Saturday, October 15, 2005

Stop the Left from Policing your mind

I just finished reading The New Thought Police: Inside the Left's Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds, by Tammy Bruce. (link to Amazon here)

The Vol-in-Law bought this book and read it and didn't think much of it. I've now read it and I have to say I have some mixed feelings about this book, too.

From her website biography, Tammy Bruce describes herself as: openly gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, voted-for-President Bush progressive feminist. She was drawn into feminist activism in the late 1980's to contribute to the ongoing effort to ensure safe and legal abortion for all women. Just two years after joining the National Organization for Women, and with a brand of feminism that places her somewhere between Donna Reed and Thelma and Louise, Ms. Bruce was elected president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW at the age of 27.

My gut feeling is that Ms Bruce is a bit of an iconoclast, she's someone who just naturally rages against the prevailing orthodoxy, and the orthodoxy she found herself in - being a native of native of Los Angeles and presumably hooked up with the gay subculture of the town - was pretty stridently "Left Liberal". When she kicked against that, she found herself a bit of a darling of the new Right Wing as she was probably one of the few lesbian, feminist commentators that were saying things that they liked. This became her niche, and she's played it for all its worth.

For example, on the back cover of the book, there's a Thomas Sowell blurb: "How many liberal lesbian writers have been praised by conservatives? Tammy Bruce may be the only one."

She goes after the Left pretty viciously, that's her schtick, (the title of this post is from the back cover of her book) and I'm guessing she's found it a pretty lucrative schtick. And of course she has a point, but only to a point.

I like her focus on the concept of Group Think - and how some things become unacceptable to say or think because of group dynamics. She certainly has plenty of examples of this from the Left, but few to none from the Right (she argues that it's not the theme of the book). Certainly the spread of "political correctness" is an example of how some on the Left have attempted to moderate or control what can or can not be said, and some individuals have paid a pretty high price for crossing the line.

In the culture I currently live in, I'm surrounded by many people who are extremely Leftist (I know people who are openly Socialist or Communist) and whose values and outlook don't always mesh with my relatively conservative upbringing in Tennessee. (Note I say relatively, my parents consider themselves liberals and vote Democrat.) The group whose Group Think is dominant emphasises redistributive taxation (although they advocate fairly ineffective policies), support of Unions, a laissez faire approach to personal morality, multiculturalism, are downright anti-marriage etc., etc. All the stuff that Tammy Bruce rails against in her books.

It's reasonably well known at my work that I'm involved with Democrats Abroad UK (which I didn't particularly want well known), but one of my big bosses teasingly said after the November elections in 2004 "I hope you voted." I said I did. "You didn't vote for George Bush, did you? If so, you can expect a P45." Ha ha. (A P45 is the British equivalent of a pink slip.)

I was absolutely furious. Yes, I don't like George Bush, and it's true I've never voted Republican in my life (I did once abstain in one race, because I supported the Republican candidate). But it's my business who I vote for, and if we're in the business of supporting democracy (which happens to be exactly what I get paid for), then we should respect people's democratic choices even if we strongly disagree with them.

I tell that story to relate how I can understand her irritation and fear of Leftist Group Think.

But she does her readers, I presume many of them Conservative, a grave disservice when she points only to the Left. The Right, and specifically the Christian Right, are very good at putting pressure on people not to speak up - e.g. on matters of religion, gender equality, patriotism, etc. What is this business of calling anyone who dissents on the War in Iraq unpatriotic if not a Rightist equivalent of political correctness? (Though I can't really accuse Right wing libertarians of this, bless 'em.) How many people are afraid to come out as atheists in the South? I've heard rumors that some people in Corporate America are afraid to admit they vote Democrat.

My whole life, and I suspect anyone who's a bit of a critical thinker has had the same experience, I've had to keep quiet about some of the things I think. Those who know me well know that I haven't been very good at that. But that's kind of beside the point. I've either felt pressure to keep quiet or paid the price for speaking up. In Tennessee, that was often speaking up against Right wing or Conservative Group Think, in the UK it's about not speaking up against the Left. (And I'm a bit better at keeping quiet, a mortgage is a great muzzle).

One thing I really didn't like about the book was her glee in shooting down liberal icons, presumably pandering to some of her readers. She takes some reasonable shots at Jesse Jackson, but she also goes after Martin Luther King, Jr because she says he dabbled with Communism in his youth. If he did, does that somehow lessen his non-violent activism or what he accomplished? She denounces Rosa Parks as an establishd activist (what's wrong with that?) and practically calls her a liar because of her statement: "I did not get on the bus to get arrested. I got on the bus to go home."

I imagine that Rosa Parks did get on that bus to go home but that she was fully aware that she might be arrested if she didn't give up her seat to a white person. Ms Parks's main aim wasn't to get arrested, she wasn't going to commit some real crime if she didn't get arrested unjustly for refusing to give up her seat. Where Ms Parks's activism comes in is that she was willing to go the distance, she was willing to fight through the courts.

Tammy Bruce seems to forget that the main wrong in that case was that laws were being applied to people differently because of their skin color. I'm afraid that this example is symptomatic of her anti-Left logic throughout. A more powerful argument would be to rail against all kinds of Group Think, but I don't guess that gets you paid slots on FoxNews.

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smantix said...

Well, as an atheist in the South it really depends on the company you keep. As I imagine, many things you share about yourself to acquaintances.

I read The New Thought Police about two years ago and Bruce's issue with Rosa Parks was that she was more than just a "tired woman who wanted a seat on the bus". For the revisionists who like to paint American History as one of Oppressors vs. Victims, any tampering with the image of St. Rosa simply will not do. Even though it's the truth. She was an activist and it was choreographed. Admitting that is the first step.

Bruce isn't the greatest writer but it's her perspective that's important. If we can take such a jaded view of a turncoat leftist like Ms. Bruce - I would think it's nothing more than hypocrisy from people who probably take David Brock and his website Media Matters seriously. Right wing hatchet man found to be a serial liar turns Left Wing Media Watchdog Darling after the check clears.

Vol Abroad said...

See, that's my point, Rosa Parks was an activist and I knew that before I read Ms. Bruce's book, but she was also probably tired and going home. Equating Ms Parks's actions with wrong-headed victimist give-me-extra-special-rights with a parsley garnish shenanigans (which Ms Bruce has plenty of examples of) is silly.

Rosa Parks's arrest couldn't have been choreographed because that would have meant that the cop was in on it, too. And I don't think that was the case. (Though yes, it probably was anticipated, if not that time, then another time.) But that doesn't make it right that she could be arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white person or that there was a presumption that she should.

Rosa Parks was an activist, I presume, because she could see injustice around her, or maybe she was bored and had nothing better to do, I don't know. But the laws changed for the better because of the actions she took. It simply isn't right that laws should be applied differently by skin color.

If she hadn't been unjustly arrested, I guess she would have just gone home and then another day gone on a march or registered some people to vote or rode the bus again and been arrested. Rosa Parks's activism was the kind that is good. She stood up by sitting down. She didn't hurt anyone, but she took personal risks.

The problem is Ms Bruce likes her own activism, but not anyone else's. She likes to be politically savvy, but doesn't like it if others are. By picking on someone who was fighting a right fight she becomes an example of what she's arguing against.

smantix said...

Well, we can disagree over the depths of what "choreographed" means but the fact remains that Parks was an activist and that through her organization she had prepared for that moment rather than being a reluctant in the spotlight.

I have no problem with it. I understand how it works. I just want acknowledgment of it. And that is what's left out of the conversation on the Legend of Rosa Parks.

Vol-in-Law said...

I guess it's ok to point out that Parkes was an activist, but I & the Vol don't see why that should be a negative criticism. I think possibly it's the way Tammy Bruce writes, she doesn't make it's clear that she's attacking the myth rather than the action itself.
The problem I have with the book is, it's not thoughtful. She is as happy to criticise a pro-choice animal lover for not donating money to an animal charity run by a pro-life activist, as she is to criticise Jesse Jackson for mafia-style extortion from businesses and self-enrichment. I see the former as completely a matter of personal choice who you give your money to, and the latter as highly immoral. Tammy seems to see it all as much of a muchness.