On Useful Idiocy
may have noticed been unable to avoid noticing if you follow my Twitter feed, I’ve been on a bit lately about Occupy Writers, the online expression of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement that is now shaping up to Occupy Many Places. It began as a fairly modest endeavor about this time last week, the brainchild of Jeff Sharlet and Kiera Feldman – Jeff put out a call for volunteers over the weekend as he had some family world to attend to, and I was one of a couple of people who said sure, love to help. And it’s become a Bit of a Thing since then.
I’ve focused on writing and grief on this blog much more than I have performance or politics. For today at least, that’s changing up a bit.
And now, I indulge in a bit of snark in which – I have to admit – I’m totally boxing out of my class.
Yesterday, D.G. Myers at Commentary Magazine described us as Useful Idiots. I’m here to tell you why he’s right.
As of this morning, nearly a thousand of them have eagerly signed the latest oath:
We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.
They can’t even come up with a good oath. The best they can do is express some mealy-mouthed support for some mealy-mouthed “movement” that doesn’t even identify its demands. Lame. Intellectually weak. If you’re going to go so far as to sign a document of support, you should at least know what it is you’re supposedly in favor of.
The list of writers reads like a social register of the current literary elite.
Exactly. Check out those names at the top of the page, the people who’ve actually contributed writing. You’ve heard of all of them. You’ve desired their success. David Agranoff? The author of The Vegan Revolution with Zombies? That guy doesn’t have any one-star Amazon reviews. Totes jealous.
A list of the major American writers who refused to sign the oath would be much smaller — not only because there aren’t too many major American writers now working, but also because no one seems to consider a Nabokov-like statement of refusal worth making. (At least I can’t find any on the web.)
And the absence of any thus proves my point. Plus which, American writing totally sucks these days, which is why when I write “elite” you should pronounce the scare quotes even if you can’t see them.
Only a few writers on the list take the trouble to explain their signatures. Perhaps the most embarrassing is Francine Prose. She “burst into tears,” she explains, when she saw the camp at Occupy Wall Street.
Come on, Occupy Writers, we’re trying to have an intellectual discussion here. THERE’S NO PLACE FOR EMOTION. It’s embarrassing. And by the way, how come so few of your signatories have bothered to even write anything? Just that group up there at the top? That short list? Over 100,000 visitors over the 18th-19th of October clogging up your site? A backlog of 1,000 names to add? A handful of volunteers working? I repeat: lame. You know what that makes you? Unprepared and unprofessional.
It wasn’t the anti-Semitism on display there that caused her to break down.
Myers means the “Wall Street Bankers = Jews” sign, for example, and here’s another, to which the ADL joined him in condemnation:
We are seeing some individuals holding anti-Semitic signs at the “Occupy Wall Street” rallies, and some videos posted on YouTube from the rallies have shown individuals expressing classic anti-Semitic beliefs such as “Jews control the banks” and “Jews control Wall Street.” While we believe that these expressions are not representative of the larger views of the OWS movement, it is still critical for organizers, participants and supporters of these rallies to condemn such bigoted statements clearly and forcefully.
That’s right. Even the ADL says this anti-Semitism is not representative of the larger OWS movement. So watch it.
Prose was “struck” by the “clarity” of the movement: “clarity of purpose, clarity of intention, clarity of method, clarity of understanding of the most basic social and economic realities.” She must not have talked to the same people New York magazine talked to.
Prose should be held accountable for not taking a non-scientific survey the way that New York magazine did. What I’m saying here is “more Jay Leno, less reflective writing on what you’re seeing as a life-long New Yorker.” I mean, if you want to be taken seriously, that is.
Apparently, though, the “purpose” and “intention” of the protests are so clear that she needn’t bother with clarifying them any further. It’s enough, for her, to say that “we” are “being lied to and robbed on a daily basis.” Ah, the convenience of the passive voice, which excuses the writer from having to say who is lying and what is being robbed.
That’s right. The name “Occupy Wall Street” has no bearing whatsoever on who is doing the robbing or what is being robbed. Nor does my intimation of anti-Semitism earlier. Individually – which is how I must take these points and not in any sort of cumulative context – Prose demonstrates the vapidity and gullibility of nameless finger-pointing.
The truth about the “Occupy Movement” is that, far from representing the “99 percent” of Americans (as it claims), it is a fringe movement of radical leftist ideologues who are “dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people.” Those words belong to Douglas Schoen, who reported in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal on the results of polling among the protestors at Occupy Wall Street. What unifies the “Occupy Movement,” Schoen’s polling revealed, is “opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.”
See? Radical leftist ideologue fringe. And Douglas Schoen, I must point out, is a DEMOCRAT, so he’s being intellectually honest about criticizing his own side. Plus he works for Roger Ailes, so you know he’s fair and balanced. Now, there’s been some criticism of Schoen’s work, notably from that shill Nate Silver at the New York Times, which is about as establishment leftist as you can get (those guys are so socialist they don’t even try to make money). Silver, who started off crunching baseball numbers, for God’s sake (in the interest of fairness, as trite and useless as that is, Baseball is America’s game, and for supporting it Silver should be praised) so how seriously can we take him, links to some jack-ass who actually posts Schoen’s poll and data and presumes to analyze it.
Also: radical leftist ideologues. Get a job.
No one who reads very much contemporary literature will be surprised to learn that many prominent writers share those same ideals. The current literary elite is also a faction of radical leftist ideologues who are out of touch with the American people.
This is because, as I said, American literature mostly sucks and we’re all watching television. That’s why these authors are out of touch. The current literary elite, leftists to a one, have rejected the corporate path of traditional publication and have nothing to do with major publishers. Or if they do, they’re hypocrites, which is probably more likely.
[T]he National Book Award in fiction, more than any other American literary prize, illustrates the ever-broadening cultural gap between the literary community and the reading public. The former believes that everyone reads as much as they do and that they still have the authority to shape readers’ tastes, while the latter increasingly suspects that it’s being served the literary equivalent of spinach.
Then Miller went ahead and signed the oath in support of the “Occupy Movement.”
In other words, Laura Miller’s otherwise keen observation supporting my idea is shown to be an anomaly. Then again, she writes for Slate, so what was I thinking. Radical leftist ideologues. I mean, Glenn Greenwald? Joan Walsh? Those people haven’t even put up a paywall! Giving away content for free? Totes socialist.
It’s bad enough, I suppose, that contemporary writers are bent upon estranging the broad mass of the American reading public. What is worse is their betrayal of their profession. As Dennis Prager observes in a brilliant essay at National Review Online, the political left (which now includes the bulk of American writers) is unified, from its violent and extremist fringe to its democratic center, by a single ideal:
Being on the left means that you divide the world between rich and poor much more than you divide it between good and evil. For the leftist, the existence of rich and poor — inequality — is what constitutes evil. More than tyranny, inequality disturbs the Left, including the non-Communist Left.
The profession of the writer, by contrast, depends upon freedom, and especially upon a fanatical absolutist commitment to freedom of expression.
Read my lips: inequality is what constitutes evil. Not money, which many have said is the “root of all evil.” That’s conventional wisdom and it smacks of anti-corportatist, anti-capitalist pablum. It couldn’t be that these people are upset about hedge fund managers and other job creators are successful, making record profits since being bailed out by the U.S. Government (beginning under Bush, who showed his true socialist colors with that whole TARP thing, and I know it’s making its money back, but that’s because the Market is Great, not because someone in Government made a good decision: government cannot make a good decision, that is the definition of government). They’re not upset about something Francine Prose said, that they’re being robbed. They’re upset that Rich People have more money that they do. Especially the Elite Writers, who make money. Intellectual hypocrites to a one.
As Nabokov said in a 1964 interview with Playboy,
[S]ince my youth — I was nineteen when I left Russia — my political creed has remained as bleak and changeless as an old gray rock. It is classical to the point of triteness. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art. The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me.
Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of art: there is the only political creed which can unite all writers into a political party.
You know Nabokov was a good dude because he gave Playboy an interview: actions speak louder than words. Also, he was eloquent. What writers need is a Freedom Party, in which we can all unite behind a common idea – free speech, thought, and art. Not what these people are doing. Also, “The social or economic structure of the ideal state is of little concern to me.” No way that he meant “I don’t care what it looks like, I’m not invested in one particular kind of state or another, I just want to live in a place where people can speak their minds.” No way. He meant “being rich is awesome and if you’re not rich it’s not because you were sold a bill of goods with that complicated mortgage that I’m demonstrating mathematically you can afford until the ARM adjusts and you didn’t get that econ degree so it’s your own fault that you foreclosed.” Well. Maybe he didn’t mean that exactly, but it was something a lot like that.
Many prominent American writers have lost interest in freedom, however, and have become obsessed with a world that is divided between rich and poor. Small wonder, then, that more and more readers are losing interest in them.
“Many prominent American writers.” Many of which you’ll see on that intellectually dishonest, radical leftist ideologue list of signatories. That’s why I don’t need to give you any examples. No. I am not simply making generalizations. I am inviting you to make generalizations on my behalf. It’s a much better rhetorical strategy.
The murderous political tyrant in Nabokov’s Bend Sinister upholds the doctrine of Ekwilism. (Say it aloud.) When Adam Krug begs, “Leave me alone,” the Ekwilists reply, “Alone is the vilest word in the lnaguage. Nobody is alone. When a cell in an organism says ‘leave me alone,’ the result is cancer.” They insist that Krug, an exceptional man, swear allegiance to a political régime founded upon hostility to the exceptional. They demand he submit to a political system dedicated to “a remolding of human individuals in conformity with a well-balanced pattern.”
Because as Margaret Thatcher said, “…there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” The only collective unit we can discuss is a family. Because that’s what makes sense. Also, I don’t like to count. Collective units are bad, like UNIONS. “America” is not a collective unit. It is a marvelous idea that must be defended. By contrast, “France” is a bad idea. We can’t talk about collectives (communities, cities, states, companies) because the logical extreme of collectives is communism and I will only engage in logical extremes.
Almost a thousand of the best contemporary writers have now joined the Ekwilist party, eagerly supporting the goals of radical leftist tyranny. It’s good, at least, to have them listed in one place.
“The best contemporary writers”… You see how they’re elitist? I’m acknowledging their greatness. And they self-identify, which means they’re not very smart (not sure how they overcame that to become the best contemporary writers, but there’s no accounting for taste. Except that American literature isn’t very good right now, certainly not in Nabokov’s league, so this crew is sort of the cream of the C-listers, really). Also, in a perfect world, Amazon would provide filters so that you can screen out all of these tools.
If I may sum up: Vladimir Nabokov, who was a great novelist the likes of whom no longer exists in this country, was also a great man based on his rejection of Bolshevism and the tyranny of the government and ideological purity of the Soviet Union. The writers who have signed this statement of support (which barely even qualifies as a petition, for God’s sake) are not as good writers as Nabokov (no, I haven’t read everyone on the list – I dare you to hold someone up and say the writing is as good as Nabokov’s – go ahead, I’ll wait – I don’t have to prove anything I say, especially not the likely things, which makes me less likely to defend the unlikely ones); these writers embrace Bolshevism and ideological purity, which you can see in their precise manifesto of beliefs and overall adherence to non-violence, which is just like the 1917 Revolution; also, they hate Jews. Even the Jewish people on the list. Because people on the Left do that.
Look. You don’t have to agree with me when I support Occupy Writers. I’m one of the volunteers who hops online to add to the backlist of names of people who’ve asked to sign up. Why isn’t my name on the list? Because I’m not published. I’m not even self-published, and that’s pretty much the main criterion – publishing. Playwrights who’ve done work that’s identifiable by established theaters (amateur or professional); screenwriters who’ve got work that’s seen some distribution. Not bloggers. I’ve had plays produced, so I do fit the minimum, but I’m kind of far down on the list of 1,000 plus names. If the server ever opens up, I’ll put my name on for the sake of intellectual honesty.
D.G. Myers doesn’t like what we’re doing. He doesn’t like Occupy Wall Street and he doesn’t like Occupy Writers. But he comes across as a person who isn’t going to like it whatever we say because he already knows that we’re lying (to him or to ourselves) or that we’re being manipulated by people who want to go back to the
Bad Good ol’ Days.
We’re not monolithic. We’re not heterogeneous. Many of us would very much like to be rich ourselves and own our homes outright and have enough money set aside to live comfortably into our retirements, which we hope we will have – retirements – and not have to work until we die.
Nor am I saying that it’s not a leftist movement – even though there are conservatives who are showing up as well. Even Eric Cantor is talking about “income disparity.” The freaking Federal Reserve is concerned about income disparity. Why? Because long-term it’s not good for business. You know what is good for both stability and business? Smaller income disparity and a broad and broadly successful middle class.
Any of us at Occupy Writers will happily engage in an honest discussion about where we’re coming from. And I’ll bet you money that we’ll be wrong on some of our suppositions. We don’t claim to be right about everything. We don’t claim, each and every one of us, to be directly and immediately suffering from the effects of the recession in the same way as people who’ve lost their houses or jobs or marriages, but we see something that strikes us as unjust and we’re saying so. I’m not sure why that’s tyrannical.
By the way – in case you post something passionate and you don’t see it appear below, I’m taking a page from Scalzi’s Mallet of Loving Correction. In other words, we can have a conversation without yelling. Usually, conversations don’t involve yelling anyway.