Freddie De Boer is an impassioned writer. I have almost always found his writing and viewpoint provocative and valuable. He is also someone who has experienced considerable conflict on the internet, and has done at least one very bad thing there. (He has since apologized and sworn off social media.) Freddie has also been public about his mental health struggles, a subject with which I am not entirely unfamiliar.
I’m not conversant with all his work or all his controversies but, in my experience, Freddie has been fearless in taking on those forces that keep trying to weaponize identity as a tool to silence the class-based left. Those forces insist on an “either/or” view of class and identity, when those two factors are by their very nature inseparable. Claiming there’s a conflict between the two is like saying mass is diametrically opposed to energy or space is opposed to time.
All of this should provide some context for my reaction to Freddie’s latest blog post, on Martin Luther King, Jr. I can’t link to it, because it’s gone now. (Freddie has a habit of deleting his blog posts after a day or two. I would encourage him to end that practice. It’s a little bit like starting a party conversation with a strong and unexpected opinion and then leaving the room before anyone can answer. Besides, everything is permanent to RSS feeders.)
I’ll respect Freddie’s wishes and refrain from quoting him at length, but the gist of his argument is (or, rather, was) this: It has become de rigueur for leftists to point out that Dr. King was a economic and foreign policy radical — something he applauds, because it “advances the leftist cause. ” But, he says, the same leftists ignore Dr. King’s calls for “togetherness over division” and “dialogue with those who oppose us.”
“They have excised the parts of King’s legacy that are incompatible with the way they comport themselves in political life,” he writes.
Perhaps I’m feeling a little defensive, because I first adopted the practice Freddie describes back in 2011 with a Huffington Post piece called “Today’s Visionary, Not Yesterday’s Celebrity.” And perhaps I’m more defensive than I should be because my prose seems somewhat overzealous and stilted to me now, especially as pieces like this become more common. Reading it today. I wince a little. (Maybe Freddie’s on the right track with those deletions, after all.)
He’s right. I didn’t write about MLK’s inclusivity or calls for dialogue in that piece. Most other leftists don’t, either, when they write about King. But it wasn’t a surgical excision (“excise” is a pretty loaded word) in my case, and I don’t think it has been for the other King-the-radical pieces I’ve read.
I, and I believe others, have focused on King’s economic and anti-militaristic teachings for a simpler reason: that’s where Dr. King’s teachings have been treated most hypocritically by the ruling elites of this country.
Media and political leaders have made sure to uplift Dr. King’s teachings on togetherness and dialogue in a way that serves their interests. But his radical views on war and economics have been conspicuously removed — you could even say excised — by the powers-that-be.
Wall Street is more than happy to encourage the kind of togetherness that has us all holding hands and singing folk songs while they strip-mine the economy and bend us to their will with FICO scores. The military/industrial complex is happy to have us engage in “dialogue” while leaders of both parties push for ever-expanding Pentagon budgets and continued military interventions around the globe.
We don’t need to highlight that side of Dr. King. They’re delighted to show it to us, albeit in sanitized and homogenized form.
Freddie knows all this, I think. I would guess that his viewpoint is a reaction to the fierce hostility he’s received online. So, I suspect, is the fatalism with which he ends his post, when he says he’s a “political nihilist” and that people read everything — other people, essays, politicians — according to preconceived notions and emotions. It’s a Battlestar Galactica (the reboot) world: “All this has happened before, and will happen again.” Or maybe it’s a Westworld (the reboot) world, where the human personality is found to contain far fewer lines of code than the experts anticipated.
And yet, he continues to write. Good.
I think the fatalism is wrong, too, at least in part. Sure, we process information according to our biases, but a well-stated argument can still change minds. Not often, perhaps, but sometimes. Once in a while. Enough.
It would be a shame if Freddie allowed his online experiences to permanently shape his outlook. Social media spaces are infested with the rodentine vectors of mob psychology. What they reflect is not humanity, but some cloudy distillate of its worst features. While we’re remembering Dr. King, we might as well recall his citation of Reinhold Neibuhr on the idea that “groups tend to be more immoral than individuals” — an idea that predates Neibuhr by at least a century.
That’s why I wish Freddie wouldn’t delete his blog posts. Maybe he’s right. Maybe everyone who reads them will interpret them according to preconceived biases. Maybe everybody’s going to be who they’re going to be, no matter what any of us do.
Maybe. But if you were shipwrecked and sent out a message in a bottle, would you write it in washable ink?