The Privilege of Pique

This is by way of a sequel to “Compromise,” in which I listed a bunch of things I don’t like about WUMB-FM, the public radio station I listen to when I’m listening to the radio, and then explained why I just renewed my membership. This puzzled some people. I’m not surprised, because it sometimes puzzles me. In fact, the comment posted by “notlobmusic” sounded like a voice in my own head, the one that I squelch every year when I decide to renew. He wrote, in part:

Why would anyone who dislikes current programming continue to give support? Its logic is akin to “I don’t like the two major party candidate, but as they are my only choices will vote for the lesser of two evils,” then wonders why the “liberal” president is behaving much like his neocon predecessor.

I have sat out quite a few elections, presidential and otherwise, and even gone unregistered-to-vote for a number of years, because I didn’t see any reason to lift my finger for either of the major-party candidates. Sometimes, mostly out of pique, I voted for a third-party candidate, not because I thought he’d make a good president but because he didn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning.

At this point I should add that I’ve spent nearly all my voting life in either D.C. or Massachusetts, where the lesser of two evils was 99% sure to win whether I voted for him or not. My pique and scrupulosity is a privilege. I know that. I also believe that a similar pique and scrupulosity is behind much of the Obama-bashing in the left of center. I’ll get back to that.

When I lived in D.C. from 1977 to 1985, I was immersed in the feminist movement and the lesbian community. I mean immersed: not only did I live there and volunteer there, I was lucky enough to work there: from 1981 to 1985 I was the book buyer for Lammas, D.C.’s feminist bookstore. For most of the country, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was synonymous with feminism, but I — like many, many of my friends and colleagues — held NOW in contempt. We saw national NOW up close and personal: the back-biting and back-stabbing and, more important, the lesbophobia and the focus on the job aspirations of class-privileged women. You wouldn’t have caught me dead contributing to NOW, attending a NOW event, or wearing a NOW T-shirt.

However. Big “however”: Thanks to the bookstore and my other activities, I knew many, many women who did not live in big coastal cities. For them, NOW was often the only feminist option within a hundred (or more) miles. We big-city girls could turn our backs on NOW; we had plenty of other options. Women elsewhere didn’t have that luxury. The stories I heard from those women suggested that NOW chapters outside major urban areas were more diverse and more radical in their feminism than the national organization. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Where the need is great and options are few, you can’t hold out for perfection. You roll up your sleeves, hold your nose if you have to, and get to work.

But in this digital age, as “notlobmusic” points out in his comment, anyone with access to a computer and a high-speed connection has lots of options. We can pick and choose our music sources so that we’re never exposed to anything we don’t like. Cool, right? We can pick a third-party presidential candidate who doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning, but at least we won’t have to compromise any of our principles. What’s not to like?

Plenty. The U.S. is an almost unimaginably diverse country. Martha’s Vineyard, the little patch of it that I know best, is amazingly diverse. So is West Tisbury, the even littler town I currently live in. From the outside they all — even the vast, sprawling U.S. of A. — can look monolithic. Trust me, they aren’t. The last thing any of them need is hundreds, thousands, millions, of citizens who are too scrupulous to compromise, or even to listen to people with different ideas and experiences.

Too many left-of-centrists think politics is all about signing this online petition, making an online donation to this or that cause, and only voting for candidates they agree with at least 95%. The far-right-of-centrists are a lot smarter than that. They’ve been a lot smarter for more than 30 years. And that, I’d suggest, is a big reason why the Democratic Party has been sliding rightward since the early 1980s.

Martha’s Vineyard, like I said, is an amazingly diverse place. Until you’ve been here a while, you may not realize just how diverse it is: most people don’t wear their politics and their passions on their sleeve. (You can sometimes, however, get a clue from the bumper stickers on their vehicles.) The longer you live here, the more people you’re connected to; the more opinions and perspectives you have to take into account if you decide to stick your neck out. This is one reason so much change is driven by people who haven’t been here very long, and also why so many of the long-timers who do stick their necks out are people who, like me, are relatively unencumbered by the web of relationships that is year-round Martha’s Vineyard.

We who live on Martha’s Vineyard, and in other small towns and neighborhoods where in the course of a day you have to get along with an array of people without pissing too many of them off unnecessarily, don’t have the privilege of pique. We know all sorts of scuzzy things about our friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers. They know scuzzy things about us. We associate with each other anyway.

Hell, sometimes we even vote for each other.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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3 Responses to The Privilege of Pique

  1. Anda says:

    “Process, rather than prevailing.”

    What a great concept!


  2. jo says:

    nothing and nobody is perfect. you do your best, act from your values as much as possible, and realize that sometimes you will compromise, sometimes you will act out of pique, and usually no one dies from either option. you do the best you can, and then you pet your dog.


  3. Dan Waters says:

    Another insightful post, Susanna! If you’re a long-timer who is enmeshed in the web of relationships you speak of, and you still (despite the odds) hope to bring change, then you’d best be a devout believer in process, rather than in prevailing. On this cantankerous, contentious Island of locally representative government, the only thing everyone accepts is that everyone has an equal right to full participation. More than one town gadfly has committed Open Meeting Law to memory.


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