Saturday, July 28, 2007

Random Friday stuff…
Dinner tonight – chicken and sausage gumbo, which for some reason I was craving even though it’s been warm. Odd, since in warm weather my Cajun/Creole cravings usually manifest as Jambalaya. Maybe I’m coming down with something, I have been sneezing all day.

Also, coming off a conversation about food at APs place…I have an idea to throw to the peanut gallery (heh…eh, OK, I’m not funny). Does it seem to anyone else that a certain sector of the Left suffers from an odd sort of anhedonia? Almost as if the awareness of all that is crappy in the world renders people unable to take pleasure in simple things? Food, sex, music, whatever…it seems that for a certain subset of leftist people EVERYTHING must be Terribly Serious Business and the idea of doing anything simply because it gives pleasure is regarded with extreme suspicion. Thus you end up with mushy awful hippy food, oddly un-sexy cuddle-sex between people who don’t seem to be particularly attracted to each other, Billy Bragg and/or what my hairdresser calls “sad lesbian music”, and so on and so on. And on an intellectual level I think I understand why, but on a gut level…hey, it’s not my revolution if I can’t dance to it.
Why is there such a refusal to seek out and embrace joy on the Left? Do people think that if they’re happy they’ll be bad activists? Am I the only one who thinks that everyone needs to recharge their batteries occasionally? Is pleasure inherently a dangerous thing? Is it to do with the idea of self-indulgence? Fiddling while Rome burns, as it were? Is it just that nobody wants to think of themselves as Nero?
All of this confounds me, unrepentant sensualist that I am. I don’t WANT to live like that. I’d be miserable if I did. I think most of the people who do ARE pretty miserable, and I don’t think they need to be. So why? And am I a Bad Leftist because I don’t feel that way?


All of this musing sprang from one mention of the dreaded lentil loaf, BTW. I started thinking of leftist gatherings I’ve been to and it struck me that at every one of them the food has been dreadful. And this is the Bay Area, foodie Mecca, where you can’t walk more than a few blocks without tripping over a gourmet cheese shop or a farmers market. I just don’t get it. Where is the virtue in rejecting pleasure?

24 comments:

humbition said...

This anhedonia business of the Left is very old. George Orwell commented about it, somewhere he mentioned that his fellow leftists in his day were not supposed to enjoy nature. I don't remember what it was, but it was something simple like birdsong.

I remember a similar anhedonia in Leftists in the 1970s I hung out with. Not all of them, but it was a definite theme.

Myca said...

Absolutely I've noticed this. I think it comes from a lot of places.

First off, there's a certain satisfaction in picturing oneself as a grimy-browed ascetic toiling endlessly for the overthrow of 'the system, and how well that meshes with taking absofuckinglutely everything way too seriously.

Second, I think some of it has its roots in the quest for absolute personal and doctrinal purity. "The food I eat is 100% vegan, the clothes I wear are made of all organic cruelty-free hemp, and the candidates I support have never served in office, so they've made no questionable compromises to sully their pristine positions. Oh, and I practice a particularly aggravating form of passive-aggression masquerading as empathic nonviolence. The chief feature of this ethical system is that it lets me look down on those who aren't quite as advanced as I."

Why yes, I did live in Berkeley for a while. Why do you ask?

Actually, speaking of lentil loaf, let me tell you, the worst food I've ever had in my life was at the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship's weekly potluck. Wonderful people(!), crappy grub.

Myca said...

OH! And if you've been having cajon/creole cravings of late, check out Angeline's Louisiana kitchen on Shattuck in Berkeley. Their Bananas Foster Bread Pudding is quite good.

Veronica said...

I don't think it's limited to the left. Some people are just grim. Even those who don't care about politics at all.

belledame222 said...

yeah, what myca said. It has more to do with the "up the system, those rich corrupt fat cat bastards" than leftism per se, i think. I mean, look at the Puritans.

there is also of course the fact that the Puritan strain is rampant throughout the U.S., and makes it into the left as much as anywhere else. it's just more jarring when you see it among people you'd think should be the -opposite- of Puritans.

and the reason you get a slightly more relaxed attitude toward certain kinds of pleasure in certain parts of the Right in this country has to do with

1) our peculiar belief that everyone can make it if sie really tries, so that the antagonism toward the rich per se isn't as present as it might be among some reactionaries

2) the degree to which "hippie-bashing" has become a cornerstone of rightwing identity over the last couple of decades. there was a concerted effort, iow, to declare themselves the "fun" people; you know, the ones who can relax and have a beer and a laugh, you know, the "Family Ties" generation. Lately I don't think that's playing quite as well, somehow; but they do still keep trying...

but y'know, there are definitely equally grim folk in other sections of the further reaches of the rightwing. i mean, i don't get the impression that the Rushdoony people are a bundle of laughs...and then there are the straight-edge neo-Nazis...and...

belledame222 said...

humbition: it was in a piece called "Thoughts on the Common Toad," or something like that. and yeah, something about people saying that growing roses was bourgeois, alla that.

Cassandra Says said...

Veronica - I get what you're saying, but why is there such a concentration of those people on the Left?
Maybe it's an extremist thing, since there does seem to be a similar group of "pleasure is dangerous" people on the right, they just rationalise it in different ways.

Cassandra Says said...

Myca - Agreed that there's a purity element. Which is probably where I get confused - I just can't wrap my head around the idea of purity as something to aspire to. Partly as a personality thing, but mostly I think because I grew up in the Third World. Chasing purity just seems so impractical that you're guaranteed not to accomplish anything. It seems oddly self-focused for people who think of themselves as concerned with the wellbeing of others.

I think the only time I've ever had edible food at a political event was working on the Gonzalez campaign, and even then only at the very end. It wasn't great, mind, but at least it wasn't lentil loaf.

I'll check out the restaurant, BTW, if I can tear myself away from Cha Am and Kirala.

Myca said...

Oh, and I don't know if you're a big breakfast person or not (for me, if I'm going to go out to eat, most of the time, I'd rather have an omelet at 10 AM than a steak at 9 PM), but if you ARE, go check out the Just For You Cafe down on 22nd just off 3rd.

Kick-ASS beignets. Big and yeasty and chewy.

Daisy said...

I think it's puritan, from the Protestant character of America. I'd be curious to know if, say, French or Italian lefties act like this.

It's also not as common in working-class union-type lefties, or old hippies like myself. :) As Ingrid Newkirk recently (and rudely) pointed out, Michael Moore looks like a Falstaffian guy who enjoys a good meal and good time.

Daisy said...

the degree to which "hippie-bashing" has become a cornerstone of rightwing identity over the last couple of decades. there was a concerted effort, iow, to declare themselves the "fun" people; you know, the ones who can relax and have a beer and a laugh, you know, the "Family Ties" generation. Lately I don't think that's playing quite as well, somehow; but they do still keep trying...

Brilliant observation, BD!

Dw3t-Hthr said...

I was once studying with a woman who commented that for a long time she equated poverty with virtue, which is, I think, one of those things that's pretty much tangled up in American culture. (Poverty is virtue and wealth is virtue, both, which explains why some of us are so batshit crazy.)

It's easy to get from that sort of place to 'anything not directed towards the cause is fiddling while Rome burns', I think. And I think that for someone with an activist identity, that's a more likely trap to fall into. The more one's life is shaped by the movement, the more likely things that don't promote the movement directly will atrophy.

I can't see a point in going, "Oh, there will be space for joy in the next world, for now we must knuckle down and be austere and restrained and devote all our resources to reaching the next world", whether the 'next world' in question comes after the Revolution or after I'm dead. If I were to magically implement a revolution, it would be one towards joy, not away from it.

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