Our Left Wing

Sister blogger Maryscott O’Connor of My Left Wing is featured on the front page of the Washington Post today. The article, by David Finkel, is titled “The Left, Online and Outraged: Liberal Blogger Finds an Outlet and a Community.” Maryscott blogs about the writing of the article here.

I admit I had mixed feelings about the article when I read it. Maryscott is one of the smartest bloggers on the web, but the article focused on how angry she is. Lord knows she has a right to be angry. We’re all angry. But Maryscott is a lot better than just angry.

But then I thought, how many other angry people are out there who haven’t discovered the Blogosphere yet? If you aren’t absolutely enraged at what the Bushies and the VRWC are doing to our country, you’re an idiot or a rightie. But I repeat myself.

Sorry, couldn’t resist that one. Just funnin’ with ya, righties. But I hope that a lot of people who read that article will check out the Blogosphere and join in.

Predictable reaction from rightie blogs: We’re cool and intellectual, and those lefties are unhinged. I was checking out reactions on one rightie blog, where I found this comment:

“I don’t recall there being a vocal Right that was calling for the public lynching of President Clinton.”

Sorta takes your breath away, doesn’t it? I couldn’t read any further. Enough of that.

I’m going to ramble for a few paragraphs, but I will connect the ramble back to Maryscott and blogging, so please bear with me — Sam Keen wrote a book called Passionate Life — published in 1984 — in which he argued that adulthood is not the final and ultimate stage of life. I regret I don’t have the book at hand and it’s been a while since I read it, but I found the stages discussed online in this sermon. The five stages, Keen said, are (1) child, (2) rebel, (3) adult, (4) outlaw, and (5) lover.

As I remember it, Keen defined the adult stage as a time in which one’s values most closely reflect those of one’s society. Adulthood is the point at which we set aside adolescent rebellion and join the collective. We focus on careers and status as defined by our peers. If you are a standard middle class American adult, for example, your life’s quest becomes acquiring a fixed low-interest mortgage and a stock portfolio. The sermon linked mentions “constructing character armor,” which I remember as adopting the persona assigned to you by society, e.g., businessman, housewife, etc. Most people remain at adult stage for the duration of their lives.

The next stage, outlaw, happens to the lucky few who are separated from the collective. The separation may be caused by crisis or spiritual epiphany, but however it happens, the outlaw looks at the values of his society and sees a load of crap. “Successful” people who used to be role models seem more like zombies — the walking, soulless dead. And, like Cassandra, the more you rave about what crap it all is, the more the adults think you’re nuts. The only people who understand you are the other outlaws (or lovers). It can be very lonely.

For a good example of someone in the outlaw stage, check out the later writings of Mark Twain. His rantings were laced with wit, but if (for example) you read through this, the anger flames out at you suddenly, and you realize you are reading a very different essay from the one you thought you were reading.

Twain would have been one hell of a blogger.

One difference between the adolescent rebel and the post-adult outlaw is that the adolescent is mostly ego-driven — he’s rebelling because he wants something for himself — whereas the outlaw is less concerned about himself than about others. He wants others to see what he sees — the sham, the injustice — to make the world a better place. With luck the outlaw will eventually put aside his anger and become a lover, a person motivated by compassion to help mankind. Think Gandhi.

I’d like to add that sometimes the outlaw stage misfires and the person separated from the collective doesn’t become a true outlaw but just joins a different collective, or else works his butt off to be allowed back into the old collective. But that’s a different rant.

Anyway, with that context in mind — Maryscott O’Connor is an outlaw. And as such she’s a shining beacon for other outlaws. It’s good to be a beacon in a dark time.

Anger is nothing to be ashamed about. I like this quote from Keen:

Anger is a necessary part of the dance of love. Think of clean anger as the voice of the wise serpent on the early American flag who says, “Don’t tread on me.” Without anger we have no fire, no thunder and lightning to defend the sanctuary of the self. No anger = no boundaries = no passion.

Honor your anger. But before you express it, sort out the righteous from the unrighteous. Immediately after a storm, the water is muddy; rage is indiscriminate. It takes time to discriminate, for the mud to settle. But once the stream runs clear, express your outrage against any who have violated your being. Give the person you intend to love the gift of discriminating anger.

May all our anger be righteous.

Update: See also The Rude Pundit (who may be in a life stage unique to himself) and Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof.

Update update: One other thought about anger — right now, we’re on offense, and they’re on defense. Military historians say that attackers usually take more casualties than defenders, because the defenders are fighting from behind barricades or rocks or something, whereas the attackers have to expose themselves to fire to get to the barricades. Unless the attackers have artillery. Or maybe tanks. (Can we use tanks?) Anyway, as Maryscott says, we’ve been fighting from a position of powerlessness; therefore, we have to be more fierce. Let’s see how the Bush Bitter Enders act after the shoe’s on the other foot, eh?

22 thoughts on “Our Left Wing

  1. There’s also a difference between anger and hatred, which the righties conflate for their own purposes — and because they don’t see the difference. As Keen notes, anger can be productive and constructive (emphasis on can, not is) whereas hatred is just a blind emotional explosion with no productive end result. Anger is what started the American Revolution. Anger is what changed the civil rights laws in the 1950’s and ’60’s. Anger is what moves us to not accept what is and work for what can be.

    The WaPo article focused on Maryscott’s anger because it sells newspapers, but she is definitely on Keen’s wavelength.

    Thanks for the link.

  2. Nicely done. So I riffed on it. I’ll put up a trackback shortly.

    I’m hardly a Bush Bitter Ender; this may sound too fatalistic, but if you look back, it’s the plain truth: with politicians and presidents, we get what we get, and we’d better figure out how to use it.

    I’m not sure that’s a corollary with the blogosphere, but it’s close. Though I’m conservative, libertarian leaning, I know the world isn’t going to lean my way. So I’m looking for connections and reasonable compromises. And I don’t claim to be immune to screaming when something’s important. But it’s not the only way to achieve ends and often tends to thwart them.

    And yeah, the Jawa commentor made an atrociously blind comment, but at least the article and Maryscott are the focal point. Right now is the kneejerk reaction, but the effect of her ripples on others is yet to be seen.

  3. Stage 4, — outlaw — is sometimes also the “middle aged and out of control” stage. Which is also a kind of rebelliousness. Not that these people are really out of control; more likely that having noticed the crap which is societal values, they rebel and in doing so appear to their mainstream family, friends and associates to be out of control. They may do things like take up Harley riding at 65; maybe get back into pot; write outrageously offensive letters to the editor that they would not have written ten years earlier because they did not want to offend potential customers, clients or contacts. Things like that. When you get past adulthood, you will probably accept for the first time the reality of your approaching death. That can be scarey, but it can also be very liberating. You may find yourself trying to amortize your assets and wealth over a remaining lifespan, so you can spend it all down in good living and good works before checking out. You may find yourselve embarking on a totally different life style and/or career. The bodhisattva is one role model for the later stages of life, but so are those who go into a contemplative monastary, those who give the social fabric a damn good whacking (Twain), and even those who mind their own business and live quietly, tending again the gardens they abandoned when they transferred to adulthood from the collectives and communes they lived in when younger.

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  5. doran – I’m not sure we’re talking about exacty the same thing. The famous midlife crisis is like a Cosmic Clue. Some follow the clue and leave the collective, and some just acquire more stuff as a way of reaffirming their ties to the collective — a Harley, for example, might represent to the midlife man a connection to the past; an attempt to get back to the younger guy he used to be. The true outlaw, on the other hand, is heading off on a new path.

    The bodhisattva is one role model for the later stages of life, but so are those who go into a contemplative monastary,

    I’d put going into a monastery into the outlaw category. If you’ve ever hung out with monks (Zen monks, anyway) they will usually tell you they took up monking because they had issues with the world. But that leads (maybe) to the bohisattva stage. This makes more sense if you’re familiar with the Ten Ox-herding Pictures.

    those who give the social fabric a damn good whacking (Twain),

    Twain was an outlaw. He’s a pure example of an outlaw, IMO.

    and even those who mind their own business and live quietly, tending again the gardens they abandoned when they transferred to adulthood from the collectives and communes they lived in when younger.

    But you really can’t go home again. You can go home, but it’s not the same home that you left. Anyway, any form of dropping out is a kind of outlaw thing to do.

  6. Uh, oh….I think I bypassed the adult stage as it is described. When in graduate school, I noticed that folks seemed to lose their idealism in a few short years of ‘adulthood’, so I vowed to myself that I would never compromise my ideals in order to hold a job. Soon….it hit home how very unusual my personal decision was…….
    in my first job’s probationary period review, I received the highest marks in every category except ‘attitude’. My life has been turbulently different, but deeply satisfying. I do feel at peace inside.

    But, I became a ‘radical lefty’ interested in politics only after spending several years of my fifties taking on a corporate entity which had engaged [at that time] in perpetrating some fifteen years of consumer fraud. When that legal fight started, the odds were totally against me inasmuch as the corporation had resources some 30 million times mine. Because it was the very first time I ever publically wrote a prayer [disclosure…..I am a Christian, but one who last went into a church to give a speech on why I feel I can be more Christian if I am not in the atmosphere of a church]……..well, every time any ‘normal person’ would have given up….I thought of my prayer that ‘God shine the light of truth on the situation’, and felt that I was bound to hold the door open for the truth to come through. Operating on prayer, sleeping in my car, teaching myself how to decipher legal language, I flew under the radar for several years of doing my own investigations, reaching into 22 states and accumulating some 40,000+ pages of documents. Yes, I did win….. the largest settlement any individual [est., some 20,000 fraud victims] had received because my investigation uncovered ‘a lot more’ than that particular consumer fraud.

    It was that ‘a lot more’ which slapped me awake about my country.
    One part of ‘a lot more’: hundreds of miles from home, I once sat and wept at the dawning realization of what I held in my hands— proof that a circuit court clerk’s office had altered court records in an attempt to ‘disappear’ some materials which their hometown corporation [defendant in my lawsuit] wanted gone…..and my knowing that that state’s supreme court clerks were complicit. The clerks were hurried and sloppy, and failed to take out some of the voluminous materials as they altered the court log.

    My naivity gave way as I encountered deep rot running throughout structures we should be able to count on: the court system, the legal profession, and government agencies.

    The passion of ‘break through’ anger is needed as long as people-harming policies are dominating and self-perpetuating….[self-perpetuating because one lie leads to cover-up lies spiraling into real evil] but, too, we should feel compassion for all who have compromised themselves. Many, many times I count my blessings that I don’t have to live or die with a numbed dysfunctional conscience because so many years ago, I made that vow to myself.

  7. I went to the “rightie blog” blog linked in your piece Maha,, and after reading it,, I need to be reminded again why it is we can’t just divide the damn country?This country is stuck in a bad marriage and we are pretending to be united “for the kids sake” when the word “united” couldn’t be further from the truth.

    The people there who left comments about the “angry left” seem pretty damn angry and full of HATE and rage for their fellow Americans.Perhaps it is time fire is fought with fire, so to speak.Perhaps it is time we stop pretending to be the “United States”.

    I can only speak for me here,, but I am never going to be united with those people, the things I believe in and stand for would never allow it.With friends like that, who needs enemies?The right used to spew about how those on the left would like to kiss and make up with bin laden and discuss our feelings (although I don’t know a single person on the left that feels that way) But I do thing the left is treating the right that way….For example , while they are calling us a greater threat to the nation then terror we are looking for ways to make them see reality, still pretending we could ever be united with someone who really wishes we were all dead..What are we doing here?…next time you send us to a rightie blog Maha, could you make a special note to me reminding me to take a motion sickness pill before I go? Or something stronger?Dude, where’s my country?

  8. Actually, adulthood is exactly the place where we make the welfare of others a priority over ourselves. It often coincides with having kids and creating a family, which actually moves one’s focus away from “the collective” and toward both independence and selflessness. It is the time when one’s choices matter most.

    That you use the term collective speaks volumes; we righty idiots have little use for it.

    I do agree with the “outlaw” thing. We see a lot of people doing their most radical things in the 20’s and then not again until their 60’s, when they have little to lose and must feed either their sense of justice, or their ego. But which?

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  10. I met Maryscott at her home a few months ago, for a party she graciously hosted for LA area bloggers and like souls. Invitations appeared publicly on My Left Wing and Daily Kos. The occasion was that a My Left Wing regular happened to be coming back into town. The affair reminded some of us as a 21st century version of an early 20th century salon – a bringing together of interesting, like minds for some fruitful, fun, cross-pollination. It was strange to meet or be known to everyone by their on-line handles instead of our real names, but nonetheless everyone had a great time.

    The article in the Post is fairly accurate IMO, although her anger unfortunately screams a little disproportionately through Finkel’s writing, especially in the beginning of the piece. Maybe it’s me, but I found it easy if a bit unusual to be in the presence of someone so obviously gifted, but also so, let us say, passionate, about her convictions, probably because I share her convictions, even if I don’t express this in quite the same way.

    And so, it is extremely easy for righties, and even some on DailyKos to caricaturize Maryscott as loony, and yet that is what has led to her gaining a lot of public exposure as My Left Wing has gained readership. She was invited numerous times in recent months to guest spot as the stereotypical angry liberal on a program on Fox – on one such occasion, the interview was conducted by cellphone while she was at Disneyland, The Happiest Place on Earth. This led to an actual video spot on Fox, and to her own podcasts. When I saw her at her party a few months ago, before much of this notoriety occurred, she expressed surprise by all of this, the same as if you or I were all of a sudden in the national spotlight, and she is still trying to get used to it/figure out what to do with it.

    Thanks for the info on Keen and his ideas. I’m going to look that up. Working on Outlaw and Boddhisattva here.

  11. Actually, adulthood is exactly the place where we make the welfare of others a priority over ourselves.

    Yes, but no. When you’re in adult phase it seems that way.

    we righty idiots have little use for it.

    Actually, you’re so stuck in it you don’t even see it. It’s only when you separate from it that you even realize it’s there.

    must feed either their sense of justice, or their ego

    Only they know, only you need to get beyond “feeding” things. It’s more of a relinquishment than a “feeding.”

  12. thank you for writing about these concepts. i think i’m in ‘outlaw,’ (having never made it to ‘adult’) but am striving for ‘lover.’

  13. I once met a woman who was 58 years old who said, “I can’t wait until I am 70 and come into my wisdom.” .
    I thought of this woman’s joie de vivre when I read #10, Matt S’s statement that reaching 60 means ‘having little to lose’.

  14. (singing) “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose … ‘

    I once met a woman who was 58 years old who said, “I can’t wait until I am 70 and come into my wisdom.”

    This is true wisdom. There’s no bigger fool than someone who thinks he’s got it all figured out.

  15. It’s more of a relinquishment than a “feeding.”

    That’s the same concept that some christians refer to as the Victory of Surrender. It’s a concept that has application in life even if you don’t buy the Jesus bullshit.

  16. Interesting. I seem to have virtually skipped “rebel”, or at least gone through it *very* young, before the age of 10. Then I hit “adult” very early, and I think I’m probably moving slowly around the edges of “outlaw”.

  17. Nathanael: Don’t be too dismayed if you find yourself repeating some stages as you age. I suspect it’s impossible for a person to know what stage he or she is really in, as all of us are full of shit about ourselves. Me included.

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