…and “trendy” “buzzwords” in “quotes”!

Wherein The Proverbial Truth That There Is Nothing So Crustily Ancient As Claiming That Your Generation Will Change Everything Is Irrefutably Proven, Yet Again

First, an observation: Lance Mannion’s readers leave really long comments. Of course, Lance Mannion writes really long posts. A whole lotta words up in there. I’m just sayin’.

[UPDATE: For those of you who have come here for the first time to criticize my spelling and just generally rip me a new one, let me clarify that Lance is one of my very favorite bloggers in the whole wide world. I would hope he knows that, and now you do too.]

Moving right along.

Although I removed my link to Daily Kos after the whole “cream-pie-nekkid-Ch1Xx0rZ!!” debacle, I do occasionally peruse the site. There are a few decent writers lurking in the diaries over there. Unfortunately, Kos himself isn’t one of them. He tends to be pretty good at providing breaking news, but that’s relatively easy to do when you have your own digital cult with a gazillion members pumping information at you day and night. Lord knows I’ve been trying to start my own cult (digital or otherwise) for years.

Insight is another matter, though. I would not normally fault anyone for a lack of profound insight because a) I have none, and b) have you seen Kos? He’s like 12.

I think that Kos’s case is emblematic, however, of the shallow business school discourse that predominates among the leadership not just of our party, but of our society’s leadership class. I worry about this. Check this out:

But aside from that, I sense the generational divide between new school activists (those of us who came “of age” politically in the late 90s and 00s), and those who harken back to the 60s and 70s. If Latinos did have national leaders, I’d want them to be fresh and new and attuned to the media and political landscape of the 00s, not retreads from previous political generations. Outside the realm of ethnic and racial politics, my favorites aren’t Ted Kennedy, Gephardt, or Kerry, as much as I might respect them, but Obama and Schweitzer and Dean.

I’m increasingly convinced that the biggest intra-movement divide nowadays isn’t ideological — we mostly all agree on the same things — but generational. Old school activists view politics and the activist realm differently than new school activists (very generally speaking). Those differences manifest themselves in arguments over single issue groups, effective activism, partisanship, tone, style, pragmatism, the types of candidates we should run, etc.

New school progressives are also less tolerant of ideological orthodoxy. We don’t fall in line with the “acceptable” liberal position, frankly, because we’re not trained to fall in line. We are more likely to be educated in an economy that values “proactiveness” and “self-initiative” and “problem solving” over blindly following the orders of our boss. We have the tools to research any and every issue in a way inconcievable even 10 years ago. We no longer need to rely on our “leaders” or the media to tell us what the “right” position on any one issue might be. And our own individual life experiences will color our perceptions of any issue. If you are an inner city parent with shitty public schools for your kids, school vouchers probably look pretty darn good even if the theory offends progressive sensibilities.

For the moment, let’s overlook the misspelling of “inconceivable” (I before E except after C, bitches!) and the fact that a tortured construct like “proactiveness” pretty succinctly sums up in one “word” the gang-rape of the English language by business majors, lawyers, and management consultants. Let’s just set that aside. Let’s start here:

I’m increasingly convinced that the biggest intra-movement divide nowadays isn’t ideological — we mostly all agree on the same things — but generational.

I am always struck by references to this “movement” of which the fresh-scrubbed collegiate youngsters of the Democratic Party seem so enamored, despite its apparent invisibility and lack of actual social incarnation. Maybe by “movement” he is referring to the progressive wing of the Democratic party (and those many progressives who found themselves outside of the party when she picked up her skirts and hoofed it on over to the center-right). Anyway, to say that disagreements that are, in fact, manifestly and obviously ideological in nature are in fact not ideological is to claim some sort of gnostic insight into the hidden nature of things. Maybe he can prove this assertion, though he does not attempt to do so in the essay in question. Given the sketchy reputation of generational cohort theories among serious social scientists, I doubt it.

The real point of this little maneuver, however, is to neutralize the entire range of contested policies and discourses covered under “the biggest intra-movement divide”. These are not conflicts, we are told, but mere expressions of generational differences in style. In the shiny new world of management-speak, conflict is indefinitely suspended under the rubric of difference. This is the multiculturalism being used to wrap every difference is a soft, fluffy blanket of okayness.

Old school activists view politics and the activist realm differently than new school activists (very generally speaking). Those differences manifest themselves in arguments over single issue groups, effective activism, partisanship, tone, style, pragmatism, the types of candidates we should run, etc.

“Old school” pretty much says it all, I think. It certainly reveals the fundamental dishonesty of the “we’re not fighting, we’re just different!” gambit. Is not a certain fetish for the new, the young, and the revolutionary a core element of the cultural ethos of American progressivism? If not, how else are we able to still understand Channing’s claim that “we were always young for liberty”? From the Transcendentalists to Woodstock, American progressive thought has assigned value to the new, the young, and the transformative. Against the field of progressive culture, Kos’s “Old School/New School” generational multiculturalism becomes less innocuous, because the clear implication is that the ways of his putatively “new school” activists are to be preferred. Give peace a chance, man!

New school progressives are also less tolerant of ideological orthodoxy. We don’t fall in line with the “acceptable” liberal position, frankly, because we’re not trained to fall in line. We are more likely to be educated in an economy that values “proactiveness” and “self-initiative” and “problem solving” over blindly following the orders of our boss. We have the tools to research any and every issue in a way inconcievable even 10 years ago. We no longer need to rely on our “leaders” or the media to tell us what the “right” position on any one issue might be.

Whew! It’s hard to type when you’re laughing so hard, but this is rich, isn’t it? Leaders? We don’t need no stinkin’ leaders! We’ll make up our own minds about what’s “right” and “ethical” and “good”, man! Someone sign this man up to teach Sunday School! Okay, let me catch my breath.

Dear Reader, let me introduce you to my little friend. No, not that little friend! This is Straw Man. He also goes by the name “Old School Activist”. He “harkens” [bwahahahaha!] back to the 60’s and 70’s, when he damaged his mind with Reefer Madness and lots of acid. His ideas are ideologically pure, but have no application in the world beyond his herbal tea cup, and could never make any difference at the policy level.

He has the unique characteristic of being completely two-dimensional, because he’s a cardboard cutout. He was educated in an economy that did not yet value “proactiveness” (because bullshit pseudo-words like “proactiveness” would not be invented until the 1980’s), so he earns his keep in his commune by spinning macramé plant-hangers out of his own armpit-hair. Some Moonie told him to do this circa 1967, and he just kept on doing it, because he lacks self-initiative can only knows how to do what he’s told (and if you’re thinking “Hey, what’s ‘self-initiative’? Isn’t initiative naturally attributed to the subject taking it?’, then you probably live with Straw Man in his stinking Hippie commune and should just shut your commie piehole). Even more sadly, he has failed to keep pace changing tastes in plant-hanging technology and the declining macrame market because he also lacks the ability to solve problems. What’s that you say? You learned in school that problem-solving is a distinctive characteristic of the species homo sapiens, and to a lesser degree, the other higher primates? You must have gone to one of those shitty public schools.

If you’d had a voucher, you’d know that problem-solving was invented in 1991, right before the invention of “inconcievable” tools that allowed New School Activist to instantaneously know everything about anything at all times and in any place, causing him to evolve beyond crude flesh to become a being of pure light and energy. This blinding overbeing is composed of pure thought, and has no need for your pitiful “leaders” or “media” to tell him what’s “right”. Nor has he any need for your primitive “spelling”. His consciousness transverses the universe at the speed of thought, for he has uploaded himself to t3h 1nt3rn3tz!!1!

Poor, poor Old School Activist. See how shabby and shoddy (and frankly a little thick around the middle) he looks next to svelte, shiny New School Activist’s carbon-composite cyberbody. Oh wait. Where is New School Activist? Since no major social policy change has been driven by activism since the 1960’s, no one is really sure. Maybe he’s off raking in the cash at some tech company, but you can be pretty darn sure he still knows everything about everything, all the time!! And one of these days, he just might decide to do something! You never can tell with these crazy kids today.

In all seriousness (or in at least partial seriousness), who is the New School Activist? Perhaps he’s referring to the crazed and bedreadlocked white children of the anti-globalization movement, blowing up the Gap to stick it to the Man. If so, then I can at least partially agree. The anti-globalization movement is ultimately ineffectual because they are too wed to comprehensive analyses and too committed to fighting every injustice everywhere all at the same time. Blinded by the apparently monolithic power of global corporate capital, they miss the subtle and myriad ways in which power is both deployed and resisted in the many interstices of a now irrefutably global capitalist culture. But…at least they’re interesting, and a sign that the explosive energies of the New Left haven’t been completely buried under the suburban sprawl of Wal*Merica.

But if, as I suspect, he is talking about the conflict-averse, iPod-wearing metrosexual MBA’s from Planet Starbucks, who think podcasting is activism and believe that changing paradigms is the same as changing the world – the same blowhards who populate the various low-level positions in the Democratic Party apparatus – then I’m going to go ahead and say what the fuck ever to that.

These people represent the smothering of truly democratic contestation and conflict under a warm, suffocating layer of discursive manure delivered by dump-truck directly from your local business school. Well-versed in the various arts of management-talk, they excel at spinning sugar-plum visions of proactively shifting paradigms for maximally leveraged technological infrastructures, etc., etc….while they spend your pension fund and outsource your job. Look! It’s happening right now, in this very essay:

And our own individual life experiences will color our perceptions of any issue. If you are an inner city parent with shitty public schools for your kids, school vouchers probably look pretty darn good even if the theory offends progressive sensibilities.

Oh, Kos! You crazy inner-city parent, you! Sigh.

Let’s unpack this, shall we? First, he strikes one final blow against the mighty straw man of the Old School Activist, whose own life experiences apparently do not color her perceptions of any issue. How remarkable! I rather thought that most homo sapiens find their commitments and perceptions colored by their experiences. In fact, I thought most animals possessing central nervous systems do this. Silly, silly me. It turns out that only the New School Kool Kids (“who ‘came of age’ politically in the early 90’s and 00’s”) who get to learn from their experiences!

Next, we get treated to the assumption that inner city parents are apparently too stupid to understand that voucher programs represent the de-funding of their already “shitty” neighborhood public school and a wholesale abandonment of the project of universal public schooling. Fuck you and your pointy-headed overly-intellectual (and probably fundamentally Marxist) progressive theoretical sensibilities; it just looks pretty darn good to them!

And here we meet Straw Man #2: Ideology vs. Pragmatism! This is perhaps the biggest and steamiest load of hork that has ever spurted up from the dyspeptic GI tract of the so-called New Democrats, only to be endlessly swirled around in the collective mouth of the Democratic Party like a fine wine, only with chunks.

There hasn’t been much seriously theoretical or ideological thinking in general circulation in our party for decades. Most Democrats, including progressives, are deeply pragmatic, but there’s pragmatism and then there’s pragmatism. Kos, it seems, thinks that political pragmatism consists of advocating whatever policy sounds pretty darn good to folks. I would argue that the better form of political pragmatism, the one that actually represents the larger Pragmatist tradition in American political philosophy, consists of advocating policies that we have good reason to believe will work, and then present our fellow citizens with reasonable arguments to persuade them to support our proposed policies. But I guess I should just save that talk for Old School Activist back at the commune.

I don’t think the arguments that have been made against vouchers are particularly ideological. While it was adequately funded, America’s system of public schools transformed the social landscape. Universal public education encouraged social mobility and helped to expand and stabilize the American middle class. Last time I checked, Democrats supported opportunities for upward class mobility, and believed that a stable middle class helps democracy thrive. To allow conservatives to under-fund the public schools of poor children and then rush in to deliver the system’s death-blow with their cockamamie privatizations and voucher schemes isn’t pragmatic. It’s just dumb. It’s a purely ideological decision that universal public education for effective citizenship isn’t important, and that the state should provide poor schools for poor people or leave the matter up to Jesus & Friends. It is, in short, an obvious example of the thinking of blow-dried neo-liberals who have drunk deeply at the ideological wells of the new capitalism – the kind of people who use words like “proactiveness”.

On the “About” page on Daily Kos says that Markos Zuniga was born in 1971. I think that’s what puzzles me most about his column. I was born in 1974, so we are in the same “generational cohort” according to most scholars of generational cohort theory, but I have no idea what to make of sentences like these:

New school progressives are also less tolerant of ideological orthodoxy. We don’t fall in line with the “acceptable” liberal position, frankly, because we’re not trained to fall in line.

The political landscape is different, no doubt — the politics of old where “leaders” told us how to think and act is dead.

Huh? Is he just openly ridiculing old people? I find it hard to believe that he really thinks that before the children of the 70’s came of age, Americans were ‘trained to fall in line’ or were ‘tolerant of ideological orthodoxy’, or that there was a time when Americans thought and acted according to the dictates of their “leaders” like mindless automatons. Perhaps more to the point, I find it hard to believe that he thinks (and publicly admits to thinking) in such cartoonish binary categories as ‘Old School Activist’ and ‘New School Activist’, with all the gross oversimplifications attendant upon that dichotomy.

Don’t get me wrong. I am well aware that Kos aims all this talk at the many people who have taken him to task when he declares by fiat that abortion is basically a fringe issue. And for many, he represents the kind of Democrat who has relegated too many issues to the fringe, and yet demands all of our support, year after year, on the credit of an endlessly deferred promise to get around to “your issue” eventually. I’m not necessarily saying he is that guy, but he has managed to tap in to that particular vein of exhausted frustration among progressives. And those pissed-off sistren and brethren are who he’s talking about when he poo-poos ‘ideological orthodoxy’.

But he seems like a smart enough guy, and surely he can understand that there is a difference between ‘falling in line’ and being faithful to your fundamental convictions? Surely, he knows that not everything should be negotiable?

Because while I don’t think anyone is suggesting that everyone has to tow the line on the “‘acceptable’ liberal position”, some of us think that there should at least be such a thing as an identifiable liberal position that is distinguishable from the conservative position not just in degree but in kind.

I have no doubt that Markos is a perfectly nice young man. He’s been very wrong before, but then so have we all. He is energetic and accomplished, and I think dKos has provided a valuable point of confluence for new energies in the Democratic party, which can only be fore the good. I guess that’s why I am a little stunned at this column. Change up the issues and you’ve got something that would fit right in with the inconceivable proactiveness over at Renew America.

At the end of his essay, Kos says that even we youngsters may become obsolete sooner than we think. I guess that’s where I would stake out my most fundamental disagreement. Politics is about nothing more and nothing less than the plurality of the human, and people are never obsolete. Depth, substance, conviction, and community – every generation has endured on the strength of these, and I don’t believe that t3h 1nt3rn3tz will be replacing them anytime soon.

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