I'd now like to further address the personal attacks on me yesterday by George Salzman (aka "Michael Butter") because they raise issues of political principles.

George called me a provocateur and suggested that I could be well paid for it. This might also be an insinuation that I actually am being paid for what I post here, but I will let that pass and give George the metaphorical benefit of the doubt.

I haven't had time to research this, but my recollection is that the term provocateur originally took the form agent provocateur, and referred to police agents that were infiltrated into left groups and who tried to induce activists into committing violent acts. This is an old practice, and the FBI and local police agencies did it all the time during the 1960s, 1970s, and probably still do it today (I think there have been some recent celebrated cases.)

Somewhere along the line, during Stalin times, the term "provocateur" began to be used for anyone who questioned the party line in an insistent way, and today, when used by leftists like George (I don't mean to imply that he is a Stalinist, just that he is using Stalinist techniques) it is applied to anyone who puts forward material in a left context that others are likely to disagree with. Yes, for some leftists and socialists, taking a position contrary to what they think they should be thinking--whether it be sympathy with the intervention in Libya, criticizing Castro and Chavez, etc--is considered a "provocation."

This often leads to criticisms of the individual who raises contrarian ideas (all within a left and socialist context) for the form of their expression rather than the content of it. And it is true that sometimes that form must be what some would call "provocative" in order to stimulate debate and critical thinking, or even just to get people to listen. Marc Cooper is often criticized for his contentious prose, but he is effective in getting his point across--and he probably would not be were it not for his combative way of expressing himself. But that is very different from being a provocateur in the sense that George intends it.

I am gratified that many of the items I post here lead to long discussions and debates, even if they are sometimes heated and the moderator eventually cuts them off. We need that kind of heated debate if the left is to rise above conventional wisdom, old ways of thinking, and uncritical support for heroes like Chomsky, Chavez, and Castro (interesting that their names all start with a C, can't explain that.)

MB



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Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]
Web:    michaelbalter.com
NYU:    journalism.nyu.edu/faculty/michael-balter/
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"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." -- Hélder Pessoa Câmara