This may be the AL's last post on ALA politics, so it's going to be a long one. You might just want to wait until the next post when I discuss how library school is similar to a third grade science fair.
And why is this possibly my last post? After all, it's obvious from the statistics that nothing increases the readership of the AL like a political post or two. I guess there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Well, it's because I've changed my mind on an important issue and now choose to reconcile myself to rather than attack the SRRT/PLG assault on the ALA Council. Is it because I've been completely convinced by the thoughtful and clever Socially Ridiculous Round Table and their pet the Regressive Librarians Guild that the ALA should be taken over by political radicals and that it's a good thing? Or have I been frightened into submission by the semiliterate ad hominem attacks on the AL? That's always possible, I suppose, but here are the real reasons I've changed my mind.
First, nostalgia. I have a confession to make. I used to consider myself a radical leftist, back when I was a teenager. I read the Communist Manifesto and the Dialectics of Sex and I fell into the slack intellectual habit of thinking the world was divided between good people like me and evil people like capitalists and conservatives and men and such who made life worse for people. I too agreed with the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach that the point wasn't to understand the world, but to change it. I too felt the comfort of such a statement, since it's a lot easier to go out and rant at people than to bother trying to understand the world. Understanding the world is too difficult, and not nearly as much fun as protesting and such. Revolutionaries are always romantic. People who work hard, treat people decently, and cultivate their own gardens aren't at all romantic. Destruction is much easier than creation.
I too enjoyed the self-righteous superiority of knowing I was on the side of the angels and the problems of the world were all caused by the evil people who just weren't good hearted like I was. I enjoyed the superiority of knowing that the problem was always other people, never myself, that the bad other people needed to examine their consciences and purify them in the radical waters I'd washed myself in. I too ignored the beam in my own eye while I picked at the mote in my neighbor's eye. I could believe the kind of statement found in the latest SRRT newsletter, that the problems caused by Katrina could all be solved if it weren't for our "mean-spirited government." I too thought the government could and should solve everyone's problems and create a paradise on earth.
I too could believe that the problems of the world were mostly caused by bad people who actively wanted other people to be miserable. Why else is there injustice, except that there must be other people deliberately being unjust? I too believed that the bad people wanted other people to be poor and oppressed, rather than believing that most of us want to end poverty and oppression but disagree on their causes and solutions. I too judged my friends by their best intentions and my enemies by their worst results. It was so comforting to simplistically divide the world into good people like me and evil people not like me, to believe that if we just got rid of the evil people everything would be okay, that if we got rid of money everything would be free, etc. It was comforting to believe that I was absolutely right and everyone else was wrong. It was comforting to believe that I had the plan for universal salvation in my little red book and I could just remake the world if the bad people would get out of the way. At least I never fell for the favorite radical rationalization--that people who disagree with you should just be eliminated, from the discussion or from the world, it doesn't matter. But I believed as all radicals believe that I didn't have to consider any viewpoints other than my own because people who didn't agree with me are just wrong. Why should I tolerate error? I could believe that people who disagreed with me did so because they were hateful, or racist, or sexist, or whatever.
Of course I grew up and read something besides radical left propaganda and realized the world is a complicated place and that people who disagree with me aren't necessarily evil or stupid. I learned that politics and economics are messy affairs and that you can't just redesign the world in your head and make everybody fit your vision. I began to believe that other people, even if they don't agree with me, are human beings, flawed and selfish like me, and that the deserve some respect. I realized that while I still think I'm right, I may be wrong, and I'm not willing to demonize, dehumanize, and crush people who disagree with me, even though I might taunt them a bit. But I still sometimes long for the comfort of that radical political simplemindedness, that sense of belonging to the group on the side of the angels. I sometimes still have the urge to join up with my brothers and sisters and march against perceived injustice! But then I have a martini and read a good book and the urge just seems to go away.
But still, there was the romance of communism and socialism! Smoking weed and singing the Internationale while wearing red tee shirts with pictures of Che on them! I never did that because I don't look good in red, but I could see where it would appeal to some people who desparately need to belong to a cause larger than themselves but can't just go to church or something. They want to be part of the Movement, man! They need a Cause to live for! And when the Marxists get tiring, there's always the romance of radical feminism, where we find out that if men just weren't such evil bastards everything would be fine, where we find the desire not just to sensitize men to sexism and to gain equal rights for women but to redesign and revolutionize the relationship between men and women the world over.
That's also where we find the motivation driving all radicals: the personal is the political. Because, you see, there's nothing outside of politics to the radical. Everything is political, which means everything should be colonized on behalf of politics. Eventually I concluded that "the personal is the political" is dangerously close to Mussolini's "for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State." That's why the radicals have to inflict their politics on the rest of us, because there is no space outside of politics for people to gather together. Professional associations, universities, churches, every group has to fall in line, because the personal is always the political. Radicals want to remake everyone in their own image, and they don't like dissent. They like obedience or silence.
And back in the day there were great enemies of America the radical left could identify with: communists, anarchists, etc. There's just not the same romance with today's American enemies. As much as the radical left likes to blame our "mean-spirited government" for everything and rationalize Islamic terrorism as justified against the evil West, I don't see too many radical leftists smoking weed and wearing tee shirts with Osama bin Laden's picture on it. Because they know that if sharia law were ever imposed, the radicals would be the first to go. And women would wear veils and homosexuals would be stoned, regardless of their politics. There's nothing romantic about that. If you believe in freedom and equal rights for women, as I do, there's certainly nothing appealing about the Taliban. It's too bad the enemies of America today aren't out to "emancipate" everyone, because it's bloody difficult to get stoned and talk about what a great guy Osama is, though perhaps there are people who do.
Which brings me to another reason for wanting the SRRT to take over the ALA: sheer comic potential. Back when communism and socialism and the radical left were forces to be feared, when a lot of good hearted people thought they would actually save the world rather than oppress and impoverish it, when they thought radically revolutionizing sex would lead to emancipation instead of generations of children with no fathers and poor mothers, there was something romantic and persuasive about the radical left. But now it's just something to be laughed at by sensible people. There were days when the US government was so afraid of communists they were actively hunting them, but today the radical left in America is confined mostly to academia where they can't harm anyone, and their political activity consists of the supreme act of politcal impotence and irrelevance--passing resolutions.
That's what's so amusing about the ALA radicals. They get a resolution passed. Yippee! Poor sods, they seem to live for this. The ALA has spoken! Hail the ALA! The ALA opposes genocide in Darfur, thus genocide in Darfur will end! The ALA opposes the Iraq war, thus the war will end! They make a mockery of serious and tragic issues with their ridiculous proclamations. Maybe it's not funny. Maybe it's just sad. Maybe it's both. But there's enough sadness in the world, so instead of spluttering about injustice, sometimes, just to keep our sanity, we have to find the humor in the world. We have to learn to enjoy the absurdity of existence, and there's little more absurd than an ALA political resolution.
A final reason to applaud the radical takeover by the SRRT, besides the nostalgia of youth and the comic potential for SRRT absurdity, is the undeniable fact that the almost nobody gives a damn what the ALA says. Most of the membership ignore the ALA Council, even if they agree with them. Most of the active membership stay in the divisions and avoid the big show because it's so ridiculous. And outside the profession, the ALA, despite spending millions of dollars in lobbying Congress, has been singularly ineffective politically. The ALA is against the Patriot Act. Failure. Against CIPA. Failure. And these are issues which might actually concern libraries.
The ALA is against confirming Justice Alito. Failure. Against the Iraq War. Failure. Against genocide in Darfur. Failure. Alito was confirmed a few days after the idiotic ALA Council resolution. The Iraq War is still going on, more dead every day. People are still being murdered in Darfur. What's the point of these resolutions? Just to show what good people librarians are? How they dislike war and genocide? How they're on the side of the angels?
What about improving the status and pay of librarians? Failure, like always. What about promoting libraries to the public? There's been a lot of brouhaha in the bibliotek blogoshere about an editorial in a newspaper in Lawrence, KS about libraries being obsolete. (Here's the Webtamer's take on it.) There might be an ALA resolution about this editorial some day, but it's still a sad statement about the ineffectiveness of promoting libraries when ordinary citizens think they're obsolete. And it's a sad statement about the insecurity of American librarians when people can get so worked up about an editorial in, of all places, Lawrence, KS. I mean, seriously, I'm sure Lawrence is a lovely place, but does anyone outside Kansas really care what happens there? While the ALA has been spending millions of dollars on failed lobbying efforts and the ALA Council has been passing resolutions about all sorts of non-library related issues, many people outside libraries can't see any reason for their existence.
But promoting American libraries and benefitting librarians isn't as fun or romantic as being part of the movement. That's why I'm joining the revolution! Let us enjoy the nostalgia of misguided youth, the comic potential of impotent radicals, and the irrelevance of the ALA, for tomorrow we may die!