Subjectivity, Objectivity, and Political Action

If you strip away the rhetorical flourishes, here is what we are told every day:

1) If you aren’t Jewish, you may not disagree when I say something is antisemitic. 2) Any objection to the genocide being carried out against Palestinians is antisemitic. If you disagree, see 1). 3) Therefore, you must either admit to being antisemitic, or shut up and let the Israeli state, backed and supported by US imperialism, continue to commit crimes against humanity. *

Underneath this justification for mass murder is a method that has become more and more beloved by those layers that loudly proclaim radical sounding slogans while refusing to support any policies that may threaten capitalism—those layers that we collectively call the pseudo-left.  The method is called “standpoint theory,” and can be summed up as, “if you are not a member of this oppressed group, you may not disagree when I say something is an attack on this group.”

Standpoint theory itself, however, falls apart when examined.  The basic assertion makes racism, sexism, antisemitism, &c, utterly subjective. If they are completely personal, and up to each individual to decide, then, obviously those most immediately affected are able to make such statements.  If I am in pain, no one but me is entitled to an opinion about how much pain I am in. It is something I’m feeling, it is purely subjective, and my insights on my feelings are obviously enormously more significant than anyone else’s.

But is racism entirely subjective?  Is antisemitism? No, they are not. To take extreme examples, if someone were to claim “The Birth a Nation” was not racist, or “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is not antisemitic, we would not be dealing with a difference of subjective feelings, we’d be dealing with someone who was wrong.  To be sure, there are cases that are not as blatant; that is why they are worth discussing.

Because here’s the other thing: you cannot demand objective action—such as “stop protesting the genocide in Gaza”—based on purely subjective feelings.  Can you?  I am constantly hearing of such-and-such a man who stalked or harassed a woman because he believed his own feelings for her entitled him to demand she take an action.  We are appalled when we hear of such things, because we recognize that, while he is certainly permitted to feel whatever he happens to feel, it wrong to demand someone else act based on those feelings, and even more wrong to force someone to act based on those feelings.

It is a million times worse to demand the slaughter of entire population be permitted to continue because of your feelings. If you want to convince me that opposing the Zionist state is antisemitic, you’ll have to do better than, “Shut up if you aren’t Jewish.”

*If you happen to be Jewish and oppose the genocide, you are dismissed as a “self-hating Jew” and the problem neatly goes away.

A Totally Original Parable Not Derived From Anything Else Really

Once upon a time a man named Barry Goldwater appeared on the political scene. And the radical cried, “Danger! A fascist!” And the people came running, but they saw that, actually, he was just a right-wing authoritarian, and he was making no effort to build a mass movement based on violence and terror in order to overturn democratic institutions, so the people went away grumbling.

Then a man named Nixon appeared, and the radical cried, “Danger! A fascist!” And the people came running, but they saw that, while he was extremely right-wing, and was, indeed, chipping away at democratic institutions, he still had no mass movement based on the frustrated petty bourgeoisie, nor an agenda to lead such a movement to establish himself as dictator on behalf of finance capital, so the people went away annoyed.

Then Trump came along….

May Day Post

It’s the day of international working class solidarity, so a few quick answers to some things I’ve been hearing.

1) No serious revolutionist has ever wanted to make things worse in order to incite revolution. Utter rubbish.  Especially now; things are quite bad enough. What’s missing is consciousness that there is a way forward, a way out of the mess.

2) Being a revolutionary socialist does not mean one wishes to rush out and make a revolution. No one, as Lenin said, can suck a revolution out of his thumb. Being a revolutionary socialist means one is convinced a revolutionary crisis will take place regardless of anyone’s desire. Victory, however, is not guaranteed. For that, preparation is necessary.  Preparation means, primarily, bringing socialist consciousness and theoretical preparation to the working class, and the building of a revolutionary party prepared to see the job through to its end.

3) We aren’t there yet. But the World Socialist Web Site is now the mostly widely read socialist publication in the world, especially among workers, so we’re getting there. My own role in this is trivial, yet not useless; when I go onto Twitter or Facebook and explain my views on something that is happening today, insofar as my explanation is correct, there’s someone whose beliefs have been shaken up by events in the world, and who may be ready to listen, and possibly join the fight.  See the last sentence of point 1) above.

Happy May Day

When writers get stuck

Someone on Twitter said she was stuck on her current project and asked for suggestions for getting unstuck. I started to reply, then realized it would turn into a huge thread.  So, here I am.  Note: as I understand it, stuck on current project is not the same phenomenon as “writer’s block.”   The former is, “I don’t know what the next sentence is,” the latter is, “I can’t write and I don’t know why.” So far, I’ve never had writer’s block, so I cannot pretend to give advice on how to deal with it.

There are many tricks for getting the next sentence on the page.  None of them work for everyone, and none of them work all the time for anyone.  The most I can say is that if you collect enough of them, there is a good chance one of them will help in any given situation.

Here are some of the methods that have worked for me:

1. Write a long, tedious passage about your protagonist not knowing what to do, at the end of which he or she might figure it out, at which point you delete the long, tedious passage.

2. Fallback scenes.  Raymond Chandler famously said that if he didn’t know what would happen next, he had someone come through the door with a gun. In my case, when in doubt, have a meal. In any case, this scene, also, can be deleted once it gets you unstuck.

3. Look for tropes or motifs in the earlier chapters. You very likely have them even if you aren’t aware of it.  For example, suppose in chapter 1 someone is looking through a window, and then in chapter 3 someone else is looking through a window.  Now that you’re aware of it, you can play with it, and, have someone look through a window, tell us what’s there, and possibly generate something interesting.  Another thing about this method is that some critic might notice it and decide it’s Art.  I once did that with a series of puns based on lines from Hamlet; when I didn’t know what would happen, I’d pick another pun and write toward it, and by the time I’d get there I had a good feel for where to go afterwards.  In that case, no one thought it was art.

4. Switch points of view.  Write a scene from your antagonist’s point of view, or that of a side character; what are those people up to right now?  And (as always) if it works to get you unstuck, feel free to delete it.

5. Consider your structure.  This is similar to 3, but instead of motifs, see if you have a pattern in the types of scenes you’ve been writing.  For example, conversation followed by a fight followed by a chase.  If you see a pattern like that, you can continue it, or consciously break it; either might help get the words moving again.

6. Reread what you have so far while asking yourself, “What does the reader think is going on?” and then figure out a way to mess with the reader’s head. Messing with the reader’s head is always a good thing. It causes them pain and they will thank you for it.

I might expand this as I think of other methods I’ve used.  Meanwhile, writers: What are some of your methods?