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On the Uses of Confrontation

wuming's picture

Last week, I talked about the politics of resentment, and some of the commenters criticized what I wrote on the grounds that I was telling people what is better for them. This is not true.

It's not about false consciousness it's about confronting people and finding out what they really believe.

Sometimes people want something other than economic success. How can we fault that when we see people give up great wealth to work for the common good? Or choose not to sell out by taking a shiny big law firm job, and instead toil in relative anonymity at legal aid?

Several commenters asserted, as best I can tell, that some lower class whites hold onto their privilege because it is all they have, and that somehow this means that someone without their class background cannot criticize their behavior, otherwise it is condescending. I am having a hard time understanding how that is also not condescending, since it is essentially saying "they don't have money so they cling to their whiteness." In the cases where this is true, from a political perspective I don't see much to win in engaging people like this. Let me explain.

Some people may value the feeling of superiority they have that they derive from being white, and from living in a system that systematically oppresses ethnic minorities. If that is actually the case then it is futile to talk to the person about the economic benefits that they would sustain under a more left of center economic policy. Essentially these people are idealists who value their white supremacist ideology more than their own financial success. In that way, they are the same as people who value their ideology of, say, environmentalism over working for a remunerative oil tar sands project.

However, confronting people with how their personally bigoted beliefs, and politics of resentment (derived from the fantasy of limitless individual power) hurt their economic well being and the well being of the American nation, forces them to choose. Some people may simply not be aware of the implications of their politics. Others may actually suffer from feelings of worthlessness from their inability to live up to an unrealistic standard of individual agency. These people, when confronted with the truth, have the ability to make a decision to abandon beliefs that directly injure their economic well being and that of millions of Americans, and can become our allies.

On the other hand, hardcore white supremacist idealists are not going to be our allies under any circumstances. As the political-economic conditions in the United States continue to deteriorate, we on the left will need allies if we want to accomplish our goals. Those who, upon confrontation come to see our point of view are our allies. The others make their choices and line up to fight for the white supremacist ideology that guides their lives. They're not our friends and never will be. Confronting people with a choice in beliefs lets us find out who our friends really are.

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dictateursanguinaire's picture
Submitted by dictateursanguinaire on

People who are informed educating their fellow citizens about issues? That tradition sits at the heart of democracy and, especially, citizens of a republic. What a dumb, repressive feudalist mindset it is to say "Oh, you're forcing your opinion on people, you're trying to rile them up, don't tell them what's good for them" etc. Our bosses, teachers, advertisers, friends, family try to tell us "what's good for us" everyday, so why can't people who, being more informed about politics and economics, might actually have an informed opinion do it? I would seriously disregard those sorts of comments.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

Your two posts on confrontation have made me realize what a Jekyll/Hyde I am.

Most people who know me personally would tell you that I speak my mind and have no problem confronting issues/people. I guess that is true in a sense - when I feel that an injustice is taking place - or when the person I am confronting is a passerby in my life.

But I do have a problem confronting people I know and consider a friend. At least I don't directly confront them. That's when I go into my "let's talk about this mode" and try and find at least one thing they are saying that I agree with before bringing them back to my point again, and again, and again. With friends, I like to think that over time they will understand - and maybe agree with - what I'm saying.

And yes, sometimes those "friendly" discussions bring out a trait or two that makes me realize that my "friend" is simply another passerby in my life and I back away.

By the way - I come to a few of my favorite blogs because I am not as informed as so many of you are on the issues which really do mean a lot to me. So I "use you" to learn and I use your posts to express my POV to my friends. (I always attribute the source!).

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

I think what you're describing is direct vs indirect confrontation. There is a place for both, and actually often indirect confrontation is more effective, especially when there is an existing relationship in place. This is because making a personal connection with someone allows you to, over time, discuss a topic with them and see where it goes. Often in that case a direct confrontation will make the person push the data (and you) away, whereas an indirect confrontation over time can slip past their quick instinctive reactions.

Direct confrontation is most useful in the kinds of discussions where one person (or group of persons) attempts to dictate the course of the discussion as a means of establishing dominance or shutting down all other discussion. The blowhard at a town hall meeting is a classic-- in that case, direct confrontation is the best way to prevail. This is because presuming you have rhetorical skill, you can turn the crowd against the blowhard by making him look foolish in the face of the facts.

Eureka Springs's picture
Submitted by Eureka Springs on

I'm having with a few folk over at buzzflash. They just love to get shrill and call Ron Paul supporters white supremacists and such. This they think justifies ignoring or deliberately misinterpreting everything he says. While I have no doubt a few skinheads do support Paul, i know a few myself (probably because they want no drug wars, to be left alone, etc.).. I ask questions such as If Paul dramatically reduced drug and blood wars... and aside from Kucinich he's about the only person who repeatedly unapologetically discusses these two issues... wouldn't a lot of minorities benefit from those changes far more than all the best actions/ aspects you can drum up about the D party today? Heck, if one tries to discuss it with in power D"s at best they will be called a dirty effing hippie, expecting everyone else to join them in laughing it off the stage.

Furthermore I go on to ask if making a distinction with such vociferous contempt about Libertarian economics is just giving their own beloved D neo-liberal economics too much of a pass... when those two are far more similar in the direction we are heading than not?

Changing the discussion to a class warfare slant and or civil liberties/rule of law.. while refusing to be triangulated or respond in sweeping gestures, rather than religion, race etc.. is the best way to deal with those who have racist tendencies, imo.

We the left, must focus, must publish and adhere to a platform (more than 12 words.. that's the business card, we need some brochures too), which restores rule of law, embraces civil liberties over fear, and holds economic plans which raises the lower 75 percents ship... this ain't rocket science.. the rocket scientists now work for the ponzi scheming banksters and their PR firms... don't let them keep dividing us.