Wednesday, February 02, 2005


wsf interlude: spanking mandy (gently)

I knew it was going to happen sooner or later: one of my friends would call me out for being a raving right-wing nutjob. Bananarchist let the axe fall on my forum vogue post, and I definitely owe it to her to address the issues she raises. And since I seriously doubt anyone reads my comment section thoroughly, I'm going to do it here in a separate post. First the specific issue of forum fashion, then the general issue of me being a raving right-wing nutjob.

About forum fashion, this may sound like a lame excuse, but what you see up there is only half the post I intended to write. I was getting booted off the computer, and I posted the part I had already written but never got back to it to finish it. I concede it was weak to flog the dead horse of Ché couture as I did, but really it was just a lead-in to the meat of my real topic: Palestinian/Arab fashion.

Someone had made a whole lot of cheap plastic Palestinian flags and must have been giving them out free because nearly every tent had one flying. They were as ubiquitous as the program of events. And not only that, many many non-Arab people were wearing Arab headscarves. For instance, check out THIS guy:

Solidarity or fashion? You decide. The scarves had a habit of finding their way off heads and around the necks or waists of attractive young women. Can someone who knows more than I do tell me if this is sacrilegious? Are they secular or religious objects? In any event, the adoption of Arab and specifically Palestinian symbols was very widespread at the Forum, be it fashion statement or political statement.

But about the bigger issue of my politics, let me collect my thoughts. Mandy accuses me of being condesceding and holier-than-thou. Specifically she says:

The reason I am picking on you so much for this posting is because it is
representative of the derisive tone you take in describing your conversion from
uninformed antiwar activist to wiser-than-thou left-center center-war war-right
neoneoconcon. You exaggerate your differences with some fictitious monolithic
"left," which creates a heroic oppositional narrative that casts you as the sole
figure of righteousness holding forth against a sea of radical idiocy, but
doesn't really describe the cautious pro-democracy
realism/anti-torture/pro-transperancy left that I see. You pick on details (Che,
consensus) but perhaps you misapprehend the position of the people who protest
against expensive and undermanned wars.

I guess a few points are in order. First, please note my context. I was not reacting to the "cautious pro-democracy realism/anti-torture/pro-transparency left" that Mandy describes. That left describes me pretty well, actually. (I never said I wasn't left -- just not far left any more.) However, though I'm sure that description is also true of many individuals at the Forum, it was nowhere in evidence on a mass scale. What was in evidence was banners "honoring the heroes of the Iraqi resistence." As in, the people who murder election workers and old women trying to vote. In short, the conscensus on display at the forum (which I'm sure was not a real conscensus actually believed by everyone) was, to my eyes, ludicrous and wrong. Like the worst strawman I could imagine. And this is what I was reacting against, and feeling (I believe justifiably) derisive of and holier-than.

Mandy may have also been reacting against the rags-to-riches, ignorant-to-enlightened, hippie-to-asshole bildungsroman I presented earlier. If so, I can hardly blame her. But I felt the need to include something about where I was coming from. Basically, I've been on this little vision quest of mine because I think the issues are really, really important, and though that makes me sound sanctimonious it's the truth. I have no desire to spank leftists for being leftists (I like to spank them because they've been naughty) but when I meet people who appear to know rather little about these topics (like they don't know the Iraqi elections are happening or they've never heard of Darfur) but who still have fiery opinions about the state of the world, I get a little mad. And holier-than-thou, yes. Because the world is important and you won't get very far towards the truth spewing the shit your friend who's all political told you about. I saw a lot of things at the Forum I didn't like, and a lot of people not challenging them at all, and I got upset.

And when I challenged the conscensus in small ways, I found a lot of receptive ears. Like a woman from Spain who had come to see a representative of the Basque separatist movement speak (he didn't show) who told me about how she was against the Basque separatists, and how she felt out of place at the Forum. Or one American I spoke to, who once I started went on a rant of his own against what he saw as the wanton US-bashing all around him. These people are left too, but there was no forum for them at the Forum.

So Mandy, thanks for your comments and I'll try to be less smug in the future. But good god, it was a small tent I saw at the Forum, and a pretty looney one. It's not the vision of the left I'd like, nor I suspect one you'd like (and I haven't even touched on economics here). I want some other left -- one that's a little more honest, that doesn't just ignore the things that don't square with its vision of the world, one that isn't willing to explain away atrocities just because they are committed by people in the developing world. And I know there are millions of people out there ready to join that left, ready to be well-informed thoughtful participants, ready even to give Bush his due if he actually does something right. I want to join that movement, but it doesn't exist. So I'm flirting with the right. Sue me.

Hey Alex, here's my response to your response. Again, I'm not trying to spank, I'm trying to engage. Thanks for taking the time to respond to me so seriously.
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