The optimism gauntlet

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Flower gauntlet pattern available from etsy.

In the comments to a (now not so) recent post regarding the relevance of formal qualifications, our conservatively-inclined regular commenter Peter1 threw down a sort of gauntlet about the left and its ability to project its Message. I definitely think that introspection should be a more regular practice particularly for the leftier left, and therefore I think we should delicately pick up his gauntlet, turn it slowly in front of our eyes, subject it to forensic investigations, etc, etc.

Peter1 says,

What you describe as elbows-in, trying-to-be-top dog, etc. philosophy is really just optimism and faith in the future, which i think is a more telling marker than olive oil. Cons may be naive, pushy and reckless at times, but they want a future for their children and I don’t think most progressives understand just what a gloomy bunch you have become.

The old left was full of dreams about future material prosperity and leisure, but today the promise that a lot of people hear through all those erudite, educated prognoses is something like brown rice and bicycle paths for everyone. Be still, my beating heart.

Put Peter1’s way, this may rile up some of the readers more that I intend to. So let me put it in my own terms, which may help a bit—-because it’s an issue I’ve thought about off and on over the past couple of years or longer, particularly given the online company I’ve sometimes kept.

Both the left and right have their eschatologies, villains, and so on. For the left these days, it’s things like global warming, rapidly expanding economic inequality, and so on. Things, in other words, that require collective action to ameliorate. The right has boogeymen like the Underclass Birthpocalypse (where the wrong people are having babies) that can only ultimately be ameliorated by people individually giving up their foolish ways. (I won’t present an evaluation of the merits of these positions as this is besides the point.)

But one thing I would agree with Peter1 that the right currently has is a strong and clear image of the Good Life whose wide appeal is indisputable. An image of what a person in their own life may aspire to (even if it is not true…). Now, it may be the case that we must define “person” a bit more narrowly…but not so narrow as to exclude this vision from a large portion of the voting public.

That doesn’t mean that it’s all roses and positivity. The right-wing, as we know, presents this image usually in the context of the Big Bad Infused-Olive-Oil-Sipping Libruls wanting to take this all away. Or some boogeyman like that. But they have something to say, true or false, to the “I’m gonna git mine” part of politics.

Because, ultimately, most people do make political choices with at least a component of individualized self-interest. And, furthermore, a sense that their own possible personal triumph is a primarily a benefit to their community, their patria, etc. There is a parade at the end of all of this, and that parade will not be rained on (said through clenched teeth).

What I am suggesting here (and perhaps agreeing with Peter) is that this crucial component is currently lacking from left-wing progressive political discourse. It’s not clear anymore that the left can produce a vision of the Good Life that appeals to the public, can’t say, “vote/protest/participate with us and this is your children’s positive future”.

Now, it could be the case that to have such a vision, a vision of personal material success, is simply irresponsible in this day and age. That’s the elephant in the room: environmentalism. But if there is no positive future of low-guilt material comfort, if all the best we can offer is “bike paths and brown rice”, most people are going to throw up their hands and say, “I’ve got mine, let me enjoy it while it lasts, leave me alone.” You may accuse me of cynicism, but that is how it is panning out. Do progressives/leftists/whatever disarm themselves through excessive “realistic” honesty?

I don’t have a good answer to this. All I can perhaps suggest is that at some point, left-wing ethics and aesthetics seems to have not only become cautious of the sense of triumph, it has decided to expunge it entirely. No parade left undrenched.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on December 23, 2012 2:44 AM.

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