Monday, October 06, 2008

Plok and I: Contemporary Biases Here at the Blog

In the "No Country for Liberal Men" post Plok wrote a kind of large scale concern about this blog in general. I asked him to clarify in an email, and then responded to that email -- and now through the power of the internet you can read the exchange and totally join in.

Plok wrote

I love the "virtual after-class bull session with the prof in the bar" feel you've created on your blog, Geoff -- you've got my favourite sidebar ever -- but part of what creates that feeling is the way that (occasionally) I think the commenters overlook their own contemporary biases. The discussion of conservative "badassery" for example -- it seems to me that this is not something implicit in a "natural" split between liberals and conservatives, but something to do with how the American political culture has been changed by its media culture: thinking there's a "natural" split between liberal and conservative that cooks down in cultural ways too is not itself natural, but the product of a whole amalgamation of influences and strategies and narratives of history and human nature which are simultaneously conjectural and politicized. "Branding". When I was young, Charlton Heston was a *liberal* icon to me, because I was in my twenties before news came down of his political affiliations -- and at that time it was the "liberal" who was the individualist, in popular entertainment. Naturally, I think, enough. But for people who've grown up with the idea of Heston as neo-con, this probably just seems contrafactual: how could I think such a thing when it's so *obvious* Heston stands for all the things -- individualism among them -- that liberalism doesn't?

Except it's *not* obvious: it's just the result of a successful brainwashing campaign, a successful narrative of difference promulgated for political ends. In the comments to that post, someone says they cringe to admit that when G. Gordon Liddy lights his cigar from an anti-war protester's candle and says "there, at least now you've been good for something today", for a moment they think "BADASS!"...but they only think that because of all the times Arnie says "got a light?" as he turns a flamethrower on a guy in a movie, and then kills all the villains and gets the girl, and he knows Arnie's a Republican (my joke may be an idiot's humour, but you're dead and I'm alive, and that's what makes it funny!), and Liddy's a Republican, so it all adds up. But it *doesn't* add up, that's just the success of the narrative which *says* it adds up. I expect any day now people will be talking about Amadeus in terms of "Salieri kicks ass, he totally pwns that Mozart wimp, now let's drill, baby, drill!" (In case you're not familiar with it, at the end of the play Amadeus, Salieri addresses the audience: "I know he was a genius, I know...but look, he was messing me up, and frankly what would *you* have done?"), but if they do it will not be because *it* adds up, it will be because somebody in a smoke-filled room somewhere *added* it up. And this is something I expected to see acknowledged practically right away in the comments to that post, but it wasn't.

So I ask myself: why wasn't it?

Partly, I think, is that it's just fun having cultural narratives in place: you can play with them. Any narrative is a brilliantly effective tool for justifying, for rationalizing -- it doesn't have to be *good*, in and of itself, so long as it's a useful *vehicle* for carrying one's own aesthetics, or one's own developmental explanations. As long as it makes it easier to reach conclusions.

Take, as another example, the post on "God Loves, Man Kills". The use of "the N-word" by Chris Claremont in 1982 or whatever is described as "inflammatory", a "lightning rod" -- extremely apt descriptions of what uttering the word in a work of art involves, for 2008. But is it right to read 1982's Claremont so powerfully from this present-day perspective? As I said in the comments, the value of that word is publically contested today in a way that it wasn't in the 80s, when it was not inflammatory but simply controversial -- when it was not a "lightning rod" but perhaps more a bucket of ice water. Claremont's scene between Kitty and Stevie is a fair replication of conversations that I have to believe go on all the time in real life -- only the Kittys of the world get called something other than "mutie" to start it all off -- but today, because the word gets used in public entertainments all the time, we're accustomed to talking about how and when its public use is justifiable, and how and when it isn't, in a way we never did before. This kind of evaluation is commonplace now. But in 1982 it wasn't, so why is everybody so quick to dismiss -- out of hand! -- Claremont's use of it, as mere bear-baiting? Today the taboo status of the word is much changed from what it was in the 80s, but it's as though no one notices that...or if they do, they seem to feel it would be breaking taboo to acknowledge the fact. But this is contemporary bias too -- there's probably a decent handful of interesting things to say about how Claremont deployed the forbidden word when he wrote his story (I can think of a couple already), but it probably *isn't* "OMG he used the N-WORD that is so wrong!", and I fear that this bias confuses analysis, not just of GLMK but of other things as well. It wasn't long ago that Paul Jenkins wrote a Spider-Man story in which he compared the Superhero Registration Act to the Japanese Internment in the Forties...but, not to draw our attention to the suffering of Japanese-American families at the hands of their government. Instead he does it so that we'll feel more sympathy for Spider-Man ("shoot, I didn't realize this Civil War thing was so important! Poor Peter!"). This is tasteless and offensive in a way that goes far, far beyond Claremont's use of the N-word a quarter-century ago...but I think there's a danger that by uncritically applying our contemporary bias to GLMK, we might make that "far beyond" more a difference of degree than of kind: this guy trivialized/appropriated other people's suffering to make the imaginary problems of comic-book superheroes more "realistic", and so did this guy. So what's the difference?

But because to me there's a *huge* difference, a difference of kind and not degree, I can't help but think that if we thought otherwise that might well *itself* count as a trivialization of the suffering in the Internment. But, now I'm just ranting and raving, probably: too much coffee, no doubt.

And anyway these are just the examples prominent enough to drive me to comment, Geoff: most of the contemporary biasing I've noticed has been subtler, just little occasional moments of assumption-sharing that kind of make me go "whah-HUH? Waitaminute, that's not true...", but they haven't been important...but then again, that's what *makes* them important, n'est-ce pas? Because they're the fine weave of the reliance on narrative. And that's how I *know* I'm older than most of your commenters, because they're operating on bits of the past to make them function as premises that enable their conclusions, but for me these *were* the conclusions, that I cooked up phony narratives to justify to myself, when I didn't understand as well as I do now the dangers of being convincingly wrong.

I responded

I have NO -- ZERO --interest in politics. I do not know what it is exactly. I just hate it. It bores the crap out of me, like little kids and museums. Sometimes I will joke that it is a kind of Gnostic hatred of the fallen world and so on, but I think that that is a narrative I constructed after the fact. And my understanding of distinctions between Liberal and Conservative -- like my understanding of a lot of social issues including race and sex and class and the kinds of things that give offense -- is very rudimentary, in a way that I think surprises people because I can be very subtle in other areas like influence and genre and the importance of pop and poetry. I am not going to give any examples, but there have been times when my lack of subtly in these areas has caused me to give offense to people and I have, I am embarrassed to say, sought out people like Neil Shyminsky (not actually Neil, but people like him) to sort it out for me so I can understand how to get things straight. This is why, by the way, it is very important for me to have Neil "on call" -- because I often have need of his readings of social and cultural products like, say, Slate's claim that 300 should not be read as a homosexual wish dream or whatever. I had wanted to write about Miller and McCarthy and 24 because I have a lot of outspoken liberal friends who seem genuinely seem worried about me because I like these "reactionary" type stories; these are the same people who have told me that my enjoyment of the Hulk videogame suggests to them that I am a bully of some kind, deep down. Most of the time I ignore these people as crackpots, but every once and a while I need to put my head above water just to check that I am still sane. I considered farming out the Miller is Conservative post to someone like Stephen Frug, but I did not sense that he was that sympatheic, and so it just became what all my posts become when I do not know what to say: some random thoughts thrown out there and comments solicited.


neilshyminsky said...


re: GLMK and the Jenkins comparison. I'm with plok on this one. I have no doubt that Claremont felt the comparison utterly apt, that he was absolutely sincere in making the comparison, and that the appearance of the n-word would not have had the same impact. (A necessary caveat, though - we need to talk contexts, though, if we're saying that "nigger" would not have been "inflammatory" in the early 80s. Because while this is probably true of the people for whom the book was written - middle-class white kids - it was hardly true for people in certain places, fitting certain demographics.)

And all that said, I think that jason was still right to note with some distaste how Stevie reacts. Having taught identity politics for a couple years, now, I can tell you that even the most liberally-minded student cannot have their thinking so easily or totally transformed by turning racial epithets against them - no matter how clever or apt the comparison. It was too easy and feels in no way real - and it shades precisely into the sort of utilitarian usage of racism-as-metaphor for which plok criticizes Jenkins.

And second...

Geoff: Haven't we already had the discussion about how you/we are always talking politics, even when you/we are not? :)

James said...

Speaking of the Politics of the N-Word, has everyone heard Wale's The Kramer? Because, holy shit.

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: Well then I am really on top of things. :)

plok said...

Oh, it ate my comment, that sucks.

It was actually the "God Loves" post that I brought this up in, Geoff, but I was indeed talking about the "No Country" post, so I wouldn't think a correction is necessary. But as long as we're talking about the Kitty/Stevie scene, let me just clarify: in real life, something like this would often be about someone pulling rank on someone else, and then getting called on their bullshit, but Claremont's tendency to play it cute and easy undermines this dynamic. Stevie's just too noble, too much the maternal protector, for us to take her tearful "she was right" as recognition that she just tried to squelch Kitty's complaint -- without also taking it as mere shorthand for the reader, a way of doing our work for us. But the point is not that the mutant/minority thing is valid, the point is that Stevie tries to neutralize it for Kitty's "own good" -- but it's really Stevie's own good that's being served there. A stretch? I don't really think so -- what I found objectionable about this scene when I read it is the same thing I find objectionable about it now: it's emotionally fluffy, and it's suspiciously desultory. What's Stevie feeling? Why is she crying? Because she feels bad knowing she can't protect Kitty from racism? Or because she knows she fucked up? I think we're meant to think it's the first, but that's just because Claremont loves Stevie -- structurally, I would say the second makes more sense, but that involves Stevie's relationship with Kitty being more vexed down at the bottom of things, something cute writing must either dwell on obsessively or shy away from. But that's the only problem with it: Jenkins' Spider-Man story has much more severe problems than that, I maintain.

On "controversial" vs. "inflammatory", I'll just say again that yes, I think that's an important line that we ought to draw: when the conventions regarding a term's public usage are widely and ferociously contested, using the term in any way can start a fire -- because the argument's about what is or should be normative, and everybody's ready to fight about that. When GLMK was published, though, Claremont's usage was well within the bounds of convention -- sometimes the taboo word can be used to shock, if it's in the context of teaching why it's taboo in the first place. This kind of use was not uncommon at the time -- it is less common now, so its use is more problematic now. And the way we talk about that difference should make it plain that there is a difference, I think. Someone in a certain place and a certain demographic may well have been inflamed by this at the time, and even rightly so, but (if I may commit the sin of being cute for a minute) it isn't like any reader constructs their meanings in a to anticipate what the new norm will one day be isn't the same as being it. In a strict sense, there was no flame for Claremont to fan by his use of this word, in 1982 -- today, though, there definitely is.

Just like in America today, it means something to be "liberal" and "conservative" that it never meant before...but the given reason for the attachment of those meanings is found in the popularization of a conjectural history in which they always meant that. Even though, of course, they didn't. I can't tell you how shocked I was to see Ken Burns' "Jefferson" a few years ago -- pure hagiography, I had to watch Wheel Of Fortune instead, it was more real. Legal people and politicians in the States are forever talking about "what the Founding Fathers intended" just as though they actively intended something about everything, and unanimously, as a bloc who never suffered any internal disagreements -- just as though, in fact, the U.S. constitution was designed to uphold the principle of deferring to precedent, and the dignification of traditional authority-sources. But obviously you don't need to go that far back, to see this kind of thing working. There are lots of everyday political ideas that fly under the radar as home truths about history -- another common one, just to pluck it out of a hat, is the idea that one can summarize the character of different generations, that a "generation" is somehow "about" something, like a character in a novel. This has become a very strict formula today. But I'd argue the only reason for its popularity is that it's a brilliantly effective device for structuring sociohistorical narratives, and thus "making natural" sociopolitical beliefs, that if looked at any other way would appear just as they are: products of their specific times, not products of a general developmental trend.

Gee, can I blather, or what? Geoff, I think you give yourself short shrift in your reply, but I like it: politics isn't the only kind of lens, we don't need it in every kind of telescope. Also I sound like a little bit of a jackass with my "I know I'm older..." remark: so if anyone would like to blast me for that, please feel free. I think I may have that coming.

Jason said...

Plok and Neil, it must be noted ...

You guys keep misquoting that one pedantic Beatles-critic dude. He didn't say "Aeolian harmonies," he said "Aeolian cadences."

Jeez. Big dummies.

plok said...

Exposed! Curse you, Jason!

neilshyminsky said...

jason: Yeah? Well... you smell!

plok: I get it. I was mostly just being difficult - "nigger" was far more normative at the time, sure, though I know enough people who lived through 1982 and still would've been mad as hell that I felt I had to note the voices that an appeal to normativity excludes. Your point stands, I just wasn't comfortable with the broadness of it.

neilshyminsky said...

oh, and plok - I made a (last?) comment on the GLMK/Beatles thread, too.

Stephen said...

I considered farming out the Miller is Conservative post to someone like Stephen Frug, but I did not sense that he was that sympatheic...

I'm not quite sure what you mean here. I only skimmed that other thread, because I have neither read nor seen No Country for Old Men, and only know the early seasons of 24 and the early Batman works of Miller (Y1 & the original DKR).

Unlike Geoff, I am passionate about politics; but I definitely agree that good works can come from all different perspectives. I like Miller's early Batman work (I don't love it, but I like it -- and I don't think that distinction is due to its politics), and thought the first two seasons of 24 were decent (I hated S3 and haven't watched it since). I like the work of other conservative writers too -- Fables comes to mind.

Similarly, while I am far more of a Moore fan than Geoff, there are certainly other liberal works that I don't like, even if I agree with their politics. (For that matter, while I like Moore's politics, I wouldn't subscribe to his metaphysics; and of course in his recent work he's much more evangelical about the latter than the former. I still love his work, or anyway much of it.)

I guess for me it's simply important to separate the two. I think that to the degree that these works can influence our politics, (well-done) aesthetic criticism is a necessary and sufficient response: simply being aware of the subtler influences is often enough to nullify their effects.

(There are lots of complexities to these issues, of course, and I'm simplifying: the relationship of politics to art is complex, and I imagine that most people here would have trouble liking an overtly and directly racist work -- at least a contemporary one; most people -- certainly I myself -- see older works differently. But for the most part, I'm a believer in the separation of the political and the aesthetic.)

I don't know if I'd be sympathetic, since I don't like Miller as much as Goeff, and am lukewarm on his later work (and haven't read at all either DKR II or ASB). But I think this is an aesthetic disagreement, not a political one. Ditto, probably, for 24.

...Sorry to ramble, but since I was mentioned, I thought I'd step in.

plok said...

Neil: let's let that one stand, then. Last word is yours.

Of course the problem with imbibing narratives unconsciously or semi-consciously is one of memory -- our idea of the past may be a construct of the present at all times, but if the goal is to use it to support theories about the present, then the simpler a construct it is, the better it can do that job. And what's the simplest construction of memory, the simplest construction of the past, that's possible? I'd argue, a past that was dynamically identical with the present itself -- a past where people simply knew less about what we know now, and then gradually learned more: a past growing ever more explicable, because ever more conformable to our expectations of it. Said expectations being, in short, that it will be seen to culminate in the present. I asked a friend's daughter once: do you think people in the past were just stupider than we are today? She said yes...well, why else would they have believed all those crazy things?

This is when I knew I was going to have to get her to take some Philosophy of Science in university. And that reminds me, I should find out how her papers are going...

plok said...

This kind of thing is especially terrible when it's employed by Dawkins et al -- at this stage of the game, we should not be clinging so desperately to the Galileo Myth, any more than we should be looking at Copernicus' charting of planetary motions and assuming that's how he knew the Earth went around the Sun. Because the chart is only what he finished with, not what he had to work with when he started.

You can tell I obsess about this stuff by the random italicization, I guess.

Anyway, the point is: it isn't just in the world of science that this goes on, it goes on in the world of culture, too. Even in the world of comics and TV shows. So, pardon my ranting, I just thought I ought to say something here that was not about the X-Men or the Beatles.

God, have I? It's all such a blur...

Anonymous said...

"politics isn't the only kind of lens, we don't need it in every kind of telescope."


But, otoh, if you completely ignore not only politics but "social issues including race and sex and class and the kinds of things that give offense" -- isn't that going to affect your criticism? And not in a good way?

Doug M.

Geoff Klock said...

SF: I considered farming out the Miller is Conservative post to someone like Stephen Frug, but I did not sense that he was that sympatheic... I'm not quite sure what you mean here.

Oh, I just meant that Miller is not one of the writers you really like, so I though asking you to write a post about whether or not his conservative politics give his aesthetic creations some kind of extra "punch" was something I should think more about on my own.

Geoff Klock said...

SF: I considered farming out the Miller is Conservative post to someone like Stephen Frug, but I did not sense that he was that sympatheic... I'm not quite sure what you mean here.

Oh, I just meant that Miller is not one of the writers you really like, so I though asking you to write a post about whether or not his conservative politics give his aesthetic creations some kind of extra "punch" was something I should think more about on my own.

Stephen said...

...Miller is not one of the writers you really like, so I though asking you to write a post about whether or not his conservative politics give his aesthetic creations some kind of extra "punch" was something I should think more about on my own.

Fair enough! But my insta-reaction to that issue, framed in this way, is: Miller's conservative politics don't give his aesthetic creations an extra punch so much as they are (partially) constitutive of the kind of punch they have. Or, to vary the metaphor slightly, they determine the direction not the force of the blow.

scott91777 said...


I was the one who mentioned to Liddy incident and I've given some thought as to why I find it appealing and here is what I've come up with:

Protest, while at times very usefule for brining attention or spreading the word on a particular cause, are, ultimately, publicity stunts.

Quite often, they can be little more than a shallow gesture that attempts to highlight an injustice without doing anything to correct that injustice.

For example, Paris Hilton wearing a "Vote or Die" t-shirt but failing to vote herself. There was also a great example from King of the Hill this past week where Mr. Strickland, in an attempt to cover his environmental transgressions, bought up 'green offsets' (basically, if you pollute, you pay someone to plant a tree, offsetting your own pollution). The problem is, Strickland is really doing nothing whereas Bobby and Hank in this episode both do smaller task (Bobby= Planting trees, Hank = making small adjustments to his daily life that, while inconvenient, add up to something).

In the Liddy incident, he is directly addressing this form of Naive protest, the sort of stereotypical "We're going to change the world, Man!" attitude of many liberals. When he says "At least you're good for something" what he is actually saying is "Your protest means nothing unless you actually do something that's going to remove people like me from power" In short, the protestor gets schooled.

To use one of my heroes, Bono, as an example:

In the early 90s, he used to make crank calls to the White House, while this was a lot 'cooler' it accomplished nothing.

Now, he actually meets with 'W' in an attempt to meet a real solution ... this is much less 'cool' but it is actually accomplishing something as opposed to a superficial attack of an authority figure.

Geoff Klock said...

Stephen -- my hunch is that it is a force thing, rather than just a directional thing, but it is just a hunch and I cannot really come up with any backup.

plok said...

But Scott...wouldn't Liddy have been wrong about that? I think protests do have political power -- to my mind, the script that says they're naive is a species of propaganda: cynically claiming that opposition offered to the powerful by the weak is merely hypocrisy, the goal is to get those people to stay home, so they won't threaten the elite's power to order things exactly as they please.

Am I wrong?

scott91777 said...

What I'm getting at is that protest in and of themselves accomplish nothing unless they lead to real action. As I said, protest can lead to change... as they did in the civil rights movement but protest for the sake of protest... it just seems superficial.

I think I once heard someone say that they would 'rather be inside at the meeting than outside at the protest' because that's where the real changes are made (It's like the old saying "It's better to come inside and light a candle rather than to stand outside and curse the darkness"). So, yes, protest can inspire action... but when the protest itself becomes the action... well, does that really accomplish anything?

Does this make sense? I must admit that, like Geoff, I'm really not all that political of a person. I vote and try to be informed about the issues, but that's about it.

plok said...

Well, I'm not all that political a person myself, but...

A way of looking at it: inside at the meeting, you negotiate and compromise, ally yourself with the process of the status quo, try to "change the system from within". We have another cynic's script for this, too: the system changes you, instead. But leaving that to one side for a moment...

Outside at the protest, you are not negotiating, compromising, or allying yourself with the process of the status quo...and that's where the impetus for change comes from, from people who are speaking plainly about what they want. The guy inside at the table is lost without the people outside -- they're the ones who define and clarify the issues at hand, not him. And once seated at the table you can never overturn it, you have to be more practical about it, so really BIG change can't come from you...the folks outside might burn down the whole building, though. And they really might! After all, they've done it before.

"When the protest becomes the action..." Hmm, I don't know. But there's something to be said for the example of ordinary people without power nonetheless demonstrating that they're willing to make a commitment to a cause. These are the folks who are going to be beaten up and arrested for chanting a silly song and waving a silly sign -- or striking, or marching to the sea to harvest salt...on reflection, yes, I think the protest can be the action too.

If I may hammer a nail into a dead horse...where do you think the idea that protest is naive or unproductive comes from? It wasn't around in the Twenties...

scott91777 said...

But in our government, isn't it the ordinary people who are SUPPOSED to have the power? We vote people into office... they're in power at our whim really (and, boy, am I being Naive by saying that).

You bring up an interesting point that a friend of mine brought up more succinctly along the lines of "Without the protest the guy might never be at the table in the first place"

Do the protestors clarify the issues? I don't know, if anything I tend to think embracing too radical an idea can be polarizing (this is why Michael Moore Infuriates me so).

I don't think compromise is a dirty word... I think it should be embraced.

Where does this cynicism come from? Hmmm, I would have to say it comes from the very period where we're talking about... I think I read in some humor peace that "Protest brought an end to the Vietnam war in swift 14 years!" So, maybe, it is a post-Vietnam perspective... that generation thought they were really going to change the world, but we're still fighting those sam fights... of course this might be because they 'compromised too much'... on the other hand, if you never compromise, then nothing is accomplished.

scott91777 said...

Allow me to claricy, 'nothing is accomplished' ... at least in a democracy at least. Whereas, if you totally overthrow the government and establish a totalitarian regime... THEN you don't have to compromise... but then you're Miller's Batman :)

plok said...

In your system and mine, the ordinary people have lots of power that isn't written down anywhere. Take civil disobedience: it often brings out the truncheons and the tear gas, but in other kinds of polities the concept doesn't even other kinds of polities you just get killed for protesting, straight up, and no one even dissembles about it afterward. No one ever makes it to the negotiating table. So a right to civil disobedience is not inscribed in the law anywhere, but even so it is a basic democratic freedom that can be exercised by anybody, a kind of political bedrock. It's the last democratic safety valve, outside of (perhaps) jury nullification. Tocqueville said it: in America, equality is so ubiquitous that people fall in love with it, to the point where it's easy for them to leave their freedom to organize and participate in the political process part of your freedom and mine is the ability to be completely apolitical if we want to be, but that's the same freedom that allows us to march in the street with a sign without getting shot in the head.

And, the Vietnam era...yeah. Isn't the naivete of protest connected somehow to the story that the hippies tried to change the world, failed miserably, then all grew up and sold out, and afterwards thumped their chests hypocritically from the heights of baby-boom wealth?

But, they actually did change the world. Many progressive principles are enshrined in law today, that wouldn't have been if it weren't for their activism. Many political issues are on the radar, because they put them there. The current state of the arts owes a lot to them, as well as does the wide degree to which nonconformists are tolerated in private and public life today compared to decades ago. Notions of the individual's responsibility to society have changed; notions of society's responsibility to the individual have changed. Gay people are getting married in California, you can get chemo-weed for your grandfather, a black man is a Presidential candidate, the whole country is slowly going Green. They didn't fail at all.

They didn't stay young. But they didn't fail.

That's all just my competing narrative, of course, based on the presumption that there is such a thing as "generational character", when in fact there might not be. And just to say: I'm not one of 'em myself, so it's not me tooting any sort of horn. But anyhow there you go, how's that for a start.

plok said...

This freedom to be apolitical = freedom to protest thing, by the way...

For me, that's a big one.

scott91777 said...

They didn't fail... but the change wasn't as radical as they'd hoped it would be... which brings me back to the idea of compromise. They made some change which was, of course, better than none at all and, you're right, they absolutely opened doors a got issues on the table and a freedom of speech and right to assemble also play a role in the functionality of our democracy.

Good Talk!

I still think the Liddy-cigar incidient was kind of cool though... :)

scott91777 said...

We're pretty political about our a-politicalism, ain't we? :)

plok said...

I enjoyed it too.

Hey, wait! Geoff's just said he's something close to apolitical, hasn't he? Maybe that's why that equation's going 'round in my head so much...

So maybe there's a real virtue in that? Like, he's actually conserving his potential to protest, by having zero interest.

Aha, I knew he was giving himself short shrift!

plok said...

And it do appear we are.

neilshyminsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
neilshyminsky said...

scott: "When the protest becomes the action..."

Protests have to be situated in a macro-level context, though. A protest that, the day after, appears to have accomplished nothing could have sparked an awareness in someone(s) who will be inspired to take action later. I'm pretty certain that the early gay pride parades/days seemed like protests for their own sake, too.

scott: "They made some change which was, of course, better than none at all"

But you've written this as if to presume that "compromise" and "lose" are the only two options available. Sometimes you can win, too, but you're compelled to compromise because you won't risk losing. This is probably a hyperbolic example, but think what might have happened if, say, Rosa Parks had compromised and moved to a slightly worse seat that was still in the white section of the bus. I mean - some battles are worth risking it all, right?

plok said...

Chris Claremont, ladies and gentlemen...!

Sorry, joke. I agree with Neil, of course, and the Pride example is telling...sometimes it's enough to inflect the chain of "history" (by which I mean: to break that chain) just to come along and assert a name, where there was no name before -- to assert that a community exists here in the (previously) waste-spaces of culture, that has its own values and imperatives, that it won't let go of.

"Compromise" is a narrative too; a narrative where progress is so ineluctable that specific responsibility for having opposed it can be deferred or offset once it's come.

But this is really evolutionary biology, isn't it? Where you have the Gradual school, and the Catastrophic school. And maybe that's what these contemporary biases are really all about. All the way back to Darwin.

But then I'm an Enlightenment Studies guy in my other life, so you can't trust me.

Good, this topic's not dead, I'm so pleased!

scott91777 said...


You're right. There ARE wonderful exceptions. The Civil Rights movement being the best of those.