Sunday, May 29, 2011

How to avoid an argument about ideas - attack motives

A few weeks ago I posted Jay Smooth's video about how to tell people they sound racist. The heart of what he says is that its important to confront people with what they "did or said" and not about "who they are."

With some slight modifications, I think that point applies to other areas as well. For example, I get really tired of the professional lefties who, in a discussion they pretend is about policies, jump immediately to suggesting that anyone who doesn't agree with them is sold out to corporatists.

This is perfectly illustrated in a column this week by Chris Hedges in which he defends Cornel West. The title sets the stage: Why Liberal Sellouts Attack Prophets Like Cornel West. But he does it over and over in the article.

The liberal class, which attempted last week to discredit the words my friend Cornel West spoke about Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, prefers comfort and privilege to justice, truth and confrontation. Its guiding ideological stance is determined by what is most expedient to the careers of its members. It refuses to challenge, in a meaningful way, the decaying structures of democracy or the ascendancy of the corporate state. It glosses over the relentless assault on working men and women and the imperial wars that are bankrupting the nation. It proclaims its adherence to traditional liberal values while defending and promoting systems of power that mock these values.The pillars of the liberal establishment—the press, the church, culture, the university, labor and the Democratic Party—all honor an unwritten quid pro quo with corporations and the power elite, as well as our masters of war, on whom they depend for money, access and positions of influence. Those who expose this moral cowardice and collaboration with corporate power are always ruthlessly thrust aside.

And that's just the opening paragraph.

There are some places I'd probably agree with Hedges in his analysis of the root of the problem. Where we mostly disagree is in how you go about changing things. But he's labelled me a "sellout" for not being in complete agreement with him and its kind of hard to have a conversation that starts off on that premise.

In the end, this is the same thing we run into with many folks on the right...the demonization of your opponent. It works real well to fuel the kind of meta wars we see on so many progressive blogs these days. But it does precious little to promote reasoned discussions or shed any light.


  1. Good day, SP! Hope you are doing what makes you happy during this long weekend.

    I confess, as a 'foreigner', it's getting 'scary' [just kidding :-)]when I can read your title and instantly know the reference before reading further, especially when I know zilch about the players in my own country. Anyways, I agree

    '...the demonization of your opponent ... does precious little to promote reasoned discussions or shed any light'

    and as the President has pointed out in the past, it makes it harder for you to agree with them when you need to, or are forced to.

    IMO these guys in-your-face defence of their own ideology is a turn-off because they always seem angry (when I hear of them), and for some people abrasive delivery doesn't work, and some of us hate angry confrontation. In addition, in Hedges' argument as quoted above I see hypocritical critism of the very strategy West continually uses to get ahead - 'what[ever] is most expedient to his career', plus his tenured university position which has provided 'money, access, and a 'position of influence'. In point of fact, West falls fully into the 'liberal class' as described by Hedges, IMO, though his way of 'glossing over the relentless assault on working men and women' might differ from others. He makes a lot of verbal noise, but I understand he does very little of a practical nature. I wish West (and Hodges et al ?), would tone done the volume and make an honest effort to dialogue meaningfully, IF HE (They)GENUINELY WANTS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Rumour has it that this President is a great listener and likes to hear differing opinions. I don't believe he's amenable to being shouted at.

  2. Mo'nin', Ms. Pants

    I find you have noted two pieces that have come to my attention as well in this post and the one beneath it.

    Now, I will confess that I really didn't spend much time with the Hedges piece. You, quite thoroughly, explained why. But, I saw it comin' with the title. The second, third, and fifth words of the title clearly told me what I would be in for. And, I just have no time for this kind of foolishment from Hedges or anyone else. Which leads to the second part of my post today. You've discovered, or are citing my man Jack White, I see. A very good thing.

    You may (or not) recall that I've said that I'm a part of a small group of some personal and on-line friends in which we discuss the matters of the days and times. Jack, whom I've known since the mid-70's, is a part of the merry band.

    He also has a blog called: "Reckless Eyeballin'" that I would recommend, as well, that you check out. Why you should is that Jack was Time Magazine's first black Senior Editor and regular columnist back in the day. He's a SOLID and traveled journalist and reasons matters out on good history and principle.

    Which is why I HATE that I do but I agree with his post in The Root. Which is also why, as I've posted, I am so impressed and glad to "hear" your thinking on matters of race.

    This, as Jack points out and is exemplified by Hedges' piece on himself and West, is gonna be a shag nasty race comin' up. Not ONLY is it, as a country, are we gonna decide if we will elect a Democrat to two full terms, but shall we, intentionally, elect this black man to two full terms.

    And, if Jack is right, we are going to need as many voices and places of calm and reason to gain perspective and intelligently discuss the current and coming idiocy.

    To paraphrase one of my favorite BBC tv programs from my teens in the 60's, "The Avengers":

    'Ms.'re needed'.

  3. Thank you so much for the word about Jack White's blog. I will definitely keep an eye on it.

    I spend my professional days surrounded by young people of color. I've found they often have a different view of where things are in "the struggle" than the last generation - and rightly so. I would place their views often more in line with President Obama's - he's more of that generation as well.

    I worry that they are in need of wisdom from the previous generation too. But when folks aren't willing to listen, that wisdom gets lost. I fear men like West (and some in my local community) don't see that they have a responsibility to see the struggle as it exists today instead of continuing to fight the battles of the past. It is in that frame that I very much appreciate your perspective and men like White.

    Here's a gorgeous piece that was written by Rev. Gordon Stewart after Obama's inauguration that captures it so well. He had just remarked about how unemotional he felt during the ceremonies until Yo-Yo Ma and the others performed.

    "Tears and vocal sobs gush up in me like a geyser of tears blocked up for years.

    They are strange tears, like none other I have ever felt. It confuses me. I wonder what they're about. It feels like joy. A joy I have not felt for a long time. Joy and hope that something really new is happening. Joy that all the struggles and all the marches that wore holes in my generation's shoes on behalf of civil rights and peace have brought us to this indescribably holy moment that transcends the old divisions.

    For sure, the tears that rise up in me are tears of joy. But they're also about something else. They feel like the convulsing sobs of a prisoner released from prison. They come from a hidden well of poison -- the well of deep grief stuffed away over all the years because of all the marches, all the beatings, all the blood, the well of buried anger -- the silent tears of grief over the America we had almost lost.

    Then I realize: Only the appearance of joy and hope can release such deep grief. It was the joy on Yo-Yo Ma's face that finally released the poison locked inside my soul. It is the joy and hope of a new generation that's able to take us where my generation cannot -- free of the taint of sore feet and scars and old grudges the new President says we must move past.

    The inauguration felt like that moment -- a kind of ritual cleansing where grief gives way to joy and hope for a better tomorrow where, in the words of Dr. Joseph Lowery's benediction, the silenced voice of his dear friend Martin once again rang out across the Washington Mall: "God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who hast brought us thus far on our way, Thou who hast by Thy might led us into the light: Keep us forever in the path."