Thank you for listening, Angry Soba! I guess I owe you a bit more.
I have been thinking about identity politics–how swiftly “pride” and “self-affirmation” devolve into chauvinism, sapping the ability to form coalitions and, even more damaging, fracturing movements as rivals vie for the crown of authenticity. Infighting probably did more damage to the Civil Rights movement than COINTELPRO; over the past few weeks I have been observing the increasingly bitter animus between lesbian separatists and trans activists on the fringes of the LGBT movement. Read the history of Communism in the 20th century if you want to see what self-cannibalism looks like; go to Firedoglake and you’ll see that when the pitiful remnant of the left rouses itself today, it’s more often than not to attack liberals rather than rightists. Schisms have always been a feature of radical movements, religious or secular, left or right (witness Gaffney’s falling out with CPAC). It’s easier and safer and in some ways more satisfying to engage with our fellow travelers on the fringe (our families, if you will) than with outright strangers.
And then there’s the expectation that our political causes will validate us–that they will not only gain us our rights and our freedom and insure our prosperity and vindicate our ideas, but justify us in some transcendent way–that they will make us feel complete and whole and perfected. We project this unreasonable expectation onto our leaders and when they inevitably fail to deliver, we angrily repudiate them. George W. Bush doesn’t dare show his face in Tampa this year; Obama has to abase himself before his former base.
Sometimes I feel like we still haven’t properly parsed the meaning of “the pursuit of happiness.” Happiness, yes, but in a material, objective sense–votes that count, opportunities for education and self-improvement, access to medicine and a fair judiciary to settle disputes. Feeling good about yourself is mostly a private matter–something you work out with your family in the course of growing up, in an intimate relationship, or with a therapist. It’s one thing to demand all or nothing from a lover; quite another to seek it in the public realm.
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