By Daniel Rigney
When I semi-retired recently, I faced the usual questions about what to do with the rest of my life – questions that most of us ask ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, at every age.
I decided to take creative writing courses in the evenings as a way to explore my personal and writing interests. In the first of these courses last winter, I somehow got the idea that it would be fun to start a blog to express views I had usually kept to myself in my previous job at a relatively conservative Catholic college somewhere in the Southwest. This blog became my “writing workshop,” where I’ve attempted a variety of short forms (fiction, semi-fiction, non-fiction), usually dealing with comic aspects of politics and culture in the United States.
As the 2012 elections approach, I hope to use this space to contribute some fresh -- and not too cynical -- perceptions of American electoral politics from a center-left perspective. This ideological region, in which I have lived nearly all my life, seems to include the majority of Democrats and many independents as well. We are large. We contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman might say.
Yet despite our considerable numbers and talents, I am concerned that those of us whose hearts beat on the left have not been very effective lately in offering fresh and imaginative alternatives to the deeply-entrenched cliche systems of the conservative and libertarian right. We share core values of fairness and equity, but we haven't quite figured out how to articulate and communicate these persuasively in the hyper-segmented and everyone-for-himself "marketplaces" of 21st-century culture.
Progressives have never been more in need of fresh and creative political thinking than we are now. For years we’ve watched the Republican party meme machine flood the national memestream with terrifyingly effective slogans and messages promoting uncritical worship of the Market God, populist hostility towards academic knowledge (both scientific and humanist), the bashing of unionized and non-unionized employees, and the cynical use of both religious and patriotic symbols to herd frightened Americans into their voting pens.
Bluntly, conservatarians in the last three decades have bullied liberals, progressives and left-populists on the American political schoolyard, and they've eaten our lunch. It’s time we were more effective in fighting back -- trading meme for meme, and parrying “compassionate conservative” with “cold-blooded conservative;” “fair tax” and “death tax” with “life-saving tax;” “liberalism as class warfare” with “employee bashing as class warfare.”
You get the idea: We need words and phrases that challenge the conservatarian cliche system in surprising, memorable and immediately graspable ways, and yet do not become instant cliches themselves.
I’m tempted to write here that as progressives, “our words are our guns” -- but that would be too 19th century. How about “memes are our light sabers?” Too 20th century. What's needed now are succinct and powerful 21st-century progressive memes that express the core values of progressivism in an idiom that speaks to our changing times.
I'd like to do my bit (or byte) in this tiny corner of the blogosphere to help create or promote a progressive vocabulary suited to our changing times, and to help circulate it into the cultural memestream.
I’ll be writing about other things besides politics in the coming months from the political twilight zone that is Houston, Texas. But mostly I’ll be broadcasting or narrowcasting memes that may, in some small way, help Democrats win elective offices large and small in November of 2012. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions along the way.