Saturday, January 15, 2005

UCSC panel on GWBush

Jessica and I went to a panel on GWBush tonight. It was focused on mourning and analyzing the defeat on November 2nd. Mostly, it was more academic than I was hoping for. I went because I was hoping it would give me some analysis of Left behavior that should be avoided, tactics that work and don't work...

There was some of that, but a lot of it was vague, or simply restatements of criticism of Bush. I didn't really leave with a "take-home" kind of action mind set. There was a 'have hope' message to the thing, a sort of "we're not dead yet!"

Things I remember:

  • Have Hope - Europe and Latin America have a better political perspective than we do.
  • The left should not be afraid to engage Christianity on it's own terms using it's discourse to promote a progressive morality.
  • There are a lot of people out there doing good organizing on the local level, but this work is not expanding to the national scale
  • Nobody believed the things Kerry said, especially not his supporters. We thought he was just trying to be smart in appealing swing voters by appearing right wing. This was not a the basis for building a movement.
  • The Iraq war is bad.


On the whole, I found it invigorating to be in that environment, but i felt a distinct lack of practical advice for activists or for actions. That was disappointing, but it got me thinking on my own. As Jessica and I left the auditorium, I was saying that I felt one issue not addressed was the question, "If our analysis is so piercing and right, why don't we win elections?" (aside from the media monopoly issue). Just as I said that, Jess laughed, because the guy behind us leaving the auditorium said the exact same thing.

I think it was a glaring omission in the discussion led by the panel. The psychology of the disconnect between the Left and the Red States was not discussed enough. There was some discussion of a sense of moral superiority on both sides, and the issue of condescension was raised around the Kerry campaign, but...

For me, it made me think of the conversation I witnessed at G.P.'s funeral between my mom and my aunt. My aunt had found a pile of cartoons critical of Bush, and there was something she saw that made her launch into a condemnation of the "homosexual agenda". I was working in the kitchen at the time, and was just an observer. (Let it be known that I was a privately fuming observer.)

So my aunt went on regurgitating all this right wing nonsense, and my mom was very nice. She registered her dissent and let it ride. She didn't come out and say, "Pam, you are a bigot. I will not stand for you spreading hate at my father's funeral." Granted, a funeral is not a time for a family conflict, but neither is it a time for spewing bile about hundreds of thousands of people you don't know.

As a privately fuming observer, i left thinking, "Nice, good, tolerant = LOSING!" The logic went as follows. My mom is good. She was nice to not escalate Aunt Pam's comments to a heated argument. She concedes Pam her own opinion, and agrees to disagree without needing to take it to the level of conflict. In the end, Aunt Pam's views won out, because, however wrong they were, she aired them fully and with conviction, while my mother chose discretion. Bigotry won the day.

There were children around, and I found myself thinking, "Somebody needs to call Aunt Pam out on this bullshit." At some point the philosophy of "love the person, hate the politics" has crept too far into niceties. You can still love the person and ruthlessly dismember their short-sighted bigoted politics.

A simple,

"WHoa Aunt Pam! where I come from, that kinda talk is called bigotry! And frankly, it's not appropriate around children - or at a funeral, for that matter..."


would have done it.

But, of course, my mom would never say that. I don't say it either, but there's no question that it should have been said. Sad isn't it? I don't think it's just niceness that keeps me quiet either. It's an insidiously creeping relativism that silences me. I figure, "Everyone has a right to their opinions. And they have a right to express them." and in a particular instance, when I've got only seconds to think and respond, I only get that far. I don't have time to formulate a counter-argument.
Namely, people don't have the right to voice their opinion without opposition. Nor do they have a right to slanderous speech that harms others.

Rhetoric! The rhetoric of the left! where has it gone!? Aasgawkjf! hollow soapboxes 'isms', 'archy' words? PLEASE NO MORE! i get so turned off by black hoodies with patches on them that say "down with the patriarchy".

Sometimes I really hate talking to lefties. I remember a couple years ago, when I was discussing the efficacy of black hoodies with a guy from the STLIMC. I was saying "the people we're trying to communicate with ridicule our presentation." He said, "who are these 'people' you refer to as a homogeneous group? I don't believe in the concept of a 'mainstream'."

He's a great guy, but i was so disappointed in that logic. Communicating a political opinion vs. questioning the origin of meaning. Can you do it all at once?

When abroad, there were times that I saw things that would be totally morally reprehensible to me here. I flinched, but i tried not to be judgmental about it. Sometimes, reflecting on it, there was no basis to my initial judgment, but other times, there was a very legitimate basis. enough about this right now. I hope Jessica can fill me in on current anthropological thinking on universal vs. relative morality.

bye!




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In case you're wondering, on the panel, we heard from:

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ANGELA DAVIS Professor of History of Consciousness at
UC Santa Cruz is one of the country's foremost
activist-intellectuals. Trained as a philosopher, she
has written on African American culture, politics,
feminism, and music. Her latest book is Are Prisons
Obsolete?

SUSAN HARDING, Professor Anthropology at UC Santa
Cruz, has done extensive fieldwork on evangelical
Christianity. Her research, long referenced by a range
of authors working in the field, culminated in the
2000 publication of The Book of Jerry Falwell:
Fundamentalist Language and Politics.

RONNIE LIPSCHUTZ, Professor of Politics at UC Santa
Cruz, is the author of many books on environmental and
ethnic politics, and on political conflict. He also
writes a weekly newspaper column on national politics.

GEORGE LIPSITZ, Professor of American Studies at UC
Santa Cruz, is an activist and scholar who has written
on popular culture, oppositional cultural movements,
race, and urban culture. In 1998 he published The
Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People
Profit From Identity Politics.

ROBERT MEISTER, Professor of Politics at UC Santa
Cruz, is a prominent political theorist. Since the
1990 publication of the pathbreaking Political
Identity: Thinking Through Marx, he has written and
spoken widely on human rights, victimization, and on
the US global posture since September 11.

HELENE MOGLEN, Professor of Literature at UC Santa
Cruz, in addition to many publications on English and
American Literatures, has for many years been a
feminist activist and organizer. Currently, she is
director of UCSC's Institute for Advanced Feminist
Research.

MANUEL PASTOR, Professor of Latina/o and Latin
American Studies at UCSC, is a community activist and
a scholar of political economy and community. He
recently published Regions that Work: How Cities and
Suburbs Can Grow Together.

ALAN RICHARDS, Professor of Environmental Studies at
UC Santa Cruz, has published widely on environmental
politics and economics, with particular expertise in
the Middle East. Recently, he has been invited by the
US Army to share with its officers his dissenting
views on the US role in the region.

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