Hurt "the cause", that is. Lately it seems that there is much agoggery over whether flamboyant open carry at political protests is "constructive" (or the replacement term of your choice). And here I mean internecine agoggery--not just the usual histrionics from the progs, but an escalating wailing and gnashing from the prags as well. Those "extremist" brutes!
I dunno, it seems to me that the vast bulk of it all misses the point entirely. After all, this is just another redux of the prag/anti-prag argument, isn't it? Professional Incremental Surrender Salesmen (yes, that's PISSers) love to rationalize their enduring appetite for prolonging the misery, by attacking people earnestly aggravated at being deliberately pinned into a "have you stopped beating your wife yet?" position...who themselves turn increasingly to ever-clumsier tactics which seem destined to intensify the misery.
And of course the progs do love it when the prags piss on the pissed-off.
(Me, I like to think that the very clumsiness of protest tactics may actually be an endearing demonstration of character. Perhaps I'm being naiive, but somehow, recognizing that people whose principal interest* is to be left in peace, just might never be all that successful at using collectivist methods to appeal to collectivist institutions within a collectivist system...well, I'm just not all that sure I want it to be otherwise, you know?)
But here's the thing. Most of the commentary I've seen on the "do they or don't they" topic thus far, views the protesters and their methods as somehow a cause of a problem, rather than as a symptom. Which strikes me as far more damaging to whatever principle or point that anyone might wish to make, than anything either "side" might accuse the other of in the intramural gameplay.
No, it really doesn't matter how you define "extremist". (After all, as the old saying goes, an "anarchist" is anyone who believes in less government than you do, right?) The more important question is: however you might define "extremism", why does it exist? Why, exactly, do these people now feel the need to strap up and make a parade of something they never made a point of before? Because that sort of thing doesn't happen in a vacuum.
And, I would argue that failing to recognize reality for what it is, is as close to a sure ticket for total failure as there could ever be--whatever it is you're trying to do.
Now: prags love to trot out the idea that there are better ways to expend energy than the circular firing squad. Which is true as far as it goes, of course, but it does seem a bit juvenile to then suggest remedies which essentially consist of suppressing and marginalizing dissent, quite often using precisely the same procedural tools and institutions as those they claim to be fighting. (Insert fractal irony vamp here.) Look: for those who simply must look down their noses at others "less civilized" than they, wouldn't it be more "constructive" to channel that need toward the primary threat? You know, something like: "Look, progs, at what you have created. These people didn't come out of nowhere; they have been produced by your continued assault on all peaceable means of redress. Have you not noticed how their numbers steadily increase, and their tactics grow ever more rebellious?" See how this still permits the demonstration of superiority (over both the progs and the intransigent friendlies), but expends the energy generally forward instead of backward? You know, that "not targeting your own" thing that prags so love to accuse others of?
And I am reminded here, as well, of an observation that Mike Vanderboegh loves to make: that there are always others more extreme than the ones standing up in public. The idea that refusing to listen to a Mike Vanderboegh, on account of he's "too extreme", completely fails to recognize that he may be effectively holding back others even less interested in backing up. I would think that this would be a most desirable tool for the truly "pragmatic", as it arguably represents a possible way to not just staunch the bleeding and hold, but actually make up ground. "You say, progs, that you want 'compromise', which any kid can tell you means that we both give something and we both take something. Lovely. You've had a helluva run, but here's what we are taking this time. What, you don't like that? Don't wanna talk to me any more? Well, you could do that, but then you'll have to deal with them, directly. You don't wanna do that."
I'm certainly not agreeing with this sort of simple jockeying (sadly, I used to, years ago when I thought 'pragmatism' was the right thing to do), but it does seem somewhat amazing that more is not made of it as a tool at the gameplay level. Truth is, I can't bring myself to fully embrace the protest "movement" either. It just seems to me that appealing to the political system to fix a problem which is ultimately the system itself isn't going to suddenly start working where it has never worked before. Not to say that both individual and mass displays of defiance and solidarity can't have a constructive effect--but I would argue that when they do it successfully, it is by being beyond the politics, rather than of them.
But ultimately, it doesn't really matter whether I or anyone else likes them or not: the clumsy protests exist, and it would seem to behoove all parties--progs, prags and the truly uncompromising--to recognize why. What they are a symptom of.
Perhaps with more emphasis on reality rather than playbook, the progs can realize that they are (to borrow again from Vanderboegh) poking a wolverine with a stick, and had better be very careful what they wish for. Maybe the uncompromising can recognize that the power they have is not within the system but outside it, and not in flamboyance but in everyday normalcy. And maybe the prags can realize that, if gunnies really don't like being spoken for by progs (which seems to be well-enough understood), maybe the reason is that they don't like being spoken for by anybody--not just because they're not adequately "represented".
Somehow all that reminds me of an object lesson I got many years ago now. In coming to grips with the reality of an impending divorce that I did not want, I was visiting with some dear friends and going through the "was it me?" exercise in self-flagellation. It was in that conversation that the following exchange happened:
[Paraphrasing] "Kevin, you've often gone out of your way to accommodate and help her out. For a long time, in a lot of different ways, and regardless of the cost to yourself."
"Sure. I couldn't just stand by and not help out. I guess I've always approached the idea of marriage that way."
"So, do you see it as your responsibility to help her?"
"Sure, as a husband, I'd see that as something I should do."
"Hm. How arrogant," she said, with the most earnest smile I had ever seen.
Pluperfect accuracy. (She may have been the only person in my life at that time--perhaps excepting my sister--who could have delivered that for full point value with so much extra credit. She and her husband are among the most important friends I have ever had, against all considerations of distance and time.) And such a necessary lesson for me to see properly.
It's hard to overstress that point. Times are downright dangerous these days, and we should all keep our heads up. Peter Capstick once said, "The only thing worse than seeing a black mamba at close range, is not seeing a black mamba at close range."
Truly. Maybe "do they or don't they" isn't where we should be spending our time.
* Yes, I'm presuming that most people's real interest is to be left alone. That most people are only invested and interested in the political system because they have been convinced that it is inevitable. Perhaps I'm wrong in ascribing more power to simple inertia than to the incentive of the teat, but that's where I am nonetheless.
Excellent esssay, Kevin. I'm having lots of conversations at various blogs about responsibility and our innate authority.
The bottom line is that nobody has any legitimate authority to control the life of others, and that everyone has the authority to defend their life and property by whatever means is necessary.
The only rational "compromise" is where everyone agrees to live and let live - controlling only themselves.
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