I am somewhat amazed, and rather delighted, at the response I've already received to a web log which isn't yet even twenty-four hours old. It's amazing the degree to which something posted on the Web has so much more of an audience than almost anything in print. I find it fascinating, as I do the element of dialogue, which is obviously missing or at least highly attenuated in most print discourse.
On the topic of audience and response, Seth Abramson, who has a very smart blog, sent a very eloquent reply to "Salon des Pseudo-Refuseniks," which I am posting here. My only reply to his reply would be that I was writing of "so many" who call themselves leftists, not of all or even (I hope) most. Also, I was drawing primarily not on my experience of artists, or even of academics (though such quietist pseudo-leftism is rife among academics), but on my experiences in Boston in the Nineteen Eighties with members of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA and in particular the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, and on my experiences in Chicago in the Nineteen Nineties with members and ex-members of the Spartacist League. Living as I have for the past five and a half years in northwest Florida, a hotbed of conservative Republicanism, I directly encounter few progressives of any stripe these days, let alone leftists, though I have heard the "voting doesn't matter because they're all the same" mantra down here as well.
And again, I didn't mean to imply that all American leftists are self-righteous quietists. But too many are.
Here is Seth's response. I'm excited to have started, or at least to be participating in, a conversation:
In the broadest sense, I agree with and applaud your observations of non-voters (I would add to them the observation that those who fail to draw distinctions between the two major political parties are no more perceptive, as to politics, than those who through their ignorance of modern art [cf. painting or sculpture] presume any one piece to be of no more or less moment than any other; it astounds me that artists think they can "dabble" in politics and draw brave conclusions therefrom, but would recoil in horror if a politician, in turn, "dabbled" in post-avant verse. It takes a lifetime to fully grapple with civic life in America--it's not something to "play at," however articulately and intelligently).
One thing you've said that I'd take issue with, however, is the contention that "so many Americans who consider themselves leftists or progressives would prefer nothing to something if the something isn't utopia." I think you'll find that the insular nature of the poetry blogosphere lends itself to overstatements of just this sort--by which I mean, your statement may or may not be true as to poets-cum-amateur political sociologists (though I do not doubt it feels true to you regardless), but it is manifestly untrue as to those who engage (off-line) in politics as something more than an oddball, slightly embarassing hobby, as do some artists. I think you have inadvertantly, and with the best of intentions, unfairly tarred the thousands upon thousands of committed progressives who do vote and who--beyond that--man phone banks come election time or even year-round, stand in frigid weather with placards, attend rallies, write their congressmen and congresswomen, and so on. They may be portrayed by our center-right media as some sort of lunatic fringe, but in fact serious political activism (for "something," not "nothing") is alive and well, thank you. I often find, as here, that artists with the best of motives nevertheless draw conclusions about non-artists largely through their observation of other artists. Why does this sort of tautological navel-gazing pass for scholarship and wisdom where applied to politics, but would not if it were similarly applied--with the same sort of derisive, flippant-yet-ostensibly contemplative attitude--toward Art? I should note here, Reginald, that I'm not so much referring to you as to these smug non-voting artists.
Those artists who don't vote because they consider themselves too well-informed to do so are, in my experience, approximately as well-versed in the goings-on of our political system as are all the other groups who are habitually non-voting: college students, the illiterate, the underclass, those who work multiple jobs or for minimum wage, the mentally ill, felons, adults with something less than a full high school education, recent immigrants, and anarchists.