Thursday, July 17, 2008

Open letter to "progressives"

Friends, brothers and sisters, comrades:

Today I resigned as a moderator of Progressive Bloggers. I would like to explain why I did so, and to encourage a debate about the meaning--if there any longer is one--of the word "progressive."

I would draw your attention, first of all, to this post. A Liberal member of the blogroll expressed--and continues to express--strong support for a racist thug in Arizona named Joe Arpaio.

Under Sheriff Joe's watch, unspeakable brutality and violence are the order of the day, from breaking the neck of a paraplegic to strangling a mental patient to deliberately burning a family's puppy alive. The press are routinely harassed by his goons. The prisoners in his infamous "Tent City" jail, most of whom have not been convicted of anything but are simply awaiting trial, are purposely demeaned and ill-treated. Arpaio conducts regular sweeps aimed at Hispanics. I would encourage anyone with a strong stomach to follow the links I have provided. (H/t here to Canadian Cynic and to commenter Mike.)

But Liberal "Diva Rachel" loves Joe. Check out her post for yourselves. To get the flavour:
"Arpaio reinstituted chain gangs (i.e. learn some work ethic!)"

"Arbeit Macht Frei" with a cornpone accent.

The original title of this post, in fact, was "Joe Arpaio: please clone him." (You can Google "Arpaio" and "clone" to see for yourselves the sort of people who share that sentiment.) And here is an earlier post of hers, supporting former Australian PM John Howard's racist occupation of Australia's Northern Territory. Stageleft smacked that one down a while back. Rachel is also a fervent supporter of the death penalty.

Since I posted a comment at her place, and she was subsequently contacted by ProgBlogs' chief moderator, Scott Tribe, she has seen fit to publish a "clarification," which contains a certain amount of rapid backpedaling--and a lie about me. She claims that I have sent her "hate mail." And she also makes reference, referring to me, to a "lynching party."

DR is Haitian by birth: hence those comments of hers clearly imply that I am hateful and racist. Facing quite justified critique for her adulatory post of a thuggish Southern US sheriff, she goes and plays the Clarence Thomas card.

The moderators of Progressive Bloggers, at my instigation, held a debate on DR's status as a member. It was (and is) my view that this blogger should be expelled. Whatever the word "progressive" means, it cannot include, or so I would have thought, gushing support for a far-right hoodlum who runs a reign of terror in some jerkwater part of the southern US. That's the sort of thing that only a bottom-feeding conservative extremist could defend. Right?

Wrong, as it turns out. Without going into the details of our private debate (although perhaps in future such debates should be open to all of the members of ProgBlog), let me note that the good sheriff drew some surprising support, and there was also a lot of anxious hand-wringing about my being too hard on the blogger in question. Detailed parsing of her post ensued. Arpaio did stop smoking in his jails and he instituted a two-week (!) English language program, or so we are told. DR only meant that some of his measures made sense. Etc.

Ultimately, the decision was made--to do nothing.

So I'm out as a moderator, although, since anything goes on ProgBlog, I'm going to stick around the 'roll and lash out blindly from time to time as I see fit. There is, however, a wider question, still unanswered, one that arose during the old My Blahg affair (I'll just let sleeping dawgs lie on that one), and in the subsequent eye-opening attempt to draw up a ProgBlog Code of Conduct.

What is "progressive?" What isn't?

The word itself is an anachronism. I don't think too many folks these days, even those of us of the Marxish persuasion, believe in some essentialist notion of "progress," with its quasi-religious teleology and its unilinear social-evolutionary implications. "Progressive" has become a bit of a floating signifier. This latest incident bears me out.

So, should we abandon the label altogether? If so, what would we replace it with? Should it, in fact, be replaced? Is it a useful category of practice, or an outmoded term rendered meaningless by being inclusive of just about everyone who lays claim to the label, no matter how odious and reactionary their political beliefs?

The floor is open.

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