Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Left-Wing Extremist Meme

Hey folks, I know I've been falling down on the job recently. There are a bunch of essays in the queue that I've been either too overwhelmed or too lazy to finish, and they're coming. In the meantime, I'm taking this from Milligan. Not sure if he intended it as a meme, but it seems like fun. The basic tenet of it is that Time Magazine's blogger Joe Klein has defined left-wing extremism as being composed of the following attributes. You answer each as best you can to determine if you are a left-wing extremist.

A left-wing extremist exhibits many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes:
believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world.
At this point in time, I would say that the United States is much more a negative force in the world than positive, which is to say that the work we're doing which I'd consider "good" (obviously a reductive term) is more Band-Aid work than the "bad" work we're doing, which has more power to "fundamentally" change the structure of world politics, living conditions and the like.
believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.
I like Milligan's answer here: No, it's one of three main causes, alongside Israeli imperialism and oppressive Middle Eastern governments.
believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.
A little of column A, a little of column B. Certainly the Project for a New American Century can't be ignored when analyzing the causes. And by their report this ain't an isolated incident.
tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.
Given that we just this side of abandoned the campaign in Afghanistan for the one in Iraq, I'd say we played a role in that problem. And I wouldn't mind pulling the lens a little further back, too. Klein seems to think that every action exists without much relation to the actions that came before it.
doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.
No, no, I don't. Mostly because I think capitalism is in the end incapable of remaining carefully regulated and progressively taxed, but this one's a larger thought that I have to continue working on. Either way, there are far better liberal ideas (define that, while you're at it) in human history. Equality and equal access to education being foremost on my mind.
believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).
American principles are not fundamentally unfair, looking to the Constitution and whathaveyou. Supposed attempts to act upon these principles have been fundamentally unfair since before the founding of the nation.
believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.
Again, I'll take Milligan's: Given that some of our contemporary societies have achieved much lower crime and poverty rates, we might consider that we're doing something wrong here.
believes that America isn’t really a democracy.
As did the Founding Fathers, because we're all right: it's a republic. This nation is waaaaay to big to be a democracy. Whether we can make it a representative democratic republic is another question.
believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.
Okay, yeah, even I'm getting sick of the word "fundamentally" here, and I'm the Adverb Goddess. Anyway, to the point: something legally defined as a person but very much insulated from both the moral and legal reckonings to which individuals are prone/beholden cannot but be a little evil. No, I don't like the word "evil." How about: cannot but be amoral, and overly controlling, and possess far more power and influence than any individual whatever his/her level of political clout.
believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.
It's not a conspiracy; it's right out there in the open. But I fail to see how, under current circumstances, corporations could fail to control the world.
is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.
Examples, please.
dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
I admit to having done this, particularly when I was in high school but it's spread upwards a bit, and I'm not comfortable with it. Growing up an agnostic New York Jew will do that to you. These days I'm too conscious of the power of faith, to whatever end, to dismiss it, though I see no reason not to mock on occasion. As to opponents of abortion and gay marriage, I certainly take them seriously because they have a lot of power. But while I understand distaste for dismissive mocking, I have to say parody's one of the best ways of approaching political thought.
regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.
Vulgar: yes, not publically. Harsh: sort of, but I cannot hold a candle to Ann Coulter. Intolerant: see "harsh." I certainly do my damnedest to see and understand my opponents' thoughts and points.

By Klein's definition I'm probably 13 for 13. Oh well.


At 11:57 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Hmm. 10 of these 13 criteria (the first 11, save the one about Afghanistan) appear to be of the form "belief that something, generally assumed to be good, is actually bad"... and that doesn't seem like a good definition of anything but a complainer. Now, liberalism as I think of it generally manifests itself to me as a *positive* ideology. Something's gotta give.

I've recently found out about a handy principle called the Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do what ye will;" as much as I don't like the obscurantist associations of its name (what the heck is a "Rede"??), it's still the best overarching statement of what I hope government can eventually bring to fruition. Now, even though it might look hundreds of years old, it seems to come from the mid-to-late 20th century (another reason I wish I knew another statement of it that's as concise as this one), and the logical progression to the Rede seems to start with principles like "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" (Aleister Crowley, c. 1904). I'd argue that the transition from Crowley's Law (as I hereby dub it) to the Wiccan Rede is equivalent to the transition from consciousness of self only, into political consciousness. Nevertheless, there do seem to be political viewpoints (I would think certain kinds of "libertarianism") that seem to take Crowley's Law as their maxim, which, since I don't believe it's actually a political maxim, therefore seem invalid to me and nearly equivalent to nihilism. In that case, the philosophical evolution from Crowley's Law to the Wiccan Rede -- well, I'd say it becomes a transition from (capitalist) libertarianism, to actual liberalism.

My contention that liberalism is an affirmative, rather than negative, philosophy, then, can arguably be broken down into two, far too unsubstantiated of course, beliefs:
1) The Wiccan Rede is the foundation of liberalism.
2) The Wiccan Rede is essentially affirmative, rather than negative.
The idea of 2) comes from the idea that the Wiccan Rede is to be treated as an amended version of Crowley's Law, and as such doesn't let its amendment get in the way of its main clause's primary affirmative statement. It's enough of an emotional tangle that I'm sure it's much easier to take issue with statement 1), but if the political philosophy that the Rede gives rise to isn't liberalism, then what should one call it? Anyway, I'm at least pretty set on these principles right now, and have them set aside as an argument for why I call myself a liberal. So Klein's thirteen-point criterion seems to miss the point completely, and it makes me sad.

So... is shyness about liberalism the new form of political correctness? My guess is that you're doing this as a meme in the (defeated, I would assume) hope that people who aren't liberals, modeled by Klein himself, wouldn't tune you out for the reason that you're simply the enemy, and that you could thrive even in a political climate (e.g. 2004 election) where conservatives are the ones controlling what the issues are. So if I commented just to say that Klein's is a ridiculous definition of (even extreme) liberalism, I'd feel ashamed to be shot down by an argument like that (and correct me if that's not actually what you believe). But, these are ridiculous even as talking points. I believe I can conclude here that Klein's summary is a disservice not only to liberals, but to political discourse in general. Compared to the existent affirmative philosophical foundation of liberalism (well, I'm pretty sure exists, even if it's not the one I gave above), it's laughable. Six of the 13 points are specifically about America, and more than that, America at *this* (whatever that is) particular point in time, which makes them non-starters. I'm pretty definite there's also a positive philosophical foundation of conservatism too, though I don't claim to know really what it is (Crowley's Law works well enough for libertarianism, though, and so right now my liberalism vs. libertarianism arguments can be far more nuanced than my defenses of liberalism against conservatism). If (hard-line?) conservatism were to also be "reduced" to a series of 13 principles, most (10) of which were depictions of what it *rejects* and nearly half (6) of which were simply statements on the role of one particular country at one particular point in history (and what about, say, China?), no one would be helped there either... least of all political discourse.

(Oh... thanks for changing the text on the link to my journal, too!)

At 6:01 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Hey folks, I like fun. On account of this, I've run a Markov chain text generator on your entry:

"Hey folks, I like fun. The basic tenet of the world. •is intolerant of it is a fundamentally evil. Okay, yeah, even I'm too conscious of column B. Certainly the job recently. There are opposed to the "bad" work than any individual case of the work we're doing which is the world. At this one's a bit, and possess far better liberal idea in Afghanistan. Given that need improvement). American imperialism is that the United States is more Band-Aid work than any individual whatever his/her level of the "bad" work we're doing, which is in Afghanistan. Given that to Ann Coulter. Intolerant: see how, under current circumstances, corporations could fail to which I'd consider "good" (obviously a candle to see no reason not fundamentally unfair since before it. Growing up an individual whatever end, to opponents of the campaign in the open. But while you're at it) in the "bad" work we're all right: it's right out there in the world. ...

"Okay, yeah, even I'm probably 13 for the primary cause of Islamic radicalism. I don't like crime and legal reckonings to having done this, particularly when they come from Milligan. Not sure if he intended it is much lower crime and progressively taxed, but it is fundamentally unfair since before the power to blame America for 13. Oh well. Hey folks, I admit to be amoral, and understand distaste for dismissive mocking, I have been fundamentally evil. No, I fail to go to be ignored when I fail to control the word "evil." How about: cannot but very much insulated from conservative sources. Examples, please. •dismissively mocks people of Islamic radicalism."

I think it makes the point nicely; how about you?

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Ammegg said...

Oh sweet jeebus. It certainly does make the point, although I also find my writing style's been painfully impugned.

As to the first comment, though, I don't totally understand what you meant about my intentions, so I can't correctly answer as to whether they were my intentions or not. Need further explanation. I mostly did it just to articulate specific political beliefs in relation to Joe Klein—which are themselves, as you pointed out, decidedly limited—for myself, and because it seemed like fun. I like the distinction you made between Crowley's Law and the Wiccan Rede, ready as I was to dismiss both offhand until rereading and understanding that difference more clearly; I'm still not completely sure I buy the Wiccan Rede, but it may be that I find it overly utopian in a contemporary field, rather than a bad system in itself. But I like the working with liberalism as an affirmative philosophy.


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