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Commentary :: Politics
Cancers of the Left
28 Jan 2004
In my previous article, Anti-Bodies of the AmeriFascist Memeplex, I enumerated some of the primary memes deployed by the dominant memeplex which act to undermine the left. This article delves into a similar subject: the self defeating memes of the dominant leftist memeplex. Our inability to wage an effective resistance against the dominant memeplex is rooted not only in the effective defense mechanisms of the dominant memeplex but in flaws of our own memeplex.

Cancers of the Left

Author: Stephen DeVoy
Date: January 27, 2004

In my previous article, Anti-Bodies of the AmeriFascist Memeplex, I enumerated some of the primary memes deployed by the dominant memeplex which act to undermine the left.  This article delves into a similar subject: the self defeating memes of the dominant leftist memeplex.  Our inability to wage an effective resistance against the dominant memeplex is rooted not only in the effective defense mechanisms of the dominant memeplex but in flaws of our own memeplex.

As someone attempting to stand back and propose a theory of struggle that stands in an abstract relationship with all of the underlying theories of struggle, I often find myself targeted by other members of the left who either fail to understand what it is I am attempting to accomplish or who feel threatened by the emergence of a new level of struggle.  It is in the context that I've had the benefit of being one of the targets of these cancers of the left and thus find myself in the position to write about them.

Anyone that is both a left leaning activist and a free thinker has shared the experience of disharmony within the left.  The self defeating tendencies of the left include the "lefter than thou," "politically correct," sectarian, leveling, self deprecating, hyper-collectivist and utopian mindsets.  We will examine these.

Lefter Than Thou

The "Lefter Than Thou" mindset is a manifestation of the human tendency to rank individuals according to some standard of values.  While ranking of this sort is seen as a form of a meritocracy, the reality is that it is anything but meritocracy.  The motivation for ranking individuals within the left according to some ideological standard is not an attempt to encourage virtue within the ranks but is, instead, an attempt by individuals to derive a sense of worth or to acquire power through the denigration of others.  The same mental cancer that led white Americans of the pre-emancipation South to support slavery is behind the "Lefter Than Thou" mentality.  Those that have accomplished little of value derive self-esteem by denigrating others.  I would go so far as to say that the value of a leftist is actually inversely proportional to the amount of effort he or she puts into instigating the denigration of fellow leftists.  Those that sling mud at their comrades are more often those that have accomplished little or nothing.  Moreover, spending energy on slinging mud at comrades decreases the energy available for allocation towards tasks that would benefit the left and/or diminish the right.  Thus, from a resource allocation perspective alone, it should be easy to prove that those engaged by the "Lefter Than Thou" mindset expend less energy struggling against the right than those that abstain from infighting.

I've seen many examples of this on self publishing media.  Often the antagonist is anonymous (usually a sign of cowardice).  For example, I've seen many attacks against Noam Chomsky challenging his dedication to the left, on the argument that some position of his is not sufficiently pure or radical.  Such comments are often followed by ad homonym attacks, speculation about the cause of the "deficit," and often accusations such as co-option or cowardice.  The cowards that post such things, as I pointed out, remain anonymous, thereby avoiding a counter attack.  The correct interpretation of such behavior, I believe, is that the attacker is frustrated by his or her own lack of accomplishment and derives a sense of self worth by attacking someone that has accomplished something.

In Tsarist Russia it was not uncommon for men to make a name for themselves as masters of the duel.  Young men and unsuccessful men often sought fame by challenging a master of the duel in the hope that killing the master would elevate their own rank, thus taking a short cut to importance.  When one activist targets another, whether in an argument or a smear campaign, the goal and form of the struggle is often the same as the duel.  What cannot be accomplished through hard work and talent, the lazy and ineffective attempt to accomplish through the assassination (in spirit) of those that are accomplished.

We should reject from our ranks those that engage in the instigation of attacks against our comrades.  They consume our energy, provide fodder for our enemies and decrease the pleasure that should be derived from anti-authoritarian struggle.

Politically Correct

Fortunately, political correctness if on the wane.  However, it still exists and must be addressed.  Political correctness is nothing new.  It it is a recurring theme within human history.  Its dominance manifests itself in the form of a dark age.  When Christian political correctness took hold, Europe plunged into 500 years of stagnation.  Much of the Islamic world is currently suffering from Islamic political correctness.  Judaism within the US is infected with Zionist political correctness.  Each form of political correctness fixes a people on a course much like lemmings running in one direction until they encounter a cliff and march off to self destruction.

The American left is currently the victim of its own dark age brought about by political correctness.  There are strong signs that this period of darkness is coming to end.  I point to the rise of anarchism as a political philosophy within the US as evidence that political correctness is on the wane within the left.  However, even amongst anarchists, especially those of the platformist variety, political correctness still holds sway.

During the 1970s though the early 1990s, political correctness within the left destroyed the vibrant and progressive counter culture of the 196os.  Its static nature made it easy for the right to evolve strategies that effectively ridiculed the left, giving rise to the negative connotations of the term "liberal."  The left held fast to its static course and was derailed by the right, giving rise to the fascism of the current day.  The left is as much a party, due to its closed mindedness and fear of self change, to the rise of the right as the right itself.  The left can blame itself for the rise of Bush for it did not provide realistic and appealing alternatives to fascism.  This failure is not inherent in leftist ideology, but is a product of a self defeating meme that was embraced by the left in the false belief that it would strengthen the movement by demanding strict loyalty and conformity to its ideals.

The left should have learned from Buddha's story of the man and the raft.  Upon crossing a river, the man was left with the decision to carry the raft with him for the rest of his travels or to leave it behind, thereby lightening his burden.  Buddhism uses this metaphor as a means to explain why attachment to a philosophy is self defeating.  The logical thing to do is to abandon the raft, unless you know with certainty that you will quickly need it again.  Since we usually do not know what we will need again, it is better to let go and cross the next river when we get to it.  By holding on to static strategies and ideological concepts that emerged from conditions that no longer held, the left increased its own burden and became less effective.

Meanwhile, not bound by political correctness, the right shed its ideology and morphed, as was needed, to defeat the left, thus giving rise to fascism.  Static targets are easy to defeat.  The key to success is to constantly evolve.

Sectarianism

Sectarianism is not essentially negative.  There is a good side to sectarianism, provided the goal is not to destroy other sects but to evolve in competition with them.  Coalition building is one of the hallmarks of successful movements on the left.  Those that join coalitions for the specific purpose of forwarding common goals are examples of good sectarianism.  However, those that either refuse to join coalitions under the false belief that they benefit by standing apart and those that join coalitions only to use them as recruitment grounds are examples of bad sectarianism.  Bad sectarianism encourages infighting within the left.  Good sectarianism encourages evolution within the left.  Bad sectarianism is analogous to cannibalism and good sectarianism is analogous to symbiosis.

The most negative forms of sectarianism manifest themselves in "meeting invasions" (when one sect sends members to another sect's events for the purpose of disruption) and ad homonym attacks (character assassination) on individuals within other sects.  Some Trotskyite sects engage in this behavior as do some platformist anarchist sects.  One of the most pathetic examples of this phenomenon can be seen in accusations within the anarchist community where specific individuals or groups are smeared with the term "Fake Anarchist."  According to the definition of "anarchism,"  an anarchist is an anti-authoritarian anti-hierarchicalist.  Yet, for some anarchists, economic theory is thrown in and used as the yard stick by which to measure an anarchist.  While it is true that conventional employment based capitalism is hierarchical, it is not true that self employment which excludes the employment of others is hierarchical.  Therefore, anarchists that reject all anarcho-capitalists as "Fake Anarchists" are not only mistaken but are engaged in bad sectarianism.  Anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists, when employment is eliminated, have more in common than they have in difference.  An individualist anarcho-capitalist is proposing nothing more than a collective of one.  For some forms of productive activity, this makes sense.  The platformist insistence that all productive organization derives from a syndicalist model is anachronistic.  Most knowledge workers and intellectual property creators do not work collectively.  Insistence upon collectivism automatically excludes a significant portion of the productive population, thereby making anarcho-communism a non option if applied on a universal scale.  The Rational Anarchist philosophy that I promulgate is based on the belief that anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism must coexist exactly because collectivism and individualism must coexist.

It is time to embrace the notion that no one has a monopoly on the truth and that the universe has a temporal component wherein what is true at some time T1 may not be true at some time T2.  In a dynamic universe all systems must remain dynamic or perish.  Bad sectarianism promotes static ideologies and must lead, therefore, to self destruction.

Leveling

There is no doubt that most socialist ideologies began with the idea that society should encourage the absolute equality of all individuals.  Systems that have attempted to accomplish the goal of leveling have, in all cases, failed.  Indeed, the belief that leveling is desirable is based on the idea that our personalities and our abilities are largely a function of environment.  Over time, science has demonstrated that many personal qualities pre-exist in the form of dispositions that are encouraged or discouraged by environment.  Thus, some of us are more likely to be successful at some things than others and this is not always a product of environment alone.  To handicap individuals with talent in order to ensure the success of those without is counter productive.  It frustrates the lives of individuals for no reason other than their natural gifts and denies humanity the benefit of the creative ability of its brightest.  Moreover, you cannot get blood for a stone and attempts to make the untalented successful usually fail.

However, there is no doubt that meritocracy tends to encourage the accumulation of power among the successful and this accumulation of power increasingly serves, over time, to crystallize the meritocracy into a static plutocracy where rank is no longer a function of talent and/or hard work but a product of past talent and/or hard work.  Therefore, true meritocracy requires a constant destruction of accumulated power in order ensure that all relations are based on merit alone.  This is largely unworkable as it sets society against the individual for no reason other than success.  Negatively rewarding success discourages creativity and, subsequently, denies society the benefit of that creativity.  Therefore, some kind of leveling is necessary.

These contradictions between the virtues of leveling and meritocracy are an illusion.  As often happens in philosophical discourse, differing concepts are sometimes conflated.  Those that believe in leveling often mistake access to resources with ownership of resources.  Therefore, those that engage in activities that are expensive are seen as more powerful and those that engage in activities that are cheap are seen as oppressed.  When ownership is removed from the equation, none of this needs to be true.  "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need," does not imply a transfer of ownership.  What it does imply is that one should contribute one's talents freely and have access to that which is needed to make the contribution.  This implies a level of inequality in resource consumption and production but it does not imply inequality with respect to power or self actualization.  Therefore, we do not need to be the same to be equal.  When sameness and equality are conflated, the individual is destroyed.

All of this is more than theoretical.  It has an actual impact on real activists.  Let's take Michael Moore as an example.  Michael Moore is a very successful man.  He is well known.  His books are widely read and his movies are widely enjoyed.  We all benefit from the work of Michael Moore, even if we do not agree with everything he has to say and everything he does.

What Michael Moore does, requires a large amount of resources.  He generates those resources from his labor and talent.  If Michael Moore were "leveled" in the sense that conflates sameness and equality, he would no longer be Michael Moore, his work would be unknown and he would have little effect on our world.  Despite this, there exist activists that take Michael Moore to task for his success.  I find this counterproductive and indicative of envy.  If Michael Moore requires greater resources to do his job and to be Michael Moore, then I, for one, have absolutely no problem with Michael Moore's consumption of more resources and his higher profile.  Neither should you.

Even my own humble effort to produce bumper stickers has been targeted with similar criticism, though I am neither wealthy nor do I have a high profile.  The fact that even a moderate amount of money is needed to produce and distribute bumper stickers has attracted some level or derision.  Are we so in need of self esteem that we must attack even those among us engaged in the humble production of materials?  If we are then we are a sorry lot.

We should embrace self promotion if the result of it is reaching a wider audience, bringing our issues to the table and making members of our movement happier and more fulfilled individuals.  There is nothing wrong with earning a name.  No one seems to have trouble with the ubiquity of names such as Bakunin and Luxemburg.  Why do we have trouble with the high profile of names like Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky?  Do we prefer the dead over the living?  If we do, what does that say about us?

Self Deprecation

Self deprecation is the internalization of leveling.  Activists attempt to minimize the significance of their accomplishments either because they wish to avoid being leveled by other activists prone to sniping or because they truly underestimate the significance of their contribution.  There is little or no profit in dissent (though I believe there should be, after all, it is an important contributor to progress).  Absent reward, are we not robbing ourselves of a major pleasure in life by downplaying our own accomplishments?  Not only should we proudly herald our accomplishments, but we should encourage others to proudly herald their own.  What would a revolution be without the image of Che Guevarra?  There is value in the making of heroes, provided they are not bestowed special rights.  Heroes spark emulation.  I don't know about you, but I'd like to see more children grow up wanting to be like Che or Bakunin.  Let's encourage the creation of heroes.  Legends play an important role in inspiration.  Inspiration is essential to recruitment.

Hyper-Collectivism

No one should be afraid to tread their own path.  I've seen criticism of various individuals based on the assertion that he or she "is not part of the movement," "is not seen at meetings," "does not hang out with the rest of us," and "has done nothing for the rest of us."  Get off your collectivist high horse!  Quite frankly, some of us are too busy to hang out with you.  Some of us also do not wish to be redundant.  We have our own ideas and seek to throw them out into the universe and watch them evolve or die.  It's OK if you don't agree with us.  We're fine with that, but don't waste our time and energy babysitting your need to snipe at those different from you.

I doubt Bakunin was just one of the guys.  I doubt Luxemburg was just one of the "guys" as well.  And many of us that go our own way will not become the next Bakunin or Luxemburg, but for new creators of more advanced forms of current ideologies (or even new ideologies) to come into being, there must be some pool of individuals that do not conform from which the successful innovators will emerge.

Utopianism

Like most other cancers of the left, there is a non cancerous form of utopianism and a cancerous form of utopianism.  The two may even be ideologically identical.  The difference, however, usually rests in the process by which they are deployed.  Idealism is good, provided it is used as a yardstick by which to measure success or as a platform for a value system that forms a goal to which productive activities strive.  However, nothing created by man or woman has ever been perfect.  Societies, as human creations, conform to the same principle.  Neither will we ever reach perfection nor will our concept of perfection remain stable over time.  We must reject perfectionism.

The struggle is a path and not a destination.  What we learn along the way causes us to change our goals and our values.  No final state is ideal and no ideal is achievable.  The best we can do is to improve and to make improvement our constant goal.  Unless we, as individuals, are enjoying the path, nothing has been accomplished, for there will be no final destination where the perfect joy of a future generation outweighs the unnecessary suffering of the present.

All societies, all struggles and all movements should be evaluated in terms of how they benefit their members and not in terms of what they might, at some magical future time, achieve.  As Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution!"

Conclusion

If the left wishes to succeed, it must not only reject the ideas and tendencies that invade it from the right, but it must prune from its memeplex those memes that lead to self defeat.  The politically correct, utopian memeplexes that rendered us ineffective must be replaced by better memeplexes -- those that encourage evolution of our methods and reward our comrades for their work.  The first step to accomplishing this goal is to open your mind.  We don't all have to be the same, we just need to work together.

Copyright © 2004, Stephen DeVoy.  May be republished without permission provided this copyright notice remains unchanged, the document is not altered in any way and no profit is earned.  All Internet copies should retain this link to the original article to verify it's authenticity: http://www.breakyourchains.org/cancers.htm
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See also:
http://www.breakyourchains.org/cancers.htm
http://www.stop-fascism.org