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Disappointed in Rebecca Solnit

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/15/letter-dismal-allies-us-left

I liked Rebecca Solnit's article that spawned the term "mansplain." Here she has written an op-ed titled "A letter to my dismal allies on the US left." In this post she unfortunately uses the same sort of language and phraseology ("Leftists explain things to me") to punch in the other direction and complain about people she calls "radical leftists" whom she claims are full of "bitterness and negativity."

I don't like it at all, largely because of the "us and them" dichotomy she sets up. "Please, radical leftists, spare us the bitterness and negativity; we need hope and incremental victories and you provide neither." So who is "us"? I can only assume she means people who are more mainstream than "radical leftists." So, it's a person who is closer to the majority viewpoint dressing down people who are farther away from it. That reminds me of Christians who complain that they are oppressed because people greet them with something other than Merry Christmas during the holidays.

If she were talking about people who approach the world using a negative mindset and admitted they exist in every pocket of the political spectrum, I wouldn't mind it so much. She doesn't like complainers, fine.

If she were talking about a conversational pattern where person 1 says "Such and such is good" and person 2 says "yabbut such and such is bad," and she didn't irrevocably tie it to a particular corner of the political spectrum, I wouldn't mind, because when that pattern dominates a conversation it can shut things down.

If she were talking only about people's behavior when they are playing a role as activist, she has a point: negativity can be a bad strategy and inviting positive dialogue with people who don't completely share your views is one way of practicing activism.

But she isn't complaining about people in their roles as activists. She's complaining about any situation where she mentions something positive that a politician did and someone replies by saying they did bad stuff. She complains about how people converse at dinner parties, and presumably she doesn't mean political planning meetings. So she comes across as insisting that if you're left of Democrats and interacting with people more moderate than you in any way, you don't ever get to mention anything politically negative to them. That sounds like bright-siding to me. (A word made popular by Barbara Ehrenreich in Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America.)

She then proceeds to give seriously embarassing straw man examples: "Can you imagine how far the civil rights movement would have gotten, had it been run entirely by complainers for whom nothing was ever good enough?" Does she have any idea how old that cliche that is? Does she have any idea of the huge variety of viewpoints and actions that made up the civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s? She's white, but she is a writer and the same age as me, she should at least have read one book about it or watched Malcolm X or something.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/867158.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.

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