Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hanging out with the socialists

I've just realised that, while I am wholeheartedly liberal in my approach (go capitalist democracy!), I find myself drawn to, and identifying with, socialists on a regular basis. From the British journalist Laurie Penny, to the Australian editor of Overland, Jeff Sparrow, to American academic Douglas Kellner, I follow the work of a whole bunch of left-wingers, and they frequently move me. I find myself protesting the phrase 'wingnuts' because it implies that fascists can be placed in the same category as these endearing rebels, which does them a disservice.

Perhaps I am drawn to these consumers of 'utopia' because they are part of a much-scorned minority group. Take Slavoj Zizek, for example - his analysis of the world is frequently fascinating, and offers relevant criticism on topics like how liberals assuage their guilt over their nations' histories of Islamophobia (as in his book Violence) without really doing much to address the issue, however his fondness for authoritarian outlooks makes it difficult for me to identify with him beyond a certain extent.

Jeff Sparrow writes that left-wing intellectuals have earned a certain amount of cultural capital amongst the intelligentsia. Indeed, their critiques of the institution of consumerism and democracy are often insightful because it's an atypical perspective they approach our societies with... they make the familiar unfamiliar, the supposedly reassuring and enabling seem oppressive. Their outsider perspective cultivates much in the way of creativity.

However, authoritarianism is authoritarianism, and while I enjoy hanging out and spending some time in their world, eager to learn something new, I can only get so close. I can't humour the self-defeating idealism which sees them prioritise a political system which has failed dismally every time it's been put into practice, because it doesn't allow for freedom of speech. Such naive trust in the power of a group of individuals to remain non-corrupt shows a lack of understanding of human nature, and shouldn't be indulged.

Reality sucks. There will probably always be uneven distributions of power. But at least in a capitalist democracy, we, the people, can write about it, read about it, and have the power to vote for the people we perceive to be the least corrupt - time and time again.

Nevertheless, there is much fun and knowledge to be had from spending time with socialist intellectuals, and I admire their drive and stubborn determination to hold onto views that many people ridicule or find offensive. Not to mention, most socialists are supportive of feminism, queer rights, racial equality and disability rights. More power to those who can contribute to society by being well-educated and well-intentioned, even if we don't share the same politics.

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