I was thinking about starting this essay off by admitting, shamefully, that I used to be a libertarian. I guess I already have started it off that way. Aw, schucks. Well, I was. It was a long time ago, back in high school and, quite briefly, during my first few weeks at university.
After that I thought I was more of a democrat. Libertarians had this wonderful glean of individualism that I liked, but upon some basic reflection it became obvious that it simply wasn’t tennable. There was a faint patina of bullshit on the lustrous shell of that particular ideology.
Yes, willfull self-determination seems nice and hyperlocal government without those pesky federal mandates can sound really nice if you’re a mostly cis-gendered, straight-passing, white male like myself. However, the “freedom” of being able to live in a small town that makes its own rules doesn’t seem so wonderful if you’re LGBTQI+ in a town full of bigots, or a PoC in a city full of racists.
The usual response is “if you don’t like it, move.” Which is quaint, but imbecilic. What if you’re a child? What if you like … can’t afford it? What if you’re a member of one or more of the tremendous number of minority groups who depend on some basic protections from the federal government that make a minimal effort to try to sort of make sure that you’re mostly treated like an equal, as any human being deserves?
So, I gave up on libertarianism pretty quickly after getting to university. No, it wasn’t the liberal professors— I genuinely have no idea what the political leanings of nearly any of my professors were. It was instead moving out of a mostly white, poor, undereducated neighborhood in SE Portland and being surrounded by a lot of really bright people my own age from all over the spectrum in terms of skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
However, my sins do not end with centrist nonsense. Poor, ignorant, naive Dacoda learned a lot those first months at university, but he did not learn enough, because his next decision was equally repulsive and almost as long-lasting.
I decided I must be a democrat.
Those are the choices, right? You can be a democrat, a republican, or you can be any of those little independent parties that, in 2009 when I began university, seemed to consist essentially of:
- Liberarians: these days I like to call it the “cult of myself and my privilege.”
- The Tea Party: look, I won’t even pretend to know what this was about other than that it was bad, weird, stupid, and very loud.
- Marxists/Socialists: A group I thought I might like but whose members seemed far to up-their-own-ass about everything that I never got a chance to unlearn the propaganda I’d been taught about their ideas.
- Unaffiliated: the option for, as I thought at the time, people who were so libertarian that they refused to be called libertarians lest that shove them into a box of some sort The Man built with their tax dollars.
I’m not even simplifying that much here. I wasn’t, and still am not, terribly political¹ so I didn’t seek much out about politics and my options. I was studying physics! I didn’t have time for this petty nonsense. Anyways, the easiest demarcation for me was that it always seemed to be that democrats were … alright, while republicans were almost universally god-bothering bigots.²
I would argue that, for the level of political engagement I had at that point (I’d voted in one presidential election, on the promise we’d get universal healthcare, only to find out later that all we’d get is the trash heap of comprimise that is the Affordable Care Act), choosing to call myself a democrat when somebody asked about my affiliation was a minimally okay choice. I will say that I am proud I never registered as a democrat, though.
And that’s more or less where I stood until about 3 years ago, which we will get to shortly. It made sense at the time because I didn’t have the time or the desire to get into the more “obscure” political systems, nor did I think I could comprehend Marx’s Das Kapital because social theory was never really my bag as a student of the “hard” sciences. I wanted to go out to the polls and choose people who would have a chance of winning and who, if they did win, would do their harm in a way I liked.
Allow me to clarify that last statement. I would prefer that politicians did no harm. This is not the world we live in, though, and one must be extremely ignorant to imagine that it is the case. There are exceptions to the rule — I say that only to hedge my bets, I can’t think of any but usually there are a few — but they are exceedingly rare.
Taking the view that any politician who is put into a position of power and given the ability to make decisions that effect people and will inevitably harm some of them in one way or another, I thought it best not to try to minimize that harm, because I knew of know way to predict its magnitude. Instead, I chose based on how it seemed the parties caused their harm.
To wit —democrats tend to cause harm through endless comprimise with conservatives and by what appears to be an accident or ignorance or oversight. This is contrasted, sharply, with conservatives/republicans who do their harm with malice aforethought. When a democrat hurts the PoC community it seemed to be because they figured they’d be a good bargaining chip (in some weird, utilitarian calculus) in the comprimise they were negotiating, or because they simply didn’t understand the problem they were trying to solve. When conservatives and republicans hurt the PoC community it seemed (and still seems) to be because at best they aren’t the demographic they’re interested in and, at worst, they despise them.
I had plenty of points of contention on details with the democratic party but I supported its members because they appeared mostly to hurt people through bumbling as opposed to out of hate, fear, and greed. Well, okay, democrats have the greed in common, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This was my reasoning and I had better things to do with my time.
Around the end of my third year at university I read a book called Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks; part of his Culture series of novels, which I very, very highly recommend to anyone. The society, which calls itself The Culture, is managed by incredibly hyper-intelligent machines called Minds (with a capital M) who run an anarcho-socialist collective for the benefit of themselves and their pan-species citizens.
It was my first introduction to the idea of a post-scarcity world and it made sense. It got me thinking about how socialism and anarchy are really the only smart way to run a society when you don’t have to worry about whether there are enough resources available for everyone to have everything they want. It also got me thinking about whether or not that would actually happen.
We don’t live in a post-scarcity world, but we’re approaching one, in a lot of ways. So I thought, when we do get there, would we make the change overnight, as it were, or would it be a gradual change? If it’s a gradual change, why aren’t we starting now? Why would we wait until it’s already time, instead of getting things in motion and smoothing things out for when the time arrives?
That’s when I became more or less a socialist.
Except, not entirely. Not because I disagree with the tenants of socialism or the critiques of capitalism, but because I am wary of joining any political ideology or party any longer. Once you’ve “signed up” and tell people that you’re X, they associate the party or ideology’s platform as your own mindset as well. Sometimes that’s fine, other times it isn’t.
It’s especially problematic when their idea of the political ideology is incorrect. When I used to say I was a Democrat in political conversations one of the most common things I got was that I must support gun control or love Obama. I have mixed feelings on gun control, and I really dislike people who order drone strikes. But, because I said I was a Democrat, that’s what is automatically assumed.
It’s not as though saying you’re an independent is a better option though. That’s usually code for some weird extreme individualist fringe or something. It’s all nonsense and it’s all horrible.
So, my new system is simply to say that I agree with many of the tenants of socialism and that I would like to see more of them implemented in our society going forward. That seems to work alright, most of the time, as long as I’m not talking to someone for whom the word “socialism” immediately causes them to lose control of their bladder in righteous indignation.
As far as political parties go though? They’re not interested in any of us. Well, if you’re reading this and you’re a huge donor then yeah, they’re interested in you. But they’re in this for themselves. So like I say above, you can choose a political party, but it’s never a winning choice.
¹ I know; you wouldn’t have guessed it given what I’m writing about on Medium, huh? Well, I’m looking into writing some other things but at this moment in time (you know, the Pandemic Times coinciding with the Trump Times coinciding with the Joe Biden Is a Rapist Times and the Election Times) it’s something that’s on my mind a lot.
² I’m going to get so much hate for this but, while the biggest god-botherers and bigots have gone on to found the alt-right and faux-intellectual (I think they call themselves the intellectual dark-web?) camps, my statement about republicans remains true. Yeah, we all know a couple of republicans who don’t seem that bad but inevitably if you ask them about the following three societal issues at least one of them will include a “but” statement: abortion, racism, LGBTQI+ rights.
What is a “but” statement? I hear you cry. Don’t worry. You’ve definitely heard them before. In the cases of the following three examples they are — almost verbatim — “Women have a right to their own bodies, sure, but …”, “I’m sure there’s still a little bit of racism around, but …”, and “Consenting adults can do what they like with each other but …”. The lattermost probably ends with “Why do I have to see it on TV?” or “Why do they have to shove it in our face?”