Friday, June 16, 2017

Rules for Radicals

Over the course of the two days following the attempted assassination of Republican congressmen by a left-wing lunatic there's been lots of talk about restoring civility to our political discourse. The talk won't last, unfortunately.

The President is probably not going to stop calling his opponents "bad people," nor are folks like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likely to cease referring to their opponents as bitter clingers and "deplorables." Others appear to be so addicted to vile, violent, and hate-filled rhetoric that pleas directed to them for civility are probably futile.

Even so, one step that may go some distance toward a more cordial and civil polity would be for responsible people on the left to repudiate and renounce the malign influence that Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals (1971) has had on left-wing political activism. They don't have to renounce the whole book. Not everything in it is corrosive, but certainly it would be a salubrious development if more of them would separate themselves from Alinsky's rules #5, #11, and #13.

Here are the rules I have in mind:
5. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon." There is no defense. It's irrational. It's infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.

11. "If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive." Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.

13. "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Alinsky's book has been something of a catechism for left-wing activists throughout the almost fifty years since it first came out, whether those who employ Alinsky's methods are aware of it or not, but a book that urges its disciples to ridicule their opponents, to provoke their opponents to violence, and to personalize disagreements by insult and isolation, is not likely to bring people together or to enhance comity. Indeed, Alinsky promotes polarization in #13.

Some of the remainder of Alinsky's thirteen rules are also of dubious value if we're serious about improving the quality of our political discourse. #4, for example, says that the activist should,
"Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
Notice the language. Those who disagree aren't just "opponents," they're "enemies." Enemies. Moreover, the goal is to make people who may be decent, sincere human beings vulnerable to a phony charge of hypocrisy. Throughout the book Alinsky urges that activists discredit and smear, not just their opponents' ideas, but their opponents themselves. People who stand in their way don't just need to have their ideas defeated, they need to have their reputations ruined and their careers destroyed.

Appropriately enough, Alinsky dedicated his book to Lucifer. Ever since its initial publication those who live by it have had a divisive, malignant effect upon our nation. Division is what the book advocates and it's what its votaries want, but if they're serious about cleansing the political environment of the toxicity that currently permeates it, they'd do well to unambiguously renounce Alinsky and his book.