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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?