As a huge fan of irony, the shutdown of Bernie Sanders attempt to speak at a Seattle event last month was simply delicious. The fact that he started off by saying “Thank you, Seattle, for being one of the most progressive cities in the United States of America,” only to have the microphone commandeered seconds later, was simply too perfect. I highly doubt Bernie recognized the connection between his statement and the following events which left him standing impotent, lost, and confused in the background as his ridiculous fedora-wearing goon engaged in a shouting match. This the kind of interaction which likely happens most often in the playgrounds of America’s schools. Replace the microphone with a shiny red bouncy ball and the picture becomes clearer. I’m sure this is old news for many people but I don’t really prescribe to the media news cycle. I laughed repeatedly while rolling the video back and re-watching the mayhem unfold. Sanders, the champion of every little guy and gal was finding himself on the receiving end of “sticking it to the man”, and it simply could not compute. How could the most progressive candidate for president be the enemy of minorities and the downtrodden? The answer is simple: if people choose to identify as victims, then there is no limit to whom they will ascribe to title of victimizer. There is no clear line in the sand, and that’s the mistake that many progressives make: assuming they are off limits.
The way I see it, the revolutionary left, the far fringe of the progressive, which I will henceforth refer to as “Praemordeans” (from the latin to bite off; categorizing is fun huh?) don’t care who they take a piece out of, because everyone really is the enemy. Let me explain how I understand the logic. (With a graph no less!) At the very bottom of the list of people in order of detestableness is the white, straight, traditional (in lieu of Christian) male. The reason is that this category has inflicted the most suffering on all other people groups in the last few centuries. These evil folks are the benchmark of sinister cruelty, so let’s say they are 0 on the scale of deserving to have their opinions heard. As we move on from 0, we get more degrees removed from white, straight, traditional male. So, 1 on this axis would be a white, straight, traditional female; two would be white lesbian traditional female and so on. So now we have the makings of a graph where Y is degrees removed from 0 and X is value of your opinion or amount your voice should be heard. This graph works so well because it is presumed that the more removed from 0 one is, the more one has suffered at the hands of the white, straight, you get the idea.
Alright, so I’ve broken this down into zones. The red zone essentially equates to shut up and give me the goddamn microphone. The yellow zone is made up of people who have some say, but are still too close to the dreaded WSTM point to really matter. The green zone is people who actually should be heard. Of course there is a correlation: as the zones advance in influence the number of people making up those zones decrease. This is of course obvious and present in the Praemordean paradigm of minorities being inherently oppressed. This graph is not complete though, the zones can extend even further. And I have a crypto-sociological theory that somewhere in America is a mixed-race, transgendered, lesbian, pagan, shaman who we all honestly should be deferring to and who should really be doing all the talking. So I think it is high time we found her, sorry, whatever the chosen pronoun is, and give that person the microphone forever.
So where does this line of thinking come from? My argument is the playgrounds of America. Look at it this way: Billy is a white straight traditional male, and he has been on the good swing set for over two-hundred years. Now I’m not sure how that’s physically possible and how Billy isn’t bored yet, but that is the scenario. At some point the children take notice and comment to the teacher, and everyone realizes that, while Billy has had his fun, honestly it should probably be someone else’s turn to use the good swing set. The amusing kerfuffle at Bernie Sander’s event in Seattle is just a microcosm example of this sort of logic. There arises another problem however, Billy has been in that malleable rubber seat for so long that the material has formed around his buttocks, so once the next kid gets in the swing then their buttocks will be formed into the mold that Billy’s made. So while Billy is running off to get some hemorrhoid cream, the next kid has fallen victim to institutional racism. I’m sure you thought this metaphor was running out of steam but you were oh-so-wrong. Even though Billy has given (and been told that he should) up the good swing-set for other kids to use, it is now tainted by his physical architecture and centuries of ass-sweat.
Of course my metaphor doesn’t really work. It can be taken further: Billy’s parents are wealthier and donate more to the school so they have more influence etc. I think the most important point to take from this ‘playgroundesque’ categorical and fundamentally racial way of thinking is that we stop dealing with people as individuals. Think back to the above graph. Category starts to matter more than individuality. That is very dangerous. It is a reversal of Social Darwinism from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. How long did it take for societies to finally agree that skin color or ethnicity matters nothing in respect to a person’s intelligence, skills and abilities to influence? It took a long damn time. Now there is a push to incorporate the same logic from another direction. Now the sense is that people should not have a voice or opinion based on dubious historical aggregates, or based on how much relative suffering one’s race has experienced. Do we all have an equal voice or not? Bernie Sanders stood awkwardly at the back of the stage as a protester demanded the microphone. The implied ethic is that she deserves it more than the old white guy, despite the fact that the old white guy claims (and shows by his voting record) to be on their side. I’m reminded of a quote from Vladimir Lenin: “To belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.” Replace “Socialist” with “Racial Minority” and replace “Bourgeois” with “White Establishment”. It is very clear that this new racial categorization way of thinking is fundamentally culturally socialist.
Well, what’s the problem with that? You may ask. The problem comes when individuals are eschewed for their categorized label. When there is no reason to listen to person A because their opinion inherently carries less weight, then we end up with the same stifling of speech and oppression that the civil rights movements fought so hard to combat. We get to the point of The Huffington Post telling white women to “shut the fuck up”. Instead of celebrating how far universal equality has come in the last hundred years, egoistic squabbling based on comparative hardship ends up undoing all that work. Categorization is a great well-poisoning straw-man erecting way of saying: “Shut up and listen to me because my opinion inherently matters more than yours.” The delicious irony of this is that a fundamentally socialistic ethic is creating the most convoluted class system we have ever seen. So where is that mixed-race transsexual-lesbian-pagan-shaman already so we can just get the final word?
Your Thoughts Are Not Your Own
I’m going to get a little weird with this now since I have reached that point. We all take ourselves much too seriously. Honestly, everyone needs to get over themselves. The way we learn and acquire knowledge as human beings is fundamentally damaging to our credibility. Our identities are a combination of sensory input and retained memory. We hear something, compare it to the information we already have squirreled away, make a value judgement based on our brain-architecture super-ego, and then store it until we need it again. That’s just about all she wrote. Everyone’s value judgements are based on the neuron’s we developed as children (and still develop, albeit slowly) and the sensory association to those neurons. Now let’s extrapolate. History is very much the same way. It is one long shared memory. As societies we try to change and alter history like our own memories, trying to make it more favorable, trying to make it more of a parable, more symbolic. But when you get down to brass tacks, it is simply a giant pile of morally neutral memory-events. So this categorical posturing based on history is very similar to remembering your childhood vacation as one long and sunny amber beam fading off into the darkness of the unknown past. It is not that, but we want it to be that. We want it to be a snapshot of moral clarity which informs our present. The human mind craves meaning. This informs the way we talk about history. How many times has that wooden-faced hack John Kerry talked about “the wrong side of history” lately? Many, many times. The version of history he is looking to is that smear of Vaseline on the lens of the past, that fuzzy framing of what should have been and what was. This is a way of thinking which has pervaded modern discourse. I’m a firm believer that everything which happens was going to happen, and that we are all exactly where we were always going to be. This is not because of god or fate in a poetic sense but because history is one long chemical reaction. We are all matter, and reactions of matter will always come out the same way: vinegar and baking soda, sodium and chloride, acetylcholine and the parasympathetic nervous system.
Our thoughts belong to those who came before us. We are the product of every dead man and woman who said something which was remembered by various media forms and passed on through our high school textbooks. As a lunatic once said in a moment of clarity: “I’m already dead, have been all my life. I’ve spent twenty-three years in tombs that you built.” This is the tenuousness of our grasp on history, on the ‘big picture’ and what we actually control.
I Sing the Body Eclectic
Now to take a breath at the brink of nihilism: a place I pitch camp often. How do we take that formation of the mind into account in these social situations which implement the playground logic? If the blood-calculus of our perceived reality is simply a drawn-out process of daily necromancy, a séance of the collective dead, then how to we deal with the categorization sociology of our modern world? How do we tell ourselves that it matters at all? If we are going to say yes to humanism, then why not use that above graph? Because the above graph is the enemy of humanism. I earnestly do not believe that it can co-exist with a belief that other people have intrinsic value. Once you start applying the mathematics of historical power structures then there is no need for conversation, real conversation. The Bernie Sanders shutdown was not dialogue. It was shouting match. It was people talking past one-another. It was fundamentally solipsistic and fundamentally nihilistic. Militant collectivism and human stratification lead that direction every time.
Here is a real-world example, and I cringe to use racial categorization but I will, since most people refuse to think outside that formula. In my line of work I deal with many Hispanic immigrants. Some are hard-working and decent and some are less-so, and that’s possible because they are people just like anyone, so fuck the beautiful and broad brush-stroke. While speaking to a middle aged hispanic man one day, we began talking about the communities we lived in. After a few minutes he began to bemoan how nice his neighborhood used to be and how much he perceived that it had declined as of late. I asked him what he thought the reasoning was, and he explained that there were too many young Hispanics moving in and causing trouble. I thought about it for a few days afterward, considering his comment to be strange. Then I came to the conclusion that it was not strange at all, that there was this mass psychosis in modern society trying to tell me that what he had expressed was wrong or weird. It was not. He was a man telling me about his circumstances. I was subconsciously devaluing his opinion by letting that categorization get the better of me.
Here’s the thing: that graph above makes sense because it is simple. We all want simplicity in our lives, just as we all want symmetry and meaning. Perhaps we would all be a little better off if we actually spoke to people as individuals with value outside their skin-deep qualifications. Maybe if we had more real conversations, then we would get a more holistic picture of the human being aside from the propped up structures we love to develop. It sounds odd yes, and maybe even dismissive, but I do wonder if the reason for that is because we as a society have convinced ourselves, despite our best intentions, that not everyone is equal.