Tag Archives: Ideas

A WORD OF CAUTION TO THE ACTIVISTS

debs

Eugene Debs did not have convictions. He had beliefs and was convicted for them.

Leftist groups in the United States have traditionally descended into cannibalism. At first, they start off well enough, find a unified vision and make some progress. Socialists did pretty well as third party candidates at the start of the 20th century, for example, by getting the votes of unions and other, ideologically less rigid, groups.

But making progress requires compromise; and compromise requires pragmatism. At a certain point, the most convinced ideologues (the Marxists, communists, anarchists, rigid socialists, extreme feminists, culture talkers, racial thinkers, etc.) draw their own lines in the sand and say “enough! No more compromise! After all, aren’t we fighting against a system of so-called ‘compromise’ as it is?” They then turn on each other, each accusing the other of being too soft, too ideologically impure, too (God forbid) conservative. Then the  flesh-eating begins.

There is a reason why ideologues like Lenin were able to take control of Russia at the start of the 20th century. They brought rigid, autocratic ideology to a country accustomed to autocracy. When the Bolsheviks started their purges of the bourgeois class, they were building on a tradition of autocratic purges Russians knew well, not the least of which were the frequent pogroms against Jews. Strict loyalty to the Romanov family and the Orthodox Church that served as its handmaiden was replaced by strict loyalty to the party. Dialectical materialism became the church. Pogroms against Jews were replaced by pogroms against monarchists and capitalists.

Do not be too enthralled with your own convictions. A conviction is merely a belief that has been allowed to fossilize. It is like going fishing, catching one fish and holding on to that one fish forever without ever bothering to fish again. In order to strengthen, broaden and deepen one’s beliefs, one must constantly cast their net into the pond to ensure a steady stream of fresh fish. If not, you starve and those who have done the messy work of fishing will grow fat and prosperous.

Convictions are dead fish, dead beliefs.

The real world, especially the world we call the United States (and double triple especially the world of New York City), is messy. It requires a messy mind, one teeming with all types of fresh fish, to keep up. Quite frankly, people so steeped in their convictions scare me. They are of the same ilk as religious fundamentalists, no matter what the religion is.

Now, this does not mean that all beliefs should be malleable so that one becomes a jellyfish with no core. What it means is that we must be open to having ALL of our beliefs, even our most cherished beliefs, reexamined and challenged from within. You might reexamine your beliefs and find that you believe them now stronger than you ever did before.

Who ever reexamines their convictions? Wouldn’t they cease to be convictions the moment one reexamines them?

Convictions are not open to reexamination. That is what makes them dangerous. Convictions, at their core, are enemies of freedom.

A word of caution to the activists.

The Amorality of Openness

Being open-minded is celebrated as a virtue. We teach children to not judge a book by its cover. People who can reconcile two sides of a debate are lauded as “moderate” or “reasonable”. I recently came across an education blog respected as an impartial observer in the education reform debate. It does not laud all of the developments of education reform, but it reprints all of the press releases and major articles of reform organizations. Because the deformers have nonstop access to the media, their entries far outnumber the contributions of alternative voices. Even though the blog is “impartial”, the debate ends up being framed in terms of the language of the deformers.

This is essentially a reflection of the state of the media in general. Instead of digging deep to the core of an issue (what they used to call “investigating”), reporters merely replay pre-fab press releases from those in power. When Bush accused Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the Iraq War, the media repeatedly ran Bush’s false claims while occasionally citing the investigators from the United Nations who said Iraq had nothing. The public was never really given a choice, nor any semblance of reliable or accurate reporting. Claims of supposed objectivity by the media were really a cover for their role as mouthpiece for those in power.

It seems to be a virtue in liberal circles in the United States to be tolerant and give the appearance of being open to all ideas. This type of vacuous relativism is what has caused American liberalism to devolve into irrelevance, especially over the past 35 years. The liberal mind was too open, allowing in ideas that eventually eroded away the beliefs upon which American liberalism were founded. President Obama, dealing with an intransigent Congress all of the sudden obsessed with government spending, offered up Social Security as a bargaining chip. No president from any party has ever been so willing to sacrifice the last few vestiges of liberal values, all in the interest of seeming fair and open.

This is the type of cowardice that has allowed education deform to take hold. Because Bill Gates or Eli Broad have an opinion on education, we think they are entitled to a fair hearing. Because they are willing to sink money into experimenting with reform, we think they should be given a shot. At no point did we ever assess (or “investigate”) why we have an education system at all or what real teaching and learning is about. All we have are piles of studies funded with Gates Foundation or Koch Brothers money that claim to be objective in their call for corporate education reform. Liberals have sold out the children of the poor with their weak and relativistic values where every wealthy person who says they care about schools means it and every 1%-funded study on how to teach is a legitimate topic of discussion.

I do not believe there is equal weight to both creationism and evolution. Global warming is a real event agreed upon by scientists. Aliens never landed at Roswell and there is no such thing as Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. Education deformers do not actually care about public schools. Education scientists and economists who do studies on teaching and learning are mostly out of touch with reality and their articles are better off left in the musty journals that only professors read.

At some point, people who care about public institutions and American democracy are going to have to get as dogmatic as the corporatists. Just as they laud business formulas, the free market and data, we must stand on our principles of civil rights for everyone and total economic justice. Instead of knee-jerk calls for tolerance, there needs to be lessons in critical thinking. All opinions are not equal. Many opinions are really policy positions and propaganda pieces. There is a difference between actual ideas and pre-fabricated sound bites.

Do not be so easily cowed with accusations of being “negative”. “Positive dialogue” where everyone’s opinions are valued are exercises in thought control that are meant to stifle criticism and real debate.