Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome

Last night I watched the movie Bidder 70 a film about Tim DeChristopher an American environmentalist who essentially placed fake bids during an auction of public lands to both bring attention to the auction and to prevent oil companies from owning and destroying the land. (I wont go into the details of his actions or case, the movie and the Wikipedia link I just gave does that fine) While the arrest and incarceration of DeChristopher was certainly unjust I kept getting distracted by the actions of other environmental activists in the movie, namely the ones suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome.

The movie paints a portrait of a young man who is so dedicated to the environmentalist movement he is willing to go to jail for it (which he ultimately does). Countless references are made to Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, and in general their and other non-violent protest movements that have happened in America and world wide. What is so heart breaking about the DeChristopher case, and the cases of other environmentalist and animal rights activists (see the SHAC 7 for another specific example) is that the US government will consistently make an example of individuals as to discourage others from committing similar actions…despite what public opinion is on the subject. So while DeChristopher was sent to jail for 2 years (he was possibly going for 10) the movie shows dozens of of his supporters and associates protesting and ultimately getting arrested.

I want to talk about these other arrested individuals, because the movie seemingly equates what DeChristopher did (and he alludes to this directly as well) with those of the protesters who got arrested for blocking traffic after his hearing. Of course what we all know is that they are not equal. Progressive issues of the past that lead to arrests of protesters were political, people of color were arrested for being a place they were not allowed and Vietnam protesters were arrested for burning their draft cards. The point of getting arrested for a protest is to point out that the very fact you are getting arrested for what you did is wrong.

When you are getting arrested for blocking traffic you are not helping, you’re suffering from Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome. Leftist Martyrdom Syndrome is what happens when a leftist (usually young and white) participates in a protest, or does something within a protest, with the explicit purpose of getting arrested. All leftists know this behavior, and while we may not all wish to admit it, we’ve all been overcome with it at least at one point in our lives (whether we followed through or not does not matter). Ingrained in our cultural memory is the idea that being arrested for protesting somehow equates to the ultimate good that a leftist can achieve. This however is not the reality we live in, as I stated above, being arrested as a result of your protest only has meaning when an outside viewpoint can look at your protest and agree you were in the right. One of the countless famous examples of this is Rosa Parks, a black woman who was arrested for sitting at the front of a bus and not giving up her seat to a white person. Parks’ actions have had such a historical resonance because the fact that she got arrested for her actions strikes us as a horrible injustice that is beyond the ridiculous (imagine if a white person asked a black person to move to the back of a bus today!).

Yet, when you have a group of environmentalist protesters take to the streets and sit down in front of automobile and streetcar traffic and refusing to move (as there is in one scene of Bidder 70) there is no possible conclusion to that action other than them being removed and probably arrested by police. Making signs and taking to the streets is certainly vital to most political and social movements in global history, but doing so with the explicit end goal of being arrested does not actually accomplish anything. The reason why the DeChristopher case is so compelling not because he got arrested, but because he did something awesome and righteous (and then got arrested for it). Until the Left understands that being arrested purely for doing something that will inevitably lead to arrest that has no other direct consequence we’re going to continue floundering, especially on issues of environmentalism and climate change.

 

[NOTE: The term and concept of “Lefist Martyrdom Syndrome” does not actually originate with me but rather a friend of mine, Albert Gaudio. I have used the term and expanded on it here without speaking to him first. I have used the term before (primarily describing the actions of many young protesters during the student movement in Quebec of 2012 which I participated in) and have tried to always not take credit for such a disturbingly apt term and description of a problem many of us on the Left suffer from more often than we ought to.]

Advertisements

The Millennials as the New New Left

I recently read Peter Beinart’s piece on The Daily Beast about the rise of the new new left in America and how Millennials (pretty much anyone under 30 at this point) are significantly more liberal than the rest of the country. It’s a long, well researched and cited as well as eye opening piece about my generation that I really recommend to anyone who A) Is a Millennial and is perhaps feeling a bit pessimistic or B) Not a millennial and thinks we’ll all grow out of it.

Beinart doesn’t touch on something major however that, at least for myself and others I know, that is a driving force in pushing me to the left; environmentalism. While he certainly references polls in which young people say they think corporations have too much control over their lives, he doesn’t mention that in virtually all polls (or at least all polls on the subject I can find) Millennials are significantly more likely to support or agree with environmentalist sentiments. This ranges from US Millennials more likely believing in climate change, as well as it being man made/influenced. Millennials more likely to support renewable energy research and implementation. The list goes on.

Many have stated that despite Millennials having strong feelings of environmentalism, they don’t do anything about it. This is skewed as Beinart points out, Millennials are in a recession right now and are probably trying to find work. Volunteers spend their time at organizations when they can, and I’m not convinced that Millennials have as much free time on their hands (or free money) as many would like to assume.

This apparent lack of activism can also be explained in a fundamental way which would support Beinart’s article, that being any real change of impact that has to be made in terms of protecting or benefiting the environment needs to arise from government. I worked with a fellow Millennial who described himself as a libertarian in all aspects, except that government is required to regulate business and protect the environment. My generation is not only more likely to think that environmentalism is good, but we also know from a lifetime of experience and observation (think of how many environmental disasters have happened since the early 1980s identified by the corporation responsible) that corporations are the biggest exploiters and biggest risk to the environment, and the only solution that seems viable is government intervention and regulation.

Of course, I’m not trying to claim that environmentalism has been the driving force of the “new new left” but it certainly has helped.

It’s not the problems, it’s the solutions that are the problem

This post is a response to Jonathan Haidt’s  TED Talk “How common threats can make common (political) ground” which can be found at http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_haidt_how_common_threats_can_make_common_political_ground.html

I’ve had a major problem with this guy since I first saw one of his TED Talks a while back. Without addressing the inherent problem with seeing centrists as some sort of divine onlookers who are the saviors of our civilization, simply looking at his four “asteroids” it goes: 1st one the left can see and the right can’t (environment), 2nd one the left can’t see and the right can (debt), 3rd one the left can see and the right can’t (inequality), 4th one the left can’t see and the right can (marriage). 

He then uses this even amount of seeing/not seeing from both sides to make an appeal to central political thinking (or in the American context, bi-partisan thinking). The issue is however, that leftists do indeed see a problem with growing debt (it would be impossible not to), and in many ways seek to counter this with raising taxes, which is a joint solution to asteroid 2 and 3 (for many at least) and a primary contention between the left and the right both in America and worldwide is that the left wishes to increase taxes and keep/increase services while the right want to cut taxes and keep/decrease services. 

Now looking at asteroid 4, the marriage issue. The proposal that marriage is somehow an equality issue is ridiculous. The divorce rate is still 50% (even among magical college attenders). Even if people of lower socio-economic classes were to marry and raise children together (his primary focus was on fathers taking up responsibility) he glosses over/ignores that just because people are married does not mean they are going to be able to raise the child any better, primarily due to the socio-economic class they belong to is a primary reason they cannot earn enough money to raise a child, as well as a significant factor in the chances of the father being imprisoned (thus completely nullifying whether or not the father and mother are married for the child, as the father can not provide in prison). So in other words, people aren’t poor because they don’t get married – they don’t get married because they’re poor (I’m using “people” not “persons” which is important to note).

But to get back to the whole asteroid problem, in reality we see three asteroids the left is willing to get behind (note that asteroid 2 is clearly an issue for the left), and just two the right is willing to get behind. Of course, someone could easily say that my critique of “asteroid” 4 is just my political bias showing, which is obvious. The promotion of marriage or “family” values is highly rooted in religious/non-secular morality which is a problem for the left in many cases. But even assuming that a promotion of marriage would turn out more well off children ignores that even if the children are going to be better off, they are still going to be significantly less well off than the children of married parents who are in higher socio-economic classes, so in reality asteroid 4 does not seem to be a true asteroid, but rather a minor contributing factor to asteroid 3 (inequality). Inequality will certainly not be solved by increasing marriage.

So looking at leftist politics we see that 4/4 asteroids can at the very least be addressed, which still leaves asteroid 1 which in no way is being addressed by the right. Ultimately however the issue with political divide is not disagreement over what are issues, but disagreement over how to solve those issues. Jonathan Haidt completely ignores this, which is evident by his argument about asteroid 2.