Monday, June 12, 2006


In politics the words "my people" come up sometimes. Not as much now, but still too often for some of us. The phrase often translates, "my people are more important than yours,". You can understand a little of it. Targeted people being fixed on the interests of their own group is a natural reaction. But not if it's exclusive. First, it's not just. Second, the interests of one group are usually linked with those of other groups. Exclusivity is stupid politics. There are chances to make things better that are lost if groups stay to themselves. And that doesn't just stand for groups. A single person can take effective action to advance the interests of an entire group which they aren't identified with.

The idea that sprang up in the 60s, that people couldn't "really" care about people in another group was, thankfully, not universally adopted. - But let me take this moment to thank traditional psychology for letting us all know how we "really" feel and how, at bottom, we're "really" all a bunch of selfish swine. - A lot of people saw that it wasn't true and that it was an injustice in itself. But the attitude was too common among groups on the left. It led to a lot of the self defeating fragmentation that started in bad feelings and ended in our mutual weakness. The effects on people who identified with two or more groups was particularly bad. To be rejected by a group you don't identify with is bad enough, but to have your own reject you?

Empathy turned into a dirty idea around the same time. "Bleeding heart liberal" was the test marketed slogan for it. Why this stuck is impossible to work out. Was it 60s macho, the cool but sexually uptight, tough guy type presented as a hero, the man who would kill you if you cared about him as the only "really" honest man in town? You can see why conservatives like that. There isn't any percentage in caring about other people. But why would the left adopt it? Fear for their sexual identity? Fear that needing help would mark them as weak? Why isn't as important as the effect. No one wanted to accept help from other people because it was suddenly humiliating to do so. Being empathetic made you a loser. Those are neuroses for the right, not the left.

In most of the successful work for civil rights a coalition of different groups made the margin of victory. You remember 'VICTORY' don't you? Groups came together out of shared interests but also on the even stronger bases of empathy and justice. Sometimes it took overcoming disagreements to get it done. There are conflicts in interests between groups but groups have internal differences too. And groups that have major differences in some ways have common interests in others. Coalition politics need maturity and patience. Even more than that it requires clear-eyed realism. But most, it requires empathy. That is the weapon the right tries to deprive us of when they ridicule us about it. Why we should listen to them on that when we know they lie about everything else is a mystery. We don't have to give it up. The only thing we have to fear is letting them make us weak that way again.

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