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June 16, 2003

Neil Gaiman explains that no, he’s not a member of the International Socialists Organization, and goes on to vividly express the politics of a great swathe of the international (i.e., non-American) middle class:
Of course, when stood next to the choice of American political parties (“So, would you like Right Wing, or Supersized Right Wing with Extra Fries?”) my English fuzzy middle-of-the-roadness probably translates easily as bomb-throwing Trotskyist, but when I get to chat to proper lefties like Ken McLeod or China Mie9ville I feel myself retreating rapidly back into the woffly Guardian-reading why-can’t-people-just-be-nice-to-each-otherhood of the politically out of his depth.
[10:51 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Neil Gaiman:

Bill Higgins ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 08:36 AM:

Nothing to do with Mr. Gaiman, but may I ask why the Comments columns seem (at least on my screens) to feature a postage stamp, portraying a woman in a hat putting a pie (?) in someone's face?

It's easy to imagine that the Hat Lady is TNH. I'm fairly sure the recipient is Bill Roper. I think I recognize the shirt. (Bill's darling wife Gretchen made me a shirt as well, having found fabric printed with a pattern of radio telescopes.)

I keep wondering. How did Teresa come to be slinging a pie at Roper? What can he have done to deserve this? I didn't even know they *knew* each other, but I guess these BNFs all know each other. Did this event settle the affair, or are there grudges being borne even now?

If I don't behave myself, will she come after *me* with a pie?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 08:46 AM:

It is indeed Bill Roper, whose pieification was part of the closing ceremonies at Windycon 2000. As editor GoHs we were asked to participate, and Teresa wound up administering the pie. In deference to Mr. Roper's shirt, the "pie" was assembled from easily-laundered shaving cream.

It seemed a reasonable icon for this comment section, over which hovers the brooding presence of the Disemvoweller.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 09:00 AM:

Your courteous and friendly moderator is here to see that you have a safe and pleasant flight, and to see that your fellow passengers have a safe and pleasant flight.

Any passengers who are unable or unwilling to comply with this program should wait until the pilot has turned off the "fasten seatbelts" sign, then go to the rear of the plane, where the courteous and friendly moderator will help them improvise a parachute, and send them on their way with a box lunch and the beverage of their choice.

Thank you for flying Electrolite, and have a nice day.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 09:36 AM:

By the way, I thought I did a good job of pieing Bill Roper. You can't see it from the photo, but for once my form was good, like a fencer's lunge; and instead of forcibly smooshing him, I put the pie just exactly into his face in a single motion.

A second after that photo was taken, I pulled back my hand with the piepan still in it, and for a few moments you could see the complete and unbroken piecrust stuck onto Bill Roper's face.

I mention this only because it amazed me. It still does. It was like I had a supernatural attack of physical coordination -- not, alas, to be repeated any time soon.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 10:49 AM:

Better to be pied than disemvoweled.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:11 AM:

Me, I identify with the extreme-left crazies the media display to show us how tolerant they are: Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, Jon Carroll...

Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:45 AM:

I used to identify myself as marxiste, tendance Groucho as the 68'ers used to put it. (Speaking of political terms in French, there's a verb especially reserved for the act portrayed in the upper right-hand corner of the comments: entarter.) My family was the Canadian equivalent of "Old Labour": leftists by way of the trade unions. But, I think living in the States radicalised me. One thing I certainly got from watching American politics was the sense that - as Jim Hightower puts it - there ain't nothing but squashed armadillos in the middle of the road.

I guess in the end I came to the conclusion that it's both more interesting and more compeling to be radical, as long as you're willing to get a lot less than everything you're asking for. If you have no real access to power anyway, better to run the risk of being wrong in an interesting and productive way than to be timidly, moderately, unconvincingly right.

PG ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 01:16 PM:

as long as you're willing to get a lot less than everything you're asking for. If you have no real access to power anyway, better to run the risk of being wrong in an interesting and productive way than to be timidly, moderately, unconvincingly right.

Uh oh, is this a call for a rhetorically violent discussion on the usefulness, or lack thereof, of the Green Part?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 01:39 PM:

The green part of what? [rim shot]

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 02:14 PM:

The green part of what?

ers ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 09:06 PM:

Very nice form, Teresa -- I think the display of the unbroken crust gets you extra points for style.

I once had the pleasure of putting a lemon-meringue pie into my Evil Twin Brother's face (he'd committed the unpardonable sin of helping someone else hack me when We Were Even (i.e., didn't owe each other any practical jokng)). I didn't even think about style, much to my subsequent regret. At the time, my brother had vaguely shoulder-length hair; mine is down to my waist. I did not put my hair up before whacking him. He did what any reasonably intelligent person with a faceful of pie and the source pieplate with easy reach would do: he grabbed the plate away from me and spooged me with the remaining sludge. Erk. This all transpired outdoors in the back yard of a mutual friend. As soon as we finished attempted to get the last, er, splat, we both retired upstairs to said friend's apartment to wash up. I cannot recommend lemon pudding and meringue as any kind of hair styling product: the fixative effect is not worth the stickiness. Bleah.

One bright note: I hadn't known it, but Evil Twin actually hates lemon meringue pie. I'd always believed that whacking someone with their favorite flavor of pie would send a mixed message...

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 11:14 PM:

Also, the meringue keeps the lemon from sticking quite as effectively. And if it's slightly overcooked you can cut them by accident.

It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Just in case any of you were born without a mother and need me to be one.

The nice thing about the simple whipped- or shaving-cream pie is that it can be made in a cardboard or even paper plate. When I got hit in the face with a pie (by a good friend who was just clumsy) I took a bit of a nose bonk from the metal pieplate. Not bad, I mean I didn't bleed or anything, but it kind of broke my concentration. (I was trying to become one with the pie...pies can't grok in fullness, but no one hits them in the face with anything but...well, a face.)

I need only say the word 'wombat' for some of you to know exactly what I'm talking about.

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 02:46 PM:

One of the particularly interesting things that have happened politically in the past couple of years is the mooshing together of everyone to the left of, say, Bob Dole, into one big, seething, disenfranchised, powerless glob.

Liberals, progressives, Trotskyites, DLCers, Jim Jeffords, and all the rest have suddenly found common ground against the evil weasels who have seized power. Our differences over the various solutions to the world's problems have paled in significance to the underlying problem: the weasels want those problems to get worse and not better.

In some ways, this is a good thing. I'm looking forward to the day when we all get it together and take back the planet -- and get back to squabbling over the details of the proper path to the future.

Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 08:39 PM:

'Take Back the Planet' is a slogan of the Australian Socialist Alliance, and deserves (thanks, Daniel) a wider resonance.

I don't recall chatting about politics with Neil Gaiman, but hey - the only times I've met him were at Finncon and Minicon, and my memories (beer at the first, bourbon at the other, you know the score) may be fuzzy. But I do definitely recall Mr Gaiman being a politically very astute guy, and far from out of his depth in (and after) a conversation with a US diplomat, a person who presumably plays the politics game for more than matchsticks. Neil's remarks to the contrary strike me as an example of that English self-deprecation thang, and readily contradicted by a glance at his work.

Which is not to say that English fuzzy-middle-of-the-roadness isn't to the left of the official spectrum of US politics; but then, so is a large part of US fuzzy-middle-of-the-roadness which - according to Avedon Carol - is a large part of the US population. What would be progressive (in terms of taking back the planet) might be a cultural shift into having an argument over the proper path into the future, and away from an argument over the proper path into the past.

To be unGraydonish, let me unpack that: is it not the case that Left and Right in the US (and elsewhere) are making their pitch for opposing visions of the same idealised past, and differing over which of the real and then united elements of that past (strong unions, an activist (internal, reforming) state; strong (in the patriarchal sense) families, an activist (external, imperial) state) that they rhetorically hark back to? And, you know, aren't the 50s and 60s gone?

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 09:01 PM:

>a US diplomat, a person who presumably plays the politics game for more than matchsticks

That would be an ex-husband of mine, I presume.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2003, 10:23 PM:

Ken, my corner of the left (all member of it) is looking to the future.

It strikes me that many USers are actually fairly close to Gaiman's position--the problem is that the language of even the most conservative left in the USA has been anathemized, so there is no way for us to talk about it without something very much like accusations of heresy. This makes for enormous problems for any would-be US leftists; there is no way to articulate a coherent political philosophy and have any chance of holding power--we are reduced to defending specific political positions, without any unifying themes. This is perhaps one reason why the US left is so divided. Also, of course, it makes studying political philosophy enormously difficult; everyone who wishes to apply leftist ideas to US politics must create their own language and this, in turn, makes it even harder to achieve political consensus.

Makes it damn hard to develop a faction in either of the major parties and win elections. If the left wishes to suceed politically in the USA--and considering the conduct of the US left, sometimes I wonder if it does--it is, I think, necessary to reestablish the legitimacy of the language of the left, perhaps even create new language adapted to the US cultural context.

Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 10:15 AM:

Kathryn - was your ex-husband's first name Eric? Ambassador to Finland in 2000?

Randolph - if in the land of Paine and Jefferson and Lincoln and Douglass, of De Leon and Debs and Flynn and Cannon and DuBois, the left can't find a way to speak for itself in an American language then it's in worse shape than I thought. (And if my examples are farther left than you want to look, you have FDR and Hubert Humphrey to draw on.) I'm still discovering with delight the sheer wealth of American radical (and liberal) tradition and rhetoric.

(I have to admit that the last paragraph in my previous comment was written after an evening in the pub, and is now as obscure to me as it no doubt is to anyone else.)

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 03:13 PM:

Ken, thinking it over, yes, I believe the US left--at least the radical tentacles I encounter-- is in very bad shape in that area. There are strong and effective activists, but there are not strong and effective rhetoricians. I live in Eugene, Oregon, a town with a very strong 60s-left history (old hippies moved here when San Francisco got too expensive, the University, and so forth) and a history of anarchist activism that runs from the IWW to the Seattle Coalition. We have two would-be "radical" papers, plus a good many newsletterish things. They're all awful, and I don't see any of them drawing on the material you cite. It seems to me that what I read mostly looks back to European Marxist rhetoric with a big helping of radical feminism and the whiftier and angrier sort of green idealism. The greens do at least reference Thoreau and Emerson. But very little of the material you mention has wide cultural currency. It may be that this is something we need to be reminded of by outsiders--some US left intellectuals still have a big sense of inferiority with respect to Europe and we tend not to recognize our own virtues.

Nearly a century ago Frank Lloyd Wright was first hailed as a great architect by Europeans, not North Americans, and it took European artistic movements to put his theories into wide practice. In US left rhetoric, things still seem to be that way; it seems to me things froze in the 1930s with the Stalinist co-optation of many popular left artists--Hemingway, Hammett, and Wright come to mind--and, it seems to me, never really started flowing again--the radicalism of the 60s didn't quite do it. Now there would be a worthy political project! If the US could inject some of that rhetoric into the language of part of the Democratic party, maybe the US left would begin to gain ground again.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 05:34 PM:

>Kathryn - was your ex-husband's first name Eric? Ambassador to Finland in 2000?

Nope. I presumed you meant Jim Young, who goes to Minicon on occasion. More than one diplomat going to conventions. Amazing.

AdamW ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 09:31 PM:

Ah, Hubert Humphrey...of "Whatever Became Of Hubert" fame. Possibly not the best of omens...

Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2003, 10:31 PM:

Ken is much too kind; and Eric Edelman is, after a spell in the white house, soon, I believe, to become US Ambassador to Turkey.

I was wondering about http://www.coherenceengine.com/blog/2003_06_01_archive.html#105605171646355912 this as possible way of reshaping US politics. Although I'm not sure where it leads...

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 01:39 AM:

Perhaps the problem is that the Left in general no longer goes to church (an atheist wtrites). It's not a matter of believing, you see, but of regularly strengthening participation in a moral community, where what goes around, comes around and people have a chance to build up reciprocal networks and grow within them.

Come to think of it, Science Fiction fandom is probably the nearest thing to churchgoing in this sense that you'll find on the Left,and explains a lot of the vigour and responsibility of the discussion here.

The great success of the Right in the last forty years or so has been to make large-scale politics grow from small-scale, homely ones. the Left used to be able to do this, with ideas of fairness and decency, but these aren't real enough in small-scale lives any longer to mobilise people.

I'm not a conspiracist about Big Media. They go where the advertisers go, and the advertisers track as closely as they can the preferences of potential purchasers. If these are liberal and humane, then so will the culture of Big Media be. Leaving Israel aside, you don't for example, find overt racism or anti-semitism on television any more. That's not a matter of 'political correctness' imposed from above -- obviously, because PC fails completely to protect unpopular minorities. It's a reflection of a lot of small-scale changes in society.

So the problem for the left is to find small-scale voluntary communities that work like churches to put their ideas into action. Political parties don't do it. Properly run web sites are much more of a pointer in the right direction.

hmmm. Maybe the Well was the future, after all.

Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 01:58 AM:

Some of us lived through the 50s and have always wondered why ANYONE would want to harken back there.


Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 02:43 AM:

You sound like my parents, Jane. Having grown up there, they were thoroughly baffled by the '50s nostalgia craze.

I just saw a interview / documentary with William Gibson. He had some interesting stuff to say about the Victorian Age. We think of it as a quiet, decent, civilized time, when it fact it saw immense and wracking change, much of it due to technological advances (railroads, telegraphs, electricity). Somewhere along the way, the quiet stuffy sitting room scenes the Victorians retreated to get away from it all came to be remembered as the reality of the age.

Something like this may have happened to the '50s. The Conservatives have turned the vague and selective memories of happy suburban teens into the reality.

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 07:18 AM:

Actually, a large segment of the Left consists of Evangelical Lutherans, Unitarian-Universalists, Congregationalists, and other church-going folk who have managed to apply their moral values to their political lives without screwing it up (as so many of their Republican brethren have managed to do). But this part of the Left doesn't get the media play that the fringier elements do.

Also lurking beneath the radar are a number of unions -- I remember the Machinists when Willy Wimpisinger was their leader.

Real Democrats (as oppposed to Fifth Column DLC Democrats) are still around in large numbers without making much of a footprint on the national consciousness (yet).

And then there's the Pete Seeger/Arlo Guthrie Left in places like interior New England; upstate New York; the Pacific Northwest; northern California; Madison, Wisc.; and other refuges.

These folks provide a large but hidden bulk of the 43 percent of the country that never gave up on Bill Clinton and continue to consistently oppose the Smirking Chimp (and an even larger share of the 25 percent that still believe the election in 2000 was stolen).

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 11:00 AM:

I'm always slightly amazed by people who diss "Fifth Column DLC Democrats" in one breath and praise "the 43 percent of the country that never gave up on Bill Clinton" in the next. Bill Clinton is a "Fifth Column" DLC Democrat. That's why I voted against him in my state's '92 primary.

Clinton turned out to be pretty much what I expected (NAFTA, welfare "reform", etc.), but it also became crystal-clear in about the first week of his administration that the country was much better off being run by pro-business Democratic pond scum than it was by pro-business Republican pond scum. I bitterly resented the necessity of defending the SOB during the impeachment mess.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 11:10 AM:

The Democratic Socialist published a cartoon after Welfare Reform passed, showing a Timber Industry Exec talking to two angry Environmentalists, surrounded by treestumps as far as the eye could see. He was saying "It's not Clear Cutting -- it's forest reform."

And don't forget the DOMA.

And Jane, there are people in the SCA, too. They recreate the good bits (music, pageantry, costumes) and leave out the nasty bits (Crusades, plagues, never washing). I can see people doing the same with the 50s. Remembering the reality of it must leave a strange taste in your mouth, though.

Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 04:06 PM:

While we're offering theories about the disempowerment of the left, how about this one: the right stole a march on the left during the culture wars. While the the left was inventing the concept of marginalization, the right was busily deploying it against them. I'm toying with the notion of think tanks as the bio-weapons labs of the ongoing meme wars, where the right invents highly infectious memes that support their agenda, whittle them down to sugar-coated bite-sized pieces, and release them on an unsuspecting populace, who then goes around happily yacking up the talking points they've been fed. The "liberal media" meme, for instance. The whole sad farce of "liberal" being turned into a term of opproprium. When it comes to spinning perceptions, the right seems to have a much better grasp of the tools and how to use them than the left does. I think the left will have to catch up if they're ever going to get anywhere.

Debbie Chachra ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 05:33 PM:

I have to respectfully disagree with Andrew Brown's comment about churchgoing, belonging to communities, and contributing to the Left. As an expatriate Canadian living in the States--with exquisite timing, I moved to Boston from Toronto shortly after Bush Jr took office--I identified with Neil Gaiman's comment. One of the few cultural differences between Canada and the States is that the latter is far more secular, both at the personal and the political level; regardless, politics is far more community-oriented in Canada than in the States. Maybe this is just what's seen through the eyes of a cynical, atheist Canadian, but it's hard not to feel that the contribution of church-based 'moral communities' to American politics is pretty much the opposite of social justice for all Americans. It's not clear to me that participation in smaller communities (whether religious or secular) is associated with participation in larger, civil communities.

Having said that, I have no idea how to engender (or regenerate) the sense that American society as a whole is also a moral community. I agree that this is *the* hard issue faced by the Left (and the Democrats, for that matter). I recently committed to staying in the United States (I accepted a faculty position at a small engineering college outside Boston) so I plan to get my US citizenship and think about this issue a lot in the future...

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2003, 08:16 PM:

Oh! On the basis of your remark, it looks like I was proposing the creation of a US left-wing think tank. Anyone got a few million dollars? (grin)

Beyond that, it seems to me that much of the US left has become afraid of openly pursing power, even when the intention is to make honorable use of it. The extremist right, on the other hand, sees the pursuit and use of power as a good in itself. (This is not, not, not, intended as a slam at honest conservatives or libertarians.) Is that not what was done in Iraq--the use of raw power, without regard to consequences?

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 01:29 AM:

There actually ARE left wing think-tanks.

I don't think they are as influential as the right-wingy ones because left wingers are more likely to march to their own drummer. A multiplicity of voices, as opposed to talking points.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 09:36 AM:

"There actually ARE left wing think-tanks."

Certainly. One of several recent start-ups is The Commonweal Institute. And here's a story about the plan to launch a well-funded Washington-based liberal-ish think tank, to be directed by John Podesta. I can't speak to the specific political slant of either of these projects, but they're both to the left of the current range of influential think-tanks, including such formerly liberal outfits as the Brookings Institute.

"I don't think they are as influential as the right-wingy ones because left wingers are more likely to march to their own drummer."

This has been much discussed lately. Right-wingers have been better at making coalitions, despite the significant disagreements between their factions. Much more crucially, it appears to be a myth that the Right has more wealthy donors; in fact there are plenty of liberal zillionaires. What's more salient is that lefty rich people tend to donate to individual causes--Greenpeace, NOW, the Southern Poverty Law Center--and not enough to the kind of institutions that pull all this stuff together into a coherent alliance.

The fact that people are starting to realize this seems to me a moderately hopeful thing.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 03:11 PM:

I'm glad to hear there are some left-wing think-tanks are starting out.

Back to my original point--widespread public discussion of leftist ideas is Not Allowed--even the language is Not Allowed, which makes it impossible to assemble a broad-based platform in a democratic manner. Life is much easier for right-wing authoritarians, since they get to take easy advantage of the human impulse to follow king-like things.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 04:33 PM:

" Life is much easier for right-wing authoritarians, since they get to take easy advantage of the human impulse to follow king-like things."

Yes, and life is much harder for authoritarians of all stripes, because they bear the constant burden of having to convince people of things which are patently not true. Also, there's that human impulse to object to being shoved around.

In other words, come on. Enough with the long faces, self-pity, and woe woe woe about how impossible everything is.

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2003, 07:34 PM:

No woe from me.

I see a tremendous creative ferment going on across the country, with lots of people voicing their opposition to the authoritarian agenda being foist upon us. And not just on the Internet -- Buzzflash links to dozens of newspaper editorial pages where criticism is not being suppressed and language is not being censored or tempered.

I expect the coming decade or two to be very exciting, with victory ultimately ours. There's nothing like a pack of evil weasels seizing power to concentrate the attention, efforts, and ideology of everyone who has ever had an anti-authoritarian thought.

This is just the germinating phase when much of the activity is still under the surface. When the struggle emerges full-blown, things will get really interesting (as in the old Chinese curse).

But this is the way such narratives go. Evil gets a head start, but good finally rallies against it.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 11:31 AM:

This may sound like a silly idea, and I am hesitant to propose it to such an elite group of politically sophisticated thinkers, but - how about getting to know your neighbors and talking plain old American English about common concerns? And running for city council or something.

The problem of the American left since the 60s - when it was taken over by arrogant middle-class white college buys - was that it thinks of the rest of America as "them." And this entire thread is full of that attitude.

"it's both more interesting and more compeling to be radical, as long as you're willing to get a lot less than everything you're asking for. If you have no real access to power anyway, better to run the risk of being wrong in an interesting and productive way than to be timidly, moderately, unconvincingly right."

How precious. How pure, How self-satisfyingly ineffectual. But not boring, and that's most important!

Actually, the most organized and middle-American leftwing activity right now is going on in the mainstream Protestant churches.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 12:20 PM:

Actually, underneath the habitual abuse that characterizes Yehudit's posts around here, she has some reasonable points. In fact, they're so reasonable that most of them have been made more than once on Electrolite. One of them, about left activism in mainstream Protestant churches, was made in this very comment thread, two days ago, by Dan Hatch.

As a high-school dropout, I can't really speak to Yehudit's charge that the left has been "taken over by arrogant middle-class white college boys." It does seem notable, though, that right-wingers seem to regularly change their story about who has "taken over" the left end of the political spectrum. In my lifetime, I've been authoritatively informed that "the Left" has been taken over (and, I hardly need to add, ruined) by Soviet communism, the Weather Underground, George McGovern, feminists, anti-globalists, the Clintons, the Nation, coastal elites, stubborn union organizers, and Persons Of Melanin. Now (that would be roughly noon EST, June 22, 2003) it appears that the great Satan is college white boys. Hokay.

It's easy to burst into a discussion like this with snarled accusations that we all "think of the rest of America as 'them.'" Of course, Yehudit knows very little about the neighborhood activities and involvements of most of the commenters here, certainly far from enough to justify the imputation that we're all alienated intellectuals who think we're too good to chat with the people next door. Speaking of "us vs. them" thinking, one might contemplate one's own remarks on the subject of generalizations about entire groups. But actual engagement is far from Yehudit's purpose.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 02:05 PM:

If I resorted to "plain old American English" when talking to my neighbors, they would likely think I was threatening them by talking like a cracker. You know what I'm saying?

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 02:38 PM:

I admit it. I think of ordinary Americans as "them."

But not because of my political persuasions. It comes from 25 years in newspapers, taking "their" phone calls, reporting "their" lies, reading "their" letters to the editor, walking around "their" schools, going to "their" Town Council and Planning and Zoning meetings, compiling "their" school bus schedules, and all the other work that has brought me an unwanted intimate knowledge of "them."

Which is why, after 18 years of daily news writing, I was considered to surly to be allowed out in public and was promoted from newspaper reporter to newspaper editor.

When you call a newspaper and you are suddenly struck by the paranoid fear that it's just a big room full of people who will all laugh at you when you hang up, remember this: it's not paranoia and we really do laugh at you.

When it comes to "us" vs. "them" newspapers have it all over "the Left" -- no matter who has taken it over.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 02:40 PM:

Alan, doesn't that imply a somewhat ungenerous idea of what "plain old American English" entails? Of course, so did the original remark.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 04:13 PM:

Patrick, you're right--there was a lot of despair in that remark. However, it's still true that building consensus is more important to a democratic left than an authoritarian right and it's hard when the left can't even talk about its subject without being anathemized.

Yehudit, how do I talk about common concerns when people have been made afraid to talk about them, and extensively deceived about the sources of their concerns? A for-instance: here in Oregon, education is a major source of concern. The basic problem is that tax policy has led to funding cuts and there is not enough money. But when this is mentioned the majority responses are that the money is really there (it isn't), that the school administrators are lying about their needs (they aren't), and that even modest tax rises will even more deeply impoverish the state (they won't).

What plain language would you suggest in such a situation?

AdamW ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 06:35 PM:

On the subject of building large groups from small groups, it might be interesting to look at Japan, where mainstream politics is dominated by a fifty year old orthodoxy, but there's a fairly strong leftish thread coming from a sector that's not primarily political - pressure groups, particularly environmental ones, which are widely supported (often by women, who are barely involved in conventional politics), quite united and also quite powerful, at least on the issues they're involved in.

Jon Stopa ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2003, 11:30 PM:

I asked "a State Dept. Diplomat" at Minicon this year, "Was the result of US foreign policy for the last two years accidental or on purpose?" His answer was, that Rummy was trying to take down Powell. I'm still reeling from the implications of that statement. The damage to the UN and NATO was the unintended result of interdepartmental squabbling?

My personal feeling leans toward the idea that the damage was on purpose.