January 25, 2009

Up Being Down as a Political Philosophy

Justin Katz

The way in which individuals construct an understanding of their societies is what makes it fatal to paint them all with the bold colors of their affiliations: People will be particularly amenable to certain explanations for events around them — whether they've been pushed toward prescribed priorities via social clichés, have an economic interest in a particular construction, or some combination — and will act accordingly. Their culpability is not diminished by that fact, but it does have implications for any strategy intended to change their minds (or at least persuade them to loosen their grip on something precious that they're strangling).

I bring this up in an exercise to deepen my empathy for those whose behavior I so deplore and whose practices I find so detrimental to the state. Imagine yourself, for instance, in the place of somebody who's a few steps closer to the left of political center and/or whose very livelihood is dramatically reliant upon the strength of organized public-sector unions. From such a position, Pat Crowley's response to a description of the forces involved in East Providence by Travis Rowley might just succeed in its certain end of pushing you a little farther away from cold reality (emphasis added):

But, like I said before, there is a certain class of folks in Rhode island that are upset that their standing as overlords is being challenged. They're not upset about class warfare, they're upset that the under classes are starting to fight back in the war they have been waging against workers and poor people for generations. Rowley's pieces, now published more frequently in The Journal, expose the glass jaw of the right wing. The joining in common cause of disgraced Education Partnership refugees, so-called Taxpayer groups with out of state memberships (watch this video), and anti-immigrant bullies in common cause against teachers and unions is called Astroturfing. The reason why they are doing it: Rowley's first line: "UNIONS, the engine of the Rhode Island left..."

In this bizarre world, a young go-getting member of the state's almost non-existent opposition party is the emblem of a class of "overlords," struggling to maintain the oppression of a category of citizens whose average household income is actually well above the average for the state. Crowley even provides a link to a conspiratorial definition for "astroturfing":

The use of paid shills to create the impression of a popular movement, through means like letters to newspapers from soi-disant 'concerned citizens', paid opinion pieces, and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are actually funded by a PR group (AstroTurf is fake grass; hence the term).

In your empathetic mode, doesn't it all begin to make sense? Put aside your first-hand knowledge that the local reform groups are really just citizens who've had enough and imagine that this small group of vocal people who wish to make changes to your enviable employment package are actually a front group for powerful interests attempting to keep the lid on society's populist potential. Only you, the middle-class union worker, remain as a shining emblem of The Possible for your fellow workers. (And besides, who wants to work into their 60s?)

Under those circumstances, you too might find yourself telling a financially struggling carpenter why you and your even-better-paid spouse (with the family business and a rental property) absolutely deserve an increase in remuneration even as the state's economy collapses. You might even be inclined to listen to the flashy union executive as he explains to you that screaming and intimidating elected municipal officials is all just part of the negotiation game — absolutely essential to the prevention of backsliding into indentured servitude.

If the so-called "taxpayers" aren't villains, then the whole worldview into which you've molded your career deserves some scrutiny. And if Crowley's audience begins to question whether there's actually a chance — a hint worth considering — that they've somehow become the bad guys in the story, his own lucrative position as an operative for an immensely powerful union organization (that actually does fund astroturfers) comes under threat.

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... I've got it! Crowley is operating under the massive delusion that it's 1915. And no one wants to correct him for fear that the shock would be too great.

Posted by: Monique at January 25, 2009 7:54 PM

Monique might be on to something, perhaps.

But I'm sticking with my original theory as to why nut-bags like Pat Crowley, who regularly make false assertions that are easily proven wrong, go unchallenged by the Union flock. There is but just one reason why: they are all just as dumb & simple-minded as Pat.

No really ...just listen to that crack Social Studies "teacher" from EP, Ms. Lawson, defend the disruptive actions of the Unions.

There is a reason why RI's students have such low proficiency in the three Rs despite the massive amount of money we throw at "education". One need only look who's doing the "teaching".

Posted by: George Elbow at January 25, 2009 8:52 PM

Astroturfing? I'm sure the teachers' union didn't have any of those there at the EP school committee meeting, did they? Heh. Is that one that falls under "takes one to know one"?

Posted by: Patrick at January 25, 2009 9:05 PM

More like: Takes one to imagine one where there's none.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 25, 2009 9:08 PM

Great fiction Justin!
Keep it up and you're in line for a Pulitzer. Try jazzing it up a bit, maybe with Republicans as caped crusaders, fighting to define the American Way. OldTimeLefty

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at January 25, 2009 9:46 PM

Leave it to The People's Elbow to bust out the Union = Stupid canard.
But then again, I might come to the same conclusion after smoking some Astroturf.

Posted by: rhody at January 26, 2009 12:39 AM


I've noticed that no one is arguing against what you said on its merits.

Remember, Pat is an adherent of the radical leftist Saul Alinsky, who wrote "Rules for Radicals." Amongst a whole host of things he stated, was “The most effective means are whatever will achieve the desired results.”

Does not that describe Pat's tactless tactics to a "T"?

Here's a few more observations re Alinsky, which you can just as easily transmute to Pat and his tactics:

...Alinsky laid out a set of basic principles to guide the actions and decisions of radical organizers and the People’s Organizations they established. The organizer, he said, “must first rub raw the resentments of the people; fan the latent hostilities to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act.” The organizer’s function, he added, was “to agitate to the point of conflict” and “to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous enemy.’” “The word ‘enemy,’” said Alinsky, “is sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people”; i.e., to convince members of the community that he is so eager to advocate on their behalf, that he has willingly opened himself up to condemnation and derision.

But it is not enough for the organizer to be in solidarity with the people. He must also, said Alinsky, cultivate unity against a clearly identifiable enemy; he must specifically name this foe, and “single out” precisely who is to blame for the “particular evil” that is the source of the people’s angst. In other words, there must be a face associated with the people’s discontent. That face, Alinsky taught, “must be a personification, not something general and abstract like a corporation or City Hall.” Rather, it should be an individual such as a CEO, a mayor, or a president.

Alinsky summarized it this way: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it…. [T]here is no point to tactics unless one has a target upon which to center the attacks.” He held that the organizer’s task was to cultivate in people’s hearts a negative, visceral emotional response to the face of the enemy. “The organizer who forgets the significance of personal identification,” said Alinsky, “will attempt to answer all objections on the basis of logic and merit. With few exceptions this is a futile procedure.”...

Posted by: Will at January 26, 2009 1:03 AM

Their eyes meet over their raised glasses of beer in a trendy downcity bar. A voice full of passion and urgency is faithfully recorded. Their mission is clear. Their road straight, well maybe not that straight. The forces of evil must be stopped at all cost. The Overlords and their minions are taking over the gentle people of East Providence. These vile things that pose by day as instructors of youth actually wish only to suck the lifeblood of the town until there is nothing left. Their true selves partially revealed at night when their bloodlust had them howling and snarling at a recent public meeting. But our heros were ready with fancy electronic devices and recorded the fantastical sounds. Their mission now is to convince the great sleeping masses that this threat is real and coming to their towns..if it's not already there. Our heros stand for awhile in the cold night air. It had been a wonderful evening except that there had been no oysters served at the bar. At least the perfect love of a struggling carpenter and a vice president of young republicans will provide wonderful memories after these dark days pass.

Posted by: Phil at January 26, 2009 6:42 AM

Pat Crowley, is no doubt a psycho. I think the masses are finally getting the game he and his ilk have been playing, and are fed up. Having been at the EP school committee meeting/riot, Pat Crowley and his minions were in full force terrorizing and putting down anyone who didn't see it their way. They were so low as to be taunting elderly, and being bullies to families who came who were in support of the school committee.

Finally a school committee that is not rife with conflict of interest who is going to look out for the taxpayer and the students. After all, it's supposed to be about the children, isn't it?

Posted by: kathy at January 26, 2009 10:11 AM

The obsession continues....

Posted by: Pat Crowley at January 26, 2009 8:30 PM
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