Montana Politics

Repost: On the Privilege and Useful Idiocy of the Inactivists on the Enlightened Left

There are moments when I really wish that my brilliant Political Science professor from my days at Carroll were still alive, so I could have his insight about what seems to be the increasing irrationality of American politics. Parties like the Know Nothings made sense in an era before universal literacy and public education, and Americans from the times of the witch trials, if not before, have shown a penchant for accepting irrational conspiratorial ideas, but it seems like many Americans are even more prone to accepting the most absurd ideas as fact and embracing increasingly irrational explanations for events on the world stage. We’re all familiar with the TEA Party crowd who believe that the president is a Muslim, and that the government is poisoning us with chemtrails, but it’s a phenomenon not limited to the right.

Just as those conservatives are bizarrely more likely to be wrong and believe they are right, there seems to be a resurgence of people who present themselves as the “enlightened left,” who use the Internet to disseminate increasingly shrill and irrational claims about the nature of the world. You can usually spot them in the wild by their reliance on entirely absurd sources, their credulous acceptance of the most juvenile conspiracy theory, their use of words like “sheeple,” and their fondness for pseudonyms, no doubt chosen to protect them from the police state that is watching their 60 hit a day site. And just like the members of the ill-informed reactionary right, they respond to criticism with anger and accusations that are typically the hallmark of people whose defensiveness hides the knowledge that they probably know less than they think they do.

To show how sophisticated their thinking is, the members of the enlightened left repeatedly assert that the American political system is mere theater, that politicians of both parties merely create and exploit “wedge issues” that are designed to distract those of us who aren’t as sophisticated as the crowd who read the Sparknotes version of Manufacturing Consent and imagine that only they understand the true nature of politics.

While politicians of both parties certainly employ wedge issues to drive favorability ratings one way or another, it takes a special kind of privileged stupidity endemic in straight white men to believe that politics don’t matter. As it turns out, when one party makes small, halting, and inadequate steps to treat the LGBTQ community as human beings and the other endorses the idea that they should not be able to marry, teach children, or even live, it’s not a “wedge issue”; it’s a matter of life and death. When one party largely protects women’s rights to reproductive freedom and the other argues that women should not even have autonomy over their bodies when they have been sexually assaulted, it’s not a “wedge issue”; it’s a matter of life and death. When one party wants to defund homeless shelters, privatize the safety net before eliminating it, end public education, and completely strip protections from endangered species while the other fights, often incompletely, to protect human beings and the environment, those are not “wedge issues”; they are matters of life and death.

But none of this matters to the members of the enlightened left, who refuse to accept that political action has—and does—work. Cloaked in their privilege, not having to worry about losing their next paycheck, being deprived of equal rights, or even of losing their lives, they dismiss the political system that is the best, if not only tool, for helping the millions in our country who faces those risks every day.

Where many I admire offer trenchant, sensible critiques of the politically calculated timidity of the Democratic Party, the enlightened left, in a desperate bid for moral and intellectual superiority, only seems to offer a nihilistic, absolutist position that offers nothing but the smug posturing of those who have little to fear.

In general, the truth is that we’d be better off ignoring them. Their irrational anger and logic-free claims have little appeal outside a small group of similarly privileged, similarly ignorant inactivists who somehow imagine that posting diatribes online to the same small audience will change the world. They don’t trouble themselves with understanding domestic or foreign policy, preferring to throw around words like “Zionist,” “hegemony,” and “NeoLiberal” as if those are actual arguments, not just poorly understood catchphrases.

Unfortunately, though, the members of the enlightened left can’t be ignored, because their idiocy actually empowers the most reactionary elements of our political system. The shock troops in conservative radio and Fox News, who shape Republican policy in this country, use the arguments of the enlightened left to discredit actual progressivism. When members of that community seriously suggest that the Paris attacks may have been staged or didn’t happen, as some have, conservatives use that irresponsible and moronic rhetoric to attack progressives as a whole. When they defend a brutal and autocratic regime in Russia, as some seem very inclined to do, it’s used by conservatives to suggest that liberals as a whole don’t understand the real world. If you spend any time watching Fox or listening to Rush Limbaugh, you’ve no doubt seen the way they use the arguments these people present as representative of the way liberals think, providing a platform from which to attack the policies and proposals of the real left in this country.

Had these enlightened inactivists actually read Chomsky, they’d understand exactly how they are being used by the conservatives to drive even more reactionary policies in this country.

To be clear, I have no beef with radicals. There are countless people who are braver than I am, who have put their lives and security on the line for racial, economic, and/or human justice, and who powerfully critique the flaws of the American political and economic system. Radicals have always been the agents for real social change in this country, from the abolition of slavery to the transformation of attitudes and laws about LGBTQ people. I should be fighting harder and doing more, and none of what I’m writing here should be misconstrued as an attack, as it no doubt will be, on people to my left and right who are fighting for what they believe in. I even admire people with whom I’ve had bitter arguments here and whose views I do not share, because they fight inside and outside of the political system to effect the change they seek.

And all this takes me back to wishing I had some better answers about where we’re headed and whether or not all of this irrationality matters. Are we witnessing the real emergence of more irrationality in our political lives, or is it simply that the Internet provides a platform for the same cranks who used to post billboards on their farms to spread their messages to a slightly wider audience? And is the most effective way to deal with them to call out their positions and lies or to treat them the same way many people deal with their uncle who gets his “news” from Rush Limbaugh at Thanksgiving, with polite, bemused silence?

I can’t answer for the rest of you, but as for me, I’m done engaging with them. I’ve said I’d stop engaging before, but there comes a time when one recognizes the futility of responding to irrationality with reason. Irrationality poisons political discussion just as powerfully as does hatred, and the truth is that some of these people’s anger actually frightens me just a little bit. I worry for them, and I worry just a bit for the people who make the mistake of engaging with them.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • Exactly, Don: Tokarski and his disaffected anarchist acolyte left in mizzoola think everything east of the Divide is North Dakota.

    The rule of law beats the hell out of civil war any day.

  • A growing body of psychology research shows that incompetence deprives people of the ability to recognize their own incompetence. To put it bluntly, dumb people are too dumb to know it.

    Their total lack of expertise renders them unable to recognize their deficiency. I.E. people who listen and Watch to Fox news are rated way below proficient regarding real news intelligence.

    With more than a decade’s worth of research, David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, and Justin Kruger, formerly of Cornell and now at New York University has demonstrated that humans find it “intrinsically difficult to get a sense of what we don’t know.” Whether an individual lacks competence in logical reasoning, emotional intelligence, humor or even chess abilities, the person still tends to rate his or her skills in that area as being above average. It is not!

    If Americans only we knew ourselves better. Dunning believes people’s inability to assess their own knowledge is the cause of many of society’s ills, including climate change denialism. “Many people don’t have training in science, and so they may very well misunderstand the science. But because they don’t have the knowledge to evaluate it, they don’t realize how off their evaluations might be,” he said.

    Moreover, even if a person has come to a very logical conclusion about whether climate change is real or not based on their evaluation of the science, “they’re really not in a position to evaluate the science.” That’s why we have scientists in the first place, and we should all acknowledge they have been trained for their particular fields for our benefit, not corporations.

    Along those same lines, people who aren’t talented in a given area tend not to be able to recognize the talents or good ideas of others, from co-workers to politicians( like it our not, just because you become a politician doesn’t automatically mean you’re smart (this goes double for certain bloggers outside of Cowgirl or ID here Mainly people who don’t live here in Montana anymore or are closet tin hats lovers).

    This kind of crazy, studied for years as incompetence machismo is impeding the democratic process, which relies on citizens having the capacity to identify and support the best candidate or policy. this is why conservative politicians enjoy using fear tactics to keep the republican base to scared to spend the time to learn the truth. Thomas jefferson believed in n educated populace, but the only way republicans win now is keeping their base as dumb as possible. and they will employ every trick they can to keep their sheeple from intelligence of any kind!

    So Stupid is as stupid does? and America is weeping this kind of whirlwind.

  • Oh I might just have to include those Enlightened Libertarians and Liberals in the above conversation you spoke of Don.

    Took a look at the infamous wall of commenting on RD. Your right of course. American Politics shouldn’t be about filling in the blanks with mumbo jumbo…. But These people think Liberals should be pushing back just as hard as republicans….

    Sometimes I think there way also, then I realize its not my kind of phobia it’s theirs, and I have to possibly wait another generation cuz I am not gonna waste my time trying to change fearmongers. In their haste to argue tit for tat against misinformation, they should rush to offer more untruths, when they haven’t got the all the answers themselves?

    Bravo for trying, Don but they are not at your level brother( I think those metal hats are affecting their mental stability). Lets operate within the sphere god gave us to affect change… on the children, while trying our best not to make the world worse for them to continue good works!

    There are also people who want to learn, let’s not shirk of the duty of teaching them the right way Where’s old man WIlliams???

    • “Lets operate within the sphere god gave us to affect change… on the children”

      Ah, a call to indoctrinate the children. Nice, Norma, nice!

          • The problem JC is you and your ilk Don’t want your kids to see the horrors mankind visits on Mankind. You shield you little Johnnies and Janes from the truth

            You want to know how I taught my kids, and my kids continue to teach theres?

            I taught them by giving them clear access to everything life threw at us in those days, just like we teach my grandchildren today.The political rhetoric, the Pictures of butchered people, the worst of America…. I give them all the access to life’s craziness, and expect them to discuss it with our family. Open Dialogue, nothing off limits, and long sit down conversations till they feel satisfied, and all of their questions were answered. No Pedestals offered, no walls to hide behind person to person conversations.

            My kids grew up fine. All college educated all A students, they understand America isn’t perfect and wont ever be. No Promises either, they had to work at what they wanted.

            It is by our action and inaction that our country is the way it is now, and no one is all that innocent. Prepare kids for that, and all you have to do as a parent is make sure they get all you had also. That’s all anyone can ask.

            My grand kids get it also, and have vowed to be people of action as well.

            One of my Granddaughters, named after this state…. Montana had her13th birthday here just two weeks ago, and didn’t want her friends to bring her presents. But to bring student supplies and small toys, socks and undies for shoe boxes to Africa. Her thoughts on how she wanted to celebrate her birthday is to make others happy.

            26 girls showed up at her party to eat cake and make shoeboxes worthy of giving other children of need in Africa some much needed supplies and love.

            If that’s your Idea of indoctrination, teaching children the truth and letting them act on it, I’ll do it every time.

            Nothing brings people together faster, to do the right thing better, than understanding….. and it is too bad you have nothing but Cynicism left to give this Country.

            Cynicism isn’t a teachable moment JC!

            You attitude toward other Americans is a joke to me. You don’t seem to like people if they don’t follow your Opinions?

            I am not sorry I don’t Goosestep ( you realize you lost the argument the minute you had to cite Hitler Don’t you?) to your crazy ill informed rhetoric. But you have absolutely no clue or living experience of what real terror is. Let alone democracy… you expect to much from it, when democracy is actually by the people who act for the peoples need. you my dear are the gear not working for democracy itself!

            I grew up climbing under my desk from time to time in Air raid drills because of the Russians. We were not told we would all be saved if diplomacy failed. only that we had a chance to get to help.

            The people alive in WW2 allowed over 400,000 POW germans and Italians to work on American farms throughout this the south and midwest, because of acute labor shortages.

            Yep we had prison camps built right here in the USA. and we actually paid those Axis prisoners. We also had prison camps devoted to interning the japanese. who we treat quite badly. and part of the nation was afraid of letting in Jews who were killed and persecuted by the AXIS prisoners

            I don’t think anyone of those German and Italian POW’s was vetted to see if they were christian enough.

            In the west, and the southwest we opened our borders to South American families to help farms with labor shortages. We didn’t have time to be afraid of the brown skin…. And lots of them were given the promise to stay.

            So what’s the problem now? People like you, shouting misinformation around like it was part of the air we are supposed to breathe. regarding Syrian Refugees?

            I’m sorry I don’t like your air pollution either.

            Tell me where were you in all those times I just mentioned?

            When Americans meant something in hard times?

            Oh yeah, I forgot you weren’t even born yet.

            As you grew-up did you spend your college time reading from Authors who were part of the historical Society in this nation? or the trash historians like Bill O’reilly is now?

            Did you serve your nation?

            Are you one of those Knee-Jerk Americans who every time a news article comes out from not so professional Journalists of today. you have to spew some garbage in reply to scare people more? Is your writing the kind that paints with such a broad brush that everyone is affected and infected with your misinformation? I think so!

            Whine-blogging is far easier to write for people like you.
            Conspiracies are shorter reads to decimate, then Nuanced public dialogue

            Get a life will you please. Stop the venomous trolling against those you don’t like and learn something from real people who have been there, done that for a change.

            Your first step at a better life is to stop living vicariously through someone else’s news Clippings, or your hurt feelings!

            • Don, does that count as a personal attack? Just asking…

              Norma, I’d take on your rant against me, but as you have not a clue about me or who I am, I’m going to pass. Let’s just say your screed is pretty f’n offensive.

            • Hey, I’m not the one who launched into a 880 word personal attack on someone unknown to me. I quoted a couple of words of yours and made a comment.

              But, whatever…

            • You alluded to me as being like a Nazi didn’t you? Indoctranation, Hitler youth? Don’t you think I have the right to be offended by those comments? Or maybe youre against free speech is it doesn’t chime with yours?

              I deserved a rebuttal of your comments JC, and I didn’t attack you personally, I just told you the truth and you had a problem handling it!

  • A man who loves his adjectives.

    Are you possibly forgetting, however, to consider Nietzsche’s famous dictum “the greater the power, the less the rationality?”

    “Power determines what counts as knowledge, what kind of interpretation attains authority as the dominant interpretation. Power procures the knowledge which supports its purposes, while it ignores or suppresses that knowledge which does not serve it.”

    “Proposition 3: Rationalization presented as rationality is a principal strategy in the exercise of power.” “Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice,” Bent Flyvbjerg

    • Given my interactions with people who can’t help but personalize every argument, as every thread at RD demonstrates, I am more reminded of this quote by Nietzsche:

      He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

    • In all seriousness, is this trolling or do you believe this? That the few remaining Democratic blog authors don’t get along with the AnarchoSocialistConspiracyKidz is hardly evidence of a party breaking up.

      The Republicans, though? On the verge of civil war.

      Do you really believe this one, or is it just more trolling?

      • Don, you’ve been at this longer than me. These arguments weren’t this intense in the last few election cycles.

  • So a a Progressive New Deal Democrat I am no longer allowed to use the term neoliberal? I am an avid supporter of Senator Sanders and his efforts to bring the Democratic party back to where it was from 1932 through 1992. There is a major split in the Democratic party and it is much more serious than many of the Hillary supporters think it is. Neoliberal “Third Way” politics has not only shifted the Democratic party to the center, it has betrayed the working people of this country. I am currently reading Thomas Franks new book Listen Liberals, and even though most of the issues he discusses are ones that I have agreed with for the past ten years or so he has brought up some that I had not contemplated before. In this article you chastise people who are privileged and are not threatened by the right wing, yet today that is what makes up the core of the Democratic party. Upper income white professionals run not only the national party but most state and county levels as well. This is where the disconnect has occurred, while they are very supportive of social issues such as abortion rights and LGBT issues, they have supported poor trade deals such as NAFTA and TPP, relaxed banking regulations and other predatory practices that hurt the working class. This is why many of us do not trust Hillary Clinton, she has never stood up for the working person and now that she wants to be President we are supposed to believe that she now will. Once she is elected she will appoint more Harvard educated policy people and once again pivot to the center. For the past 35 years there has been a long slow spiraling decline of the working middle class in this country and many of us on the left see electing Hillary Clinton as just more of the same. So I will continue using the term neoliberal, and not as a good thing.

  • Don,

    Great Post the irrationality on the left needs to be dealt with in the same manner as the irrationalinty on the right? May I ask why the repost now?

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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