Up Being Down as a Political Philosophy
The way in which individuals construct an understanding of their societies is what makes it fatal to paint them all with the bold colors of their affiliations: People will be particularly amenable to certain explanations for events around them — whether they’ve been pushed toward prescribed priorities via social clichés, have an economic interest in a particular construction, or some combination — and will act accordingly. Their culpability is not diminished by that fact, but it does have implications for any strategy intended to change their minds (or at least persuade them to loosen their grip on something precious that they’re strangling).
I bring this up in an exercise to deepen my empathy for those whose behavior I so deplore and whose practices I find so detrimental to the state. Imagine yourself, for instance, in the place of somebody who’s a few steps closer to the left of political center and/or whose very livelihood is dramatically reliant upon the strength of organized public-sector unions. From such a position, Pat Crowley’s response to a description of the forces involved in East Providence by Travis Rowley might just succeed in its certain end of pushing you a little farther away from cold reality (emphasis added):
But, like I said before, there is a certain class of folks in Rhode island that are upset that their standing as overlords is being challenged. They’re not upset about class warfare, they’re upset that the under classes are starting to fight back in the war they have been waging against workers and poor people for generations. Rowley’s pieces, now published more frequently in The Journal, expose the glass jaw of the right wing. The joining in common cause of disgraced Education Partnership refugees, so-called Taxpayer groups with out of state memberships (watch this video), and anti-immigrant bullies in common cause against teachers and unions is called Astroturfing. The reason why they are doing it: Rowley’s first line: “UNIONS, the engine of the Rhode Island left…”
In this bizarre world, a young go-getting member of the state’s almost non-existent opposition party is the emblem of a class of “overlords,” struggling to maintain the oppression of a category of citizens whose average household income is actually well above the average for the state. Crowley even provides a link to a conspiratorial definition for “astroturfing”:
The use of paid shills to create the impression of a popular movement, through means like letters to newspapers from soi-disant ‘concerned citizens’, paid opinion pieces, and the formation of grass-roots lobbying groups that are actually funded by a PR group (AstroTurf is fake grass; hence the term).
In your empathetic mode, doesn’t it all begin to make sense? Put aside your first-hand knowledge that the local reform groups are really just citizens who’ve had enough and imagine that this small group of vocal people who wish to make changes to your enviable employment package are actually a front group for powerful interests attempting to keep the lid on society’s populist potential. Only you, the middle-class union worker, remain as a shining emblem of The Possible for your fellow workers. (And besides, who wants to work into their 60s?)
Under those circumstances, you too might find yourself telling a financially struggling carpenter why you and your even-better-paid spouse (with the family business and a rental property) absolutely deserve an increase in remuneration even as the state’s economy collapses. You might even be inclined to listen to the flashy union executive as he explains to you that screaming and intimidating elected municipal officials is all just part of the negotiation game — absolutely essential to the prevention of backsliding into indentured servitude.
If the so-called “taxpayers” aren’t villains, then the whole worldview into which you’ve molded your career deserves some scrutiny. And if Crowley’s audience begins to question whether there’s actually a chance — a hint worth considering — that they’ve somehow become the bad guys in the story, his own lucrative position as an operative for an immensely powerful union organization (that actually does fund astroturfers) comes under threat.