideology isn’t important, but there is so much more.

      The challenge, however, is to embrace the radical imagination and hence radical politics means you can’t begin with the assumption that you already have everything figured out. It forces you to humble yourself and to come to the table as an equal to others. Just because someone comes from a different perspective doesn’t mean they are wrong.

      There comes a time in a society when entirely new thinking is required. I think we are at such a moment in history. It’s an opportunity.

      We are like the feudal serfs when feudalism was ending. We could try to organize the other feudal serfs and try to create a better feudalism. Or we could let feudalism end and envision something entirely new.

      That is where workers are today. To be a worker is a social identity that comes out of a specific social order. Is that an identify we want to defend at all costs? Maybe we should seek new ways to identify ourselves and hence new ways to organize, but that would require new visions.

  8. Benjamin,

    I’ll respond in further detail when I have time, but probably not before next weekend.

    In regards to your comments on unemployment, your politics are the politics of despair. You accept unemployment as a permanent fact of life. What does your politics have to offer the unemployed and the oppressed?

    “The problem is labor is going to become less of a unifying force, as unemployment (especially permanent unemployment) continues to grow. The highly unemployed permanent underclass is probably not overly inspired by your labor identity politics.”

    In contrast, socialists call for all at living prevailing rate union wages with full benefits. The way to achieve this is through a 30 hour workweek at 40 hours pay to spread around the available work and will only be achieved through struggle.

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tp-text.htm#ss

    “Sliding Scale of Wages and Sliding Scale of Hours

    Under the conditions of disintegrating capitalism, the masses continue to live the meagerized life of the oppressed, threatened now more than at any other time with the danger of being cast into the pit of pauperism. They must defend their mouthful of bread, if they cannot increase or better it. There is neither the need nor the opportunity to enumerate here those separate, partial demands which time and again arise on the basis of concrete circumstances – national, local, trade union. But two basic economic afflictions, in which is summarized the increasing absurdity of the capitalist system, that is, unemployment and high prices, demand generalized slogans and methods of struggle.

    The Fourth International declares uncompromising war on the politics of the capitalists which, to a considerable degree, like the politics of their agents, the reformists, aims to place the whole burden of militarism, the crisis, the disorganization of the monetary system and all other scourges stemming from capitalism’s death agony upon the backs of the toilers. The Fourth International demands employment and decent living conditions for all.

    Neither monetary inflation nor stabilization can serve as slogans for the proletariat because these are but two ends of the same stick. Against a bounding rise in prices, which with the approach of war will assume an ever more unbridled character, one can fight only under the slogan of a sliding scale of wages. This means that collective agreements should assure an automatic rise in wages in relation to the increase in price of consumer goods.

    Under the menace of its own disintegration, the proletariat cannot permit the transformation of an increasing section of the workers into chronically unemployed paupers, living off the slops of a crumbling society. The right to employment is the only serious right left to the worker in a society based upon exploitation. This right today is left to the worker in a society based upon exploitation. This right today is being shorn from him at every step. Against unemployment, “structural” as well as “conjunctural,” the time is ripe to advance along with the slogan of public works, the slogan of a sliding scale of working hours. Trade unions and other mass organizations should bind the workers and the unemployed together in the solidarity of mutual responsibility. On this basis all the work on hand would then be divided among all existing workers in accordance with how the extent of the working week is defined. The average wage of every worker remains the same as it was under the old working week. Wages, under a strictly guaranteed minimum, would follow the movement of prices. It is impossible to accept any other program for the present catastrophic period.

    Property owners and their lawyers will prove the “unrealizability” of these demands. Smaller, especially ruined capitalists, in addition will refer to their account ledgers. The workers categorically denounce such conclusions and references. The question is not one of a “normal” collision between opposing material interests. The question is one of guarding the proletariat from decay, demoralization and ruin. The question is one of life or death of the only creative and progressive class, and by that token of the future of mankind. If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. “Realizability” or “unrealizability” is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”

    • I’m sure if we talked more we’d find more to agree on. Part of the issue is we are coming from different frameworks. We are likely talking past each other quite a bit. That is the natural process of dialogues such as this.

      “In regards to your comments on unemployment, your politics are the politics of despair.”

      It is a matter of perspective. One person’s reason for despair is another person’s reason for hope, optimism, and possibility.

      “You accept unemployment as a permanent fact of life. What does your politics have to offer the unemployed and the oppressed?”

      I wouldn’t put it the way you state it there. It’s not that I accept unemployment as a permanent fact of life. I simply don’t see the framing as useful. I don’t think of employment as the ultimate norm for human existence, by which everything else must be judged. Hunter-gatherer’s are technically unemployed and yet it doesn’t negatively alter their personal identities and the social fabric of their communities.

      “In contrast, socialists call for all at living prevailing rate union wages with full benefits. The way to achieve this is through a 30 hour workweek at 40 hours pay to spread around the available work and will only be achieved through struggle.”

      That might be a good step in the right direction, but I’d go further.

      I’d unlink basic living costs from employment. I would prefer a minimum income or something like that. Thomas Paine developed some of the earliest thinking on this issue with his “Agrarian Justice”.

      Our government regularly gives away a massive amount of money in such things as natural resources. That money should be going to the citizens, as it does in some countries, whether as direct payments or to fund public infrastructure, programs, etc.

      Employment should be an option. It shouldn’t be the defining feature of life. So, I would be fine with a right to employment, just not an obligation to employment.

    • I suspect we are closer in mindset than our initial disagreement shows.

      I liked you right from the start. You are obviously passionate and opinionated, two things we have in common. Also, you seem like a basically honest person, even in disagreement. You will state your views bluntly, but then you will also listen. I appreciate that.

      My focus on radical imagination isn’t so much to say that I am right an you are wrong. It is more simply that I haven’t a fucking clue, and yet I wonder what is possible. I have my preferences and I do advocate for them, but I want to keep my mind open.

      I have this deep sense of much the entire ground is shifting under our feet. I feel the rumbling. I don’t know what it means any more than anyone else. What I sense, however, is that once things settle we might be dealing with a very different social, economic, and political terrain. I sometimes wonder if we are close to a shift as major as was the ending of feudalism.

      My guess is that our views are more or less in alignment. We may have different preferences, but it seems we are looking at similar problems in a similar way.

    • Here is something that might be of interest. It is passage from Russel Jacoby’s “Dialectic of Defeat, Comfortism Marxism,” as quoted in the blog of C. Derrick Varn (AKA skepoet).

      I don’t fully understand what is being said, but I was wondering if it relates to my thoughts on radical imagination. The issue is how does one step far enough outside of the system to see it clearly and to see the alternatives clearly.

      Here is the passage:

      https://symptomaticcommentary.wordpress.com/2015/04/21/some-thoughts-for-today/

      “The profound complicity of orthodox Marxism in bourgeois industrialization is exposed by an absence. In the Marxist tradition a search- ing critique of the “secondary” characteristics of capitalism is lacking. Secondary refers to those features that stand once removed from the primary economic organization of wages, working conditions, imperialism, and the market. It refers to a series of relations, such as urbanism, mass media, psychological life, and leisure. These are not necessarily second in importance, but are second in that they cannot exist apart from the basic political-economic organization of society.

      “In recent decades these areas have increasingly drawn the attention of Marxists, but earlier Marxists ignored them. The few analyses of- fered have been pedestrian and predictable. The secondary features have been disposed of by concepts taken from the basic dictionary of Marxism: superstructure, relations of production, accumulation, and so on. If none of these concepts have been wrong, none have grasped the specificity of the phenomenon.

      “The usual explanation for the banality of Marxism refers to the ills of “vulgar” Marxism. Vulgar Marxism is vulgar in its economic reduc- tionism; everything lacks substance and reality beyond an economic base. This does not suffice as an explanation for the lameness of Marx- ism. Not only vulgar Marxism but its vulgar critique needs to be surmounted.

      “The vulgar critique of vulgar Marxism glosses over the complicity between the Marxists and the secondary features of capitalism. This was the reason for blindness. They did not perceive these features as fundamentally changing; hence there was no reason for scrutiny. The Marxists would inherit the cities and the mass newspapers; only the signs and headlines would be changed. Rockefeller Plaza would become Leninplatz. The basic rapport with industrial life paralyzed the critique.This can be stated in the obverse more emphatically: The most compelling and illuminating analyses of the secondary processes derive from a conservative, sometimes reactionary, tradition. This runs from Nietzsche and Spengler to contemporary – and surely lesser – critics, such as Jacques Ellul and Ivan Illich. This is hardly a coherent tradi-tion, and it is radically flawed in more than one respect. Yet the analyses that are proferred are unmatched – and unassimilated – by Marxists. “

  9. The issue is the way the gains of productivity are split really. Do they go to a few people or do they go to everyone as a whole? Right now society has sent them to the richest at the expense of all else.

    In Eastern Europe they say that Marx’s criticisms of capitalism were correct, but that his solution was not.

    Off topic, but I am not a big fan of the new layout – I do prefer the older one.

    • I don’t have strong opinions about Marx. He didn’t offer many solutions. His writings were mostly an analysis of how he perceived the direction society was heading. I’m pretty sure Marx wouldn’t have approved of either the Soviet Union or Maoist China.

      I also don’t have strong opinions about the new layout. The problem was that the previous theme had been “retired” some years ago. They were no longer updating it with changes made to WordPress. It recently stopped functioning properly. I didn’t know if or when they might fix it. I decided to switch for the simple reason of getting it to function again.

      I chose this one because of its simplicity. I liked the sidebar on the left that slides out when clicked. It feels less cluttered than the old one, but I haven’t given it too much thought yet. I might look around at other layouts. There might be some that are similar to the old one.

      So, what did you like about the old layout? Have you seen any other WordPress blogs around that have layouts you like? I’ll check them out, if you link to them.

  10. In regards to Marx, at least he made an effort analyze the problems. I don’t think Marx would have approved of the direction of the USSR or China under Mao either.

    He was a step forward in that he at least made an effort to address the magnitude of the problems faced.

    In regards to the layout, it is not very space efficient. It’s a big problem on a larger monitor. I suppose there’s a tradeoff between clutter and space efficiency. A lot more scrolling too. There’s also no search bar, although that can easily be remedied by using Google.

    I can show you an image of what it looks like.

  11. My monitor is 2560×1440 – although as of late, I do see your point that phones are creeping up in resolution higher than most desktops in fact, save the 4k monitors.

    • I can try out the other themes and see what they look like. You could give me feedback. But I’m not sure I’ll do much with it for the moment. I might not get back to the issue of theme formats until next weekend.

      I wish there was a way to find one that was similar to Digg3 that I had. There are so many options available, at least in the hundreds. It’s hard to figure out what they look like without trying them out and then playing with the customization.

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