Thursday, April 20, 2017

You gotta have hope

The Democratic Party intellectual and political scientist Ruy Teixeira is promoting a new book that counters the current mood among many of us: The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think. I have not read it and likely won't ever get around to it. But he offers a synopsis of some of its points in an excerpt at Vox.

Some parts of his argument ring true to me: after all, I'm a Californian who has seen that the rise in voting strength of people of color communities and of a younger set have wrested the state from the death grip of frightened old white people. That something similar is painfully progressing in the rest of the country looks obvious from the Left Coast.

Other Teixeira themes seem not so self-evident. I just can't buy that economic growth is always good and that such growth will compensate for the dislocations that globalism imposes on some people and some communities. Either we're all in this together or we're not. People who get left behind and left out naturally demand to be heard and cared for. A left which is not paying attention to them is not worth much.

But I resonated deeply with this part of Teixeira's argument:

Many on the left insist that it is their job to highlight negative trends with as much theatricality as possible, since that is where the motivation for change will come from. But this confuses the motivations of left activists with the motivations of average citizens. It is absolutely true that most left activists are fundamentally motivated by what they see as wrong and unjust in contemporary social arrangements.

But this just isn’t the way most people work. The typical American generally adopts a bifurcated view of their situation that does not comport well with the relentless pessimism of many leftists. On the one hand, most Americans do tend to believe that many things have changed for the worse — that the economy has been doing poorly, that long-term trends have hurt security for average families, that leaders just don't get it. On the other hand, these very same Americans believe that they are holding up their end of the economic bargain, that they are working hard and doing right by their families, that their story is one of achievement against the odds, not pessimism and despair. Left pessimism appeals to one side of Americans’ outlook, completely missing the other.

The left should reject this approach. Leftists and liberals should promote instead a sense that positive change has been, is, and will continue to be possible. That will make it far easier to mobilize their fellow citizens. ...

In my experience, the further "left" someone considers themself to be, the more likely that person is to insist that the only truthful assessment of our situation is that everything is FUBAR- Fucked Up Beyond All Redemption.

We cannot ask people to struggle for justice from that standpoint. Being normal humans, they'll recoil. There are always elements of hope.

The job of progressive activists is to identify hopeful paths and help others to do the same -- and help each other to follow where those insights lead.

There's quite enough to do. Resist and protect much.


Rain Trueax said...

I don't know that I buy the hopeful approach but I do believe the left has to say what they want to do and why it will be better. Just-- they are bad-- won't get voters who think both sides are.

So when the right attacks Social Security, and they are, it's important to explain what it does, how it can be kept, and why that is important to all Americans-- young or old. Same with keeping disability on SS with emphasizing the need to be sure it's not abused by someone trying to game the system; so that it's there for those who genuinely need it. I think with a practical and caring approach most left wing goals can be defended. Even those who still disagree can respect a responsible approach to problems.

Brandon said...

If the book is at the library, I'll check it out.

Brandon said...

Another book on how the twenty-first century might/will unfold, and one I recommend highly, is The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Brandon: I looked at the Kunstler book. He seems to be what I call a "collapsarian" -- a person who holds the current popular belief that contemporary civilization has run its course, that one way or another we'll burn the planet up, and any other outcome is a pipedream. They may be right, but I choose to explore instead what other options we might make.

Rain: yes, people with strong left policy opinions need to both explain and listen -- not just emanate self-protective gloom!

Brandon said...

Kunstler rejects the "doomer" label. Here's how he explains his stance.

Brandon said...

I accidentally linked to this blog post. Here it is.

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