In Clark Park, there is a feature called “The Bowl.” It’s next to the playground. It’s a depression in the ground where people let their dogs off the leash. I am sitting under a tree that my friend Es/Five-Asterisk/En (not, that’s not actually his name, I am sci-fi’ing it) and I enjoy, that overlooks the bowl. There are no dogs yet. It’s 5:58 AM. I am on call 24/7 this week. This is the fourth day of my “vigil.”
On Call means I handle after-hours and weekend emergencies (like transportation and placement of children in DHS custody) for my agency. There has been an emergency almost every night. I’ve been working late, sometimes, into early morning hours. It’s stressful, but it’s also an opportunity to practice my coping skills.
I apologize for neglecting this blog.
I have been frustrated lately by the way people talk about politics, especially people who insist, as many do, that “not everything is political.”
When a person does this, they are appointing themselves the arbiter of objective truth.
I am distrustful of this and reject it on philosophical grounds.
There is, simply put, no such thing as ideological neutrality. Truth is different from fact. Facts are uninterpreted truths, but there are many more interpreted truths than there are facts. Within any community, on some level, is a diversity of political (small p) opinion. These opinions are formed from the personal and subjective experiences of the members of those communities. But I have found, as I previously stated in my post about trauma and ego, that most people formulate political statements in the heat of the moment. They don’t necessarily consciously ascribe these formulations to an ideology. But no one exists outside their social context, and ideology is embedded in social context.
The moment of these formulations usually seems to be a moment in which a person’s ego is threatened. They tend to cling in that moment to whatever power structure they think will support this challenge against their ego. Often the stress of this moment is rooted deeply in some trauma. This is, for example, how a person who experienced childhood poverty might internalize the ideology of the ruling class.
Now, these mechanisms of ideological ego-defense are not necessarily anti-capitalist critiques. But they do align with a Marxist understanding of dialectical history and dialectical materialism. This theoretical synthesis explains in many cases why, for example, some working class people might vote against their own economic interests. Coupled with trauma theory, this pretty much explains a lot of contradictory personal and collective behavior. Most bad behavior is maladaptive coping.
Why do we smoke, drink, and do drugs? Why do we engage in reckless behavior?
Because we are trying to fulfill some emptiness deep inside ourselves. Our hierarchical social organization under authoritarian statist and capitalist systems has impacted a lot of communities negatively over multiple generations. So, our parents did not necessarily have great coping skills. Maybe they were neglectful or abusive, physically, or emotionally. Maybe they also could be loving and warm. Maybe they were mentally ill, or struggled with addiction. And as a result, most of us don’t have great coping skills.
This is where I remind right-wingers and moderates that personal accountability does come into play for the radical left. We absolutely believe in personal accountability. As a social worker I try to hold people accountable for abusive behavior every day. As an organizer I am part of a community that often challenges my own biases and prejudices. As a result, I grow. And yet the radical left is stereotyped as a hive mind of people who all agree.
I am a cis white man on the left. The fact that I am gay isn’t some kind of negative arithmetic in that equation. I try to hold myself accountable to other people who were not born or raised with my privileges. That is an important thing to me. It is how I learn and grow into a better human being. As a result, I can’t really do relationships. Most people come off to me as rather immature. Even people much older than me. I’m not trying to boast. I am trying to express why I sometimes feel isolated. I have undertaken a lot of effort to be a better person and a big part of that is exposing myself to things I disagree with routinely and trying to give the other side the most charitable interpretation possible.
There is an episode of “Star Trek: The Original Series” where the Enterprise crew encounters two planets locked in a computerized war for hundreds of years. The destruction of bombs is simulated, and the people in the “impact” areas do their civic duty by marching in great numbers to disintegration chambers. Spock at one point comments that it does make a certain amount of scientific sense. The alien leader quips, “I’m glad you agree,” and Spock says something to the effect that he understands, but he does not agree.
Spock, the logical Vulcan, is distinguishing between science and ethics. While science can inform ethics, it is only an indirect relationship. I say that as someone with a fair amount of training in research and science. Before I was a social worker, and before I was an anarchist, before I was working, when I still harbored many more biases and assumptions about people and the way the world worked that I have taken effort to deconstruct, I was a student of biological anthropology, and my MSW program included an education in the scientific methodology of social research. So I’m not talking out of my ass or spouting leftist propaganda. I am speaking from a position of expert knowledge of human behavior. And I don’t even think we fully understand human nature. My training in scientific methodology leads me doubtful that this is objectively possible. I used to believe it was, but that was a long time ago and I was much younger and more naïve.
In that moment of ego-defense, when most people formulate political expressions, they employ stawmen and argue in bad faith. I am sick of hearing tropes and memes. I am sick of having the same argument over and over again. I would rather feel challenged. The radical left is challenging. I feel it makes me a better person than I was before I got involved in organizing.
I think science fiction can be a useful tool in the anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian arsenal. But I am skeptical of utopian science fiction because I think it offers a falsehood. I don’t believe in utopia. I think human beings can learn to not be abusive or neglectful of each other, but it takes work, and I hear a lot of people express a hope for some distant future post-scarcity classless society, but I don’t think they are comfortable being told that post-scarcity starts with unlearning some of their automatic ego-defenses, deconstructing their own (often, unrealized) ideology, overcoming some of their deep traumas, and being less judgmental. And when people do this there will still be conflict. But I think those conflicts can be resolved more fairly and with restorative justice than they can under our current social organization, which is predicated on the assumption of scarcity and also on most people having internalized the ideology of the ruling class.
I realize not everyone wants to be an organizer. But I think this particular political expression, and its set of assumptions, is like asking for the benefits of something without putting in the work of at least trying to hold other people in better esteem, even if they have flaws. Part of that is understanding that we are all part of something bigger. Activists and organizers do a lot of that work anyway, and we’ll keep on doing it because we are passionate about justice, but it would be nice to get some credit for that instead of it going to the political class or the bourgeoisie!
6:38 AM. First dog sighted in the Bowl.