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Said’s Reach

Common sense, right? We define ourselves in relation to our world: I’m a New Englander because I live (and grew) in Massachusetts; I’m a pinkocommieliberal because I agree with Debord, The Invisible Committee and the basic tenets of Marx; I care deeply about the financial woes of our current time because I have spent the last three years of my life assisting families facing foreclosure to try to save their homes; I’m an empiricist because no matter how many times I drive from Framingham to Springfield I have to check my ticket to make sure that the toll hasn’t magically increased (it’s $2.70).

I suppose, as well, that I’m a generally positively-defined person as evidenced above. I define myself, in large part, by positive-relations with my world. Of course, it’s those pesky negative-relations which cause us trouble and turn the most friendly and compassionate of us into bile-spitting terrors. Even further, it’s when one is able to fall into the dual-polemic of self-reinforcing positive-and-negative-relations where we learn who we really are.

Mark Sumner has a wonderful little essay over on Daily Kos entitled “Why it’s okay to hate union workers”.

The engine of this schism is always powered by the same forces: fear and envy. There’s always someone out there to be the "other," someone whose cultural values don’t line up with yours. Someone who is getting a better deal than you. Robber barons and corporations have always been good at promoting factionalism, and of course it helps when you have the media and politicians under your thumb. No doubt nobles played the same game to keep their comfy seats throughout history. Heck, there was probably a nice "Intro for New Pharaohs" scroll that explained how to keep the stonecutters jealous of the hieroglyph carvers, just so neither group ever got around to wondering if carving Rootintootin III’s face on blocks the size of houses was really the best use of their time.

I’ve been considering the broader behavioral and political implications of Said’s now-essential concept of Orientalism for awhile, now, in a casual manner. It seems that this entire idea is going to be essential if we are to understand how to, you know, not hate each other. Food for some Sunday morning thought.

One of the essential pieces of liberal discourse I take issue with, currently, is the demonization of the Tea Party. While I can’t say with any sort of a straight face that their beliefs and aims are at all within a moral sense of “good”, we’re engaging the right’s movement with the same sort of “other” concept that we need to break out of. There is no good solution, but I have tried to find common-ground and avoid disagreement, recently. Perhaps the best we can do is to focus on the positive.

This also creates issues within the idea of polarized class struggle. What is a CEO when they go home to their family? when they, just like us, bury parents and suffer the inherent ups and downs of being human?

Perhaps we’re not fighting against the bosses, but against the ephemeral ideas presented and maintained by the bosses. Take aim at bad ideas not bad people?

Instead, those at the top have always found it easy to get people to champion their cause. There’s always a group that feels wounded, angry and neglected. This group is susceptible to being told that they’re better than some other group, that some other group is getting a better deal, that some other group deserves to be put in its place. It doesn’t matter if that group is called Irish or Italian, Black or Hispanic, Union members or government workers.  Anyone can be painted as a threat with enough hot air and yellow journalism. Anyone.



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