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A Leftwing Tower of Babble?

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How Demonizing Foes Subverts Progressivism

Consciously or not, every pundit or blogger begins with a simple choice: do we address the converted, keen to raise consciousness and ignite protest without much attempt to persuade resistant challengers, even opponents? Or do we frame essays for the choir while embracing the less affiliated and less informed -- say Democratic moderates -- even the stray independent?

I have no delusion that words, brilliant or mundane, will overcome the profoundly alienated or cynical, nor those of fixed and polarized mindsets. Yet words are what we have, so I indulge my hopeful fancy: to articulate positions that inform an open mind, even alter a point of view. Online essays wander about, often to strange venues. My BP critiques surfaced on oil and gas industry trade sites. I concede the "middle" is divided, split into 1) the more affluent, socially-tolerant yet distrustful of government (the Christie crowd); 2) working class voters, socially conservative yet economically populist; and 3) the young, uninformed and disengaged.

For the true-believing scribe (my first group), anything goes, from direct attack and harangue, to name-calling, snark, ridicule, even we trust pertinent character indictments. Open to conspiracy and salted with paranoia, the outcomes vary from admonition to ultimatums: "they" (in power) must do something or else we (out of power) will seize the barricades. Par for the course, whether right or left: nearly all foes are thuggish evil-doers whose perverse notions undermine America's greatness, strike down working/middle classes, breed widespread immorality, plus worsen climate change, public education and income inequity.

Thus, we online junkies encounter ceaseless calls to action, though nearly all distill thusly:
  • Information-driven journalism that respects legitimate evidence, like "Christie's bio reinforces bullying" or "Obama's drones dwarf Dubya's" or "Commie welfare threatens America's work ethnic" or "Doomed Obamacare will implode." Shock and awe in this mode usually stay sub-textual.
  • Rants that inveigh against deranged or malicious foes whose crusades and funding assail the author's values, life conditions, or take on history (cyclical, Biblical, progressive, absurdist or end of times). Buoyed by emotions (passion, anger, disgust, scorn), forcefulness of expression implies that sincerity, even infallibility reigns. Here, neither shock nor awe hide under bushels.
  • Satire, humor, and/or musings that employ irony, stories or metaphor to highlight what must be taken seriously -- disregarded no doubt by lesser, well, less amusing lights. Tone varies, though usually more nuanced and bemused than roughshod, impassioned rants.
In all writing, form and tone should match objectives, platform, and audience. If you honor context, reason and research, you favor the logic of persuasion. If fiery pitchforks grab you, and the sooner the better, foster your soapbox cri de coeur that scorns inaction as the great sin or radicals or revolutionaries. If insight and entertainment, perhaps enlightenment, define your mission, leaving open which specific barricade demands storming, take the less strident, whimsical road that concedes human frailty. Each philosopher-king finds his own perfect pitch.

That Other Audience Matters

Yet I return to the bottom-line: why do we write? To sound off, show our cleverness, or work to change the outside world, even -- miracle to behold -- modify an inside somewhere? Instead of adoration I'll take this: "thanks for widening what I now realize were narrow perspectives." Few here write for money or fame, but all work hard because we are convinced words matter. Our words, alongside legends. Can good writers not sustain principles without inciting howls from skeptical moderates? For me, overwrought intonation drives away the most valued, though rare audience: ordinary, non-ideologues who vote. Stridency in fact reinforces their latent prejudices, vulnerable to dismissal as "one of them," whether deranged liberal, rightwinger, fundamentalist or anarchist.
 
Thus, dishing out sweeping, misleading generalizations -- that the end is near, all rich capitalists are vile exploiters, the monolithic corporate reign is viciously fascist, or all rightwingers are dumb suckers, where do you go from there? If all in any one group are guilty, then none may be isolated or indicted. How many neighbors think being rich is a mortal sin or crime against humanity? If every politician gets button-holed as self-absorbed psychopath (with winning the confirmation), or serve as dumb puppets of a covert, nefarious elite, forget any positive impact on your next Congressional battleground. 
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If one asserts all fat cats who fund climate denial are scheming, low-life frauds, indeed conscious planet-destroyers, how many independents rush to the exit? Do not outlandish claims invite your critics to besmirch your future writing? Equate American CEOs with Nazis or fascist mass murderers, and I am not alone scuttling towards the exit. Preposterous analogies, easily dismissed, warm the heart of partisans but leave critical, perhaps open minds offended.

Stereotypes, Tho Comforting, Distort

Thus, fiery name-calling, speculations on mental stability and shadowy intentions, drive "outsiders" away in droves. Without focusing on some common ground, we will not persuade the greater number we stand for their greater good. That's why I don't depict the most craven politicians as evil-doing, scum-sucking demons, especially since their careers are manifestly predictable, their ambitions routine. Why impugn a shark for being a predator, even if today's gang are especially low-class sharks?   

Thus I rely (doggedly for some) on logic and evidence not because I think them magical, mind-changing levers (and research testifies how well we shield biases), but because they assert civilized values and common ground. Instead of skewering phantoms (inner motivation, neuroses, private allegiances), I propose we focus on what we can talk about: gross incompetence, stupidity, failure, contradiction, and moral corruptions between campaign pledges and gaps in delivery. Decisions and behavior are fair game; deep psychology must pass through a glass darkly.
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No key American constituency will indict, let alone punish rich people for being rich, readily criminalize "private enterprise" that employs  them, or reject our of hand favored belief systems (economic, democratic or religious) are beyond repair. If the cocky Kochs menace the world, what will best immunize us: overwrought hyperbole or the drumbeat that proves bad big businesses are bad for the majority? High time, for the painful generational shortfall is the failure of progressive politics to greatly impact the national debate, let along wretched legislation.

Want Change? Engage To Change Minds

Instead, should we not at times talk to those not in our camp, not already nodding, with relentless demonstrations that the great masses are abused, then penalized by a widely broken system? Let us consider focus on doable actions, like reinstating an estate tax potent enough to impede dynastic fixation by the richest. Let us ardently defend when government works, not cynically write it all off, especially alongside independent, progressive NGO's. The pragmatic among us even support progressive Democrats, not because we love the party, but there's no other national path to a critical, leftwing mass.  

My decade of blogging has not dispelled a conviction in unity there is strength. The left is too much a tower of babble. Let us recall not just Ben Franklin's "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately" but "our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own." To win our liberty, we must widen the scope of our audience, work to show the non-committed how we all can and must pull together to keep this errant experiment from going off the tracks. It ain't over 'til it's over. Talking only to ourselves is another kind of bubble unless we assume the world outside us must factor in meaningful reforms and collective liberation.

 

Educated at Rutgers College (BA) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D, English) Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, U. Chicago) for business, founding and heading SOTA Industries, high end audio company from '80 to '92. From '92-02 he did marketing (more...)
 

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Do you wonder why the left, despite brilliant prop... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Jan 28, 2014 at 10:33:21 PM
 Sir,  Those who consider themselves "L... by Ad Du on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 7:36:24 AM
Pope Francis would have made a far more relevant a... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:47:49 AM
You might be right Robert. Myself I didnt get wha... by Paul Easton on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 12:17:03 PM
I think what AD is saying is that without educati... by Daniel Geery on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 1:09:31 PM
Excuse me but I was hardly belligerent (compared ... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 1:23:22 PM
Fair enough, and I do get it.  Disclosure: ... by Daniel Geery on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 2:21:25 PM
It is an excellent question to ask whether consen... by George Flower on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 3:08:49 PM
Thanks for a relevant, measured and informative f... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 3:48:58 PM
The Tea Party is neo-confederate in its geo... by George Flower on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 8:34:18 AM
(cont'd) As this article argues, if OWS ... by George Flower on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 8:41:05 AM
Very good point. I would mostly blame TV. It used... by Paul Easton on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 12:56:49 PM
One of the earliest book-length elaborations of y... by George Flower on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 10:03:29 PM
Blessed are those who know how to play the chords... by BFalcon on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 7:26:34 AM
I do not prescribe what strong minds should do. &n... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:44:52 AM
Subliminal is effective if you reach enough people... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 11:15:46 PM
I agree with you but there is a difference betwee... by BFalcon on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 12:34:54 AM
The masses of people do not vote based on rationa... by Derryl Hermanutz on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 7:30:15 AM
Overall history undermines your sweeping generali... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:41:45 AM
I think this piece raises a very good question: Wh... by Kevin Tully on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:00:08 AM
My French critique ( benefits first, vices second... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:07:01 AM
Please, discard   the last line 'sometimes..... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:30:26 AM
Thanks for the full, if episodic, even rambling r... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:17:45 AM
Ok, I think I reached  my goal...  And ... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 1:03:03 PM
Well, that was a clear and succinct single sentenc... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 3:27:44 PM
that "US people are en masse- reasonable middle- ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 10:31:39 AM
while Mr. becker doesn't agree with you,i do.Most ... by kappie on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 10:03:15 AM
Who is the "you" you agree with? I don't write... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 10:20:32 AM
Are you saying the non-republicans are the unthin... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 10:57:20 AM
Foolish trollery. Set up your own, transparently f... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 11:45:34 AM
Foolish trollery, cheap shots and straw men is th... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 1:11:29 PM
I agree: I have no desire to bridge the gap betwe... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 3:14:22 PM
My original comment was for Kappie and Kappie alon... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 6:11:38 PM
Bit of a stretch to take the fact the Agricultura... by Maxwell on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:39:07 PM
You've been criticized for being difficult to read... by Maxwell on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 11:04:32 AM
Yes, I tend towards satire but snark is not my me... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 11:41:44 AM
Tough to read but containing a foundational elemen... by Robert De Filippis on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 2:16:21 PM
I am glad you see it too. I appreciate the corrobo... by Bill Johnson on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 2:53:57 PM
I am gracious, even patient, to those who make an... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 3:23:13 PM
I agree with everything you wrote in this response... by Robert De Filippis on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 4:23:13 PM
Frankly, I was surprised you commented on my feis... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 5:36:09 PM
Yes, it's clearer but I think you may still be a b... by Robert De Filippis on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 6:51:48 PM
I accept that.  I have less tolerance after ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:09:30 PM
Mr. Becker....     I would lik... by Bob Gormley on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 4:14:17 PM
I appreciate your drift and I don't intend articl... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 5:42:51 PM
The Idaho Statesman, where I wrote seemingly co... by Daniel Geery on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 1:45:37 PM
This was a bogus complaint and except for cri de ... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 2:32:50 PM
Robert, my comment was not meant as a complaint, ... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Feb 1, 2014 at 2:35:14 PM
I reread the entire piece and I find maybe half a ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 6:05:28 PM
It is interesting that this conversation has slip... by Kevin Tully on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 6:39:57 PM
That's not because I made my points with clarity, ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:13:28 PM
I'd say that since the article is about attemptin... by Maxwell on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:23:13 PM
Yeah, the cri de coeur was one example. Maybe it's... by Bob Gormley on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 7:26:56 PM
I bet you were a hoot in literature class, Bob. :)... by J. Edward Tremlett on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:47:21 PM
I give him credit for admitting he had trouble wit... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:18:40 PM
No it's not the vocabulary, it's sentences with d... by Maxwell on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:26:06 PM
I used to get drunk with William S Burroughs. This... by J. Edward Tremlett on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:37:19 PM
Did you now?  Did you find Burroughs more pe... by Maxwell on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:57:30 PM
Depends on whether he was armed or not ... by J. Edward Tremlett on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 10:05:40 PM
Didn't he kill his wife? ... by Maxwell on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 7:42:07 AM
Yes, but it was self-defense. She was wearing a ho... by J. Edward Tremlett on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 6:42:59 PM
Was she black? ... by Maxwell on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 8:52:23 AM
"Thus I rely (doggedly for some) on logic and evi... by J. Edward Tremlett on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 8:55:33 PM
Thanks for finding a "money quote."  Is that ... by Robert S. Becker on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 9:21:35 PM
Wow; Mr. Becker! You cannot help yourself. You've... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 11:52:37 PM
You misread my tone or perhaps it came across wro... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 9:21:25 AM
Well said Robert! We differ on many things, but ... by Paul Repstock on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 11:07:06 PM
As this article argues, if OWS had focuse... by George Flower on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 8:35:37 AM
Yes, Occupy was so obsessed without being topdown ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 2:15:13 PM
Robert, I must say you do get a response change go... by Robert De Filippis on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 11:11:05 AM
I don't try to instigate debate (or dominate the ... by Robert S. Becker on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 12:39:39 PM
Thanks for clearing that up. ... by Robert De Filippis on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014 at 4:53:01 PM
The right has always been way ahead of us in getti... by Maxwell on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 8:46:00 AM
"There is strife between the hard right populists... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 9:46:24 AM
Bubba is not to be underestimated, though.  ... by Maxwell on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 1:53:50 PM
No, there have been lots of reliable reports of f... by Robert S. Becker on Friday, Jan 31, 2014 at 2:28:12 PM
Robert, you're so right! "Preaching to the choir"... by Robert Wendell on Monday, Feb 3, 2014 at 10:32:10 PM
Thanks for the support.  Glad you're active a... by Robert S. Becker on Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014 at 10:29:09 AM