Skip to main content

My Favourite "Profound" Political Insights That Are Actually Banal

Recorded in terrible student essays, recited ad nauseaum by your parents and highschool teachers, spewed like supposed epiphanies from acquaintances who think they are extremely clever... I have always found it annoying that some people will say things that are so banal, and that we've heard over and over, and yet think they have come to some unique and profound political insight.  So here follows my favourite of these idiot revelations.

1) "Unions were important, like, a hundred years ago but now they've outgrown their purpose."

I last heard this one from one of my neighbours who, after a recent Toronto garbage workers strike, was offended by the fact that I was wearing a CUPE shirt.  This just after she was trying to tell me how "radical" she and her roommates were for shirking the man in their organic/local food movement.  The labour movement, I suppose, just wasn't radical enough.

Apparently she didn't realize that her unique insight is the same brilliant insight every bloody anti-worker journalist trots out whenever there is a strike.  I guess she would like to live in a world without unions.  Perhaps getting rid of the problems posed by the labour movement will help her in the future when she wants to exploit migrant workers on her organic and local food co-op.  Thank you hipster radical neighbour for convincing me that unions are passé.

2) "I believe in unions, but this strike goes too far."

This insight is the nicer kid brother of the one above--you know, that kid brother who eventually turns out to be just as much of a jerk as his older brother.  The people who say this crap are the people who realize that they would be entirely stupid to dismiss the union movement because they would have to accept limitless work weeks, no minimum wage, the absence of child labour laws, etc.  At the same time, however, they hate unions just as much as the people who gibber the first idiot insight... they just don't want people to know that they hate unions because they want to seem nice and rational.

And yet, how could unions have achieved anything without striking?  Rational discourse, according to the journalists and "level-headed" folks who say this crap, will supposedly convince the boss to not extract as much surplus from your labour as he could otherwise.

The last time I heard this line was when I was sitting at a strike voting booth for my local.  A professor from my department said this, wishing there would be no strike.  And then he and everyone else who "believed" in unions attacked the strike just as they have attacked anything our local has done.  So it is pretty hard for me to take some seriously when they say they believe in unions but are against strikes.  What is it that they believe in?  The abstract idea of unions?  Thanks: I appreciate the nebulous and imaginary support.

3) "Communism is at the left extreme of the continuum, and Fascism is at the right extreme of the continuum.  But, in reality, this continuum is a circle so Communism and Fascism are the same."

When my grade ten geography teacher told us this I truly believed that it was profound.  Of course, I also thought that Star Wars, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Jack Kerouac were profound--and you should have seen some of the profound "poetry" my grade ten self was writing.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that everyone's grade ten teacher told them this.  There must be a cold war textbook somewhere that contains this line.

People who say this have never actually studied the differences between Fascism and Communism.  It's all "totalitarianism" to them.  If you ask them about the specific content of these ideologies they really can't say anything because, hey, they're just two extremes that connect in a circle, man.  I think the Tea-baggers south of the border believe this stuff.  Despite the fact that they actually are the germ of a fascist movement, they think anything that is even mildly (so, so mildly unfortunately) "socialist" must also be "fascist" because didn't the Nazis call themselves "National Socialists"?  (Actually, my favourite argument here is that Obama is a nazi because he "hates America" and nazis hated America.  Untrue again, the Nazis loved America until they entered the war against them.  I believe Hitler had some glowing praises for America's genocidal practices.)

I should point out that the grade ten geography teacher who impressed the grade ten me with this insight also thought it was funny to tell a misogynist joke about the Montreal Massacre.

4) "Communism [or Marxism] is good in theory but bad in practice."

This is my all-time favourite and usually shows up in a term paper, or falls from the mouth of a student in tutorial, at least once a year.  Not only do the people who say this have any clear idea about the real gains and failures of historical communist movements,  they also have no clue as to how communism could be "good in theory."  Despite their ignorance of communism in either theory or practice, they still make this comment.  They also think it's an original insight, like they've come to some profound understanding of reality and that this ideology wasn't rammed down their throats by capitalist socialization.

Sometimes, when this insight is said by people who know a little more than nothing about the subject they have declared themselves experts on, it may be accompanied by the following arguments: you wouldn't want to live in [insert communist country here, most probably Cuba]; do you actually want to wait in breadlines all day, etc.  How can I possibly argue with such logic? 

(I love the comment about breadlines.  I suppose waiting in breadlines is worse than allowing people to starve because they can't afford food.  Lines are horribly oppressive: they are good in theory and bad in practice.)


  1. I think what is lacking are targeted, concise, and pithy responses to some of these "common sense" nuggets of wisdom. I definitely understand how frustrating it is to respond to these claims, but I wonder what kind of educative work can be done around maybe having a set of rhetorical questions to connect totalitarianism with liberal democracy, and ask folks if they truly believe they are free and liberated under capitalism. Ugh...I don't know if I can do this work, I get impatient so quickly...

  2. You're assuming that any sort of logical response will be understood and/or accepted by the people who say these things. Or that people who say this crap care about being educated around these issues.

  3. I usually just say "I think it works in theory AND practice" or (doing my best to not sound sarcastic) "you mean capitalism, right?"


Post a Comment