Friday, November 18, 2016

Sorry Liberals, Protest is for People Outside the System

Because I'm a bourgeois, born and bred, I really don't get the protest culture. After all, if you have a political problem, you need to elect a representative and create a legislative majority and change the law.

But then a middle-aged woman friend that told me at lunch that she had always wanted to get into "activism." Hello? There was obviously something that I didn't understand, so I turned on my cultural antenna to search for an answer.

The next target on the radar plot was a young woman in a Philosophy of Hume class at the University of Washington here in Seattle. She spoke as though politics was a protest march to City Hall. So who filled that good little girl's head with that stuff? She was talking as though she was a disenfranchised serf, not a privileged young woman well on the way to becoming a candidate member in the professional class. Why would she think that politics was a question of peasants with pitchforks?

Then I read Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation. Nominally a history of the modern era, it is really an apology for the elite-guided administrative state. It takes for granted that the top-down administrative state is a good thing that is fixing horrible problems with capitalism. But one thing accidentally shone through the educated-elite apology. It was that once the working class got the vote in the 19th century it stopped the riots and demonstrations. That's because once the workers got the vote the political process started to accommodate their agenda; no need to take to the streets.

Oh really.

So why then do the college students and professional protesters take to the streets after a perfectly normal presidential election hashtagging #NotMyPresident?

It's because good little girls in America are being taught in college that "activism" is the highest calling for a meaningful life.

Hillary Clinton learned that in college; that's why she became an Alinsky fan. That is also why President Obama is telling us that he is going to become a community organizer after he leaves the presidency.

All the social justice, environmental, LGBT activism is all part of this culture, that the way for a young sprout of the educated class to find meaning in life is to bend the arc of history towards justice through political action and peaceful protest.

Note the contrast with the conservative philosophy that politics is a necessary evil, that all political action should be leavened with the consent of the governed, and that major pieces of legislation, according to Pat Moynihan, should be passed with nothing less than a 70-30 vote in the US Senate.

Note the contrast with my sharpened notion that politics is division, deliberately separating Americans into two separate tribes; that government is force, so never forget that the vital and necessary agenda of "our side" is experienced by the folks on the receiving end as injustice.

Notice that the conservative and the Chantrill notions imply that you should be very careful about stirring up a hornet's nest when you poke around with political protest and government power.

Notice that the conservative and Chantrill notions imply that you should be putting yourself in the place of the "other" when considering some new political initiative.

It is clear from the actions of our liberal friends in the wake of the Trump election that they have no clue about this. The only reality is their reality and if you disagree you are a racist, sexist, homophobe, etc.

Here is my prediction. Either conservatives are right about this, or liberals are right. Either it is true that you really want to avoid riling up the opposition, or it is true that, in the quest of bending the arc of history towards justice, activism and political street action and peaceful  protests and non-negotiable demands are the only way.

So who is right?

I think that the nearest example is the aftermath of the Sixties. In the Sixties the radical children of liberal parents thought they were changing America forever. They were intoxicated with the ideas of the New Left and the repressive tolerance of Herbert Marcuse.

But then the Democrats nominated not the kids' candidate Eugene McCarthy but old-time liberal Hubert Humphrey, and Americans elected Richard Nixon, who championed the Silent Majority that did not want to live the mobilized life of the political activist. Democrats knew what to do about that; they drove Nixon out of office for shenanigans that Democrats get in their mother's milk. So the American people elected Ronald Reagan, a B-movie actor, to make the point and underline it.

Will we have a repeat of the Sixties? Certainly not. History does not repeat itself, it merely rhymes.

But it would be glorious if the New Activism ended up sending not just the white working class but the black and brown and pink working class into the Republican Party.

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