Sunday, May 29, 2005

Elitism on the political edge

The SF Bay Guardian, the voice of militant progressivism in San Francisco, has an interview with Chris Carlsson in its current issue. Interviewer Daniel Burton-Rose tosses Carlsson a few softballs, which the progressive visionary uses to explain his "vision" in the short interview.

Carlsson's take on the Gonzalez for mayor campaign:

Gonzalez functioned as Reagan did in his milieu: as a cultural signifier. You could recognize that he's one of you, because of certain winking and nodding and cultural references, without him having a clear program. I don't think you can win without a presentation of how much better life can be, and a clear vision of how to bring this about (Lit, the Guardian Literary Supplement, June 2005, page 6).

As a Newsom supporter, I couldn't have summarized the smugness and emptiness of the Gonzalez campaign any better myself: hipper-than-thou elitism coupled with the lack of a serious proposal to counter Newsom's Care Not Cash on the homeless issue.

Carlsson is considered a visionary in progressive circles; he helped bring us Critical Mass---thanks a lot, Chris---so we best pay attention to what he's saying for clues as to what the delusional prog crowd has in store for us. Not surprisingly, Carlsson lauds

San Francisco's culture of creative dissent. The city flatters itself that this has always been here, but because it does so, it keeps attracting people who come with dissent as their mission. This will carry on for the city's life---it's part of what made this city and continues to define it.

Carlsson's language ("The city flatters itself") betrays some ambivalence about this city's annoying civic narcissism. Maybe he understands that "creative dissent" as a mainstream phenomenon in the city is a fairly recent development, since Lenny Bruce was still being arrested for performing his stand-up routine in SF clubs little more than 40 years ago.

Carlsson disapproves of

...the biotech boom which is currently taking place. I'm not in favor of it politically. It's a disaster. But I don't think we can stop them. Our best hope is that we can find ways of diverting these developments to our own purposes.

This is both inaccurate---what boom? It hasn't really happened yet---and cryptic: Why is biotech a political "disaster"? Why oppose a technology that holds so much medical promise? What does he mean by "our own purposes"? Sounds like progressive sour grapes and Luddism, to me.

The sourness is there too in his suggestion that we live "in dark times"? Well, every age is "the best of times and the worst of times" for someone. But the idea that people living in San Francisco in 2005 can reasonably complain about living "in dark times" is ridiculous. Compared to what? The glory days of the Willie Brown Administration? The Depression? The 1950's, when Willie Mays had trouble finding a house in SF outside the ghetto? This is the problem with the brevity of the interview and the inability/unwillingness of the interviewer to ask Carlsson hard questions. It would have been interesting to have Carlsson expand on these half-baked notions.

Before we leave the mostly imaginary land of "creative dissent," here's a revealing snippet from Matt Gonzalez's concession speech on December 9, 2003:

Part of what it is to run against someone and to challenge them is to try and educate them. [applause] I hope that he[Newsom] has learned something from us. And like I said before, I hope we will be able to work together. And if we have to be on opposite ends of fights, well then, certainly that's where we'll be. [applause] Thank you so much. You're all very beautiful. Thank you. (from the San Francisco Call)

That is, it wasn't progressives that needed to go to school on, say, the homeless issue; it was Gavin Newsom who needed instruction from Matt Gonzalez and progressives!

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