Frudent asks me about the tea-party movement.

I recently received an email from a former student now friend. He simply asked, “What’s your take on the Tea Party? On the money or just a decent direction? Or just plain wack jobs?”
I replied quickly but have since continued to think about this issue and have come up with the following response:
A significant population motivated by an ideological position that supports liberty and dislikes government, even for stupid reasons, can do a lot of good for society. If we lined up soldiers from the American revolution, or other “legitimate” revolutionary movements from history – my guess is that they would look and sound much closer to tea-party activists today than they would look or sound like 1960s radicals. The simple fact is that formal governments have a great capacity to do a lot of harm, if a group of people walk around hostile to governmental power, even if it is because they think the government is run by evil aliens from outer space, they might still be doing something very useful for society if government actually has a harder time causing harm because of their presence.
I think of the tea party movement in the same way as I think of many conspiratorial movements (911 truthers, reptilians, bohemian grove, etc.). While I think that their particular psoitions are ridiculous, I am not surprised that these groups exist and persist. In a world where the government claims to know what is best for you, better than you know what is best for yourself, it seems an obvious next step in that logical chain to presume that the government knows things that you don’t know, knows things that you would like to know and that the government actively tries to keep these things from you. I’m not convinced that the government knows what they think they know let alone do I believe that they know things that I don’t.
At the very least I think the tea-partiers represent a general sentiment that large amounts of the American people are fed up. In the recent past, the American government has launched and perpetuated unwanted wars, bailed out unpopular banks and companies and are now fiddling with the health care system. While the tea party activists seen on television communicate some not so compelling arguments against government largess and in favor of liberty – that is not to say that their frustrations are ill formed or ill directed. There are better arguments that these ordinary people perhaps do not understand nor can they well articulate. What we should be willing to admit when seeing these protests is that something is in fact wrong.
Lastly, I find it strange that everyone is so focused upon the anger of the right. To me it is no surprise that the right is angry – they lost an election. What is more surprising to me instead is the lack of anger on the left. Let’s say you were the typical coffee-shop, neo-liberal hipster before 2008. You and I probably disagreed on all things fiscal but agreed on most things cultural and social. You were anti-war, pro-gay marriage, pro-immigration, and anti-drug war – me too. Obviously you voted for Obama and probably thought of his platform and campaign “hope and change” in these near and dear policy spaces. It probably felt like you were a 1960s radical, the sort you always admired. But as the last few years have shown, Obama ain’t no JFK and health care ain’t no civil rights movement. So my question is, where are all the angry hipsters? I hold all of those same political opinions. I am anti-war, pro-gay marriage, pro immigration and anti-drug war and I am really frustrated at this administration for failing to do anything productive on these margins. But where are all my hipster friends?
A homosexual friend of mine recently argued that gay marriage is a second term issue, and that the gay community should work for health care reform first. I can’t imagine a black activist in the 1960s saying civil rights are a second term issue, so why is this similar position acceptable today?
Today I saw these two videos, they give me hope:

2 thoughts on “Frudent asks me about the tea-party movement.

  1. A constant struggle, regardless of our political inclinations, should be toward fighting for an informed society capable of engaging in rational discourse. Although I think we are a long way from achieving that goal, we can point to examples where this strays far from that objective. That is why I find your comparison to the 911 truthers and conspiracy theorists to be appropriate and your conclusion anything but. It strikes me as the simplistic conclusion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” On the foundation of the very opposite of reason, this thread of political discourse threatens our future by reducing political arguments to theatrics, catering to the lowest common denominator of “thinking.” Krauthammer termed Bush Derangement Syndrome for the knee-jerk response that culturally liberal people had to every policy or action (real or imagined) of our former president. But as many perfectly valid criticisms that existed for Bush, on the whole, I didn’t find the louder, sensational periphery to be a benefit to our eventual political future, even if it had some short term benefit for the exposure it gave the left after feeling marginalized in two elections. What it really does is legitimize the idea that facts can be negotiated by the strongest sentiment, while we sit by and marvel at the utility of useful idiots.

    “What we should be willing to admit when seeing these protests is that something is in fact wrong.”
    Absolutely. Something is wrong, but how well the relationship of the parties involved spells out that problem, or what the larger problem is, is a discussion way more deserving than how useful a movement is to competing camps of political ideology. Neither can be served very well by the toxic and unreasonable motivations of xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and religious intolerance. A discussion about the role of government, even if it does perceivably benefit people of this party, is mired in a mess of obvious social authoritarianism. And let’s face it, it’s championed by some mix of intellectually dishonest or stupid leaders, and some intellectually dishonest or stupid followers. With large groups motivated by distorted feelings of persecution and no reason to balance out the equation, the future doesn’t look great for reason.

    We’ve been friends for long enough for you to know my political leanings, but for the sake of disclosure to anyone who might read, I’m a secular humanist, liberal, skeptic (materialist), and my political dimensions are mapped on the left side of things. I’ve been in this discussion/argument with a couple of libertarians who may have thought I was a bit rough on the right for reasons of partisanship, but I admit my biases upfront. I’m most partial to a climate of reason and pragmatism. What solutions better serve humankind are more important than what ideological camp they can be branded with. When the general population can identify the most obvious logical fallacies (it seems many cannot) and use critical thinking as a weapon against tyranny, we all win the game of politics because our politicians will be held to a higher standard of accountability. We will also win because we will understand what is at stake if we fail to think clearly.

    Anyway, I’m glad to see you are doing well. Congratulations on the Freedom Fighters gig!

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