What the Left must learn from Conservatives

Everyone passionately believes in things for emotional reasons

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Photo by Arie Wubben on Unsplash

Hi comrades, I’m a Leftist, and I’m sick of your intellectual-elitist white boy internet nerd theory-obsessed bullshit.

In all seriousness — I am frustrated by, but understanding of, the Left’s fixation on theories and intellectual arguments. We’ve been trained to think of emotional, reactionary Conservatism and stupid and evil. I agree that Conservative politics is largely stupid and evil, but its emotionality isn’t what’s wrong with it.

Quick note: This article geared towards Leftists, or people on the Political Left. In case there was any confusion on the subject, the actual political Left does not include the U.S. Democratic Party, except maybe AOC and a few others’ individual policies on a good day.

What we need to learn from Conservatives is as follows:

Nobody passionately believes in something for intellectual reasons.

Passionately believing in something for emotional reasons is not stupid. It’s just what humans do. All humans. Including you.

Strategies can and should be rational, but we do not become passionate about things because our rational minds think they’re the most logical solutions. We become passionate about things because those things make us feel good — they make us feel righteous, empowered, moral, strong, hopeful, loved, connected, or they alleviate our fear.

We become passionate against things because those things make us feel bad — they make us feel angry, fearful, disempowered, outraged, disgusted, shameful, weak, helpless, alone.

Strategy and tactics for taking action can and should come from intellectual discernment. But passion — you know, that thing that actually stirs people to action — does not come from intellectualism, and it never will.

Conservatives understand this. Nobody is a diehard Trump supporter because they’ve sat down with all the facts and think his tax policies are the most rational way to improve the economy.

Conservatives appeal to passion, to feelings, to emotions. Conservatives have entirely given up on appealing to rationality, a strategy that came from smart, calculated and intellectual discernment based on the aforementioned fact that nobody passionately believes in something for intellectual reasons.

We the Left are not brilliant rationalists untainted by human emotion. We’re passionate about socialist and anarchist philosophies not because of their intellectual rigor, but because they make us feel good. We believe in them because believing in them helps us to meet an emotional need. We hate capitalism so much because the structures of capitalism hinder us from meeting our needs, both material and emotional, and so, make us feel bad.

Intellectualism does not stir us to action. Feelings do. They always have, and they always will. Being primarily motivated by your emotions is not something that “stupid people” do. It is something that everyone, I mean everyone does.

Your actions arise as a response to your feelings. You cannot think yourself out of a feeling, no matter how smart you are.

Conservatives get it. Democrats… will probably never get it, and what is even the point of them these days anyway? But Leftists, and even some Progressives — we have the chance to get it.

Nobody gets inspired to action by intellectual arguments.

Even intellectuals don’t engage in intellectual arguments for intellectual reasons. Intellectuals make intellectual arguments because making intellectual arguments makes them feel good. People do things that make them feel good. People gravitate towards things that make them feel good.

Theories are like picture frames. You have to have the picture for them to be worth anything. For me, libertarian socialism and communalism are my frames. They help me to make sense of the picture of my experiences and feelings, such as: alienation, detachment and isolation from community and the natural world. Disempowerment and feeling like I have no control over my life because of power hierarchy and decisions happening far away from me. Being sick of resisting what’s bad and wanting to build what’s good.

But I never felt inspired to do anything with those theories until someone told me how I can personally change my life and the world by building alternative institutions to meet my needs and the needs of others. Now, I’m doing that. I could’ve gotten from feeling to action without any of the theory or intellectualism. Political theories helped me find a community to work with, but other than that, they’ve been nothing but a thing to think about.

To intellectuals who love making intellectual arguments — I’m not telling you to stop doing that. Just do it with each other, and understand why you’re doing it. If you’re a Marxist-Leninist, you’re not trying to sway an Anarchist because state communism is the One True Way. You’re doing it because you feel morally superior doing it, you get hope from doing it, and your feelings and needs are blinding you to other people’s feelings and needs.

I think people should do what makes them feel good, but there is a difference between how we meet our needs, which is a material and emotional process, and how we seem to think we’re meeting our needs, which many Leftists seem to genuinely believe is an intellectual, rational process. It isn’t! Your intellectualism is emotional. It’s intellectual masturbation. Masturbating makes me feel good too but I don’t do it in public, and I definitely don’t try to use it as a tool to stir political action.

Using intellectual arguments in an attempt to stir people to action is not only pointless, it’s just plain selfish. You’re not thinking about what anyone else needs in that moment. You’re only thinking about yourself and what makes you feel good, which is apparently making intellectual arguments and talking about theory.

Come on, comrades, the world’s ending.

We have something people want to buy. We have actual leftist solutions to socio-political problems. Sell those. Sell tenants unions and universal healthcare because people deserve to have their needs met, sell restorative justice and decarceration because prisons are violence, sell taxes on the rich and living wages and maximum wages, because life should be fair. Decommodifying necessities like housing and healthcare and food and water. Sell worker cooperatives because having control over your life matters, sell unionization because community and unity matter, sell community land trusts because the land matters to us, sell community itself. Stop trying to sell theories.

Stop trying to make “widespread public interest in dialectical materialism” happen. It’s not going to happen.

Emotions motivate everybody. Smart people understand this and strategize accordingly. On the Left, we actually have strong emotional arguments to make. You know, the kind that can stir people to action, that already stirred us to action. But for some reason, a lot of us seem stuck using academic jargon, complicated philosophical positions, historical references most people don’t know much about, and appeals to intellectualism.

We have to stop trying to appeal to people’s brains and focus entirely on appealing to their hearts, not because we think other people are stupid — but because we understand that other people are people.

We have to stop acting like “emotional politics” is for the weak-minded and understand that it is for literally everyone. If their hearts are stirred, their brains can Google Murray Bookchin.

What are you actually offering people? How are you inspiring them? No one can rally for a theory. No one can reclaim feelings of control and agency from a theory. Theories don’t build love and community. Theories don’t meet our needs.

Ultimately, theories are just thoughts — you can’t eat thoughts.

Level 5 Laser Lotus. Writing for a world where many worlds fit. www.annaronan.com | anna.a.ronan@gmail.com

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