Wednesday 21 May 2014

Urban Dictionary

Karl Marx: providing comfort for wanna-be socialists since 1818
Armchair socialist (n)

An urban species ((mainly male, white, middle-class and middle-aged) in danger of extinction but still common enough to be an object of derision and embarrassment for progressives, sorry, of interest for scientists in the field of social psychology.

The armchair socialist is easy to recognise. He – for it is mainly a “he” with whom we are dealing here – usually sports a beard, sandals (Birkenstock used to be his trademark, but nowadays he has branched out into other brands) with white socks and vest/T-shirt/or similar attire. In winter he usually wears dark clothes with no visible labels. Headwear includes berets (à la Che Guevara), wide-brimmed hats or beanies. Although there have been sightings in rural areas, the armchair socialist remains primarily an urban specimen. His habitat, when not sitting in... you guessed it... his armchair, is mainly in demos, sit-ins and protests. He still uses the archaic word “comrade”, which might give an indication as to the time-warp in which this individual operates.

At first sight the armchair socialist could be mistaken for some of the other eccentric creatures that populate these isles. But there is a big difference: celebrating Christmas every day of the year, including the 25th December, is eccentric. Supporting a socioeconomic system with a political apparatus, which is often totalitarian and despotic, without throwing your lot in with the people who have to withstand said regime, is not. However, no matter how many times one tries to explain this to an armchair socialist, he will bat those questions away with some quote from Marx or similar figure.

Compared to other urban species such as the chronic racist, the faux provocateur and the clownish populist, the armchair socialist poses the least danger to society. After all his ideas about a fair, egalitarian polity where workers own the means of production are ones with which the owner of this blog toyed many years ago in his childhood and early youth. And yet... the armchair socialist’s political position, though not harmful at first, can be as lethal in the long-term as any of the theories promoted by the species mentioned above. Because of his ethnic, social and economic make-up the armchair socialist has, unconsciously or not (and who’s to say he is not aware of his power?) much more leverage than a citizen born and raised in the country on whose behalf the armchair socialist lobbies. To wit, the armchair socialist always has the answers to problems that arise in countries with which he sympathises. Countries that are, it goes without saying, abroad. Some of which the armchair has never even visited, let alone lived in them.

This idealistic trait is not the only dangerous element in the armchair socialist’s persona. A commitment to the “cause” makes him behave in ways that he normally finds repulsive in his enemies, i.e., those who sing the praises of capitalism. For instance, in order to pursue his political agenda the armchair socialist will think nothing of forcing a fellow female comrade to have ALLEGEDLY sexual intercourse with him. As recent cases have demonstrated when it comes to rape, sexual assault and bullying, everything goes. As long as it’s for the “cause”. Even if we still have to use the word ALLEGEDLY when discussing said cases.

Mutations of this species have occurred in the last fifteen, almost twenty years. The anti-capitalist demonstrations in Seattle at the end of the 90s gave us a cadre of disenfranchised and less socialist-minded young people. The Occupy movement a few years ago solidified this trend, based more on the Naomi Kleins of this world than good ol’ Marx. It is true that there was an “I told you so” moment in 2008 after the banking crisis, when the armchair socialist, like a Jehovah witness who has long awaited the end of the world in order to be proved right, thought his time had come. But political apathy and socialism’s own dirty past put paid to that notion.

To the question of whether the armchair socialist will survive as a species the only answer Urban Dictionary can come up with is that it doesn’t know. That is the honest truth. Humans need utopias occasionally, especially when times are hard and socialism is still an attractive option when the chips are down. However, Urban Dictionary has a dream, along the same lines as Martin Luther King’s one. Urban Dictionary has a dream that one day all armchair socialists in the world, especially those who live in Europe and North America, will march in unison to their local travel agency or tour-operator and purchase a one-way ticket to a country like Cuba, North Korea, China, Viet Nam or Venezuela, (any other? Blimey, I didn’t realise our number had shrunk so much). Urban Dictionary has a dream that one day these armchair socialists will arrive at the airports of those countries and upon being asked what the motive for their visit is and why they are travelling with a one-way ticket, they will answer: because I came to stay. I came to throw my lot in with you. I left the comfort of my armchair and came to contribute to the creation of a socialist paradise. Your socialist paradise. It is only fair that a scenario like this unfolds. After all, a typical tropical species (urban and rural) that sprang up in Cuba many decades ago was the dreamy capitalist. In order for the dreamy capitalist to realise their dreams (living in a capitalist society, even if the dream for some turned out to be a nightmare after) he/she had to resort to rather heterodox methods, one of which was to leave the Caribbean island on a makeshift raft. Urban Dictionary will not go that far in regards to armchair socialists and their one-way trip. Some of these guys can’t swim.

Should this dream become reality (and who says it can’t?) Urban Dictionary will mourn the disappearance of this emblematic species from our cities, but at least it will know that it has gone to live a better life on the other side of the world. Maybe, just maybe, then, Urban Dictionary will begin to believe in the armchair socialist’s brand of socialism.

© 2014

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 25th May at 10am (GMT)


  1. haha Urban dictionary sure has very very high hopes

  2. I think the truly modern version of an armchair socialist is our very own President.

    Father Nature's Corner

  3. I would like all idealists to at least attempt to live their dreams. Mind you, idealists scare me a whole lot less than fundamentalist anything. Irritate perhaps, but scare me less.

  4. Eureka !!

    G.B. Miller most certainly did come up with the perfect model to illustrate the contemporary armchair socialist. None more perfect than B.H. Obama.

    The "archetypical" armchair socialist has begun to appear in disguise now, wearing business suits and Berluti shoes rather than corduroy sport coats and blue jeans, and often appearing sockless. (It is curious how an individual's politics often are identifiable by the "uniform" he or she wears.)

    My fascination more often has been directed toward "rainforest" socialists. I recently came across my copy of one of Che Guevara's books, "The Motorcycle Diaries," and did not repack it due to my intent to reread it.

    Anyway, CiL, from my perspective the fact that armchair (and other) socialists still exist goes to prove the adage, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

  5. Oh heck - as one who embraced the idealism of the 60s, is that how you see us now? I hope I've grown more curious and less dogmatic as the years have gone by.

    But I'd also argue that those who believe they can impose a market economy and US-style 'freedom' by invading other countries have done far more harm.

  6. El socialismo es lo ideal siempre que sea bien administrado y que no haya abuses.
    Como siempre buenas reflexiones.
    Un abrazo.

  7. We're all armchair something-or-other - or many of us anyway.

    Football referees, Jockeys, party political broadcasters ...

    It's far easier; watch 'Gogglebox' for instance. ;-)

  8. The principal trouble with any discussion on what society needs to change is taking all or nothing positions, left, right, progressive...

  9. Before the thread gets out of hand I must emphasise the light-hearted nature of the Urban Dictionary columns.

    Saying that, as someone who has been affected by the armchair socialist's ideas, I must admit that I had fun writing this post.

    On the Obama question, I would argue that he is the opposite of the armchair socialist, in fact, I would call him an opportunist. He has not withdrawn from Guantanamo and keeps using drones to unleash terror on civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sorry, guys, but that's not socialism, that's outright "gung-ho-ism".

    To go back to the main topic, as I explained in the post compared to other species, the armchair socialist is not as harmful... in the short term. Farage is a chronic racist AND faux provocateur (you won't find a more status quo political figure nowadays) and Boris Johnson a clownish populist. But in the long term, and especially when it comes to dealing with the likes of us, people who have been there, seen it and bought the T-shirt, the armchair socialist poses a danger we can't ignore. I have always said that I want radical reforms in Cuba, not of a market-minded way, not of a cut-the-tree-and-get-rid-of-the-roots way but of the let's-work-together way. The alternative to socialism is not capitalism or any kind of "ism" but a progressive system that allows individual freedom to flourish, especially to the benefit of the collective. I would like to live in a society like that one, so I guess I am an idealist. But I don't want to call it socialism or capitalism or communism or any kind of "ism", except for humanism.

    To those who also toyed with socialism in their youth, no offence intended. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  10. too many talkers in this world and too few doers...

  11. dang. i have a beard and rock the sandals...i also cry down with the upper crust quite often...and sleep in the i might be in this...through i will say, i get out of my chair and help the down trodden....

  12. Hey--it is odd how many very liberal men can be rather misogynist--I am thinking of Julian Assange--but I don't think he is unusual as there can be a terrible narcissism. Lately, I've been feeling so worried about the planet that I think many of these issues are going to be sidetracked! Terrible.

    I do get the lighthearted aspect of all this! And you handle that very well with a delicate but fun brush. K.

  13. LOL - what a great review! Love the irony.

  14. Ha...the Urban Dictionary may well find itself defunct in record time!*smiles*
    I love the irony in this post...there are so many armchair socialists in our Western World...probably far more than lay people, I sometimes think!
    There is certainly a lot to be said for becoming a Hermit;)

  15. Brian, I've got the goatee, got the sandals, too (Birkenstock, since you ask), eat muesli and read The Guardian, The Observer, The New Statesman, The New Yorker and The International New York Times. Damn, I'm doomed, too! :-)

    Have a nice weekend you all.

    Greetings from London.

  16. You are a great writer... LOL
    Have a good weekend.

  17. A friend and I were having a discussion the other day about politics. I voted Green in the Euro elections, she voted Labour. I said what's the point of voting for watered down Tory policies and she said what's the point of voting for radical economic policies no-one else will vote for?

    This argument in one form or another has been running since before the Second World War. It takes time to work these things out. That's why socialists need armchairs. :)



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