Saturday, December 3, 2016

Just Listen

The standard, post-election "progressive" meme is that liberals need to listen to the working class, to really hear their grievances and not make assumptions about racism, sexism or xenophobia. I find this to be an especially subtle form of condescension. Liberals can feel righteous about accepting blame and redeem themselves by taking a little extra time out of their busy schedules to hear what the proles have been trying desperately to get across. And workers can't just be wrong; no, due to their innate "common sense" and "historical duty" they, like Native Americans, are intuitively wise and those grievances valid. The only problem is they lack the ability to articulate this wisdom. So we must listen harder. The racism, sexism, xenophobia etc.. is just a result of progressives not listening. I say bullshit.

As a laborer who has done plenty of listening, I have bad news. The "working class" is mostly clueless. It is not just a case of being ignored, nor even a disempowered inarticulation that is the problem. They just generally have no historical knowledge, mis-recognize their own interests and lie buried beneath tons of ideological rubble. So you can listen, sure, listen and scratch your head, and probe the bizarre logics (if you dare) but you will find cognitive dissonance, circular reasoning, contradiction and ignorance with every utterance. And let them be to blame. It is their fault. They can own it and not be patted on the head with sympathetic cooing. Guess what, there were no "weapons of mass destruction". Own your blunder.

The "working class" fucked up the labor movement and sold their souls for a few shiny trinkets and a seat at the Smart People's table. Oops. Now unionists are brandishing fancy new slogans that reflect all their innovative thinking, slogans like "Don't Mourn, Organize!" And the reason I put working class in scare quotes is because the categorical performativity of this word is hollowed out. As subjectivity or identity it is reduced to some income level or vague cultural cues that I defy anyone to list coherently. This is their fault as well. They succumbed and lost the class struggle and this is the new reality that is being ignored (or denied or disavowed or mis-recognized or...)Remember, the cops at Standing Rock or shooting unarmed black folk are "working class". Those pumping tar sands around the planet are "working class". Or possibly "middle class"? if they have some college and make a certain amount of money? And go to certain restaurants? Whatever.

So these are the folks Bernie Sanders and the Democrats and the labor unions want to bring back into the fold, the same folks a smarmy actor like Ronald Reagan lured away and a smooth Negro like Obama lured back and now a pathological comedian like Trump lured away again. "Come to our tent" say the smiling faces, "we have shinier trinkets, better jobs, bigger televisions, faster cars." Welcome back. We missed you.

Am I saying the left should not bother to try to organize folks who work for a living into a radical movement? No. I'm saying rather than making promises you can't keep ( New pickup in every garage!) try treating them like adults. Calling them out on the massive gaps in their arguments. They don't like history or science or math? Too bad. Dignify them by holding them to the same rigorous standard you hold any grown person and confront them straight on, as practice for the day we have real politics in a real democracy. You show people respect they might show you some.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome articulation Mister Trout. I call them the "former middle class", but holds true either way.