Not long ago, for the second time, I was accused of being a “splitter” instead of a “lumper.” The first time, I figured they were just terms the guy had made up. But no, apparently there are actually people who think like that. As near as I can tell, a “lumper” is someone who wants to unite everyone who is against war and injustice and stuff; whereas a “splitter” is someone who wants to divide those who are against war and injustice and stuff, for reasons that remain unspecified.
My intention is not to personally mock the individuals who said that–both them appear to be dedicated and sincere, actively interested in making the world better, and one cannot help but respect that desire, however deeply one disagrees with the person’s method. But I do intend to mock the concept, because it is well worth mocking.
The first thing that strikes one about these terms is the absurdity. I was accused of being a “splitter” because I used a term to describe a certain group on the Left (“Stalinist,” to be exact) that members of that group would take as an insult. I guess if you describe someone in terms that person wouldn’t like, you’re a splitter. One can’t help but laugh at this, because, evidently, since “splitter” is a term of disapprobation, if you call someone a splitter, you are, yourself, a splitter. While this is beside the point, it does indicate a fundamental lack of seriousness.
A second issue is that those who use such terms are always, or almost always, supporters of identity politics, the most significant element of which, in my opinion, is “splitting” the working class. In other words, what is being said is, “It is bad to create divisions among us right-thinking people. We should get together and make sure the working class is fighting itself instead. Go us.” Is it any wonder that I cannot conceal the utter scorn I feel for such ideas?
I think it is safe to say that the logic behind these terms works something like this:
1. A lot of us want to end war and injustice and stuff.
2. Therefore, all of us who want to end war and injustice and stuff should get together.
3. Anyone who says things that prevent us from getting together is working against ending war and injustice and stuff.
There are a number of assumptions buried in this logic. These assumptions are, for the most part, never examined. They are also, in my opinion, dangerously wrong.
First and foremost, there is the assumption that how effective a fight will be depends more on the number of people involved in the fight, than in exactly what sort of activity they are engaged in. I believe that the Democratic Party, as much as the Republican, is working to roll back democratic freedoms and standard of living, and to support wars of aggression, and defend profit at the expense of human rights. Those of us who believe that will never be willing to support a Democrat; we would consider it nothing short of betrayal. How, then, can we “work together” with those who want to pressure politicians? While you organize to send petitions to the President and letters to your congressman, I’m organizing for the overthrow of the State, and am convinced (right or wrong) that appealing to that State is to create dangerous illusions among the working class. Just exactly what are we supposed to “lump” together to do?
Even more significant, however, is that the argument as stated above utterly removes any discussion of class. I believe that we live in a class society, and that this economic fact, the foundation of how society fulfills (or fails to fulfill) its mission to provide basic needs to individuals in that society, is at the heart of every other relationship. I believe that to actually fight for human rights requires mass action by the working class based on a program that puts it in direct conflict with the two bourgeois parties. In other words, it doesn’t matter how many “people” believe that injustice should end; it matters what program the working class has when it goes into battle to defend itself.
With this in mind, I am supposed to worry about hurting the feelings of those whose program will politically tie the working class to the enemy? The issue is not (in this discussion) whether I am right or wrong about how to defend human rights; the point I want to make is that, inherent in dividing people into “splitters” and “lumpers” is a complete rejection of any sort of analysis of society, substituting for it vague impressions and the desire to “do something.” Laudable in itself, but, without actual understanding of the workings of society, useless or worse. To me, there is a massive contradiction inherent in someone who puts in countless hours and boundless energy fighting to correct an injustice about which he or she feels passionately, yet dares not, in the course of discussing how best to carry on this fight, use the precise term that applies for fear of giving offense.
But, some will say, if you use insulting terms, you will alienate potential allies, whom you might otherwise convince. Let us examine this for a moment. What is being said here is that precision, analysis, and comprehension need to be sacrificed in order to protect the feelings of individuals. When I’m visiting someone’s home, I will do exactly that–I will refrain from saying that the house is a pigsty and the kid is obnoxious. In personal interactions in which nothing more is at stake than the feelings of individuals, I think it is a good thing to avoid giving offense, and I will sometimes sacrifice honesty to do so.
But if we’re dealing with the effort to change the world, to actually create a society in which human decency is more important than individual profit, in which the full creative power of the individual is not held in check or (more often) fully suppressed by the need to simply live, in which such problems as global climate change can be addressed without concern for who gains or loses wealth thereby, then consider the possibility that, just maybe, scientific precision is more important than whether someone’s feelings get hurt. And, to answer the argument, the person who sees that, the one who ignores personal feelings in order to fully investigate and understand the concepts behind such words as “Stalinism”, “Revisionism”, or “Opportunism” to determine if the terms are accurate and precise and what the consequences are for proceeding along these lines, this person is exactly the one who can make a contribution to solving the problems we face today. The ones who have no reaction other than hurt feelings are welcome to “lump” together and have a good outrage session over it. I hope they find it validating.