Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
I have a coworker who is very angry at the system, and not just in a vague way. We talk about, for example, how our bosses reward people who performatively work long hours but don’t listen to our practical suggestions to improve the workplace and make it easier for us to do our jobs. (I’m paranoid and being vague on the off chance that someone I work with will read this and identify me/the office.)
Basically, my coworker has so many qualities that could make him open to socialism. Once, he complained about how “everyone” in his community (he’s a black Puerto Rican) spends food stamps on junk food and then hits him up for money, and, to test the waters, I said, “So do you think we should have Soviet-style government stores instead of food stamps?” And he said, “Yeah, that would be way better.”
It’s a long, slow slog to radicalize anyone, but it’s especially difficult to radicalize someone who believes in Lizard People.
Another time, he complained about how everyone at our office seems to hate their jobs and complain all day, and then drink and create drama with their spouses to distract themselves. He said, “There has to be a better way.” I said to him, “Well, back before we were born, the normal thing to do was to get together at the union meeting, and talk about what you wanted to change at work. You’d drink and talk about how to make your life better, instead of just looking for weird and sad distractions.” He seemed intrigued by this idea, even if he didn’t seem to believe it.
However, whenever I look over at this guy’s computer screen, he’s watching Alex Jones. The other day, he got a package of Infowars survival gear. Our latest conversation was me nodding and stifling laughter while he talked about how Bernie Sanders is helping Hillary Clinton’s body double while the real Hillary is getting life extension treatments from the Illuminati, or something like that.
When I asked him about Trump, he said, “I don’t know, I don’t vote, but maybe we need someone like him. I don’t vote so it doesn’t matter. Everything’s messed up. I don’t vote.”
This guy is deep down the right-libertarian rabbit hole, but he’s also unsure enough that sometimes I think I could lead him down the right path. All I want to do is get him to channel that conspiratorial, paranoid energy into something resembling socialism, so that when he thinks about how frustrated he is, he thinks of neoliberalism instead of fluoride, lizards, and Hillary’s body doubles.
Have you ever had a similar experience, Your Sorry Ass? Do you have any advice on how to convert the Infowars Slackers into a better, more socialist sort of slacker?
Neoliberals Over Neolizards
Dear Neoliberals over Neolizards,
As Mao said in The Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War, “As for people who are politically backward, Communists should not slight or despise them, but should befriend them, unite with them, convince them and encourage them to go forward.”
Of course, Mao also held mass trials for so-called “counter-revolutionaries” before sending them to labor camps and kept only the company of sycophants, so this advice doesn’t exactly come from the most steadfast of its adherents. You sound like you’re ahead of Mao on this one.
I would urge you to continue to follow your coworker’s interests and lead; you are unlikely to reverse the course of a speeding crypto-theorist, but if he’s amenable to your ideas and looking for answers, you may already be helping him to find the red path. Just go slow, because if you lay it on too thick, you’ll come off as condescending or just plain weird. (You might think an anti-fluoride guy wouldn’t be put off by a little dialectical materialism, but a lot of ideology is just the result of reactionary impulse rather than a thoughtful criticism of the status quo.)
Give him bits and pieces at opportune moments, and be sure to recommend—if not books just yet—some rudimentary online resources he can check out and research in his own good time. I would recommend Democratic Socialists of America, a charming bunch of Mensheviks with the growing numbers, organizational skills, and user-friendly propaganda to lend some credibility to the leftist politics of which he’s so skeptical. Who knows? He may be denouncing this crowd as reformist social democrats in no time! (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a long-standing dues-payer of said Mensheviks, despite denouncing them as reformist social democrats regularly, entirely from a place of loyalty and affection.)
Know that it’s a long, slow slog to radicalize anyone, but it’s especially difficult to radicalize someone who believes in Lizard People. And I’m sorry to say this, but through no fault of your own, it is highly unlikely that your coworker will ever sing “The Internationale” with you. It does sound like you’re doing a decent job of introducing him to new ideas without being a dick about it, though, and that’s what you need to keep on doing. Prioritize nurturing the good ideas over destroying the bad ones, and don’t put the cart before the horse. A strong materialist political consciousness goes a long way toward crowding out irrational conspiracy theories.
You’ve identified a potential convert, dear reader, and you are proceeding with subtlety, sensitivity, and respect—that’s really all you can do. Good luck, comrade!