Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dividing lines

From every corner you hear the refrain, "I am this way, they are that way -- and they're wrong." It's very common amongst working people, who have a terrific view of the stupidity of institutions, but who can also miss the relationship between personal and class advantage.

It's important to underline the ways "they're wrong" -- for example, having work organized like dictatorship. But if that's wrong, you want to empathize with the victims. These organizations create lots of victims, directly or indirectly. This month I have been hanging out with a model employee who is recovering from triple bypass. His efforts were always praised at the staff meetings he hated to attend.

It's important to see what's wrong with the bigger picture, but there's also a built-in temptation as humans to say "they're wrong" for no other reason than that it feels good. It has an addictive quality to it, and I think you see it online -- for example, in blogs -- in full force. You fill up every space where you might otherwise ask, “What is right?”

Perhaps it is useful to think about the kinds of people you like to relate with in real life, and decide whether they are the type who never tire in explaining what is wrong about everybody and everything else; who, in fact, take their energy from it. I can think of several off the top of my head, and they are among the least compelling people I know.

This is significant if our goal is to persuade, not the "staunch, diminishing minority," but working people at the point of their concerns. Working people have a range of concerns, and if reaffirming those which attend a "politics of the working class" can succeed, I find you have to get past the many fleeting preoccupations generated by a technologically-advanced consumer culture. You have to be fluent in these things in order to get beyond them -- which is why I always hit a wall when it comes to sports, for example; but why it has been to my advantage to know video games and the other “trifling” elements of urban consumption.

Within the concept of the working class, you don’t have me over here, you over there, and this heavy distinction between the two. You have “us” -- and “we” are behaving a certain way. There is a responsibility for “our” behavior. Either we are consolidating an awareness of ourselves as totally dependent on somebody else to live well; or we aren’t doing this, for reasons that include drawing too fine a distinction between each other.

8 comments:

Karl Franz Ochstradt said...

Bueno, JRB!

Anonymous said...

worth the wait.

it's not excluding the wrong people that leads to suffering, but the mechanisms of exclusion, which are always the same no matter who's playing what role.

Abonilox said...

Yeah, I'm with you JRB. I agree with your analysis of the addictive nature of making oneself right, the necessity of the "other" being wrong and not just wrong, but fucking evil.

It justifies our rage. But to be constructive, to be gentle, to be positive... who's gonna read that shit.

JRB said...

I think it depends on why you read. There is certainly a place for shared outrage, but if the long-term goal is to assert greater control over one's life, the outrage needs to be incorporated into something that can sustain our relationships with others, even improve them. Human relations being what they are, I think that's where the golden rule is really a never-ending golden challenge.

You don't jettison the outrage -- often it deserves to be intensified. It just has to be part of something more, I think, in the long run.

Jack Crow said...

I don't find the golden rule particularly convincing. "Do unto others..." works just fine for people who don't mind being violated. "Do unto others..." is a justification for all manner of violation.

Hillel's formula wasn't perfect, but it was better.

JRB said...

However you want to formulate it, the question that remains is how we are with others.

Jack Crow said...

Not if you actually read the text, JRB. "Do unto others" works just fine for gropers who like to be groped. It's a terrible moral principle.

JRB said...

Cool beans, Mr. Crow. Good to get your perspective.