Today, in a fit of pique, the following occurred to me (prompted by me posting a leftist pop culture critique, only to be told that the author of said post was being called out at the moment, though for reasons that had nothing to do with his post):
Politics, but instead of doing anything about it, we just post “your fave is problematic” over and over again.
Okay, that's not completely
fair, but I'm increasingly of the opinion that the left has become even more of a toxic and humourless wasteland than it was the last time I was regularly going to protests, with less effect. Say what you will about grim Stalinist and Maoist dystopias, at least they were effective
. What passes for activism these days is not, largely because call-out culture, about which many pixels have been spilled, targets our friends rather than our enemies.
Also, I am pretty sure that there is not much overlap between "people who are heavily, or even slightly involved in real-life activism" and "people who call out problematic people over the internet." I can't prove it, though.
That's not to say that we should pretend that problematic ideas and people don't exist in our movement. Of course they do. And we shouldn't tolerate sexism or racism and transphobia from our allies any more than we tolerate it from our enemies, but the perfect is the enemy of the good. A rigid adherence to standards nurtured in academia and inaccessible to the vast majority of people who feel that shit is fucked up and wrong is not productive, and it's not like we have so many friends that we can afford to alienate most of them.*
At the root of this, I think, is an overabundance of seriousness. We have focused so much on creating the perfect political terminology, actions that walk the line between confronting capital and creating a safe space**, ensuring that our meetings take place under appropriately sterile circumstances, that we have failed to create a lively, dynamic culture that extends past the protest and meeting and Facebook re-share and into our daily lives. In short, we have forgotten that this struggle should be fun
"But wait," my straw-activist† exclaims. "You're not taking this seriously! Not everyone has the privilege of being an activist because it's fun."
Of course, no one's an activist because it's fun. It's not fun. Even when you get to fight with a Nazi, it's much more scary than anything else. I would vastly rather marathon Netflix on the couch than wake up at ass o' clock to march in the streets, and I really do it because I'm compelled, because I don't have the privilege of ignoring the world's drunken flailing towards fascism. Because if we lose, I die and my friends die. Fun isn't the end goal here; it's part of the process.
If you look at movements throughout the world and throughout history, you'll see that desperate times and privation and hard, often fatal struggles, did not stop people from having a sense of humour or building community and culture. Witness the dark satire in the plays of Brecht, the poetry of the Zapatistas, the songs of Joe Hill. What I see missing on the left is the hopeful alternative, the shared art and music and theatre, the giant puppets in the street protests, the creative actions, the meetings in pubs†† that bleed into social gatherings. The idea of fighting for and not just fighting against. Even totalitarian state communism had its enjoyable moments; strangely enough these days the only people I see really creating an active, vibrant political culture are tankies. The very people who you'd expect to be the most uptight and humourless are the ones manufacturing memes like they're boots for the revolution. And good on them; it's why I like tankies more than most people whose politics I, on paper, agree with.
It's a matter of pragmatism, not warm fuzzies. Seriousness is unsustainable. Most of the young people currently calling out this that and the other thing††† will not, long-term, be involved in activism. Anger is a good temporary fuel, but it burns out quickly once jobs and kids come into the picture. The way to retain people and to draw more into the movement is by building links that are less easily severed—those of friendship and community.
Among the most effective groups I was ever a part of had as its core members myself (then an anarchist), a Trotskyist, two MLMs, and a Cuban revolution fanboy. We did not have much political common ground with each other, much less with some of our allies. What we did have was a simple shared goal and debriefing sessions at skeezy bars that degenerated into drunken giggling that had nothing, superficially, to do with politics. I don't doubt that these types of connections are happening now, on an individual level, but I don't see it happening at a larger scale. I don't know how to make it happen—most of the new comrades I meet manage to piss me off within 30 seconds of interaction—but I think it needs to. I know it needs to.
It's worked for the far-right. Their schoolyard humour got Cheeto Benito elected. People who like the spadgebasket like him because, for whatever reason, they find him funny
. They're in no small part desperate, jobless, broke, and suffering, but they can find the space for a laugh.
In other words, more giant puppets, people. More biting satire and music and graffiti and I don't care what, just lighten the fuck up and stop trying to make everything perfect and safe.P.S. If you hadn't noticed, I'm under the same name on LJ and DW. I'm not jumping ship on the latter, ridiculous TOS or not, seeing as I have a paid account at least through next year. But if you wanna add me on DW for the same fun content and fewer icons, by all means do so.
* I say this as someone who holds a lot of grudges. There are people on the left who, for reasons of offences committed recently and otherwise, I cannot be in the same room with.
** This is impossible BTW.
† Not really. I've met loads of people like this.
†† You can't do that, Sabotabby. That's ableist!
††† Today I learned that Love Life of an Asian Guy is racist and misogynist, and that PissPigGranddad—who as far as I'm concerned is a fucking hero—is a "war tourist."