Tag Archives: communists

Lumping and Labeling

19 Aug

If you don’t mind, I’d like to step back for a second and talk about this conversation that we’re having.

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When I was considering moving back to Buffalo almost four years ago, it was articles like this in The Economist that sold me. The faceless British wisdom talked up a new Bio-Med Corridor, a progressive new Governor, and Big Plans for the city – like a casino, Canalside and an ethanol plant. Things look pretty good from the outside looking in.

Along this week comes a similar article, from Treehugger.com, stating that if the world wants to get off of oil, they should move to Buffalo. Maybe not the worldwide audience of the The Economist, but the same basic idea: an outsider, who doesn’t know the culture of Buffalo, looks at a set of objective facts – water, rail, built environment – and concludes that Buffalo is in a good position. It is a perfectly reasonable conclusion. It is also, however, as we all know, wrong.

Which leads me back to the nature of the conversation that we’re having. Look at the last several weeks worth of columns on this site, since it was announced Bass Pro was not coming, on the topics of Canalside, the shootings at CityGrill, and the Islamic cultural center in southern Manhattan (doesn’t quite trip off the tongue like Ground Zero Mosque, does it – will Libs ever learn to frame?).

Very little time was spent on the merits of any policy or idea. Most of the time was spent on, what I like to call, Lumping and Labeling. City vs Suburbs. Obstructionists vs Developers. Liberals vs Communists. It goes something like this: “You want Bass Pro? Well, you’re white, male, and live in the suburbs! You would want a redneck fishing bait shack! You also love Sarah Palin and hate poor people and the city. Sarah Palin sucks. So does Newt Gingrich. You’re an idiot.”

Think I am blowing it out of proportion? In the last two weeks alone several commenters have asked Alan if he has gone insane, had a nervous breakdown, or was simply Barry Goldwater. Chris Smith has been accused of being a right wing shill for the corporate establishment. I have fared better, as a simple racist and bigot. That’s okay, as an admitted conservative, I am a lost cause from the start.

Just as the highest and best use of the Internet is often porn, the highest and best use of this online community seems to be yelling, name calling, and screaming that other’s opinions don’t matter because you are _______________ (white, black, male (never female) , suburban, city-dweller, rich, poor, etc). If you are from any suburb, you live in Spaulding Lake. If you live in the city, you are an elitist hypocrite from the Village (pick one).

I hesitate to ever think the online conversation here mirrors the real world, where people speak to each other face to face, but in this case, I think its not too far off. I hear worse from folks on the radio, and in polite conversation when a member of the “other” group is not present. Because what I am talking about is not trolling. I am proud that we have a minimum of trolling on WNYMedia. There are a number of reasons for this: Chris and Marc patrol for the worst, the author’s vigorously defend their own work, and other commenters self-police through mockery.  So we do not have the ignorant racism of Buffalo News commenters nor the molotov cocktail throws of BRO. No, what we have is informed prejudice.

I am enough of a sociologist to know the value of breakdown people into groups for study or description. I am fond of accusing “Liberals” of certain actions. But to me, that Liberal is no specific person: it is a consolidated and distilled combination of the message from various media outlets and personalities. A mishmash of HuffPo and Daily Kos and Rachel Maddow and Nancy Pelosi. That is very different than throwing your rhetorical opponent, a single individual person, into an opposing group, bludgeoning them with stereotypes and prejudices, and forcing them to defend the worst (and unrelated) positions of any member of that group. Hamas wants the mosque! Al Qaeda doesn’t want it! Worse, so does Sarah Palin! Refudiate!

Chris and I struggled for a name of this phenomenon. I called it Lazy Categorization. Lump me in with a group you already don’t like, and then you don’t have to listen to what I say. You can yell at me about Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, all of which I ignore (but Liberals seems to listen to continuously). Yelling about Rush is easy. It substitutes for talking about the topic.

Chris calls it Ideological Xenophobia (not to steal his thunder from a future post, I hope). That’s pretty good. It captures another aspect of this phenomenon: the fear of ideas outside of your comfort zone, and complete invalidation of the ideas of any particular “other.” I’ll hand it to you, it is easier to argue when your opponent is wrong before he even opens his mouth because he is a white, male, suburban capitalist. Touche’.

In the end, though, it is also simple Tribalism. Buffalo’s tribalism is far from unique. But it seems to have especially more power here than other places in the country I have lived or worked (which is now most of it). That’s because Buffalo lacks the two major economic engines present in so many vibrant regions: money and anonymity. We focus a lot on the obvious lack of money, but the “smallness” of Buffalo (City of Good Neighbors, and all that) is often seen as a strength. I am beginning to disagree. No metro area of 1.2 million should be this small. There should be more players, on every field – business, politics, activists, non-profits. I should not be able to recognize the same faces at every table. In other cities, projects get done because no one knows each other, or whom to stop. Not everyone has a personal history of strife, slights, politics, and hurt feelings with everyone else, all gnawing off the same bone and fighting for scraps. 

So back to the outsiders flocking to Buffalo because of the oil bust. What will they find? How will they be welcomed? Which tribe are they let in? The biggest tribe of all in Buffalo is the Born and Raised and Never Left Tribe. The newly arrived often don’t know there is a such a tribe until they wonder why they can’t get a job or a place at the table. Buffalonians are open-hearted, friendly, and welcoming, as long as you are only looking for a glass of lemonade or help shoveling out your driveway. More on that in future columns.

Best Page of Propaganda, Ever

9 Jul