Sorry if what follows is banal, but it was new to me.
The word “constructive,” it occurs to me after more than half a century on t’planet, is deployed by people who don’t want to engage with criticism of what their cherished organisation has (not) been doing.
So, if I point out that Manchester City Council has not been doing x, y and z that it promised (under duress) to do, then some bureaucrat or loyalist councillor will say “that is not constructive.” Activists will applaud me. If I then follow this up with concrete suggestions about what the Council actually COULD do (should do), the Council will say “we only engage with people who make constructive criticisms.” Activists will spot the bullshit.
But, if I point out that some group called, oh, I don’t know, Extraction Redigitum, has not been doing very well at x, y, z (e.g. retaining recruits, holding decent meetings, sustaining pressure), then activists will say “That is not constructive.” They will then ignore the COUNTLESS concrete suggestions I have made, and try to lump me in with the Daily Hate Mail, the BBC etc.
I used to think this level of intellectual poverty and cowardice was not possible. But I was wrong.
Constructive means “you are allowed to respectfully suggest minor tweaks, but you must leave the big things, the comforting rituals (be they of 5 year plans, or next rebellions) untouched, the hierarchies and anti-social norms undisturbed. However, if you step beyond that, and make me uncomfortable, force me to look at the contents of the Kool Aid I have been cheerfully chugging on, when the cup got passed round, then I will label you unconstructive, and ignore you/gaslight you/smear you/ignore other people’s smears of you.”
Let’s put it another way. Say some academic has written a paper called, oh, I don’t know, “The continuing failure of Ruritania’s climate change mitigation policy”. Say it is 23 pages of tolerably clearly-written, referenced and argued detail on the gap between what the Ruritanians are saying and doing, and what needs to be done. If some laughable political hack dismissed it as not “constructive” this academic would laugh dismissively. Because the academic knows that a) naming problems IS constructive and that b) it’s an embarrassing and unworthy attempt to deflect.
It reminds me of the word “praktisch” and how it was used in Germany between the wars. According to an incredibly brave anti-Nazi German, who parachuted behind the German lines in 1944 to gather intelligence and then get captured by advancing Allied troops, this is what praktisch actually means
“… the word praktisch had been a two-syllable club he’d been beaten with by fellow students and teachers and businessmen and clergy all through the nightmare years. “Stop being such a god-damned idealist! Be practical!” “Practical means I know right from wrong but I’m too fucking scared to do what’s right so I commit crimes or permit crimes and I say I’m only being practical. Practical means coward. Practical frequently means stupid. Someone is too goddamn dumb to realize the consequences of what he’s doing and he hides under practical. It also means corrupt: I know what I ought to do but I’m being paid to do something different so I call it practical. Practical is an umbrella for everything lousy people do.”
(Quote from Brendan Phibbs amazing book The Other Side of Time: a Combat Surgeon in World War II Little Brown & Co, New York (1987)
We really don’t have time for our comforting smugosphere, our delusions. They are not helping. Those who collude in prolonging them, when they do know better, or really ought to know better, deserve at best pity, at worst obloquy.
PS See also. “Real people don’t care about No 10 lockdown parties, says Commons leader Mark Spencer“
i.e. we will tell you what the issues are, and if you disagree you are not “real.”
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