We Are Not the "We" They Think We Are

I posted the following today on The Daily Kos. It really has to do with how that community (of which I am a part) is being viewed, now that it has hit the “big time,” partly as a result of the phenomenal success of the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago. But I thought it would be of interest here, too:

Each of us must evaluate the world through our own personalities, using what we have learned about ourselves to judge others.  Thus it is that, when we talk about others, we end up shedding more light on ourselves than we do on those “others.”

However, the perceptions others have of us do teach us about ourselves, even as they tell us about those other “others.”

Here, I want to look quickly at what two “others” (in terms of this community) are saying about us Kossacks, examining what their comments say about them as well as what they are saying (really without knowing it) about us.

Those two, of course, are David Brooks of The New York Times and Martin Peretz of The New Republic.

Both Peretz and Brooks seem to mistake the members of the dKos community as “true believers” in the Eric Hoffer sense.  It’s a great book, and certainly worth a read, but it doesn’t apply to us.  On The Eric Hoffer Resource Joel Schmidt says the book:

is concerned with the main ingredient of such movements [as the Nazis], the frustrated individual. The book probes into the psychology of the frustrated and dissatisfied, those who would eagerly sacrifice themselves for any cause that might give their meaningless lives some sense of significance. The alienated seek to lose themselves in these movements by adopting those fanatical attitudes that are, according to Hoffer, fundamentally “a flight from the self.”

That, most certainly, is how Brooks views us Kossacks.  We are marginalized people with few resources, inner or otherwise.  He insinuateds that we are Lilliputians “who come across like squadrons of rabid lambs, to unleash their venom” (talk about mixing metaphors!) under direct Markos Moulitsas (who Brooks imagines as the charismatic leader–the “Kingpin,” as Brooks calls him) command.  That’s in his column for today, June 25, 2006 (I won’t give the link–the Times has become subscription only).

Coming out of a right-wing milieu, Brooks doesn’t understand at all how the left operates.  This has been a problem for the right for generations.  It is sparked by two things, by their own affinity for top-down leadership and by the mistaken belief that the Soviet Union was a leftist institution (it was not, it was fundamentally totalitarian–and that goes against all leftist ideals).  In this way, Brooks’ article says more about his limitations as both a thinker and a researcher than it does about Kos or the Kossacks.  He doesn’t understand the nature of a grassroots movement and he did not spend the time examining The Daily Kos to find out what really goes on here.

Peretz has never really looked at The Daily Kos either, or so he says (claiming a first visit only recently).  On a The New Republic Blog “The Plank,” Peretz also tries to attack The Daily Kos through pokes at its leader.  In a way, his shorter comment is more instructive than Brooks’ longer article, teaching us much more about Peretz than Brooks does about himself, and about the limitations of right-wing thought.

Peretz may claim that he’s no right-winger, but a couple of things shine through that post making it clear he’s no liberal or leftist.  As in Brooks’ piece, a real elitism  shines through, an elitism and condescension that is much more at home on the right.  He starts out by calling Markos “illiterate,” a ridiculous claim to make about someone who has achieved success through use of the written word.  I wonder if Peretz really understands what “illiterate” means.  Here he’s simply saying that Markos doesn’t live up to the stylistic standard that Peretz finds important–an extremely elitist stance.  One of his examples of Markos’ “illiteracy” is his use of capitalized words, which made me think that it is Peretz himself who is, at least, unlearned, if not also unaware.  The right-wing writer David Horowitz uses capitals (say what you will about him, he’s a good writer, much more skillful and versatile than Peretz or anyone on his TNR staff).  Tom Paine used capitals, as did Mark Twain.

Like Brooks, Peretz can’t imagine a movement that is not top-driven, so takes what are, to Markos and us Kossacks, Kos opinions (but nothing more, certainly not orders) as “an ideological censorship bureau.”

Brooks likes to demean Markos, calling him `small.’  What he doesn’t understand is that the Kos purpose is not to be `big,’ a leader, but to be a facilitator.  He is trying to facilitate the establishment of a real grassroots movement (something neither Brooks nor Peretz understand), and knows he can only do that by never becoming the `big’ man himself.  The insult Brooks tries to make, then, turns into a compliment towards Markos.

What I’ve learned from these two is that The Daily Kos is a lot more effective as a grassroots “coffeehouse” than I had imagined.  And that the right is so convinced that even its opponents think the way it does that its writers can’t get their minds around the possibility that thought, elsewhere, is quite different–and not just on political issues, but on fundamental questions of leadership.

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