On labels, tactics, understanding reality, and strains in the leftward progression

horiz-long grey


Edition No. 039
Nuggets of clarity, irony, humor and wisdom seen & overheard on the Net, and here and there.

Dispatch first iteration  10-11-17 | Collated and edited by Patrice Greanville
MAIN COMMENTERS:  • Luciana Bohne • Eric Schechter • Patrick Walker

What is your definition of violence?

When you have elite power, diffuse and invisible, operating behind a shadowy screen of a vast network of think tanks, foundations, private planning commissions, exclusive corporate and financial clubs, secret intelligence forces, private secret armies, a system of devolving, revolving, and unstable laws, executive orders, and an intricate system of lobby-controlled elections, you call it democracy. When you have a visible, openly vested, leading people’s political party, central planning, and a functioning economy, whose plans are reviewed every five years, following consultation with people’s assemblies, you call it bureaucracy.

Eric Schechter 1 hr

(Replying to Patrick Walker)
Reading your remarks makes me want to contrast two different kinds of “leftward progression.”

The first kind is regarding attitudes and intention. At the far right are the politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, who want to make the rich richer, and have no concern at all for anyone else.
The people who I would call “centrists” in attitude are the people who believe that life is unavoidably a race with winners and losers, but at least we should try to give everyone an equal start; this is the attitude that the Democratic politicians pretended to hold until recently (lately they are no longer even pretending), and the attitude that the Green Party actually had until recently (in 2016 they added some anticapitalist and anti-statist language to their party platform). The people who I would call “leftists” believe life should not be a race, with winners and losers; rather, we should care about everyone. The caring society is what Martin Luther King called “the Beloved Community.” I think this is becoming the attitude of the groups you mentioned — Occupy, the Berners, etc. I’ll admit that people are moving to the left, in large numbers, in attitude. But there is a second kind of leftward progression: What insights and understanding do people have about the policies they would need to implement in order to bring to fruition their intentions and attitudes? I think many of the self-described “leftists” have little understanding of implementation. This is like when your car is stuck in a snowstorm, and helpful people are pushing to try to get the car out of the ditch, but no one notices that the parking brake is on. An example is the people who are calling for legislation to address climate change, but who make no mention of the fact that the legislators are chosen and paid by fossil fuel companies. Or the people who call for an end to imperialist wars, but make no mention of the fact that the government’s military advisors are chosen and paid by the sellers of bombs. Admittedly, I do see some movement leftward on implementation. This is most evident in the growing campaign for single-payer healthcare, often expressed in the phrase “healthcare is a human right.”  That’s definitely a socialist sentiment. And yet, none of those people are calling for “socialized medicine.” That is still a taboo phrase. Most of these self-described “leftists” are still looking for ways to inch toward socialism without actually calling it “socialism.” This shows a very discouraging lack of understanding about what it will take to implement their dream of a caring society. Instead most of them are still mostly looking for ways to give a kinder, gentler face to a society that is based on selfishness, without changing that basis.
(NOTE: Eric Schechter is a contributing editor with The Greanville Post. A Professor Emeritus, Math Department, Vanderbilt University, he dedicates a great deal of his time now to advancing the anti-capitalist struggle. A sampling of his efforts can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/leftymathprof
and on his special activist page, https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/author/leftymathprof/

Patrick Walker 45 mins 

Hi Eric, 

I guess what I ask is why we should try to organize around CONTROVERSIAL theory, when we can organize around existing (or at least latent) majority insight.
For example, I utterly agree with you that politicians taking fossil fuel money can’t fight climate change, or that a government staffed with military-industrial-complex beneficiaries won’t end imperialist wars. Moreover, I sense a LATENT majority willing to agree with us if we build a social movement around hammering those messages. That caring requires removing every trace of hierarchy or property is a CONTROVERSIAL point, on which even well-informed people of good will disagree. I believe that certain hierarchies–for example, that the most intelligent, most talented, and best informed deserve special places of honor in a society–are perhaps the natural order; or are, in any case, hierarchies we won’t escape any time soon. Do their special places of honor require depriving anyone of a shot at a safe, decent, healthy human existence? Of course not–and I would question the claimed superior of anyone who’d want to deprive others of those things. But your stance on property and hierarchy remains controversial.

I think we need to organize around latent potential consensus. The good news is that the latent potential consensus is ALREADY rather radical–and includes objection to corruption by fossil fuel and armament peddlers. The Indispensable Movement DOES try to organize THAT latent consensus.

Lasting regards, despite differences,

NOTE: Patrick Walker is a leader and chief activist in The Indispensable Movement, attempting to dismantle the Duopoly via an extension of the Bernie Sanders platform, minus his betrayals. 


Eric Schechter  115 mins

I cannot demand that others (such as Patrick) join me in promoting the vision I have seen, if they have not seen it. That puts me in a peculiar relation to the people I call “reformists”: I can see that their intentions are good and kind, and so I often am friends with them. But I find it difficult to work with them. Their intentions are good, but you know which road is paved with good intentions.
Still, I =do= work with them, to some degree. I’m the manager of the Nashville e-blast and calendar, both linked below; it’s a resource that is helpful to many reformists in Nashville. None of the activities listed in it are radical. I’ve sometimes tried to start more radical activities in Nashville, but with no results. Nashville did have its own little local chapter of Occupy in 2011-2012, and I guess I can call that radical (and I can’t take any credit for it). Perhaps reformism can be an intermediate step. For decades, the Green Party said let’s build a kinder, gentler capitalism, as though that were possible; but in August 2016 the party leadership finally decided they’re now opposed to capitalism. They slipped it into the party platform without a big fuss. I wonder if most of the party members haven’t noticed it yet. Eric Schechter
e-blast, calendar
Hierarchy & Property

Patrick Walker 1 hr
Hi Eric,
Let me give an example of a hierarchy that I don’t find at all toxic.

I’m a fairly decent amateur tournament chess player. In the U.S. federation, my rating bounces around the middle 90s of rated players in percentile terms, having briefly peaked at the 97th percentile (where I wasn’t good enough to stay for long). Now, one of the chess elite–like World Champion Magnus Carlsen and his fellow grandmasters–laughs at comparative duffers like me and can play maybe twenty of us simultaneously and likely beat us all. Even if I worked round-the-clock on my game, I might have the talent to be a national master–still vastly inferior to a one-time child prodigy like Carlsen.

But I feel no resentment that Carlsen is able to make a fairly decent living from chess while I am not, and I find it very entertaining to follow games (with grandmaster commentary) between him and his elite grandmaster peers.) I feel that their competitions enrich the world in ways that I’d miss if they weren’t given the incentive of making a fairly decent living from their efforts. Granted, I don’t want those rewards to reach the point where anyone is deprived of safety, health, and decent prospects of happiness. But those considerations aside, what is the problem of allowing NUMEROUS hierarchies analogous to the hierarchy of chess players? If the hierarchies are numerous, MANY people have prospects of finding an acceptable place within them. I feel pretty good about my chess game–with ever-intriguing prospects of getting better–without feeling deprived because Carlsen is so much better.

As I see it, the REAL problem is a society that overvalues the money-and-property hierarchy, which could be replaced by MANY better ones.

Curious to hear your response,


Eric Schechter 30 mins

I am opposed to ALL forms of competition. The reasons may be more obvious in the case of football (with its flag-waving and its brain injuries) than in the case of chess, but I still am opposed to competition. I think Alfie Kohn has explained this better than I am ever likely to, so I will defer to his lecture:


As a related issue, Kohn has also explained that rewards or awards for good behavior or high performance do not result in an increase in good behavior or high performance. Rewards or awards merely result in a greater desire for rewards or awards.


I used to play chess when I was younger. I never was anywhere near tournament level, but I could beat more than half of my friends, and I was proud of that fact, until I realized it was nothing to be proud of. I stopped playing when I noticed the competitive emotions the game was causing in me. I didn’t like those, or what they implied. Perhaps the game didn’t cause those emotions. Perhaps it merely encouraged them. Perhaps it merely permitted them. And capitalism doesn’t force people to be evil, but it does sure seem to influence them in that direction. It’s possible to swim upstream. It’s possible to walk up a “down” escalator.

Of course, emotion is in the eye of the beholder. And children can cause each other pain without any physical combat at all, just by saying unkind words. How does that work? I’m not sure, but I think the underlying content of the words is “I reject you, and I predict that society will reject you, and you will be alone and lonely.” I was 64 years old before I fully understood that I can be alone without being lonely. In retrospect it sounds obvious, but for my first 63 years I was too heavily influenced by some misconceptions our culture had taught me.

I have to admit that the game of chess has a certain sort of artistic beauty in it, and I suppose that beauty is shaped by the competitive basis of the game. It’s a little like mathematics — I was a mathematician for 50 years, and I was drawn into math largely by its beauty (though math is =not= inherently competitive). If the problems of the world ever get solved — if, 20 years from now, world peace has been achieved and there is no more hunger — I might actually take up a hobby of reading books about chess. But even then I doubt I’ll want to play the game.

I can invent some reasons for wanting to play chess, just as I can invent some reasons for wanting to be involved in a war. I’ve read a great deal of science fiction and more than a few religions, which I see as part of the same genre. In one fiction/religion, we are all pieces of God, who broke themselves off from the main being and chose to forget that we were part of God, in order to play at the game of having separate existences. And if there is a great deal of pain, that just makes the story more interesting, and the drama more dramatic. And when we die, we rejoin the main godhead, and we say to ourselves, now wasn’t that an interesting game to play. Yes, the star spangled banner of war was glorious. But usually I reject that theory, with this explanation: What makes pain bad is not whether it is “real.” Pain in a dream is still pain, and should be avoided if possible. I don’t know whether I can make it clear how this chain of thought is relevant to your question about chess.

But play your games, if you like. I won’t try to stop you. The important question is whether hierarchy should be avoided in more serious matters than mere games. I think it should be avoided. I can’t claim that my beliefs on that matter are a “proven” fact. It’s hard to “prove” anything in sociology. I can only say that I’ve seen enough evidence to convince me personally. Most of it comes from two places: the Stanford Prison Experiment, and Rebecca Solnit’s book “A Paradise Built in Hell.”

Eric Schechter

“The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land.”
(Erich Auerbach, “Philology and Weltliteratur”) A quote on the opening pages of my novel, “Time Of Exile”.

Eric Schechter 

Sweet is not the word I would use. But when I complain about the ills of my country, and people ask me why I don’t leave, this is what I tell them:

I love my country. I love my country the way that you love your mother, when you discover she has a fatal disease and you search desperately for a cure. I love my country the way that you love your brother, when you discover that he has been stealing cars and you beg him to stop.

horiz-long grey

ERIC SCHECHTER—The first kind is regarding attitudes and intention. At the far right are the politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, who want to make the rich richer, and have no concern at all for anyone else. The people who I would call “centrists” in attitude are the people who believe that life is unavoidably a race with winners and losers, but at least we should try to give everyone an equal start…



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