Picking Your Battles: How to Fight with Principle

Sep 10, 2018

TAA 0036 – C. Travis Webb talks about narrowing our critical targets to those who truly oppose progressive agendas. He argues against generalizations that describe Republicans as “racist,” “greedy,” “homophobes,” and suggests these generalizations are the equivalent of indiscriminate machine gun fire. Only by committing ourselves to principles of empathy and courage can we hope to defeat those who oppose progressive politics.

C.T. WEBB 00:18  [music] Good afternoon, good morning, or good evening, and welcome to the American Age podcast. Today, I am solo. This is C. Travis Webb. Seph and Steven, both have obligations. I will look forward to having them back again next week. So, this is the second solo podcast I’ve done. I much prefer talking to people, as I mentioned the first time around. I’m sure for those of you that listen it’s a bit more interesting to have a few voices. But it’s important, I think, to keep up a consistent work flow with the podcast. And I want to be dependable for the listeners out there that we have. And so as usual I’ll keep it a bit shorter than out typical podcast. 
C.T. WEBB 00:59  Today, I wanted to talk about target selection. So, target selection is a phrase that’s often used in firearms training, or certainly in war, probably also in video games. I don’t know if they use quite that phrasing. But if you play video games – I rarely get to play video games anymore but I, certainly, cut my technological teeth on them growing up – and if you’re fighting a bunch of whatever it be, aliens, or soldiers, or whatever it is in a first person shooter, you want to take out the targets that can do the most damage to you first. Same principles apply in war. Obviously, if you are sending the Air Force in to bomb a country, then you need to take out their air defense system first because, of course, the air defense system can lay your Air Force to waste. I think the same thing applies in the cultural realm. 
C.T. WEBB 02:00  And I think that, currently, both sides of our polarized landscape in the United States are doing a terrible job of target selection. But rather that look at both sides of it, I’m going to just look at the side that I have the most affinity for, which is progressive politics. I am an unapologetic progressive, even though I certainly have some conservative tendencies. And my philosophical inclinations run towards the conservative, in that I am attracted to what would typically be called wisdom literature and to some measure of humility about what human beings can do to change their biological and historical circumstances. I would identify that as a conservative position. Not to over reach with what we’re capable of creating or what we’re capable of accomplishing as far as politically, religiously, etc. That being said, I am for the proliferation of ideas. I’m for the proliferation of sexual orientations. I’m for the proliferation of racial expressiveness, tribal identities. I think human culture, much like ecology thrives in diverse environments. I think they’re called ecotones in ecology. These are overlapping environments, so where an arid and semiarid environment overlap in those overlapping regions is where you get the largest diversity of life. That’s also been my experience in large cities, which is part of my attraction to large cities. 
C.T. WEBB 03:47  One of the things that I see as a deep, deep problem in the left currently– progressive politics – more generally, I hate the left and right designations. So let me say progressive politics – is target acquisition. So it’s really, kind of, a machine gun approach to attacks on Conservatives or attacks on “Republican” ideologies. I don’t even [inaudible]. I say quote, unquote because I’m not even sure what that means. I mean, the Republican party like the Democratic party is quite expansive. But I’d like to try and stick with terms conservative and progressive because I think they accurately gesture if not describe. They accurately gesture towards larger political and cultural orientations. Speed up, slow down, that kind of thing. Obviously, speeding up being progressive. Slowing down being conservative. So if you take, say, 50% of the country tends to vote Republican, 50% tends to vote Democrat. Obviously, that’s not exact. There are some gray in there. People that swing. People that go in both directions. 
C.T. WEBB 05:00  But if you are operating, if you are moving through the world with the idea that Republicans are– and I’m going to give a series of multiple choices that you can select all of the above. Racist, white supremacists, greedy industrialist, venal, narrow-minded patricians. If this is how you’re thinking of people that belong to the Republican party. People that are conservative. That all they are interested in is keeping the poor, poorer and keeping whites in power. You are, essentially, taking a machine gun approach to culture and criticism. And you’re taking a machine gun approach to culture and criticism, which as machine guns are want to do, create a significant amount of collateral damage. It’s not to say that we do not have political enemies and I’ll actually get to that in a second. But I wanted to start by suggesting that the very first move we have to make in this country, if we are as progressives, if we are to try and advance a progressive, wiser agenda, is we have to narrow our field of fire. We have to limit our targets. 
C.T. WEBB 06:30  It is simply not true that because someone is a Republican, or votes for Republicans or registers as a Republican that they are any of the things I listed earlier, just a few seconds ago. It doesn’t mean that. It is completely, absolutely 100% coherent to believe, for example, hard work is what gets you ahead in the world. It is completely not tyrannical to believe that excellence should be promoted in society. It is not narrow-minded to believe that if you give people too many benefits and you disincentivize work enough that you will have fewer people working and your economy will suffer. Now, I may agree or disagree with a number of those points. And I don’t just mean it as an intellectual exercise. I actually, there are a couple of those things that I think they have a point and there’s some that I disagree with. But those are consistent beliefs with also believing that race as a metric for determining someone’s character or worth is completely ridiculous, and meaningless, and without merit. You can believe both of those things. Absolutely. You can be for a variety of socially progressive ideas and still have a Conservative or Republican affiliation. Now, this may not be all Republicans. I’m not suggesting that. This may not be all Conservative affiliations. I’m not suggesting that. 
C.T. WEBB 08:09  So just to start with that. Of course it’s not true that the majority of registered Republicans are racist or white supremacist or whatever. And of course, I have colleagues in the academy, and I read people. If any of them are listening, of course, the immediate thing that jumps to mind is institutional racism. It’s blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I shouldn’t say blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, meaning, I shouldn’t say that because it suggests that I don’t take those criticisms seriously. I absolutely think institutional racism is alive and well. It is a powerful, potent force shaping the American electorate and the American political system. Absolutely, undeniably. But here’s the thing, institutional racism does not stop at the color of your skin. Institutional racism affects blacks, yellows, whites, reds, browns. If you want to use, sort of, just colors to describe people. If you want to use ethnic designations. African-American, Mexican-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Samoan-Americans. Institutional racism affects all of them. It influences all of them. It limits the choices of all of them, even the privileged. So institutional racism is a pernicious, historical fact. Absolutely, undeniably. 
C.T. WEBB 09:44  But what is also true, is that people agency within that system to make small incremental changes. To influence those around them in positive and, of course, negative ways. All of this is to say, all of this is to suggest the following. There are actual people, men and women, who are opposed to progressive agendas. I am not suggesting that it’s all just a misunderstanding, right? This is another thing that kind of can often times negatively affect progressive politics. If they just understood that the effects of poverty. If they just understood the affects the majority of American feel a hero as being white cisgender males. It’s not actually just a misunderstanding. That’s where I think there’s a disconnect. There are people with entrenched interests, who are opposed to sharing power with others. They’re real. Some of them are in our government currently. Some of them are in industry. Some of them are your neighbors. 
C.T. WEBB 11:08  But those “enemies”– Let me take out the quote, unquote. Those people who are the enemies of a progressive agenda are not the majority, right? Ideologues are not the majority. Most people are too busy enjoying their favorite forms of entertainment, fighting with their families, getting divorces, struggling to put food on the table, lusting after cars or clothes or vacations. And I mean that in sort of all of its positive and negative splendor. Most people are not ideologues. They’re just not. They’re preoccupied with other things. Those who are ideologues and who array themselves against what I would identify as a progressive agenda. Those people, those men, those women are your, our, my enemies. They are real. They exist. They stand opposed to changes that I, you, we would like to see enacted in the world, in this country. But you are not going to convince them with a book. You’re not going to, through some clever form of argumentation, help them realize the error of their ways, how they’re wedded to hierarchies of power or something like that. 
C.T. WEBB 12:48  But here’s the thing. You have to pretend and act in a way that you can because the alternative to that is violence. Whether it’s symbolic violence or physical violence, you have to pretend and enact. Pretend is the wrong word. It has too many negative connotations. You have to embody the role of someone who believes fervently that you can convert your enemies to your side with the power of your ideas. Because if you don’t believe that, then you are committing and committed to violence. Because that’s the only other way to change someone. You can absolutely change someone’s mind by dominating that person. By taking choice away from that person. The world has done it for thousands of years. That’s what slavery was. That’s what subjugation was. That is a kind of violence. Symbolic violence backed up by real violence. If that is your mode, if that is your tool then you will get a certain set of outcomes. 
C.T. WEBB 14:18  If, however, your approach is one of rhetoric, and passion, and compassion, and empathy, you will have a different set of outcomes. Now, it doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to win in the narrow arch of time that is your life. You may not. Your victory may come long after you are gone. But if you don’t believe that can win that victory, if you don’t believe that by using persuasion, and reason, and passion, and knowledge to change the world, then I’m not sure that the world is worth changing. If you believe that what you have to do to express who you are and to champion your ideas is to enact symbolic violence by labeling, denigrating, and stripping away the agency of others than you have made the world uglier by the attempt. Now, I’m not suggesting that in the world– I mean, I am far from this. I absolutely believe that there are times that violence is called for. And I will absolutely say that. 
C.T. WEBB 15:39  Violence is sometimes called for. If you are under physical threat, if your community is under physical threat – and I don’t mean symbolic, I mean physical threat – of course, you have a right to defend yourself. You have a right to protect you and your community. But the only way that you can justly exercise that right, is if you are properly calibrated to when your community is under threat symbolically or physically. And that means exhausting, entirely and completely, the means by which you convert someone to your ideas. That you win in the arena of the argument. Without that type of commitment, without a commitment to choose your targets judiciously and wisely, all you’re going to do, all I am going to do, all we are going to do is create a greater mess for ourselves. 
C.T. WEBB 16:52  The vast majority of people that voted for President Donald Trump are not bad people. They may, in fact, be motivated by different priorities that you or I share. They may, in fact, be willing to look past flaws that you and I may not be able to look past. But who can’t relate to that. Who doesn’t have a family member, or a friend, or a mate that has traits that we find distasteful, maybe even despicable. Yet, we love them anyway. We care for them anyway. We engage them as human beings anyway. It’s important if we are ever to move forward as a country, that we begin to see one another as flawed human beings who are our brothers and sisters, even when they are also our enemies. Even when they are also arrayed against our interests, we must still deal with those people with compassion, and understanding, and commitment. Commitment to our principles and commitment to affecting the world in a positive way. 
C.T. WEBB 18:18  So that’s about 20 minutes. And I think that’s enough of my voice for today. For those of you that listened, I appreciate it. This was the American Age podcast. My name is C. Travis Webb and next week I’ll be speaking to Seph Rodney and Steven Fullwood again. Thanks very much. [music] 



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