On Human Progress
My General English teacher from three years ago was very fond of dropping the phrase “There’s nothing wrong with being a Marxist in theory” whenever politics was being discussed in class. From her tone of voice you could tell that she was declaring herself a Marxist with that statement, so I was always quick to respond that Marx’s conception of historical materialism — especially its reliance on the idea of an “end of history” — doesn’t hold up when you look at how the world actually works. Of course, my teacher wasn’t talking about the philosophy underpinning Karl Marx’s writing so much as policies of radical wealth redistribution. But she never elaborated, giving in to my half-assed retaliation, probably because she could tell from the way my eyes were gleaming with that cocky teenage certainty that I had completely made up my mind:
If your model of society rests on such shaky theoretical ground, why bother with the nitty-gritty? Why should I give you the benefit of the doubt?
But let’s not badmouth Marx too much. After all, it’s understandable that someone like him would want to be proven right by history. Then again, what does that even mean?
The rhetoric of self-aggrandizement contained in the phrase “the right side of history” has become so popular as to warrant idiom status. But what is the underlying narrative when prominent political figures like Barack Obama repeatedly advance their vision for the future under the slogan “we’re on the right side of history”? What’s implied and what, if anything, explained?
These days it seems like the worst insult you could think up is to accuse someone of being biased. I’ve often noticed that online, but I bet you’ve also had discussions IRL where that rhetorical strategy cropped up. Perhaps you’ve used it yourself at times.
Everyone is familiar with the slogan ‘The personal is political’ — not only that what we experience on a personal level has profound political implications, but that our interior lives, our emotional lives are very much informed by ideology. We oftentimes do the work of the state in and through our interior lives. What we often assume belongs most intimately to ourselves and to our emotional life has been produced elsewhere and has been recruited to do the work of racism and repression.
— Angela Y. Davis, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle
An antiquarian and an English student sitting on a couch, surrounded by books. Customers of the bookshop tiptoe around them, pretending not to notice the interview going on just two metres away.
I have this weird daydream sometimes. When I come across some nice building reserved for a very specific audience — say, art auctions or church services — I imagine what it would be like repurposing its facilities as an open community centre serving the surrounding neighbourhood. Especially if that building is rarely used, I catch myself thinking, “What a waste.” If it became a house of the people, locals could meet there for book clubs, dinner parties, discussions on local politics, whatever they can think of — all free of charge. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t residents get a new appreciation for the area they live in if the best real estate it has to offer were available to all?
As a heads-up, before you accuse me of “preaching to the choir” or going on a rant, just know that this post is mostly an attempt to sort out a personal crisis. So please read it with that in mind. (If, on the other hand, you want to call me an upper middle-class hippie to whom class struggle and social justice are merely matters of intellectual exercise, you can go ahead and do that. I don’t mind.)
Over the course of my short yet lively blogging career, I’ve somehow become an expert at writing about nostalgia. I never seem to tire of it. The main reason nostalgia has proven such a complicated feeling to unpack for me is my inherent skepticism towards it. I know how much my little monkey brain loves to fabricate false memories, and I’ve had to learn to be wary of sentimentality as a mere survival strategy. But despite my expertise in analyzing these feelings, I’m still in need of guidance when it comes to the kind of nostalgia that makes no pretence about its illusory nature: the kind where you long for a time you never witnessed.
If you’ve been hanging out with me lately, you’re almost sure to have heard me utter phrases such as these:
I’ve been thinking a lot about animal rights recently.
So I watched this Noam Chomsky documentary the other day.
I think we should all give to charity more often.
I feel very uneducated about world affairs.