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Tim Wise on the “barbiturate left”

The brilliant Tim Wise is back with an inspiring piece on how and why to avoid the usual cynicism of the left. Here’s an excerpt:

The humorlessness of the far left — to which I remain connected ideologically if not organizationally — has always struck me as one of its greatest weaknesses. People like to laugh, they like to smile, they like to be joyful, and an awful lot of hardened leftists seem almost utterly incapable of doing any of these things. It’s as if they have all taken a pledge that there should be no laughter until the revolution, or some such shit. No positivity, no hope, no happiness so long as people are still poor and exploited and being murdered by cops, and victimized by United States militarism, or performing as wage slaves for global capital, or eating meat, or driving cars. And they wonder why the left is so weak?

Now, in the wake of Barack Obama’s victory these barbiturate leftists are back in full effect, lecturing the rest of us about how naive we are for having any confidence whatsoever in him, or for voting at all, since “the Democrats and Republicans are all the same,” and he supports FISA and the war with Afghanistan, and all kinds of other messed up policies just like many on the right. Those of us who find any significance in the election of a man of color in a nation founded on white supremacy are fools who “drank the kool-aid,” unlike they, whose clear-headed radical consciousness leads them to recognize the superior morality of Ralph Nader, or the pure “scientific wisdom of chairman Bob Avakian,” or the intellectual profundity of their favorite graffiti bomb: “If voting changed anything it would be illegal.” Yeah, and if body piercings and anarchy tats changed anything, they would be too, and then what would some folks do to be “different?” (Note: there is nothing wrong with either type of adornment, but getting either or both doesn’t make you a revolutionary, any more than voting, that’s all I’m saying).

These are people who think being agitators is about pissing people off more than reaching out to them. So they pull out their “Buck Fush” signs at their repetitively irrelevant antiwar demonstrations, or their posters with W sporting a Hitler mustache, because that tends to work so well at convincing folks to oppose the slaughter in Iraq. But effectiveness isn’t what matters to them. What matters to them is raging against the machine for the sake of rage itself. Their message is simple: everything sucks, the earth is doomed, all cops are brutal, all soldiers are baby-killers, all people who work for corporations are evil, blah, blah, blah, right on down the line. It’s as if much of the left has become co-dependent with despondency, addicted to its own isolation, and enamored of its moral purity and unwillingness to work with mere liberals. In the name of ideological asceticism, they spurn the hard work of movement building and inspiring others to join the struggle, snicker at those foolish enough to not understand or appreciate their superior philosophical constructs, and then act shocked when their movements and groups accomplish exactly nothing. But honestly, who wants to join a movement filled with people who look down on you as a sucker?

The entire article is worth reading. Check it out.

Published in Politics & Activism


  1. GREAT ARTICLE! This is my favorite line: At some point, the left will have to relinquish its love affair with marginalization.

  2. Hits the nail right on the head, doesn’t he? It’s funny, too, because I started the morning talking with Jen about how unimpressed I am with Obama’s picks for the Cabinet. But Tim reminded me to step back and look at the bigger picture.

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