apart, not a part

While I hate to generalize, and I hate to stereotype people, I feel compelled to say something about a disturbing recent trend. One of the most annoying slogans of the 1960s was this one:

If You Are Not Part Of The Solution You Are Part Of The Problem
Widely attributed to Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver (whose evolution did little to solve the problem of his slogan), the above was used as a cudgel, to bludgeon people into agreement. (Or disagreement, depending on the POV of the rhetorical bludgeoner.) To call it divisive is understatement, because the slogan was more than a slogan. The words represented a mindset that did more than divide people into being for or against something. It established the principle that merely by not taking a side in an argument, you could become an unprincipled sellout (and a traitor by simple reduction) -- by whichever side wanted to call you a traitor. This alienated many reasonable people, often people of good will who might have friends on both sides of arguments, and amazingly enough, actually had serious opinions of their own but didn't believe they had to shout them loudly, and who didn't feel obliged to join organizations. At best, they found themselves derided as wishy-washy, muddled, or confused. (It can get so bad that merely recognizing that there are two sides to a dispute can be enough to turn both sides against you.)

One of the things that attracted me to blogging was that there was no particular obligation to take sides or align myself on any issue unless I felt like it. This does not mean that I was lacking in opinion; I had -- and continue to have -- opinions on almost everything. But that does not obligate me to weigh in, simply because other people are weighing in. And if perchance I do weigh in from time to time (or drop hints that I am aware of an issue), that does not obligate me to weigh in again.

One of the things that most disturbs me about the blogosphere right now is to read fantastic pronouncements and generalizations about what I should or should not be voicing agreement or disagreement with. It's so bad that I am hesitant even to offer examples by links -- because that would not only draw attention to the fact that I am not taking sides but it would inevitably be taken as criticism, and then I'd have another damned disagreement.

I keep saying that I find disagreements disagreeable, because I do. They generally go nowhere, and I can't remember the last time I saw anyone's mind changed as the result of an argument. Sure, people win arguments, just as litigants win lawsuits. But the "losers" almost always continue to believe what they previously believed, and they'll come back and try to win the next time, and the next time. It's all very tedious.

So I am not going to be corralled into being part of the problem or part of the solution. If that makes me part of the problem, so be it. If that makes me part of the solution, I guess I can reluctantly run that risk too -- although even the possibility sounds grandiose and self important. And if it makes me wishy-washy, muddled, and confused, that's OK too. (In fact, my wishy-washy confused muddledness has inspired many a blog post.)

Some problems don't have solutions.

posted by Eric on 09.23.09 at 10:18 AM


I have actually talked conservatives out of adherence to the drug war. However, one argument is rarely enough to do the job. Normally it takes months of disagreement.

M. Simon   ·  September 23, 2009 12:42 PM

Most bumper stickers, even ones I generally agree with, leave me cold. They usually strike me as preachy and sanctimonious.

I generally respond to the "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention!" ones by muttering "I am paying attention, but I wager my outrage is 180 out from yours." The solution/problem one always made me think "Yeah, and you guys are the problem." Probably not the intended response.

Mean people suck? Oh yeah, I'm mean and YOU suck. I feel contempt when seeing a "Free Tibet" sticker - oh yeah, pussy, and what the hell are YOU going to do about it? Think you're gutsy with your chickenshit sticker in Berkeley? It's especially contemptible (to me anyway) to see Free Tibet side by side with "No War in Iraq." Oh, okay, why do Tibetans deserve freedom but not Iraqis?

But it isn't just stickers for the other side, most stickers on my side of the argument make me think "Dude, shut up. You look like an idiot."

Steve Skubinna   ·  September 23, 2009 1:56 PM

You can't reason anybody out of an opinion they were not reasoned into.

From Livy's history of Rome, we find some "Tusculans" talking to the Roman Senate (way pre-Empire)
"As for the charge which moved you to declare war on us, though it is pointless to use words to refute what facts have disproved..."

It's nothing new. People are people and believe what they want to believe.

That's the way it's always been and always will be.

Veeshir   ·  September 23, 2009 1:57 PM

I assume that "if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem" is coming from someone who's generally leftist.

The counterargument is, of course, saying something like "You know, that sounds to me a lot like the 'You're either with us or against us' line that W. used to argue for the Iraq War."

I suspect the result will be some degree of retrenchment from the liberal, as we know they will bend over backwards into a pretzel to avoid any association with W. With luck, you might have a chance to engage a neuron or two while they're figuring out a way to Not Be Like Bushitler.

The reverse may also work with conservatives, but you might have to point out the origin of the solution/problem quip first to have them stop shouting their own slogans long enough to actually engage a couple of their neurons.

filbert   ·  September 23, 2009 5:05 PM

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