I recently came across the idea of organizing around our vulnerabilities rather than our strengths. (I won’t cite it at the moment because this is a personal blog and I’m just talking to a small audience; nevertheless, it’s not my original idea.) That is, we all need healthcare. Most of us will need eldercare. We all need education. But that’s not how society (or even most left movements) are organized. We organize hierarchically according to what we can contribute, with capital being among the valid “contributions.”
I think the left community at the moment is made up of people who are here because they have needs capitalism isn’t meeting. We’re here because of our “weakness” not our strengths. But I think, especially online, we’re still organized hierarchically by what we can contribute. We still, unthinkingly, use that framework when we talk about power, and who has it, and who deserves it.
I don’t want to adjudicate specific incidents. I will say, however, I recently saw someone who said some things it would be reasonable to take issue with (or not to!). This person had a large platform and expressed their vulnerability and ignorance (which they themselves called ignorant!). And in response, people called this person out. They said this ignorance could be used by fascist bigots, and it was. They got quoted by fascist bigots as an attempt to harm a marginalized community.
Here’s what troubled me about this: Fascists are liars. Fascists will use any weakness. They’re organized around cartoonish strength, to the point they can’t express any weakness. That’s a big part of why punching N*zis works: fascists definitionally despise weakness. If you prick them and they bleed, that’s unforgivable to them.
Why are we letting fascists dictate how we express ourselves, again? If we don’t give them anything to attack us with, they will make something up!
I don’t know how we solve this fundamental contradiction of being a community of people largely brought together by failing the neoliberal and fascist standard of “strength” and then organizing around strength. Nobody can live up to that standard, and it stalls our movements. It means we end up being absolutely vicious to marginalized people when they demonstrate weakness, and then declaring we have no sympathy because they have relative power within our community. That relative power is still less than any given capitalist’s.
And that’s just… not a sustainable way to organize. It’s not.
One of liberalism’s hallmarks is that it has these high ideals of human dignity and equality… and then the exception. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal! (But not slaves. But not women.) But we abolished slavery! (Except for prisoners.) And this is, on its face, awful. Except, well… what do you do about rapists? What do you do about murderers? We can all agree it’s not cool to make addicts into slaves. Is it okay to make murderers into slaves? What about torturers? Can you really say you don’t believe in the exception, or is that something you have to think about?
Let’s retreat from the extreme. Most people actually draw the line for the exception far, far short of rape or murder. Let’s say we have a leftist, committed to contributing to our communities, but with legitimately problematic opinions. So, literally everyone in every left movement at one point or another. Ignorance is a weakness. A big platform makes weakness legitimately harmful to others sometimes.
First: is it their fault we organized ourselves hierarchically? I know they benefit from it, I know the harm they do is real, and they are in a better position to dismantle it than most of us. What is our responsibility? Do we have none? These aren’t capitalists I’m talking about, and these are people with wrongdoing well short of sexual assault. These are workers with relative power because some other workers decided they should have it. What is our responsibility in how left movements are organized, and how can we build our communities better?
Second: do we really want a left which has no place for anyone who ever fucked up? Like, I’m not talking individually. You don’t have to forgive anyone. I’m talking about within a movement. We practically can’t have a space where, if 10 people just really fucking hate someone because they were ignorant once, that now they have license to make that person’s life a living hell forever. That’s… not practical! And it’s not justice. Now, we do need something like restorative justice. But in its abscence, hounding people forever is also injustice. Not even murderers all get a life sentence.
I have seen, repeatedly, arguments when this happen that go along the lines of: How could you harass this person out of left spaces when this person has been such an asset to the community? When they are so indispensable! I think this is also wrong. I think what we need to be saying is: I understand this person is only in this hierarchically high position because of their strength, which they didn’t earn. They were born healthy, or pretty, or passing, or white, or wealthy enough to be educated. But they are not disposable, and placing them on a pedistal and then disposing of them and then destroying the infrastructure around them has, repeatedly, stalled left movements and directed our energies unproductively. Let’s find a way to reintigrate them and build a non-heirarchical infrastructure so we can all be weak and ignorant sometimes, but the movement still works.
I don’t have complete answers about how, exactly, we go about this. My two general thoughts: I don’t want us to fall into fascism’s hatred of weakness (and yeah, ignorance is a kind of weakness, folks) and I don’t want us to fall into liberalism’s “Equality for all! (some restrictions apply).” I routinely see us doing both. I recall a prominent leftist organizer “joking” about keeping disabled people in the back stuffing envelopes, away from public scrutiny, because they don’t want people to think leftism is for “freaks.” News goddamn flash: it is! And it must be. We can’t pretend we’re all just here because we’re oh so clever and managed to figure out capitalism is bad because We Are Very Smart. Beyond being untrue (we are, again, here because our material needs aren’t met by capitalism), it’s a shit sales pitch. People are fucking tired. We don’t wanna be in communities where we have to be or impress the cleverist kids in the room.
Like, God, aren’t y’all just tired? We don’t have to infantilize one another, but adult to adult, with appropriate boundaries, can’t the left be a place where we can have back problems and hanging guts and shitty teeth and be frumpy and queer and uncool and fucking tired? Can’t we build a movement to relieve some of that?
I’m not just saying I don’t want us to do keep doing this because it’s unpleasant and I don’t wanna be accountable or something. I mean, yeah, it does sound unpleasant to have a left that’s obsessed on promoting and then hating a series of leftists in the name of “accountability.” But there’s more than one kind of accountability. Accountability can be empowering as many people as possible to make decisions and form the rhetoric rather than a few. Practically, we can’t afford to keep putting people on pedestals and then knocking them off because they don’t deserve the pedestal. Nobody deserves the pedestal. And if we insist on organizing our left educational and organizational spaces around strength, we are going to lose, because nobody lives up to it. This way of organizing makes everyone disposable, and that can’t be the left. Not ethically, not practically. People are fucking tired, and if we aren’t a relief from that, what are we even doing here?
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