Wednesday, April 13, 2011

speak up, my man, and be accounted for

So one thing that I've always tried to do is to be open about what I think, to be communicative in my disagreements, and to call bullshit bullshit. Everybody gets it, left or right, friend or foe. This is unpopular on blogs, where people constantly hide what they really feel, defer to friends, choose career over principle, say what is politic instead of what is true, and generally corrupt their message. If you read me carefully, with charity, you'll find that I always express sympathy for the professional politicos who are often put into difficult positions by the realities of blogging and punditry. I just don't think that those realities function as excuses. Maybe I'm wrong.

My commenters like to tease me a bit about my focus on Yglesias. For all of my complaints, I admire and appreciate Yglesias. If you check out this post, you'll see why. He believes, deeply, in the need for society to provide for the worst off. He is a vocal, articulate, and principled critic of conservative bullshit. He's got real clarity when he talks about the bogus capitalist notion about what kind of suffering is deserved. You could check my record. I've said for years he's my favorite blogger. He's obviously bright, committed to the best of the liberal ideal, and just the right kind of snotty towards his conservative foes. (I owe him a beer for his work on Jonah Goldberg.) He's wrong, about a lot of things, but so is most everybody. The beauty of saying how you feel is that you've said how you feel. It's not just that a liberalism built on pity and paternalism denies people dignity and destroys their self-determination. It's that it's bound to lose, in the long run. If you think that the noblesse oblige of rich people is a reasonable long term guarantor of the needs of the poor, I think you're mistaken. The alternatives aren't easy to accomplish. That's life.

So here's this:

Now, look, this is simply a true fact-- between the two of us, Matt Yglesias and me, one person has lived with nothing; one person has known real material need; one person has confronted life without the benefit of a net. I never try to blame people for not having experienced material hardship. The point of providing for one's family, after all, is to prevent that sort of thing for your children if you can. But what I do blame people for is incuriosity. I don't care that Yglesias doesn't know what need is, but I do care that he doesn't care that he doesn't know what need is. On balance, I have been the beneficiary of so many privileges, and having known need, I am in a better position to appreciate them, to look on with mute horror at how much is denied to so many. But I don't pretend that everyone knows the same thing about what it means to suffer. No one who ever suffered could. I didn't come to the left-wing because I learned about John Rawls at a private high school. I came to the left-wing as I watched my family disintegrate, when I contemplated life in the state child welfare system, when I slept in a garage. None of that makes any difference about who is right. He might be right, about every word. It'd just be nice, I think, for the scions of millionaire families to perhaps exercise a little discretion when they throw around talk of the poor.

But really, what I want is that when people want to talk publicly, they actually talk publicly. I hate Twitter because its bogus public/private fusion let's people bitch to a select group of interested parties without exposing themselves to the wider world. I hate Twitter because having followers insists that you have an Amen chorus to confirm your opinions and give you a false sense of consensus. I hate Twitter because it takes smart, discriminating people and dulls their senses by allowing them to communicate with people just like them. I hate Twitter because it's an empty proxy for the rest of the world.

If you want to talk about policy, please, let's. You're better at it than me and you've accomplished more politically than I will my whole life. But talk to me. Don't hide in the endless echo chamber of Twitter. I'm right here. I don't come with an institutional affiliation. I don't come with followers or commenters or colleagues. I've just got this blog I started at the public library. It's just me, and it's always been just me, and I wage my arguments out where everybody can see them. You can send me an email, or you can take to your blog, or you can keep your complaints to yourself. But if you're gonna come to fight, fight. It's a minor courtesy, but it means so much.