Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

Tory author Lewis Carroll and, presumably, a more progressive Occupier.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

My father, who made his living as a psychologist, warned me to beware anyone who speaks nonsense words. "They're up to something" he'd say. "Their up to something that they are ashamed of." His example was always the conservative author, and likely pederast, Lewis Caroll: "All that cutsy shit is cover for what he really wanted, but was ashamed to say clearly." He told me. "Straight shooters shoot straight." Occupy Wall Street has to start talking strait or they are going to be mistaken for perverts and are not going to get what they want.

My father's advice has served me well. It made me weary of tongue-tied seducers, but it also made me aware of my own speech. I have always tried to speak clearly about exactly what it is I want. And, as anyone who has ever had sex with anyone else knows, that can be awkward some times. "You want to put your what where?" But my father's advice has also served me well out of bed. Art theory is bedeviled by difficult language and confounding sentences, often these tangles are the home of complex and difficult ides that are worth the effort, but often they are the home of banal thoughts, twisted, folded and stretch in order to give them the appearance of heavier things. Sometimes, just rarely, these inflated thickets of hedging are the home of a good idea that the speaker is afraid will be rejected, not because they are perverse (as in the case of Carroll), or stupid (I could name names, but where would it end?), but because the author has never dared speak them before. But no sphere is more bedeviled by double talk and jabberwocky than politics.

In 1946, George Orwell observed, "Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble." He was giving special attention to political speech: "If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration." It's a tidy piece of writing that put me in mind of my father's advice and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Last week I heard an interview with three representatives of the OWS movement that I found very discouraging. They were speaking in such tortured abstract terms, so unwilling to make any sort of concrete claim, I found myself wondering what it is the Occupiers are so ashamed of. 

As I have told anyone who will listen, I back OWS; admire the early rhetorical victory of announcing themselves as the 99%; and have tried to be patient with their ethic of radical democracy - although I personally think it is misguided. I have defended them against their critics who say they have no platform, no demands, because I feel they don't need to have a plan to point to the villains: Neo-Liberals who, by means of deregulation and regressive taxation, have taken this nation back to the gilded age of robber barons. And after nearly sinking the global economy, these same self-styled ideologs seem to have no shame when it comes cynically extracting record profits. I also don't feel Occupiers have had to have a plan to solve the world's problems (that is setting an absurdly high bar for a protest movement). For a time it was sufficient to remind all of us that "We are the 99%" - it changed the debate from "sado-austerity" to economic justice. But that was just trading one abstraction for another.

Political speech doesn't get much clearer than: "Shit Is Fucked Up and Bullshit!" - but that was day 22. That rhetoric hasn't aged gracefully. Asked in February about OWS's May Day plans for a general strike, one of the activists explained: "Its asking that all Unions, along with students, and unorganized workers, walk out in support of, and a kick off, of a true national social movement." Thankfully (or not), the host pressed her to explain "In Support of what?" Her answer reinforced my growing dread: 
In support of... I guess... Whatever their demands shall be. Its calling for a series of parellel movements. For people to posit their own demands towards their own institutions; students may be calling for fairer education or student debt, workers calling for the stop of public sector job cuts, Whatever people in their institutions want to change about their institutions.
The first time a boy asks for a blow job or a girl summons the courage to tell her lover that they are licking entirely the wrong spot is difficult at best. Most of us fumble these simple interactions the first time around, it's understandably awkward. Words fail, the great majority of young lovers resort to jabberwocky. "Gimble in the wabe" might be all many of us can manage that first time out. But as adults we can, and must, speak adult language: "I want to cum in your hair." - Whatever the desire, no matter how odd, or off the beaten path, your lover has a right to make his or her own decision, and to do so they need to know what they are being asked. 

I have no doubt that the Wall Street Titians, who are wholly responsible for the economic mess we are in, are very comfortable telling people they want to fuck them in the ass. It is what they do. They don't need to mimsy their way through that situation. A general strike is illegal in the US. The Occupiers are asking us to transgress, to do something a little naughty. It isn't entirely like asking for anal sex. As long as it is consensual, it isn't perverse - but it is risky. The Occupiers need to speak in unambiguous language so we know they aren't perverts. If they want me to get in bed with them on this (politically), I want to know exactly what it is that they want.

I can tell you what I want: I want to close the widening gap between the richest Americans and the poorest. I am convinced that growing economic inequality is the single greatest threat to our republic - the root of our all our problems. The easiest way to close that gap is by taxing the wealthiest (especially "capital gains" earners like Mitt Romney) at a much higher rate, and using that money to fund education and health care for all Americans. Any program solely for the poor will be subject to attack (see Welfare). The model should be Social Security, basic programs everyone gets that can be supplemented privately, so they are something everyone is invested in it but not limited by. This would make these programs immune to "Welfare Queen" attacks, but also immune to fear mongering about the "loss of choice."

Now that I told you what I want, in clear unambiguous (if still general) terms, you can decide whether or not you want to do that with me - if it is something you're into or not. You know I am not trying to get you into bed with me (politically) by making baby talk, only so I can spring some fucked-up-bullshit on you. You may have questions about my aims, but now you can ask me about them and expect clear answers. You may not want to do exactly the same things as me, but you may have things you want to do that aren't on my agenda. Because I have spoken clearly you can reasonably expect that you have nothing to fear by speaking clearly in turn. Niether of us may get exactly what we want, but we can certainly get more than we would have through baby talk, and no one is going to feel cheated in the end. This is how adults behave.

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