on rigorousness (the lack thereof) on the left.

To keep you interested in this uninteresting rant, I will post photos of candy cups!

I am about to speak in huge generalizations. If you have a problem with this, you’re free to go. This is a much more fun site to mess around with than mine! (Someone in my household reads Dwell, can you tell?)

Still here?

OK.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the military lately.

This is weird.

In the household I grew up in, people who joined the military were on about the same plane as cops: the sooner the planet was free of them the better off we’d all be. My father narrowly escaped having to dodge the Vietnam war draft because, as he told it, he was “too skinny.” A large part of me doubts this was a real excuse and suspects copious amounts of drugs continually flowing through his system had reduced his brain to such mush that even the military wouldn’t take him. Who knows.

My mom is your standard tender-hearted lovable hippie who can’t think about the military without getting sad about the unnecessary nature of war and useless bloodshed. I’m pretty much the same way, though with a lot more rage mixed in. The way the military preys on people of color in poor communities who may not have many viable alternatives and are thus forced to, as the old saying goes, “travel to exotic countries, meet interesting people, and kill them” of course infuriates me. And the money wasted, and the lack of throwing our hearts behind real alternatives to war in a larger sense, and the particular wars we are currently and apparently endlessly embroiled in, etc etc.

You don’t need me to explain to you why the military is less than a stellar institution, I’m sure.

But something about that usually-loathsome world keeps popping into my head lately, and I’ve been trying to tease out why.

I think it has something to do with the left, and how much of it infuriates me.

Yes, I’m just generally infuriatable, but I’m trying this new thing where instead of just Being Mad, I Think About Why I’m Mad and What Positive Steps I Can Take To Not Be Mad.

It’s very annoying.

Here we go.

These ones might look like ones you've seen before in this space, but they are all new!

One reason I made the decision to step down as the chair of the New Paltz Green Party (whose pretty pretty website, so laboriously handbuilt by me, I’d love to point you to, but in an instance of the very type of annoyingness I’m talking about, it is currently down because someone forgot to keep it up and it will take a hundred more polite “hey, can you put the website back up?” emails before the pot-haze clears and it’s restored.) was an inability to tolerate the sloppy, slipshod non-functioning messiness that is a lefty third party in a small town. I believe in everything the Green Party believes in, but I can’t work in coalition with such messiness.

Our chapter was a particularly lurid example of the vein of unkempt slovenliness that runs through the political left like a cancer, and I’m just over it. My anarchist politics help me to deal with feelings of guilt over not doing political work in a group anymore—anarchists don’t need to bring about the revolution, anarchists are themselves a revolution, you know? Or something.—but my annoyance at what I see as the laziness of the left still irks me.

Of course there are great examples of lefties doing rigorous work, I’m not denying that. But the left-of-center world is so ever-shifty and amorphous and loosey-goosey that it amazes me when we can come together to do anything at all.

My BFF Than Luu (aww, how nice if you Googled Than Luu and this post about him buying candy cups came up!) bought them for me in Japan.

The right has it so easy: they actually, literally, believe in fascism. When your political beliefs have hierarchies and top-down thinking at their core, it’s easy to fall in line. And people on the right like being in line. (I’ll just speak for them all, OK? I’m sure they won’t mind.) They don’t like thinking for themselves, so it helps when their leaders tell them what to think. Not only do they want to put themselves in hierarchies, they want to be on the bottom of these hierarchies.

(Have you noticed this weird thing? I was talking about it with a musician friend of mine lately: how fans of some bands are so desperate to look up to the people in the band that the effect is to push themselves way down. My friend has no place to live and very little money, but to a certain subset of fans of his band, he is a god, and they are practically unworthy of his attention. I’ve also seen this with cookbook authors, writers—everyone. We like heroes, in part, because they reinforce to ourselves that we are small, and don’t have to try too hard. This is only very tangentially related to anything else in this ridiculous blog post. And for the millionth time I’ll say: how great to be a blogger, and not to have to worry about making too much sense!)

Many people on the left have only a tiny bit more intelligence than that: they know enough to know that they don’t want to be herded. And our unwillingness to pledge our allegiance has become such a badge of honor that pretty much all anyone on the left ever does is argue with someone else who shares 99% of their opinions because they feel they’re trying to dominate them in some way.

So, lately, I’ve privately been looking at the military out of the corner of my eye.

And I realized: I’ve never actually sat down and thought about what people in the military do, and how hard it must be for them to do it. I’m not talking about the baby-killing. I’m talking about rigorousness. Rigor, and also the idea of teamwork. Being part of something greater, and giving up a part of yourself in order to accomplish something. This is what the left lacks. We’re so obsessed with self-expression and self-fulfillment that it’s nearly impossible to just shut the fuck up and accomplish something.

An example. I’m all obsessed with this natural gas drilling (fracking) business. Within a few months or years, my neighbors could be leasing their land to gas drilling companies who will do the usual rape and plunder routine, with the result being obscenely polluted water, exploding houses, and all kinds of other awesomeness. There is a pretty big pushback happening—press conferences, calls to call your reps, etc. A few weeks ago a press conference was held in Albany, where lefty treasure Pete Seeger was trotted out to sing “This Land is Your Land.”

OK, I love Pete, and I love “This Land is Your Land.” Of course.

He carried them back for me all the way from JAPAN, people! And this is a dude who travels light. They arrived in perfect condition! Make your lunch gorgeously!

But this infuriated me. I truly feel that the only people who care that an old hippie is singing a kumbaya song were already on our side, and we’re only turning the working-class Joes (the ones who need the $ that turning over their backyards to gas drilling will bring the most) against us by bringing Pete along. We’re making a very black and white issue—a class issue, really—a cultural issue. We’re saying “this icon of our culture says we shouldn’t do this.” But our smug little Subaru-driving culture isn’t the culture of the people who are for gas drilling. I know I’m again stereotyping and painting with a very broad brush, but let’s just tell it like it is. No one is swayed by Pete Seeger’s presence at a rally except other hippies.

It was a useless move, and one that spoke to a lack of rigorousness and courage to look at the real issue.

This issue must be fought in terms of money. Everyone is angry over their insane taxes (I am too, the property tax system needs to be reformed yesterday and the left needs to get on that issue too–why are we not working in coalition with their weirdo libertarians or whoever is leading the Tax Nightmare people and showing that by not making property taxes based on income we’re failing at fairness—fairness! The left’s most important value!) and many people are willing to do whatever it takes to scrape up a little extra money.

This kind of short-sided lazy thinking is everywhere on the left, and I’m done with it. I’m no longer going to pretend that saying “vibes” to someone when they express a forceful opinion is appropriate behavior (this is a standard practice at Green Party meetings, and I think I’ve told the story here of how a dude once SCREAMED the word at me, less than three inches from my face. Brittany can back me up: Green Party dudes are so fucking awesome, peeps, I can’t even tell you.).

I want to work in coalition with people who have enough backbone and self-respect that they sit up straight at meetings and wear clothes that are reasonably clean. I know it seems like I’m a huge killjoy, but the way the left collectively carries itself just sickens me. I’m not saying you can’t have dreadlocks or armpit hair (I’ve got one of those myself, and I haven’t washed my hair in four days so I’m working hard on the other), but you have to learn about the issue you’re working on, you have to do your homework and be prepared and disciplined, you can’t reek of pot, or else we are going to kick you out.

I’m done. My tolerance for it is just over. Institutions like the military accomplish what they do (and yeah: it’s baby-killing, I know.) because they have rigor and respect for their skills and goals. There has to be a way to integrate the ideals of the left—equality, justice, all that good stuff—with the rigorousness of the right.

(I guess someone more knowledgeable about the tighty righties could say that I’m making this all up about them being more organized and disciplined. Perhaps. I honestly don’t know. What do you think, smarties?)

And I know you could argue that if I devoted myself full-time to politics and moved up the chain a bit I’d see a bit more rigorousness on the left. (Maybe not in New York State, but, one could hope, elsewhere). Of course. The West Wing taught me that. (And everything on The West Wing was 100% based in how the White House actually operates, of course.) But that’s not my scene. I’ve got to work with what I have.

He bought them at Tokyu Hands, which I know I've mentioned before. If you go to Japan, you MUST plan a day--yes, a DAY--to poke around Tokyu Hands. It's just...too too much.

And what I have is a hippie college town that needs a huge ass-kicking.

So, to recap: my strategy for dealing with rage over the laziness of the left is….what, exactly? To be more open about my rage? To honestly tell groups I’m associated with that I must sever ties with them because of their lack of organization, rather than writing blog posts behind their back months and months later? I guess I’m maybe sort of starting a dialogue here. Or something. Maybe I’m diffusing my anger just by admitting it. Or maybe I’m starting a one-woman revolution of rigorousness right here, today!

After all, is there anything a lefty likes more than starting a new group?

How did a grump like me end up with such amazing friends? I do not know, but I'm thankful.

12 Responses to “on rigorousness (the lack thereof) on the left.”

  1. Christy Hall

    Seriously, dude. Seriously. When I went back to school this most recent time, (5 years ago,) my chosen area of study was Group Dynamics and Systems Psychology. I found myself there out of a desire to be a better Agent of Change in all of the realm of this fucked-up word that need change… I think it was the act of a very frustrated activist. I can be pretty flakey, and unmotivated at times, and excitable, etc. But, I always seem to find myself in leadership positions within every group that I get involved in… because people have a really hard time following through with their commitments and keeping their train of thought long enough to actually complete a project. My experiences with this problem have turned me into a lone ranger of sorts. I have to be so careful before I get involved in a group because in addition to my own predisposition for quality work, I now have the training to work within groups as a radical change-maker. It requires a great deal of sweat and frustration and heart. It’s usually just not worth it. So, I get involved in things very carefully. Honestly, more often than not, if a group were to get the kind of overhaul that would really challenge them to be effective– most groups would fall apart at the seams.
    As for the military… I don’t know if that is a terrible analogy. I also don’t know that much about how the military functions. I hear it is loaded with waste and talk and other problems… but the “romantic” notion of the military makes me think of a bunch of people accomplishing missions with dedication, discipline and heart. And that sounds pretty good. Except for the baby-killing. As much as I am also an anarchist, I still believe in ‘natural hierarchies’ and discipline. Also, anarchy only works when people are operating as totally responsible individuals… and usually people in groups have brought along with them a bunch baggage which makes it hard for them to behave like adults. I cannot suffer through that shit anymore.
    In other words, can I be in your club?

    Reply
    • lagusta

      You’ve been in my club since day one, honey. It wouldn’t be my club without you! So great to hear that someone feels my same frustrations. “So, I get involved in things very carefully. Honestly, more often than not, if a group were to get the kind of overhaul that would really challenge them to be effective– most groups would fall apart at the seams.” Exactly!

      Reply
  2. Terence

    I understand your frustration and anger, but the grass isn’t exactly green on the right side of the New Paltz pastures. The Republican party is an anemic organism on life support, and I’m told it exists entirely to support statewide and national candidates. That’s probably why they phoned in the last town election and just endorsed the Democrats.

    Conceptually I love the idea of more than two parties, but in New Paltz we haven’t managed to move past ONE. I’d like to have SOME level of choice at the polls. I don’t, and I think it’s largely because of what you’re ranting about here – not everyone is organized. In New Paltz, the Dems are and nobody else seems to give a crap.

    Half the battle is showing up on time, half the battle is having a clear agenda, and half the battle is implementing it. I agree that we’re about three halves short of a full plate.

    Reply
  3. Ben

    Hierarchical social structures are a tool, like hammers or knives. Ideally, you use them for finite periods to accomplish a given task. You run into problems when you try to use them for a task for which they are not well suited: it’s hard to get a nice dice with a hammer (you can do a mince, but not a dice,) and if you try to drive a nail with one of my knives, you probably won’t get very far with your nail, and you’ll probably have to buy me a new knife. If you try using hierarchical social structures for every social gathering, you won’t have much fun and people will stop inviting you to parties.
    Ideally, hierarchical structures provide a mechanism for labor provisioning on projects that are beyond the scope of a single person’s effort. Sure, theoretically the orchestra’s musicians could all show up at the same place and conduct themselves through a piece. But it’s much easier with a conductor to make sure that the drummers drum, the pipers pipe, etc., and that they all do so at the right tempo for the piece.
    I think one of the places where lefties have issues is in recognizing that someone’s got to be the leader – everyone else has to do what they say. But, and this is important, only for the given task. Being the leader doesn’t make you better than me, it means that I (and other members of the group) recognize and acknowledge that you are better suited to be a leader. If you’re not, maybe I should be the leader – but we should all decide together, then stick to that decision. If everyone accepts this, I think it makes it easier to sacrifice personal ego to the good of the group task, and we can all do what we’re best at – Lagusta is the All-time Senior Head Chief Chocolatier, for example. I’m good with computers, but not so much at using power tools, so I’ll fix your email but someone else should put up your new mail box. Hierarchies are one way of organizing and allocating labor for a task, but that’s it. Like many tools, they can be (and often are) misused.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I am really loving the awesome little discussion this post inspired!

      I definitely struffle (wow, I just wrote that instead of struggle. STRUFFLE? I think, here at 2:26 am, I just invented the most awesome word ever invented.) with balancing my need to be a boss with my hating of hierarchies. It’s good to hear someone say “Hierarchical social structures are a tool” — a means to an end. It’s something I need repeated to me every so often. I have no problem taking control of and running a meeting, but I find it very hard to direct people in my kitchen. I think I’m so annoyed at faux-badass boy-kitchens that have hazing rituals and all that that I bend too far to the other side. Anyway, thanks for the reminder!

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth

    During the election where Bush was reinstated for his second term, the issue of utter laziness and lack of focus on the left came up A LOT. I remember reading articles, listening to pundits, hearing NPR stories, all about how the right wing of this country doesn’t need to be supported by facts, truth or justice, because they are so incredibly well organized that the machine runs impeccably well, regardless of the product it’s making. If there is significant infighting on the right, it’s so well hidden, that the effect is an impression of total unification. Just like the military.

    What amazes me is that no one has taken what we know to be true – that the right is focused like a laser and the left is a bundle of lazy ex (and sometimes current) hippies who think they can sing or pray or love or ethically consume their way out of any problem without actually having to do any work – and make something useful out of it. Does it really sting us liberals so badly to think that we have something to learn from these people? Is that what prevents us from taking their strategy and making it work for us just as it does for them? Are we just so drenched in self-righteousness about the sanctity of our ideals that we can’t, for one second, acknowledge that we need help?

    I remember this being an issue in the healthcare debate too. A lot of people were saying that the reason the republicans were able to pass so much on their agenda was because they were willing to accept mild changes or concessions to their original plans and then work on getting the rest later, using their small victory as a foot in the door. They believed that getting some of what they wanted was better than getting nothing. This is something that democrats seem fundamentally unable to understand or accept. So we throw out things that could really help us, just because they don’t fully fund every part of our perfect dream.

    Anarchic communities will never occur until every person feels that the health and well being of their neighbor is their responsibility. However, believing that someone else will pick up the slack you’ve created with your own apathy (or prayers, or peace signs, or loving vibes) is disgusting and insidious and infects our political climate like a plague. I’ve chosen to out until someone can give me a good enough reason to spend my time opting in again.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      1) This is pretty much the most awesomest comment ever. 2) “What amazes me is that no one has taken what we know to be true – that the right is focused like a laser and the left is a bundle of lazy ex (and sometimes current) hippies who think they can sing or pray or love or ethically consume their way out of any problem without actually having to do any work – and make something useful out of it.”

      Ah boy. You said it all so clearly–that’s all that needed to be said. So perfect. YES. Also this sentence reminds me that I need to write a post called Let’s All Hate On Eat Pray Love Even Though I’ve Never Read The Book Or Seen The Movie. Fun times.

      Reply
  5. Elizabeth

    Aaaahahahaha. I’ve never read Eat Pray Love either but every time I see commercials for the movie on Hulu I am reminded of every conversation I’ve had that goes like this:

    Me – “I’m Vegan”

    Them – “Oooh, I could just never do that, but I do get all my meat from Whole Foods and say thanks to the animal before eating it. Have you read any Michael Pollan?”

    Me – “I hate Michael Pollan. He’s intellectually lazy and an apologist, and a total blowhard.”

    Them – “Well I think food is an important social and cultural institution”

    Me – “So do I”

    Them – “Yeah, but I think it’s just so important to be able to experience food as naturally and exquisitely as possible. Food is to be enjoyed, not worried about. Life is too short not to eat gelato! Have you read Eat Pray Love?”

    Me – “I hate you”

    Reply
  6. Elizabeth

    I’m glad we understand one another.

    Oh ps! Did you get my letter? I was afraid that the newspaper envelope wouldn’t stand up, especially if it rained. Let me know if it made it to you safely!

    Reply
  7. lagusta

    YES!!! I just opened a giant stack of mail this morning, and oh man, I’m not kidding when I say that it brought serious tears to my eyes. Seriously, nicest letter ever. I put a blurry photo of it up on the Bonbons FB page here, I hope that’s cool:

    Reply
  8. lagusta

    Also, it reminded me to write a blog post about whiteness + food politics in my little town, something I think about a lot…
    Good stuff, yo. Good stuff.

    Reply

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