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Shut up and put up

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

I’m usually not one to be too picky about labels — depending on the dialectical context and the aspect of my politics that I want to emphasize at the moment, they can accurately be described as Leftist, a libertarian, free marketeer, socialist, anarchist, democratic, republican, individualist, mutualist, populist, radical, feminist, et cetera. But there is one thing that I just refuse to call myself anymore. I am not a Progressive, God damn it, and no matter how much I may like some individual people who call themselves that, and no matter how much I may sympathize with a broad cluster of their personal concerns and subcultural values, I just will not call myself one for love or money.

Why not? Well, there are some specific historical reasons having to do with what the folks calling themselves Progressives in the early 20th century actually were like and what they actually did. But there are also some contemporary reasons, too. Look at the prominent political figures and organizations calling themselves Progressive, and the kind of politics that they endorse when they have their Progressive hats on. You are now looking at a bunch of losers. Sometimes they’re noble losers, and sometimes they are silly milksop losers, but losers they remain, and you may as well go around calling yourself pudd’nhead for all the grace and dignity that the mantle of Progressivism confers.

An example: here is the latest series of e-mails I’ve received from MoveOn. Quick! Everybody wring your hands!

From: Noah T. Winer, MoveOn.org
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Tue., 14 Jun 2005

A House panel has voted to eliminate all public funding for NPR and PBS, starting with Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, and other commercial-free children’s shows. If approved, this would be the most severe cut in the history of public broadcasting, threatening to pull the plug on Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch.

Sign the petition telling Congress to save NPR and PBS:

If we can reach 250,000 signatures by the end of the week, we’ll put Congress on notice. After you sign the petition, please pass this message along to any friends, neighbors or co-workers who count on NPR and PBS.


From: Noah T. Winer, MoveOn.org
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Wed., 15 Jun 2005

In less than a day, we’ve blown past our goal–more than 300,000 of us have signed the petition to save NPR and PBS from losing public funding. This is huge, but we need your help.

Tomorrow, the House Appropriations Committee will decide whether to approve these severe cuts to NPR and PBS. We can stop the cuts–and save public TV and radio–with a strong show of public outrage. We’ll report to the committee members on our petition before they vote.

Can you help us reach 400,000 signers by the end of the day?

And then, when the effort to stop the committee vote failed:

From: Noah T. Winer, MoveOn.org
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Wed., 17 Jun 2005

Yesterday, a House committee slashed half of the federal funding for NPR and PBS, specifically targeting popular children’s shows like Sesame Street and Postcards from Buster. These cuts will decimate local stations and undermine quality news reporting. This is nothing less than an effort to kill off NPR and PBS.

But people like you are fighting back, making the petition to save NPR and PBS one of the most popular we’ve ever seen–750,000 signers to date! Already, the public outcry has delayed the effort to eliminate funding entirely, but we must fight to restore full funding at once. The House will vote on these massive cuts to NPR and PBS as soon as Tuesday, and representatives are making up their minds right now.

Make sure Rep. Dingell doesn’t take away the programs you love. Call him today at:

Congressman John Dingell
Phone: 202-225-4071

And then:

From: Noah T. Winer, MoveOn.org
To: Charles Johnson
Date: Wed., 20 Jun 2005

In the next few days, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to slash funding for NPR and PBS. And tomorrow, before Congress votes, we’ll present stacks and stacks of printed petitions and public comments to save public broadcasting. We’ll be joined by members of Congress and the public TV and radio staff fighting for survival.

Over 817,000 people have signed the petition so far–simply incredible. But we want to present 1 million signatures to the press tomorrow, and we can do it with your help. In all our years of online organizing, we’ve never heard of one million Americans signing a petition in a week, but we’re within striking distance now.

Help us reach 1 million signers by the end of the day. Sign the petition at: …

The stakes are high: some of the best programs on the air are at risk. After you sign, please send this message on to your friends and colleagues–it’ll take all of us pushing together to get to the 1 million mark.

If the House passes these massive cuts, we’ll fight to restore the funding when the Senate takes up public broadcasting. But even if we stop the House cuts, we’ll need to make sure Senate Republicans don’t try the same thing.

Together, we can stop the House from slashing NPR and PBS in the federal budget. Can you help us hit 1 million signers today?

MoveOn’s online petition campaign had exceeded their goal of one million petitioners. In fact, they’d reached 1,091,509 last I looked.

And, the last I heard, they managed to get the programming funding restored, but the House voted for another $105 million of government funding to be eliminated from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget anyway:

After a storm of protest from supporters of public television and radio, the House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to restore $100 million in programming money to next year’s Corporation for Public Broadcasting budget. The CPB is the private agency that disburses funds to the Public Broadcasting System, National Public Radio and their member stations.

At the same, however, $105 million in funding, including $23 million for children’s programming and educational outreach, was eliminated. The fight over that money will now move to the Senate, which has traditionally been a strong backer of PBS and NPR.

San Jose Mercury-News 2005-06-24: House restores public TV funding, but fight continues

image: a hamster runs on its wheel

Above: Mister Buckles saves public broadcasting.

If you want to know why Progressives keep losing all the time, then here it is:

If we can reach 250,000 signatures by the end of the week, we’ll put Congress on notice. …

We can stop the cuts–and save public TV and radio–with a strong show of public outrage.

But people like you are fighting back, making the petition to save NPR and PBS one of the most popular we’ve ever seen …

Make sure Rep. Dingell doesn’t take away the programs you love. Call him today

And tomorrow, before Congress votes, we’ll present stacks and stacks of printed petitions and public comments to save public broadcasting. …

What this has accomplished, so far, is that it’s sent 1,091,509 copies of the following e-mail to members of Congress:

TO: Your senators and representative
FROM: (Your Name and Email)

Dear senators and representative,

(Your personal note)

Congress must save NPR, PBS and local public stations. We trust them for in-depth news and educational children’s programming. It’s money well spent.

Don’t get me wrong. I like PBS and NPR is just about all the radio I ever listen to. The issue here isn’t whether they should face a funding crisis or not; I hope that they don’t. Rather, it’s what you should do in the face of that funding crisis. MoveOn just invested an incredible amount of time, money, and energy into mobilizing a bunch of Progressives to whine about it in Congress and beg for the money back. Meanwhile, instead of signing an online petition, calling my Representative, and e-mailing my friends and colleagues to get them to shake the change cup with me, I shut up and put down a pledge of $10 / month to Detroit Public Television.

Now, if 1,091,509 people in MoveOn’s orbit had done what I did, instead of what they did, then by my calculations PBS and NPR would have $130,981,080 more money for programming in the upcoming year. More importantly, they’d have that $131 million no matter what Congress and the Senate decided to do.

You might claim that not everyone who gets MoveOn e-mails will put down a pledge, but a lot more people will put down a zero-cost signature. You might think that MoveOn just can’t command that kind of money. Well, that strikes me as making excuses: we are talking about the group that just threw tens or hundreds of millions of dollars (depending on the as-yet unreleased budget data for their 501(c)(4) branch) down the tubes for electable John Kerry just last year. But fundraising is tricky, and maybe they wouldn’t make as much as they might hope. But think it about it this way: when you give money directly to people doing good work, the economics of failing to meet your goals are different. Lobbying is, more or less, an all-or-nothing game, with very few chances for gains on the margin. Names on a petition may or may not make a difference; but if they don’t make a difference (and, frankly, it doesn’t look like they made much of one here) then the names and pious hopes that NPR and PBS got out of the campaign aren’t worth the electrons that they’re printed on. But if you don’t hit your targets in direct support, the contributions you did get are money in the bank, no matter what. If only half as many people pledged as signed the petition, well, then PBS and NPR would have $65,490,540 that they didn’t have before. If the average contribution was $30 instead of a $10 / month pledge, they’d would have $32,745,270. Maybe that will save Big Bird and maybe it won’t; but even if it doesn’t it’s a darn sight better and more secure than the nothing that failed petitioning campaigns produce.

There’s a general principles here worth mentioning; it’s a principle the Left used to care about. It’s called direct action, and the longer the Progressive wing of the Left keeps ignoring it — the longer that they spend throwing time and organizing effort down the tubes to beg the government to support the institutions that they like — the longer we are all going to be losers.

We can do this ourselves, so quit begging. Shut up and put up.

4 replies to Shut up and put up Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Sergio Méndez

    Good point. And thank goodness to see you back posting.

  2. Brandon

    How can you be a libertarian and a Socialist–or an anarchist at the same time?

  3. Rad Geek

    Q: How can you be a libertarian and a Socialist–or an anarchist at the same time?

    A: Because …

    There are two Socialisms.
    One is communistic, the other solidaritarian.
    One is dictatorial, the other libertarian.
    One is metaphysical, the other positive.
    One is dogmatic, the other scientific.
    One is emotional, the other reflective.
    One is destructive, the other constructive.
    Both are in pursuit of the greatest possible welfare for all.
    One aims to establish happiness for all, the other to enable each to be happy in his own way.
    The first regards the State as a society sui generis, of an especial essence, the product of a sort of divine right outside of and above all society, with special rights and able to exact special obediences; the second considers the State as an association like any other, generally managed worse than others.
    The first proclaims the sovereignty of the State, the second recognizes no sort of sovereign.
    One wishes all monopolies to be held by the State; the other wishes the abolition of all monopolies.
    One wishes the governed class to become the governing class; the other wishes the disappearance of classes.
    Both declare that the existing state of things cannot last.

    One says:
    The land to the State.
    The mine to the State.
    The tool to the State.
    The product to the State.
    The other says:
    The land to the cultivator.
    The mine to the miner.
    The tool to the laborer.
    The product to the producer.
    There are only these two Socialisms.
    One is the infancy of Socialism; the other is its manhood.
    One is already the past; the other is the future.
    One will give place to the other.

    — Benjamin Tucker (1888), State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherein They Differ

    The second kind of socialism — anarchistic socialism, or specifically mutualist anarchism (in the tradition of Warren and Proudhon) and individualist anarchism (in the tradition of Tucker and Spooner) — “raised the banner of Absolute Free Trade; free trade at home, as well as with foreign countries; the logical carrying out of the Manchester doctrine; laissez faire the universal rule. Under this banner they began their fight upon monopolies, whether the all-inclusive monopoly of the State Socialists, or the various class monopolies that now prevail” (Tucker (1888)). These socialists argued that “Not to abolish wages, but to make every man dependent upon wages and secure to every man his whole wages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism” (Tucker, “Labor and its Pay”), proclaimed that “genuine Anarchism is consistent Manchesterism, and Communistic or pseudo-Anarchism is inconsistent Manchesterism” (Tucker, “Labor and its Pay”), and that “Anarchists are simply unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats” (Tucker, “State Socialism and Anarchism”.

    You might point out that this seems peculiar given the way that the words “socialism” (especially) and “anarchism” (to a lesser extent) were used throughout the 20th century. That’s true, but it would be very hard to claim that 20th century socialists (or communist anarchists) have a better historical claim to the word “socialism” than Tucker and the Liberty circle; and it would be absurd to claim that they have a better historical claim to the word than Proudhon does.

    I describe myself as both a libertarian and a socialist because that’s what I am: I want free labor and for workers to own the means of production. I don’t want what state socialists want — a monster State in which labor is terrorized and everything is owned by the self-appointed Vanguard. Given what we now know about the history of the world 1917-present, I’d like to see more people waking up to what socialism used to mean.

— 2006 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Geekery Today:

    And around we go…

    At almost this exact time last year, I wrote this in response to a petitioning campaign by MoveOn.org over proposed cuts to government grants to…

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