Thursday, June 19, 2008

The worm in the apple

Hey, I sold the farm but didn't sell all the tools and such. I have an absolutely first rate elastrator and a full plastic bag of the little green rubber rings. One woman should be able to hold down a male child from, say, size infant to size oh, twelve years but after that we'll likely need to form up in pairs or even teams, with one woman handling the elastrator and however-many others doing the holding down...--Anne Cameron

I first encountered the charming Anne Cameron some time ago, when I had the temerity to suggest that Elizabeth May's stance on abortion was not a "pro-life" one. I don't want to re-live that rapidly-degenerating debate, if such it can be called. Suffice it to say that, for rigidly binary thinkers, the very suggestion that one could be uncompromisingly pro-choice but personally opposed to abortion, which I believe is May's position, was an affront. And my defence of her led to an orgy of vicious vituperation that really has to be read to be believed.*

Why, then, am I raising this now? Because a few days ago, in a whimsical mood, I posted an article, "Left-wing aposematism," announcing that I had been accredited as a blogger to the upcoming Conservative convention, and wondering what the hell I ought to wear. One commenter took the piece as a grave insult to the Conservative Party--I'm still shaking my head over that one--but another, a friend, read it primarily as a personal statement involving my late partner. I don't read it that way, but I'm big on the plurality of meanings of texts, and took no issue with her gentle comment in the ensuing thread.

But the topic was then raised on a Bread and Roses forum, where, thankfully, the subject morphed into wardrobe concerns that are no business, or interest, of mine. The sweet Anne Cameron showed up, however, to accuse me of "wallowing in misery." I have to admit that I wasn't aware I had been doing so. I had been scrambling around for some ideas that morning, found an article on disappearing amphibians in the Globe and Mail, and, pursuing the matter on the Internet, I fetched up against a reef of words I'd never seen before. "Aposematism" was one; and the inveterate punster in me thought, "Oh, yeah, left-wing aposematism."

But how to use it? The convention came to mind, and the rest is posted.

I eventually checked out some of the commentary about the post, intrigued by the bizarre reading of it from the first of my commenters--"puerile, condescending sarcasm" was the way he put it, making me think ESL, or maybe Asperger's. And when I came across the BandR forum, and found that venomous little comment from Cameron, I guess I started what is commonly known as a slow burn. Her personal attacks during the May imbroglio came back. "
As for Dr. Dawg, well....he has fleas. You lie down with dawgs, you get up with fleas. " That kind of thing. Puellile? Is that a word? Yup. Let's hear it for equal-opportunity dictionaries.

And then this latest little flick of hatred. I began to reflect:
every transformative movement for social change known to humanity has contained within its ranks those with personal issues who use politics as an extended metaphor for acting out. Speaking as a former labour leader, I can tell such people almost at a glance. It's all bitterness, antagonism, hatred, and a matrix of dogmatism to keep it in place. The humane aspect of the cause is conspicuously missing.

These are the people, however, whose sheer drive and determination allow them all too often to prosper in the ranks and obtain positions of authority, and sometimes leadership. They are not to be confused with that other group of self-seekers, even more successful, who
are motivated merely by material ambition. Skilled at manipulation and with an eye for detail, the latter learn to play the system to their own advantage, and they sometimes profit handsomely thereby. The former--and this is what makes them so dangerous--aren't personally ambitious at all, at least in that respect. The usufructs of power mean nothing to them. The mission--their mission--is everything.

I think of St. Paul, the zealot convert who turned Christ's simple message into endless finger-wagging instructions, injunctions and denunciations. I think of Stalin, the bureaucrat who dotted the "i's" and crossed the "t's," and who, in 1922, became the
General Secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, a position that he himself created. I think of comrades who keep the flame of humanity alive in their personal and political lives; but I think of others, inflexible, single-minded, intolerant, for whom any new idea is deviation, and any appeal to the humane is bourgeois sentimentality.

And I think of feminists, embracing one of the most important historical movements of all time, and who, with an unprecedented weather-eye on process, and an insistence on inclusiveness, have managed to keep so much of that evil nonsense at bay.

But not entirely.

What, then, do we activists do about the worm in the apple--those in our own ranks who share the anger but not the vision, the conviction but not the caring, the passion but not the humanity? Pace W.B. Yeats, my favourite 20th century poet, both the best and the worst are "full of passionate intensity." So how do we practically address the problem of the worst?

Comments are welcome. I hasten to add, however, for my more conservative readers, that feminism (in this case) is not the issue, and its assault on civilization as we know it is not the way I'd prefer to frame the discussion.
(I'm all for the latter, but that's another debate.) You have your problems, too--pas d'ennemis à droite, if I can put it that way. There is no intent here to give aid and comfort to the enemy. I would prefer that we stick to discussing the correct handling of contradictions among the people, and what is to be done.

*And it's still going on, as the lies and slander posted just last month by "unionist" here will attest.

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