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A Green Party Of Displaced Meaning?

Anthropologist Grant McCracken, in his book Culture and Consumption, describes a cultural phenomenon he calls “displaced meaning”. In this practice, individuals, but also organizations and the culture as a whole, cope with the clear inability to achieve their ideals in the real world by crafting stories about contexts in time and space where their ideals have been or will be achieved.

People in messed up medieval European countries could look to the court of King Arthur. Religious believers can look forward to pie in the sky when they die. Misunderstood teenagers in Ohio can dream of some day moving to Manhattan, where the people know how to live. People in Manhattan can read about the maple sugar harvest in Vermont.

What’s key in systems of displaced meaning is that the meaning remains inaccessible. We try to displace our ideals into settings that are extremely difficult to reach, so that we can’t reach them, so that we can then feel more at peace about living in a way that doesn’t match what we say we believe in.

Camelot is long gone. Heaven is not a place anyone alive can get to. The rent in Manhattan is outrageous. There aren’t many good jobs in the hills of Vermont.

In the context of our own society, in which consumption of goods purchased commercially is a central mechanism for the creation and transmission of meaning, McCracken proposes that we use commercial goods as repositories of displaced meaning. We like to believe that, once we are able to purchase certain objects, we will achieve an ideal psychological or social state. Of course, when we do make these purchases, we almost never find that ideal, but there is always another product to dream of, in which to displace our most cherish level of meaning.

Could the same thing be happening in our nation’s political sphere? Political candidates and elected politicians seem an awful lot like the commercial goods that McCracken described. Barack Obama, when he was just a candidate back in 2008, seemed like a dream to many liberals, even though he actually gave speeches contradicting their values, perhaps because the general tone of Obama sounded right, and because it was difficult even for many liberals to think that he might actually be elected.

After Obama was elected, Democrats always came up with some kind of ideal state that had to be achieved before Obama could be expected to actually live up to his campaign promises, and to the other hopes of the electorate. First, we just needed to give Obama some time. Then, we just needed to get the Blue Dogs under control and to get a veto-proof majority in the Senate. Then, we needed to get the Republicans out of Congress. Then, we just needed to wait for re-election. Always, liberal ideals were placed somewhere down the line, someplace that was outside the here-and-now, to justify Obama’s increasingly right wing policies.

I suspect that something similar may be going on at the level of political parties. Not too long ago, our reader Bill asked, “How do we identify real third party candidates with a real chance, and then really empower them to take their best shot? Sitting around waiting on wannabe dress-up players clearly isn’t getting the job done.”

I propose that the very point of third party candidates is to not seem real, but to serve as repositories for displaced meaning. So, as the Green Party argues for single payer health care as a better alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are busy applauding what they call Obamacare, even though it turns out not to be as great as Democrats had been saying it would be. The Green Party enables Democrats to aim low by associating the ideals of liberal Democratic voters with a political party that’s known for consistently polling in the single digits.

If this is the cultural mechanism that’s supporting the Democratic Party’s embrace of Republican-friendly policies, what tactics can change it? If the function of third parties is to keep idealism out of the political mainstream, what are idealists to do? Is supporting the Green Party a mistaken tactic for liberals, or does the Green Party need to do something to stop being used as a repository for ideals we aren’t ready to act upon?

19 thoughts on “A Green Party Of Displaced Meaning?”

  1. John Lewis Mealer says:

    Not all third party candidates are nutcases or in the realm of losers. I happen to be a third party gubernatorial candidate in Arizona (2014) and I have the backing of major groups I would never have dreamed of as backers.

    Sure, I may be rough around the edges, but I am honest and completely open with my past and Arizona’s future.

    The Green Party, who will be running in the same campaign for Governor, will actually wind up backing me as will the Libertarians. How do I know this? Inside sources and I will demand it. TEA Party will also be there behind me along with $100 B in new Arizona industry.

    Am I touting my horn? Not really… Just intrigued by your article and I feel compelled to comment. Especially after your reader Bill’s question: “How do we identify real third party candidates with a real chance, and then really empower them to take their best shot? Sitting around waiting on wannabe dress-up players clearly isn’t getting the job done.”

    The real deal is here. My message is focused and solid, even if it is above the reading level of many people (no offense), and I am constantly honing it when people (even those from Irregular Times) point out how ‘cloudy’ it appears.

    If WE as Americans and those “in the know” want to change things so we win and so that we may compete with the giants… Then it might be a good idea to back people like me who are already gaining huge popularity with nationally recognized groups and big time ex Supreme Court Justices (even if the lady is in her 80’s) along with … Oh Hell, I can rant all day so I’ll ‘let the dead dog lay’ right now.

    I urge you to take a look at who I am and write an article about me with your honest opinion of my plans as detailed in Mealer Initiative 2014… Which has been cleaned up and clarified a bit after Irregular Times ‘Jim Cook’ explained my lack of clarity and the exclamation points I had left behind when I cut and pasted it from a previous document.

    To answer your articles question on liberals and the Green Party.

    The Green Party is nothing more than a ideological hate group. They hate mankind. They hate advancing America’s role in legit economic related technology no matter what it is. Directly from the horses mouth (Green Party candidates and backers) they would just as soon see all humans dead for the sake of Mother Earth.

    1. Bill says:

      Mr. Mealer, over the course of a long and eventful life I have learned a few things, including this rule: anyone who feels compelled to say “I am the real deal” isn’t.

      1. J Clifford says:

        John Kerry, for example, right Bill? Democrats had to suck up a lot of pro-war rhetoric to support that “reporting for duty” campaign.

        Here’s the real deal as I see it: Issue advocacy organizations tend to be much more consistent and effective at promoting the values of their supporters than politicians are. Let’s vote, by all means, but let’s not expect to do more with our votes than to block the worst candidates.

      2. John Lewis Mealer says:

        Then you are sadly mistaken, Bill.
        Because I am, as this Green Party discussion goes, the only legitimate and ‘real individual’ without a party telling me what to do and how to vote who is a candidate for Governor in Arizona.

        Of the “somewhat” sane and fully competent candidates, I am the only one who has not served as an elected official while raping the public AND who has industry coming into office with me.

        If that’s not real and if that’s the absence of a deal (*but I used YOUR phrase to make a point), then there will never be one.

        I remember your attacks from a couple of years ago and if it serves my memory right it was your far left stance on a subject I followed the law on as my own opinion.

        I’m still trying to figure out if this site is a far left wackjob site or one of the lunatic far right sites…

        1. J Clifford says:

          John, if you’re trying to figure out if we’re far left, or if we’re far right, and neither judgment quite seems to make sense, consider this: Perhaps there’s more than one dimension in American politics.

          1. John Lewis Mealer says:

            Good point Mr. Clifford.

            I have always despised the labeling anyway, but many people wear it like a badge. Sometimes one needs to think in either direction and oftentimes simultaneously in both directions to be able to do what is right and to simply follow the law.

            As far as I am concerned, all elected officials who are not following the law 100% and/or have taken a single penny or accepted a single vote for casting their ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ —-to suit anything/anyone outside of the law or that which is against what they promised their constituents—- is guilty of bribery and needs jail time.

            Bill, I believe I recall our past argument(s). It may have been in regards to a post I made somewhere online concerning the anti-trust (anti-competition trade libel, defamation, et al) lawsuit I filed on behalf of my company against Government Motors in 2010 for the crimes they committed in 2009.

            If so, that was a sore subject and I was in a state of subdued rage for a couple of years while my wife was going through chemo treatment.


  2. Charles Manning says:

    I certainly can’t accept the claim that the Green Party is an ideological hate group, if that means the party stands for hatred of individuals. The Green Party hates the many ideological errors that threaten to destroy or severely damage not only what remains of value in America, but the environment of the entire world.

    I was with Rocky Anderson in the last election cycle, and still admire him greatly. But he proved incapable of vigorously promoting his cause. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian, was a more charismatic campaigner, but also failed miserably. Jill Stein worked hardest of any alternative candidate, but she also failed miserably in the final vote count.

    I’m seriously considering the Green Party due to its ballot access, limited though it is, and due to its policy positions. The Green Party needs new blood to challenge Stein within the party the way Republican and Democratic aspirants challenged Romney and Obama. Rocky Anderson could have done that. The party also needs some famous people to affiliate, such as Dennis Kucinich, Travis Smiley, or Bernie Sanders. Kucinich and Smiley have broken into the MSM, which is the major roadblock in the way of progress for the Green Party. The party needs people running at local levels for things like sheriffs, JP’s, city councilmen, etc. It needs a fresh approach to campaign funding that is open to large contributions coupled with public disclosures of any discussions and other interactions with the contributors, to assure that the party isn’t bending to financial pressures. I believe it’s possible to make progress by 2016, but it will take a lot of work. I only wish I didn’t have to worry about making a living.

    1. Stephen Kent Gray says:

      Ballot access? That depends on the state you live in. I live for example in Indiana, where the Greens get write in status but not ballot access.

      2012 Ballot Access
      Libertarian 48 DC
      Green 36 DC
      Constitution 26
      Justice 15
      Socialism & Liberation 13

      2008 Ballot Access
      Independent 45 DC
      Libertarian 45
      Constitution 37
      Green 32 DC

      2004 Ballot Access
      Libertarian 48 DC
      Constitution 36
      Independent/Reform 34 DC
      Green 27 DC

      2000 Ballot Access
      Libertarian 49 DC
      Reform 49
      Green 43 DC
      Constitution 41
      Natural Law 38

      Please look up whatever state you want (particularly the one you live in and vote in) and look up what parties had ballot access in these elections there.

  3. Dave says:

    Rowan, I can tell you’ve given this some thought. Author McCracken sounds interesting, and I wonder if he offered any prescription to counter the displaced meaning phenomenon. Your question asking what tactics can change this cultural mechanism is a good one, but I would suggest that it just really does not have an answer.

    People are irrational as all get out, and that is why the phenom of displaced meaning even exists. That is also, I think, what is at the root of your seeming frustration with politicians in general. What are idealists (who, by the way, can be utterly irrational) to do? Is supporting the Green Party a mistaken tactic for liberals? My own view is to always cast your vote for someone who you think represents you, no matter what their chances of winning. Otherwise it is a wasted vote. You vote for Obama, you get Obama. If he doesn’t represent your interests, you’ve wasted your vote.

  4. Stephen Kent Gray says:

    That is a good summary page of each and every party and how they have done electorally if relevant. Political parties are listed alphabetically within various groups.

    The Big Three have the best chances as alternatives to the two parties. Voting C, G, or L rather than D or R are the only signifacant third parties. It also depends on whether or not these parties have ballot access in your state or not.

    I should note the success of R. Lee Wright’s Million Voter goal. 1,275,971 voters did wind up voting for Gary Johnson and Jim Gray, the Libertarian ticket by 275,971 voters above said goal. Webisites like Grow the LP and Double the LP are making voting L much more viable so that the LP will evantually become one of the three major parties in the near future.

    1. Tor says:

      >Voting C, G, or L rather than D or R are the only signifacant third parties.

      I don’t think that’s true at all. The only third party I can think of in the country that has any real measurable success (outside the Maine Green Party briefly electing a state representative, before the Democrats gerrymandered him out of existence) is the Vermont Progressive Party. The Greens, Constitution Party and Libertarians at best have a handful of local non partisan offices they can point to as their “successes”, and from my observation, are all really poorly organized.

      1. Stephen Kent Gray says:,_2013

        If Robert Sarvis gets elected as Governer of Virginia, …

        1. Tor says:

          What makes you think he will? I just did a brief check on the polling, and he has never reached beyond 10% of polling. Keep in mind, the actual vote count percent will probably be far less…

        2. Tor says:

          Keep in mind the Gary Johnson campaign kept touting that they’d get around 5% of the national vote (and ironically hoping to qualify for federal funding in the next election), when in reality, they barely got a pitiful 1% of the vote.

          1. Jim Cook says:

            And that is, in turn, about what the Libertarian Party was getting a generation ago. Unpopularity doesn’t make the Libertarian Party wrong, but it does signal that the Libertarian message is not broadly resonating.

          2. Stephen Kent Gray says:

            Rather It means the Republicans were able to siphon off voters from it with the Republican Liberty Caucus, despite the Republican Party staying socially moralistic and intolerant despite would be Libertarians voting for them.

          3. J Clifford says:

            Right. It does mean that, which in turn means that the Libertarian Party leadership isn’t effective at appealing even to its own political base. Hardly a resonating endorsement, Stephen.

        1. J. Clifford says:

          Wait a minute. This article you point to says there were libertarians elected across the country, but actually, every single one of the 9 candidates that won were elected to small local positions east of the Mississippi River. That’s not across the country. What kind of strange new USA includes only Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina? Those are the only states where libertarians won any positions at all.

          Less than 10 elections won, when there were tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of elections in total? This is your vision of libertarian victory?

          Look, I understand that the merits of libertarian ideas are a separate issue from the success of libertarian candidacies. But please, don’t link to an article like this and expect us to come away impressed with libertarian power.

          If we took these 9 libertarian electoral victories, and doubled that number every single year, it would still take maybe 15 years before the libertarians could be said to be a major political force… and you don’t have anything close to that level of growth.

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