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Thursday, June 19, 2014

When People Act Like You're Twelve

One of the things I find most irritating is when people talk to me as if I've never thought about something, even when it ought to be obvious that I probably have.

An example occurred last night. I'd come to a symposium on Labor and Climate Justice, and people were still signing in and getting noshies before settling down for the event (which itself was very good, by the way). So I see Elizabeth Fattah for the first time in years because, as she explains, she's in California now. Elizabeth is with The Greens/Green Party USA, which some may describe as the "fundi" wing of the Green movement.

When I mention that this event may provide an opportunity to get some signatures to put Paul Glover on the ballot as the Green Party of Pennsylvania's candidate for Governor, she dismissively says she doesn't know why we waste our time on this "lost cause." She explains that we should boycott elections because "they only give the system legitimacy" and suggests we follow the example of those who boycotted the election in Egypt.

Now, I know this point of view exists. But what makes her think that merely repeating it to me is going to change my thinking? I may be younger than her, but she's known me since the Nineties, and surely realizes that I've had time to think about such questions. In this context, it's even more absurd that she mentions the recent Egyptian election. Does she have any evidence that those who boycotted it actually accomplished anything in terms of weakening the regime? It's doubtful that they even made inroads into its legitimacy for anyone but themselves, considering the enthusiasm with which many voted for the winner. So how on Earth does she think citing this example is going to persuade me?

In this case, of course, it has a lot to do with the sectarian style of politics, in which self-righteousness (especially in the eyes of fellow group members) is more important than measurably accomplishing anything. But it can occur in other contexts too.  Several years ago I had occasion to mention to someone I encountered in a food court that I'm a socialist (the conversation may have been started by some button I was wearing). His reaction was to inform me that that idea had failed and was discredited. This was the mid-Nineties. Did he *really* think I had never heard that opinion before? It had only been drummed into my head a thousand times by the mainstream media and politicians. Yet he apparently thought he was the one who was going to enlighten me to this "truth."

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