What If We Were Strong?
On meeting people where they're at
I want, more than anything, a socialist community. I want socialist institutions and socialist organizations and socialist clubs and socialist schools and socialist co-ops and socialist spaces and a socialist party. I want this socialist community to be made up of ordinary people, not just the usual motley collection of weirdos. I want socialism to be a living political force that motivates and inspires regular people, on a mass scale, and gives them hope for a better world and the means for achieving it within their lifetimes.
Nothing like this really exists in North America. There is a long list of reasons why. One of the most glaring is that we have almost completely given up on reaching people where they are at.
We’ve retreated into the culture war, sheltering uneasily in the trenches of the liberals, eating their slop and using their weapons and reading their propaganda. We’re afraid of the Enemy! The right-wing conservative who blithely dismisses liberal talking points, who doesn’t care about liberals’ emotional arguments, who crows in triumph at every liberal failure – we can barely stand to be in the presence of such a creature.
But we forget that that isn’t our enemy, not really. That is the enemy of the liberals. Our enemy is the parasite class and the system they impose on everyone else. The uncouth conservative, the rambling right-wing conspiracy enthusiast, the smug lib-dunker, these are for the most part just workers who’ve had their heads filled with insane propaganda. We actively want them to be on our side. How do we stop fearing their presence and meet them where they’re at?
For one thing, we desperately need to stop validating preciousness and fragility amongst the Left. It is no virtue to be helplessly unable to regulate your own emotions. It is not a strength to be incapable of handling an insulting remark. In reality it just makes you practically useless as a political actor. I’m exhausted at having to pretend that this is not the case. If you are a wreck who refuses to take care of yourself like an adult, who cannot handle distress, and who considers the majority of the population (whites, cis people, straight people etc) to be your enemies, you’re not a socialist, you’re a liability. You’re a liability because regular people take one look at your quivering and surmise correctly that you and what you represent can’t be taken seriously.
Which leads us to the question: how do we meet THESE people where they’re at? Right off the bat I should say that they’re not entirely at fault. They’ve been indoctrinated into a political environment in which being a snivelling victim at every possible opportunity is pretty much the way things work. Trying to find all the ways in which you are being victimized, especially ways which no one else has noticed yet, is basically the whole point of lefty academia and is a major tactic in political discourse in general. It’s not hard to see why so many people pick this up as a big part of their political practice, not to mention their personality.
What if we helped people recognize their strengths instead? What if we taught people that the stupid comments of idiots literally cannot hurt them? What if we trained people to build resilience to micro-aggressions instead of making lists of ‘violent’ words? It’s just a fact that it’s better to be thick-skinned about this type of shit. If you’re difficult to offend, your quality of life is better; people have less power over you; you have more control over your emotional state. Being relaxed and self-confident instead of vigilant and self-victimizing doesn’t mean you have to approve of what idiots say or do, but it does make you a stronger, more stable person who suffers less and is less insufferable to be around. It makes you more able to put yourself in others’ shoes. It makes you more able to meet people where they’re at.
Basically, nerds who spend their lives trying to impress each other in academia have spun a spell on us whereby they’ve convinced us that the stuff people say is more important than the material facts of the world. I suspect it’s not a coincidence that people with lots of words and no power want us all to think that words are power, but anyway: socialism is materialist. Socialists are supposed to look at the material facts of the material world. We don’t worry ourselves overly about ‘discourse’ and lists of bad words and the opinions of aggressively ignorant people. We also don’t elevate the opinions of some people over other people based solely on their ‘identities’ or how much they claim to be victimized. Ideas are to be evaluated based on their content and how well they hold up when compared to the real world, and socialists are to build on our strengths and try to build material power in the real world. We don’t need to look for all the ways in which we are victimized, hypervigilantly scanning the world for linguistic evidence of hidden structural oppressions. The major ways in which all of us are victimized are clear as day and won’t be budged by ‘discourse’ or by getting everybody to talk a certain way or believe a certain theory about gender performativity.
Let’s teach each other to be strong and resilient with regard to what people say, confident in our own ideas and proud of who we are so that when we are insulted or offended it has no real effect. Let’s teach each other to focus always on the material facts and accurately identify the policies and structures shaping the world we find ourselves in. Let’s teach each other to see the world in terms of workers and billionaire parasites, not in terms of ‘us’ versus conservatives. The liberal establishment are more likely to offer the kind of identity-based protections many of us would like to see but they will never, ever accept the socialist economics we all need. In the meantime the masses of workers, liberal and conservative and apolitical, desperately need a socialist movement. The labour movement is crushed, where they exist workers’ parties are timid and cowed, living and working conditions continue to deteriorate, no one can afford a place to live, the neoliberal political elite is offering no solutions beyond arguing over the number of immigrants and nudging interest rates up and down. Conservative workers are no more responsible for this state of affairs than you are. They might believe a slightly more unhinged story about the world than someone else, but they are not members of the class which controls the political process and monopolizes the productive capital in our society, and the elections they vote in are choreographed exchanges of power between different factions of the same capitalist elite.
If we want to be able to get through to anybody we need to be able to deal with the fact that lots of people are rough around the edges. Lots of people dislike being lectured to by freaky-looking snobs. Lots of people are caught up in wacky ideologies they’ve picked up from TV. But really when you get down to it you can find things to relate to with practically anybody. Look for the similarities, not the differences. Find ways to feel connected to people who are really different from you. Look for things you agree about. Look for moral positions you share. Practically everyone thinks stuff should be fair, people should be free, it’s important that we are treated as equals, and politicians are lying crooks. There’s lots to work with there. Let’s not get derailed because someone says your ideas sound ‘retarded’.
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