Dear too many people on the left: Yes, you’re better than everyone else. Now get over yourselves.

head-deskI get so frustrated, and on a nearly daily basis (thank God for Shabbat, mirite?) with the never-ending carping that happens on my side of the political map regarding the lack of purity of those who would dare condescend to communicate with the vast middle of human opinion.

Yes, it would be nice if everyone on earth believed as I believe about women and rape and Palestinians and human rights and LGBTQ equality and gun violence and whatever whatever whatever, but you know what? They don’t. They really, really don’t.

And there are a lot of people out there doing excellent work, either on the ground or in opinion advocacy (or both) who — gasp! — have the temerity to speak to all those millions of people who have yet to see the wisdom of my great and marvelous mind. To speak in terms that most people will understand. To draw comparisons that are not perfect, but are informative to those who are unfamiliar with the facts. To speak in broad terms, because they only have 800 words, or to deal with a single aspect of a struggle, because they only have 24 hours in a day. To favor immediate needs over long-term goals, or to favor long-term goals over immediate needs. To, on occasion, fall prey to human error or — heaven forfend! — to have once held a different opinion to the one they now support.

And there are a lot of people out there who invest a lot of time and energy in dogging those other people, for not being good enough, or for being too nice to the bad guys, or for failing to fully comprehend the enormity of What Must Be Done and All That Is At Stake.

Fuck that noise.

You cannot organize people where you want them to be – you can only organize them where they are.

You will change no minds and win no hearts by accusing your allies of perfidy – you will only exhaust your allies and convince them to ignore you.

Anger is not sign of sincerity, patience is not a sign of weakness, and purity is unattainable. And snooty sarcasm (to quote Rat, of Pearls Before Swine fame) is never prudent.

Here’s what does help: Talking to people. Raising questions. Thanking them for their commitment, and offering additional information. Assuming that people who identify with The Cause are not, actually, trying their level best to screw you. Most people are mostly decent, and if you don’t believe that to be the case, why are you even trying to live among us? I am going to fail you, I promise you that, and so will everyone else.

And now I’ve yelled (again), and convinced no one. But I feel better. Which is pretty much all that yelling can do, anyway.

And PS: You’re not the only ones who are angry. I am too. Always.

 

 

On public insults and the nature of activism.

It’s ok to yell at Kahn, though.

It’s been a somewhat rocky couple of weeks here at In My Head HQ.

As a direct result of my Israel/Palestine activism and open enthusiasm for the current President of the United States, I have recently been called (in no particular order) a defender of anti-Semitism, a supporter of neo-Nazis, someone who spreads hatred of Israel, the anti-Christ, willing to murder in order to have an easy life, dumb, #biggestliberalasshole2012, a liar, willing to shrug away evil, and disgustingly indifferent to women of color (these are all direct quotes).

It has also been darkly suggested, by someone with 50,000 Twitter followers, that s/he “knows a lot more about you, and what you support, and what you are, than you realize,” and by someone else, with far fewer Twitter followers, that I am sexually aroused by drone strikes in which people are killed (my previous arguments against drone strikes notwithstanding). Oh, and something or other about me being too cowardly to argue with someone who was hectoring me.

And (I have very good reason to suspect) a great deal else that I know little about, because I block/spam/ignore people when they behave in such a fashion and thus don’t see subsequent insults, and I certainly don’t bother to go looking to see what folks might be saying about me or my work in the internet’s more extreme corners.

I tell you all this not to gain sympathy (well, ok. You can give me a little sympathy) but to make a larger point, one that starts with the fact that what I’ve experienced is as nothing compared to the flood of bad behavior endured by writers and activists with a higher public profile and/or full-time employ. Nothing.

Of course, there’s a point at which this is simple trolling: People with a nominal worldview who are mainly in it for the abuse. Whether it’s me liking Barack Obama, women who call out sexism, men who like Star Wars the wrong way, or teenagers who don’t know how to use internet slang, the fight’s the thing, the act of screaming insults the actual point.

And of course, there’s a point of simple incandescent anger, tinged with fear (you know: I’m a danger to Israel and Jews everywhere, etc and so on).

But there’s another point — a very important point — at which this sort of thing is about a difference in tactics and values (and not just the “don’t call people the anti-Christ before you’ve even met” one).

Because there are two different kinds of social activists in the world: There are those who think that change only ever happens incrementally, that we can only organize people where they are and not where we want them to be, that revolution (as an Egyptian revolutionary recently noted) is a process, not an event. And there are those for whom all evil must be relentlessly labelled as such and any change that isn’t instant is not fast enough.

And both kinds of people are right.

We will never change the world by refusing to talk about what’s wrong with it, and any change that isn’t instant is — really and truly — not fast enough. Lives are ruined or lost as we struggle forward, and the human race needs angry prophets who remind us of that.

Yet, for all that that is so, the fact remains that revolution is a process, not an event. That we can only organize people where they are, not where we want them to be. And change only ever happens incrementally. It’s genuinely unfortunate, but it’s also, simply, true.

I try to listen to angry prophets. I try to give them their due, and I try to incorporate at least some of their righteous fury (because, aside from anything else, while “reasonable” might be my brand, I’m always angry, Captain). I know that we move things forward by steadily making the list of that-which-is-infuriating broader and longer: Once it was slavery, then it was poll taxes, now it’s effigies of the President hung on front lawns.

But I cannot hear anyone while I’m cleaning “anti-Christ” and “murder” from my ears, and I can only imagine that the people who have a higher public profile and/or full-time employ have it even harder, because they hear so much more of it.

People stop listening when you treat them with derision — it’s really that simple. No change is fast enough, but if you want any change, you’re going to need people who are willing to listen to you.

Unfortunate, but true.

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