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The Precocious Socialist

High school is a noise opera of capitalist blathering. It gets better, sort of . . .

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: [email protected].

Dear Your Sorry Ass,

It’s my final term in high school right now, and I will do almost anything to get passing grades. I say “almost anything” because as of now my political science teacher is making it very hard for me to participate in her class. It’s not that she has done anything personally to me or to any of my peers, it’s that she goes up in front of the entire class and spouts neoliberal garbage nonstop as if it is fact. Now, as long as you’re keeping your opinions to yourself, I won’t poke or prod at you in any sort of manner; however when you equate socialism to “giving everyone in the class an A,” it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut. My gut instinct in this situation is to yell at her and be a smartass towards everything she says, but (sadly), that’s just not who I am. I seriously almost stormed out of class today as she was trying to explain how pure socialism and pure capitalism are two ends of a linear spectrum.

Should I challenge my teacher’s ideas? Should I scoff and smirk sarcastically at her nonsense?

I don’t know how the hell I’m supposed to make it through this quarter without blowing up on my teacher, especially since I have some days where I’m extremely bogged down by my depression and everything seems like it’s pushing me towards my breaking point.

Another very angering thing that she does is put a high importance on “pragmatism” and “facts.” Which is great and awesome, unless your views are non-pragmatic and based on anti-socialism propaganda. Her entire school of thought is based in a capitalist mentality that says capitalism can and will always exist, and socialism only happens when you have a capitalist society, and the government tries to control everything.

Maybe I would have a better time in class if I had friends that I could make fun of her with, but none of the people in the class really talk to me at all, and if I were to discuss politics with a fellow classmate, what are the chances they would share my political views? I understand people think that politics should be a “marketplace of ideas,” but when all of the ideas are different branches of the same capitalist tree, how can it be said that we truly have one?

So what I’m asking is how should I get myself through this? Should I challenge her ideas? Should I scoff and smirk sarcastically at her nonsense? Should I drop the class and wait another quarter to graduate? Should I wear my Thomas Sankara T-shirt to class every day passive-aggressively? I need to know, because nobody has given me solid advice on how to deal with my current situation.

Thank you so much,

Irritated Socialist


Dear Irritated,

Unfortunately, you are going to be under the authority of anti-socialists for . . . probably most of your life, especially since advocates of capitalism tend to gravitate toward positions of authority. And though high school teachers do exercise an alarming amount of control over your daily comings and goings, in the grand scheme of things high school itself is literally nothing compared to a job, where a boss holds your very survival in his or her cold, bony hands; so look forward to that! Yes, high school is grating and restrictive, but if you want to be an effective socialist (i.e. one who can organize a workplace or campaign, or at the very least represent the ideas of socialism well to the uninitiated), I highly suggest you embrace the challenge of an environment that is inhospitable to your politics.

For example, I came to socialism in an extremely conservative farm town in rural Indiana. It was . . . not fun. At first, I mostly expressed this newfound understanding of the world with quiet resentment: “Why don’t these rubes get it?” Then, I graduated to smug hostility: “You’re a sucker, and Republicans hate you.”

Mostly I was just incredibly annoying, but having those conversations early—and with people with extremely different politics than my own—has been way more helpful than anything I learned in lefty circles at college. Learn from my mistakes; skip the shitty parts, and try your best to talk to/argue with people honestly and openly.

Look for good openings in the conversation; don’t be timid, but don’t harangue—you’ll figure out when to shut up with some trial and error (after a few times realizing you should have shut up way earlier). Contrary to popular belief, you don’t usually win arguments by humiliating someone (although there are moments when that is both fun and necessary). Usually though, you’re looking to disarm people with genuine empathy and good listening skills, but take no shit from aggressors. Hone your own ideas and arguments in the process of conversation. You probably won’t convert anyone just yet, but there’s kind of a steep learning curve with this stuff.

This doesn’t mean you won’t find the whole thing incredibly frustrating, so know when to clock out, and don’t get burned out having useless arguments. And whenever you feel like your head is going to explode, I would keep in mind that high school is temporary, and you are biding your time until you can get the fuck out. Soon you can go to college (I mean I apologize if I’m being presumptuous here, but if you’re in high school and you’re writing in to an advice column for The Baffler, it is highly unlikely you are bound for the coal mines). In college you will likely find tons of people who share something closer to your politics, which means it may actually be on you to seek out the challenges.

There’s a danger of settling into a lefty little clique and forgetting all about the whole big world outside of school.

While it’s true that a contemporary liberal arts education is (in theory) largely predicated on your ability to research, articulate, and argue your ideas . . . it can also be kind of easy to phone it in. Universities are just as prone to social bubbles and groupthink, and there’s a danger of settling into a lefty little clique and forgetting all about the whole big world outside of campus, which will still include a lot of ignorant, conservative high school teachers.

So feel it out, and maybe try pushing back against your teacher when she says something you feel like you have a solid response to. Definitely try talking to your friends about socialism. Just know that at some point you will find your comrades, but for now you have the benefit of an environment that will make you stronger. And relax, you’re doing great.