Thursday, August 18, 2016

You Say You Want a Revolution . . . .

". . . There are two cardinal differences between liberalism and radicalism. The first can be characterized as idealism versus materialism. Liberalism is idealist. The crucible of social reality is the realm of ideas, in concepts, language, attitudes. In contrast radicalism is materialist. Radicals see society as composed of actual institutions - economic, political, cultural- which wield power, including the power to use violence. 

"The second disagreement is on the primary social unit. Liberalism is individualist, locating the basic organization of society in the individual. Hence, liberal strategies for political change are almost exclusively individual actions. For radicals, the basic social unit is a class or group, whether that's racial class, sex caste, economic class, or other grouping. Radicalism of whatever stripe understands oppression as group-based harm. For liberals, defining people as members of a group is the harm. In contrast, radicals believe that identifying your interests with others who are dispossessed - and developing loyalty to your people - is the first, crucial step in building a liberation movement.

"Liberals essentially think that oppression is a mistake, a misunderstanding, and changing people's minds is the way to change the world. Hence, liberals place a tremendous emphasis on education as a political strategy. Radicals understand oppression as a set of interlocking institutions, and, one way or another, the strategy for liberation involves direct confrontation with power to take those institutions apart. 

"The Left in this country has embraced liberalism to the point of becoming completely unhitched from any notion of actually being effective. Activism has turned into one big group therapy session. It doesn't matter what we accomplish - what matters is how we feel about it. The goal of any action isn't to change the material balance of power, it's to feel 'empowered' or to feel 'community' or to feel our hearts open to our inner children because our mean, mean mothers never loved us, and all of it is endless and self-referential and useless. And the people who get caught up in this workshop culture will insist that their precious little navels have something to do with changing the world. Meanwhile, the planet is being eviscerated. . . . 

"The related dead end of individualism is the extreme personal purity of the 'lifestyle activists.' Understand: the task of an activist is not to negotiate systems of power with as much personal integrity as possible - it's to dismantle those systems. Neither of these approaches - personal psychological change or personal lifestyle choices - is going to disrupt the global arrangements of power. They're both ultimately liberal approaches to injustice, rerouting the goal from political change to personal change. This is easier, much easier, because it makes no demands on us. It requires no courage or sacrifice, no persistence or honor, which is what direct confrontations with power must require. But personal purity only asks for shopping and smugness. The mainstream version involves hybrid cars, soy milk, soy burgers, and soy babies, and checking off the 'green power' option on your electric bill. On the very fringe, there is a more extreme version which offers a semi-nomadic life of essentially mooching off the employed. To point out the obvious: power doesn't care. Power doesn't notice the existence of anarchist freegans and it certainly doesn't care if they eat out of dumpsters. Power will only care when you build a strategic movement against it. Individual action will never be effective."

         -----Lierre Keith, The Vegetarian Myth, pps. 264-5

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