Friday, 17 January 2020

Nutpicking Left and Right

The Left, the Right and the Milkshake
Recently, there occurred an interesting conversation between one Stephen Woodford, better known as Rationality Rules - the title of his YouTube channel, and Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad. It delves into the nature of belief systems and how they're defined and represented.



The crux of the conversation comes down to a video wherein Woodford defines Sargon's overall method as being:

1 - Find a nut.
2 - Ridicule and expose that nut.
3 - Conflate that nut with the entire group to which they belong
4 - Profit

And a response made by Sargon here.

Examples presented by Woodford show Sargon highlighting celebrity leftists and progressive politicians expressing extremist positions on a variety of issues: Michael Moore claiming that white people should be feared, Lily Allen and Jess Philips making similar claims about men, and so on. Woodford charges Sargon with "nutpicking" - which is defined as selecting and presenting a weak member of a particular set as a representative member of that particular set.

Is it really true that "the left" as a whole engages in the wholesale demonization of men and white people? Does it truly hold that all whites are racist, or that all men are rapists, etc? These contentions, among others, are the subject of a cordial discussion had between the two, What's Left?

In this conversation, a resurgent religious right is presented as a possible right wing counterpart to the hardline social justice crowd that Sargon so often likes to attack, at least in the United States. Are anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage fanatics a kind of right wing counterpart to the militant SJWs? Woodford's channel, Rationality Rules (comes with my recommendation, btw) might suggest they are, though I haven't surveyed his material exhaustively so can't say precisely one way or another. But his channel is devoted to promoting atheism, agnosticism, skepticism and criticism of religious claims, with a special focus on the logical fallacies that religious and ideologically dogmatic groups tend to make, so I would be surprised if he took a generous stance towards the religious right. Were I in his shoes, I sure wouldn't.

Is there a meaningful comparison to be had between both the character and influence of the two groups? Are the most strident progressives and Christians representative of the whole?

I'm going to suggest that's perhaps the wrong question to ask. What's more important is this: are the "extreme" positions taken within a particular religious or ideological camp consonant with the broader ideological thrust of that particular religious or ideological camp as a whole?

What do I mean by this?

Suppose one were to claim, based on biblical scripture, that adulterers and homosexuals should be executed for their behaviors. Surely this would be an extreme view, right? One not endorsed by any mainstream or significant Christian denomination and believed by only a small handful of self identifying Christians. This would be true. But now lets suppose a preacher were to come along and call for precisely that - the execution of adulterers and homosexuals. It would surely be wrong to condemn this preacher's views as being in line with Christian thought, right? To hold such a preacher up as exemplary of Christian thought would surely be "nutpicking", right?

To answer this, we'd need to look at and define precisely what Christian thought is. If one definition of Christian thought would be to regard the bible as the irrefutable word of God, than the claims that our violently fanatical Christian preacher do not, in fact, accurately reflect Christian thought fall apart. The bible is actually quite clear in its calling for the execution of adulterers and homosexuals:

Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death.”

Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife— with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.”

Now one can counter argue that these passages have to be interpreted in a specific context or the like, or one could cite other passages that might call for a more lenient stance: Christ's admonition in John 8:7 that "he who is without sin cast the first stone" or something similar. Or one could even deemphasize scripture all together and hold up "the life of Christ" or some similar concept as the yard stick of Christian thought and action. Any of these are entirely possible and doable.

But one cannot argue, based on the above passages from the Book of Leviticus, that it is not a sound and viable interpretation of Christian doctrine that homosexuals and adulterers actually be put to death, if one takes a view of the bible as the inerrant word of God. And that most certainly is a plausible means of defining what is and is not Christian thought. This matter is obviously quite controversial in Christian clerical circles, and it's also quite obvious that Christians in the west have had to reconcile their doctrine with prevailing attitudes on these matters and soften their stances accordingly. That's all true, and also a bit beside the point.

What matters is that it is consonant within the ideological thrust of the Christian belief system that adulterers and homosexuals be executed for their actions. Their scripture is rather unambiguous in calling for it. That is not the only valid interpretation of Christian doctrine, but it is a valid interpretation of Christian doctrine. That's what really matters here. That such a view is "extreme" or not representative of the typical Christian is ultimately beside the point, even if true in the west in the current year. This is the real reason why one does see evangelical ministers taking such positions from time to time. They're actually valid positions within the belief system they profess, whether the rest of us like it or not.

Along similar lines, let's look at the apparent fringes of Social Justice ideology. Are claims calling whites and males dangerous or at least potential, if not actual rapists something that can fit within their broader ideological framework?

In this, I'm reminded of what is often cited as the most ludicrous straw man position held by feminist theorists: the equation of heterosex with rape. Or at the very least to suggest that heterosexuality itself is structured so as to benefit men at women's expense. To support such a claim, one like Sargon could point to feminist theorists who've supposedly made this claim. Theorists and activists such as the late Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, for instance. They're the usual suspects here.

Of course, these figures and their supporters would answer that they've truly made no such claim and that their statements are being taken out of context. Defenders of feminism would claim that these activists don't represent the whole, that their views are controversial even within feminist circles, and that they're just two out of innumerable feminist advocates and that it's disingenuous to cite them as being exemplary of feminist thought. Then again, Dworkin and MacKinnon could well constitute the no-nonsense 'Leviticus' strand of feminist thought, and be the heterophobic counterparts to homophobic preachers like Steven Anderson and the late Fred Phelps.

Either are possible. And quite beside the point. What we should be considering isn't whether Dworkin or MacKinnon held views that equated heterosex with rape, or at least was part and parcel of male dominance over women. What matters is whether such views are possible under a sound understanding of feminist theory.

I'd suggest that they are, and all that's really necessary to come to such conclusions is a willingness to take core principles of feminist theory to deterministic extremes. If we truly live in a patriarchal society, one wherein institutions and relationships are structured for the benefit of men at the expense of women, then the idea that the most intimate of those relationships should reflect this privileging of the male over the female should follow quite logically. Indeed, to exclude heteroromanticism and heterosexuality from a feminist deconstruction that casts them as, if not inherently misogynistic, at least corrupted in a misogynistic manner by the patriarchal societies in which they are normalized, would actually be the out-of-step stance to take.

Of course, in the real world, many women who identify as feminists would identify as heterosexual and are in romantic and erotic relationships with men and enjoy the benefits thereof. This was even true of Dworkin(!) and MacKinnon at some points in time. Plus there are very real questions that one might raise about the societal consequences of a wholesale condemnation of heterosex along feminist lines. Fair enough. Consequences I wished mainstream media pursued a lot further instead of simply taking feminist propositions entirely at face value, but I digress. Feminists would no doubt appeal to a "my body, my choice" line of reasoning when it comes to defending their own heterosexual choices and proclivities, when and where these proclivities exist. Again, fair enough.

The point, however, is that it's not inconceivable under feminist theory to regard any kind of heterosexual relationship as something that oppresses women for the benefit of men. Why exempt personal relationships from the overarching social critique, especially when the personal is the political, after all?

I would go as far as to suggest that to exempt heterosexuality from the inevitable conclusions of feminist theory would be like to exempt homosexuality from condemnation under Christian theology. While it may make the doctrine more socially palatable, it also amounts to a form of cherry picking. So anti-homosex Christians and anti-heterosex feminists alike, far from being "nuts" may in fact be the most consistent in their views. They're willing to follow the logic of their core ideologies to their inevitable end conclusions, even when those conclusions would be quite understandably unpopular.

This isn't to say that their more moderate and liberal takes are "wrong." Sometimes, such as in the case of postwar social democracy vis à vis Marxism, the more moderate and watered down variant of the ideology actually also produces vastly superior results when put into practice. I strongly suspect this would be true of feminism also, and even Christianity were one to define it so loosely as a mere adherence to the golden rule, for instance. But in either case, we have to accept the fact that the more extreme views are not untenable given the core belief systems, and actually tend to hew more faithfully to the underlying axioms of those belief systems.

This goes a good ways towards answering the question of why the "nuts" end up in charge of movements like the religious right and the progressive feminist left. Plus, both belief systems are quite manichean, which is to say they both see things in very black and white terms. It is a valid interpretation of either to claim that you're with Jesus or you're with Satan. You're a feminist or you're a misogynist. Such ideological systems don't easily lend themselves to moderation or accommodation with rival belief systems in their core areas of concern.

They can and do moderate so as to accommodate themselves to the realities of the world they operate in. But this moderation inevitably arises from a begrudging acceptance of the need to work within the realities of the world in exchange for at least a shot at changing the world to at least a little bit better reflect their aims, rather than true compromise on principle. As such, both are susceptible to "revivals" and "reformations" wherein corruption by worldly/patriarchal thought must be excised and the movement returned to an initial pure state. The radical feminists of the 1970s, the SJWs of the 2010s and the religious right of the 1980s and 90s are all examples of this, or at least featured these kinds of revivalist currents within their broader movements.

Suffice it to say, questioning core doctrines in movements with these kinds of ideological systems is not the done thing, to put it mildly. If the bible really is the inerrant word of God, what does it say about you if you question it, or try to interpret it in a way to better reflect a preferred stance or doctrine? In the case of the progressives, it's a bit more nuanced. A bit. But questioning feminist, queer and critical race theorists and activists is frowned on as showing a glaring lack of empathy and commitment to equality at best, especially if done by a white male. At worst, it's outright collusion with the oppressor, just as questioning Marxist Leninist dogma back in the USSR was seen as aligning oneself with capitalists and imperialists and could entail a one way train ride to Siberia.

This is why Sargon can have this conversation with Rationality Rules but not Anita Sarkeesian, and why Rationality Rules couldn't have this conversation with Steven Anderson. When one sees the world in stark good vs evil terms, one does not negotiate with the forces of evil if one is to remain pure on the side of good.

Subscribe to Rationality Rule's channel here.
Subscribe to the Akkad Daily here.

And don't forget to follow the Alternative Left on these other social media formats:



Monday, 16 December 2019

Right Wing Purity Culture

In a recent conversation I had with him, Carl Benjamin says:
I am honestly of the opinion that the right doesn't have this kind of purity culture, and that's definitely to their advantage. I'm not saying it doesn't ever exist or anything, but as a general rule, the right is less puritanical in this regard. 
This is in reference to the proclivity towards a highly doctrinaire and manichean world view that one often encounters in hard left circles, both in current year and throughout its history. Indeed, the decision of myself and my fellow Facebook page moderators to even have a conversation at all with the dreaded Sargon of Akkad would no doubt face heavy denouncement in typical left wing circles. And not "I disagree with Sargon on the following issues ... " but rather a "How dare you even think of speaking to so someone so racist, fascist, ignorant, stupid etc" kind of response.

Were they to discover that I found Mr. Benjamin to be a reasonable and cordial fellow with whom I would have some ideological disagreements as well as some areas of overlapping concern, that'd be treated as nothing short of blasphemy. And this includes many of the sorts of leftists who advocate a retreat from identity politics in favor of more class struggle. Get the pitchforks and light the burning pyre. We have a witch here. Conversing directly with demons, no less.

I was a youthful target of the Satanic Panic in the late 1980s, so it wouldn't be the first time.

While I realize that Sargon has his detractors and those who've claimed to have had bad experiences with him, that doesn't involve myself and my fellows who took part in the discussion. I felt I'd get that out of the way, because I know what the comments are going to say where ever I post this. You have a problem with Sargon, take it up with him. I'm no one's attack dog, and I'm not getting involved in YouTube drama.

With that all said, I did not follow up with Sargon on this idea of there being far less of a purity culture on the right, but upon reflection, I don't really agree. I suspect it looks that way because the purity culture on the right manifests itself differently from the one on the left. But that doesn't mean it's not there. It comes down to this:

The left's main concerns are with oppression, exploitation and discrimination. And that's perfectly reasonable. But progressives are vulnerable to the idea that any deviation from the established party line on any given issue will inevitably open the door to and enable, if not outrightly perpetuate, oppressive treatment of marginalized peoples. As such, rather like a religious fundamentalist who fears that the edifice of his religion will collapse if any element of the canon is called into question, unquestioning obedience to established orthodoxies is demanded on much of the left wing. Marxist Leninism, feminist theory, critical race theory and queer theory are almost unequivocal on this. These doctrines are the maps and blueprints that one must follow - to the letter - if a just society is to be achieved.

The right's main concerns are with degradation and loss of cultural and economic vitality, and that this would be bad because those things contribute to the strength and health of the polity. Again, well and good. But this likewise lends itself to conservatives fearing that any attempt to reform culture, politics or economy in a way to make them more inclusive or to provide a safety net for those in need will end up enabling behaviors and activities that cause a dilution of both personal morality and relationships that uphold the integrity of society. Right wing theories: neoreaction, libertarianism, white nationalism and religious fundamentalism are all underwritten by this kind of fear. A "camel's nose, once in the tent, the body is sure to follow" kind of mindset prevails in any discussion of either regulating the free market economy, or becoming more permissive regarding social norms and mores. Integrating between the races will dilute the purity of whichever race is superior. Allowing religious pluralism will cause the one true faith revealed by God to be diluted or lost, etc. You get the picture.

The contrasting concerns of social justice and social protectionism result in the respective purity cults of the left and right manifesting in different ways. The purity cult of the left is decidedly ostentatious and demonstrative, in keeping with the nature of the leftist narrative as themselves as some kind of last ditched resistance effort against an encroaching fascist tyranny. Convinced of the powerlessness of the purported targets of this tyranny, stark raving terror actually becomes a "reasonable" result. It's more visible because protest and civil disobedience are much more front and center in leftist theory.

The cringe factor here comes from the fact that Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, while having politics vastly different than mine, are not quite what the hysterical left echo chambers make them out to be. Accusing these men of wanting to "erase" marginalized peoples or believing that women, people of color, LGBTQ people and others "should not exist" actually pushes them beyond being "literally Hitler" and makes them out to be something out of the darkest of speculative fiction, like the wicked Emperor Palpatine or the Dark Lord Sauron. It need not be said that this is hyperbole, not reality.

The purity cult on the right is harder to see because it's less ostentatious. For one thing, the individualism espoused by the right makes them far less likely to organize and protest, and when they do, their predilection for order and personal discipline makes these protests far less rowdy and prone to acts of hysteria. But they do happen, as Tea Party protests against Obama's attempts to bring in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act demonstrate.

More significantly, however, the right's belief in the underlying unity of strength and virtue lends itself to the right wing purity cult expressing itself in displays of strength, not weakness. Thus, rightist denounciation of leftists has about it a definite macho swagger. Hence its denunciations of leftists as snowflakes, cucks, degenerates, too stupid to learn about economics, etc. While the right attacks communism in some of the same terms that the left attacks fascism: condemning its historical brutality and totalitarianism, and the same kind of cringy comparisons of leftist figures like Bernie Sanders with historical tyrants like Josef Stalin as exist on the left comparing Trump to Hitler etc, the right tends to express contempt at the notion that such manly men as themselves would ever need a social safety net or protection from being exploited as a worker, consumer or investor. A crucial difference, perhaps the definitive difference, between left and right.

For the right, the answer is always very simple. Find another job. Start your own business. Don't do stupid stuff. Don't get sick or injured. Be Superman. Predict the future with pure accuracy. Were you as manly as themselves, you wouldn't need no namby-pamby social safety net, union representation or government regulations to protect you from hardship and exploitation. Well, too bad for them that actual human beings in the real world are not made of such stern stuff.

This isn't to say there isn't a place for conservative or libertarian questioning of leftist policy proposals. Sometimes they really are untenable. But the problems arise when pressed for specifics, the rightists resort to their own brand of emotionalism as opposed to reasoned argument. You're too degenerate, cucked, stupid to understand economics, etc. And then they'll go on to sneer the ironically labeled "tolerant" left. Such self awareness.

Much of the US right's entire ideological shtick lies in a constant onslaught of propaganda saying that any government interference in the economy at all is basically tantamount to socialism. Distinction is not made between the light interventions of neoliberals a-la Tony Blair or Bill Clinton, the more heavy interventions advocated by Keynesians, welfare liberals, new dealers and social democrats - think Roosevelt or Attlee, the far reaching but incomplete control advocated by democratic socialists or regimes like Allende's Chile or Chavez's Venezuela and the total control practiced by Stalin and Mao. And where would they stand on small government or even stateless models advanced by some kinds of leftists: anarcho communism/syndicalism, mutualism or the like? These are obviously enormous theoretical differences and yield very different outcomes, but you'd never guess that by reading conservative sources or the responses that right leaning people make in any kind of social media platform, in their own attempts to deplatform their political opponents by implying that they are weak, stupid or degenerate.

Well, you know what? If your precious free market is so fragile that it will collapse if any attempt is made to tinker with it, perhaps it's not that strong either, and maybe libertarians descend into being their own brand of hysterical SJWs for claiming taxation is theft or that regulations stopping them from dumping their pollution into the water or the air as they please constitute a lighter, softer form of the boot of socialism. A sort of economic microaggression, if you will. And notice how triggered they get when you tell them there are sound economic, political and social reasons for taxation and public spending. It's like you're "Marxsplaining" or "Keynesplaining" their oppression to them.

Poor guys.

If you can slow down anything recorded by Ben Shapiro to a pace at which it becomes intelligible, the whole idea being advanced is pretty straight forward. And it's the same with Turning Point and a host of other conservative ideological sources. Bernie Sanders = Joseph Stalin. Obama's America = Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.  Obamacare = Stalinist collectivization. Keynesianism and Marxism are described as being one in the same. Despite the fact that demand management policies have been part and parcel of how all of the world's most successful economies have operated at least as far back as the second world war.

Such hysterical and stupid phrases are not being shrieked aloud for all to hear by outraged women and college students taking to the streets, but they are no less hysterical and stupid for that difference. Any government intervention in the economy, any provision of social welfare, any protection of workers rights reveals a "lack of understanding of economics" and surely won't work despite the fact they have been working for decades now across the developed world. All presented by some wannabe tough guy whose macho swagger implying that he can beat you up so that makes his views correct. This looks different than the SJW's displays of emotional hysteria and terror at even the most tepid step away from his ancap or intersectioal feminist dogmas, but does not alter the fact that, at heart, it's the same thing.

An ideological purity cult.

Besides, there's plenty of precedent for very real and dangerous ideological purity regimens on the right: the various red scares, McCarthyism, the Satanic Panic, to name a few. If the right wing has done it before, why should I think they won't do it again? There's enough love for the likes of Augusto Pinochet among hard line libertarians and reactionaries these days for them to most certainly not have my trust. Perhaps they'd be amenable to a deal, wherein I won't send them to a gulag if they don't throw me out of a helicopter, assuming either of us ever had the chance. But I'm not holding my breath.

Not all right wingers are Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer Warriors or the like, some of you might say. Fine. Some of you are no doubt thinking "straw man" to everything I've said here. Fair enough. Some more conservative leaning people are reasonable, as my discussion with Sargon exemplified. But not all leftists are Antifa either. Rightists get annoyed whenever they're hysterically tarred as racists, nazis, misogynists and the like by the left. Okay, fair enough. Then don't tar the whole of the left as either violent ancom or tankie nutjobs or hysterical feminists with obvious mental health issues either. The right warns the left that its irrationality will drive more people to the right. Fair warning, but that's a two way street. At some point, after being called a cuck and offered enough helicopter rides, more people might start wondering if there's maybe something in Karl Marx's library that these right wingers and their paranoid cries of "cultural Marxism" don't want them to know, and the Streisand Effect takes hold from there.

Listen to myself and my fellow alt-left mods converse with Sargon of Akkad and the Secretary of Akkad here.

Follow me on these other social media formats:

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Dear fellow leftists, Can we please stop being the incels of the political world?

December 12, 2019 will not be a day fondly remembered by the UK Labour party. The results were horrid. Dismal. The worst election results since the 1930s, apparently. A mere 202 seats, according to wikipedia, as against the 365 gained by the Conservatives. A loss of 60 seats for Labour, a gain of 48 for the Conservatives. Some of these in seats that Labour has had for decades, or that have never voted Conservative previously. Mainly in the northern portions of England.

Ouch.

I can't blame Labour and its supporters for being sore about this. Who wouldn't be? Nobody likes taking this kind of a trouncing. In politics or in any area of human endeavor.

However, responses from the hard left portion of Labour's base go well beyond the normal and expected response of licking one's wounds, trying to figure out what went wrong and going back to the drawing board, as it were.

What's the Definition of Insanity?
"Not my Prime Minister: Resist Racist Johnson" reads an event posted on Facebook, calling for a protest on Downing Street the following day, Dec 13. "Boris Johnson is a racist, bigot and homophobe. He doesn't represent multicultural Britain. He has called Muslim women 'letter boxes', called black people 'piccaninnies with watermelon smiles' and LGBT people 'bum boys'.  We can not have him as Prime Minister for the next 5 years. Let's meet the first day of his new term with protests at Downing Street," reads the event description.

And protest they did. "Two people were arrested as hundreds of protesters descended on Downing Street to "defy Tory rule" after Boris Johnson's election victory," reads this Evening Standard headline. As you might expect, this did not go well. "One witness said Whitehall had "descended into chaos" the story claims, and reports on such activities as "Protesters hammered on a bus trapped in the cordon and shouted “free the bus” and “this is our bus”, before chanting the children’s song The Wheels On The Bus." "A handful linked arms briefly to block the exit to the bus while shouting “whose bus, our bus”.

"Visibly frustrated passengers on board were eventually allowed to leave, while protesters tried to board and remonstrated with police amid demands to “free the driver."

Social media is likewise lit up with angry sentiment. Look up #NotMyPrimeMinister on twitter and you'll fast see what I mean. Tweets express dismay over the future of the NHS (National Health Service), opposition to austerity, cuts and privatization and depicting photos and footage from the abovementioned Downing Street protests.

And The Guardian, always the stalwart of good, rational journalism that it is, recently ran this headline: "Britain needs its own Mueller report on Russian ‘interference."

Is any of this sounding familiar? Does it remind you of anything?

Yes, of course. Trump's 2016 victory in the US. Well now we can cue the same kind of ongoing protest and outrage in the left leaning press in the UK. Some of it sensible and justified, but just as much of it hysterical and stupid. And there are, of course, the usual condemnations of working class voters who opted for the Tories as "stupid" and ignorant of their own class interests.

Can we on the left please stop this?

We are embarrassing ourselves. A headline in the Daily Express perhaps puts it best: "Election protests against Boris branded 'pathetic' and 'disgusting' - 'THEY are fascist!' ANTI-Boris Johnson activists have been slammed for being "disrespectful" and "arrogant" after protests erupted across the country against the Tories' landslide election majority."

Indeed.

"Utter cretins. You have the right to protest. But not the right to stampede into London, disrupt everyone, be unruly and vile, if you do, you can f***ing do one. I just can't stand their level of sanctimonious arrogance. They lost, so they change to balaclavas and smoke and aggression because they think they're right and perfect etc."

Others pointed out the protests by "pathetic middle class kids" helped "persuade the so called Labour heartlands that they want nothing to do with you."

I can't say I disagree.

I'm not saying that we can not and should not protest Johnson or Trump when warranted. I'm not saying that Labour, like the Democrats, should not act as the official opposition to the governing party. They're called the "official" opposition for a reason, after all. A key feature of liberal democracy is the right of its citizenry to protest, challenge and criticize the government in power. This provides a check on the power and excesses of the government, keeps them on their toes and motivates them to perform well. At least in theory. Nothing wrong with that.

Moreover, I'm not especially happy about Johnson's victory myself. I'm an avowed social democrat who occasionally flirts with outrightly socialist ideas. The UK Labour party would be my natural home were I a Brit, despite my disagreements with them on some other issues - immigration, identity politics, diversity for diversity's sake, most feminism etc - and my overall disdain for the romanticist culture of protest and revolution for its own sake that tends to pervade much of the western activist left.

Thing is, Labour's defeat here was much less a repudiation of social democracy and much more an expression of exasperation with the long, drawn out process of Brexit. Labour promised a softer deal and another referendum to get the voter's stamp of approval. The Tories, conversely, ran on the slogan of "Get Brexit done." Since a lot of brexiteers were in these more northern, traditionally Labour districts, this put Labour in a very difficult, maybe even impossible position. Hardly what I'd call an endorsement of fascism and racism. In hindsight, the outcome was quite predictable.

What I'm asking is for the left to stop being the political equivalent to that "nice guy" we've all known who whines and moans about how women won't date him because he's too nice. Now we call guys like that incels, and oddly enough, leftists don't like these sorts of fellows much. And with some reason. While it may be objectively true that the women in question would be better off dating nice men as opposed to abusive ones, it's also true that the choice is not the "nice" guy's to make. Incels who whine about women who won't date them come across as entitled. The women chose some other guy. The thing to do is some self reflection and try to figure out why the women made the choices they did so that the incel can make the necessary corrections and hopefully achieve a different result down the road.

The same dynamic applies here. It seems absurd that I should have to point out that if you call the working class stupid, ignorant and racist, they're not going to like you or support your cause any. These kinds of leftists become the incels of the political world. Not involuntarily celibate, but involuntarily out of power. And for many of the same reasons. Their sense of entitlement stands in for a lack of effort to woo the objects of their affection, and they wear their resentment at the predictable and inevitable outcome on their sleeves.

Boris Johnson and the Conservatives won a clean election fair and square. I hate to have to be the one to tell you this if you're a lefty Brit in the mold of Momentum or the Socialist Worker or whatever, but yeah, Boris Johnson is your prime minister. Your feelings on the matter don't override the laws of your land and the fundamental premise of democracy. Certainly you're allowed to disagree with Tory policy. You're allowed to protest it. You're allowed to join Labour, the Lib-Dems or whomever and put your own two-cents worth into the division of an alternate policy agenda.

But please do so intelligently and in a manner that respects the democratic process and the will of the electorate. Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. And, in the interests of fairness, Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister of Canada, regardless of what rightist voters in Canada's more conservative western provinces may happen to think - and take it from me, they don't think highly of it and are doing no shortage of whining themselves. So this isn't just a leftist thing, but the left should be better than this. If you claim to be for "the people" then the place to start is to respect their will, respect their right to self determination, respect their right to make up their own minds on issues while simultaneously trying to persuade them of the benefits of following a more social democratic as opposed to a more conservative political approach. Calling them stupid and racist probably isn't a good strategy. Just a thought. There can't be social democracy without the democracy, after all.

Please, let's stop being the incels of the political world.

Follow Ernest Everhard on these formats:

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Jokers of the World, Unite!

Not quite what Marx had in mind, but it's a start
Put on a happy face, comrades! We finally have our parable for the times we live in. Or do we? Is Joker our movie?

- Spoilers ahead, so stop here if you don't want me to ruin the surprise for you -

First off, Joker isn't a typical DC universe film, that's for certain. It's style and ambiance strongly recalls the works of Martin Scorsese from the late 1970s and early 80s - think Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy. Thematically, it's much more Fight Club, Falling Down or American Psycho in their explorations of the alienated male psyche than any of the raft of recent superhero films. It's themes are not new. Hell, you could trace them all the way back to Dostoevsky's Underground Man or Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean, if you felt so inclined. Fans looking for a showdown between Batman and the Joker will be disappointed. We see only a bit of Bruce Wayne, and then only as a child.

So with that out of the way, themes of class warfare do permeate the film. Sanitation workers are on strike, and presumably have been for some time. Government by and for the wealthy results in cut backs for the most vulnerable people across the board. "The system doesn't give a shit about people like you" Arthur's black female caseworker tells him, after advising him that he's been cut off of benefits. "It doesn't give a shit about people like me either."

Poignant.

And it shows. Gotham City - which is little more than New York in the early 1980s renamed - is in a wretched state of decay. We're shown people living in conditions scarcely fit for animals. Roving gangs of thugs and giant rats rule filthy and dilapidated streets. Corporate snobs such as the three goons that Arthur Fleck guns down harass and bully those less fortunate than themselves. Following Arthur's retaliation, he becomes a sort of symbol of Gotham City's frustration with out of touch elites, and clown-masked demonstrators begin protesting and rioting. Can you really blame them?

Much ado has been made about this film. Right and "left" alike have criticized its apparent wanton violence, and suggest it legitimizes white male incel rage, or something like that. It's defenders claim it's a genuinely revolutionary manifesto. The film of the rising tide of class realism long overdue.

It's neither of these. Not quite.

It's important to remember that Fleck ultimately becomes a comic book villain, not a revolutionary. In this film, he is completely marginalized, with only his mentally ill mother for companionship. He deals with conniving and backstabbing coworkers in his part time McJob as a party clown. His boss blames him for the loss of a sign after he gets beaten up by thugs, and deducts its cost from his pay, which we can safely assume isn't anything to write home about. He becomes the butt of the jokes of a popular late night television show host. His relationship with a young woman who's his neighbor turns out to all be in his head. It's hard not to feel sorry for the poor fella. Those who don't, because he's poor, mentally ill or because he's a white male, are showing their true colors here. Yet he does end up committing very real acts of brutality and violence, and this is not valorized in any way.

He's no revolutionary, nor the criminal mastermind we're familiar with. Not in this film leastwise. Arthur Fleck doesn't really become somebody until he guns down three goons on a subway, who turn out to be Wayne Enterprises employees. This sparks an uprising of rioters and protesters in clown masks, matching Fleck's own makeup. However, the rage we see is that of an alienated and nihilistic mob with a base of legitimate grievances but no means of channeling that rage into effective political action. We're not seeing V for Vendetta here. The rioters wear clown masks, not Guy Fawkes masks. This is very telling. They do not march on the halls of power, but riot in and destroy their own neighborhoods. Don't believe the hype: nihilism, not socialism nor white male resentment is the guiding outlook here. Fleck himself has zero political or social consciousness. "Kill the rich" has its superficial appeal, but will accomplish nothing even were it followed through on. "Challenge the productive relations that give rise to huge wealth disparities." That's harder and takes more work, and admittedly doesn't have the same ring to it.

For their part, the "leftists" who caterwaul about incels, white male rage and entitlement are as much a part of the fiddling while Rome burns classes as Thomas Wayne is. And Fleck's most poignant question "What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?" is as much for them as it is for Wall Street. As if there was any appreciable difference at this point. If the reviews this film received in much of the mainstream press are any indication, they've missed the point completely. If white males who've been dispossessed by social and economic changes wrought by neoliberalism turn to reactionary ideologies or outright nihilism because the so called progressives offer them only guilt and shame over their identity, well, they get what they f**king deserve, don't they?

Truer Words ...
Joker is a class conscious film, but it's no manifesto. And it shouldn't be. Agitprop is boring. But it is a stern warning. Ignore class disparities at your peril, because the Jokers of this world aren't going away. What's more, they may just end up getting a real revolutionary ideology and seriously organizing, not with rich people per-se but with the corrupt and abusive productive relations of capitalism itself firmly in its crosshairs.

That would be something to truly put on a happy face about.

Follow Ernest Everhard on these formats:

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

TERFs: Executed via Circular Firing Squad

"Under Thatcher and then Blair and continuing up until our contemporary moment, the working class has seen its culture slowly and progressively destroyed," Deirdre O'Neill writes in this Medium article, and she's not happy about it. I can't say I blame her so far. I'm not happy about it either.
One of the consequences of the massive changes that have taken place in working class life over the last forty years of neo liberalism has been the erasure of class-consciousness and the loss of the language of class as an analytical framework within which to articulate and make sense of those changes.
Couldn't agree more. The article gives an account of how the left abandoned material, working class concerns in favor of cultural and identity based issues of greater concern to a careerist academic middle class that is generally accurate. It's also worth noting, however, that there was not, for a time, much choice of which way the leftist parties of the developed world should go. This was a long, painful and complicated process, so it's worth going over it again, in point form:
  • Disillusion with Marxian socialism and materialism setting in on the post WW2 left, as the tyrannical nature of Stalin's U.S.S.R becomes known.
  • The emergence of critical theory and the new left. The third world abroad and minorities at home are cast in the role once reserved for the industrial proletariat.
  • The increasingly international business environment leading to what we came to call globalization. Mid to low skill level jobs that depended on union representation and a sophisticated regulatory welfare state to maintain a middle class lifestyle were among the first to be lost to the third world.
  • Automation also proceeded apace in this time.
  • Resulting in a decline in the political clout exercised by the unionized blue collar working class, itself became more conservative as a result of attaining a middle class level of existence after WW2. 
  • These factors allowed the likes of Reagan and Thatcher to come to power in the US and UK, and they adopted policies that further weakened the power of organized labor. 
  • Leftist governments such as those of François Mitterrand in France were forced to backpedal on social democratic reform due to the threat of capital flight and investment strike, which were becoming bigger clubs in the hands of the rich and powerful, and this trend would only increase into the internet age.
  • Corporate media would lay the blame for this investment strike and capital flight on the flawed and anachronistic ideologies of the center left parties, and whip up popular backlash against social democratic ideas. Electorates now do corporate power's dirty work for it, urging leftist parties to get with the program and enact business friendly neoliberal policies, and in so doing giving those neoliberal policies a thin but very useful veneer of democratic legitimacy. 
  • Communism unraveling in the U.S.S.R and its satellites, and the People's Republic of China embracing market reforms, discrediting socialism in the mainstream.
  • New social movements emphasizing identity gradually becoming more mainstream in the late 20th century.
  • Declining birth rates resulting in western governments relying on increased levels of immigration to top up population growth.
  • Large numbers of women, people of color and immigrants entering the workforce swelling its numbers, further weakening labor's bargaining power, but also serving as a new basis of support for center left political parties.
  • The shift to a more managerial role in the global economy results in increased emphasis on higher education in the western world as the key to a middle class lifestyle, while blue collar labor declines. A university degree, once the pedigree of the upper crust, now becomes the mainstay of the middle class.
  • Concomitant with this is the identity based new social movements finding their stronghold in academia, concluding a long shift away from economics and towards culture in a western left disillusioned with the obvious flaws and failings of the so-called communist world.
  • Abandoned by the "left", the working class becomes vulnerable to political exploitation from the right, which appeals to their resentments towards cultural elites but shifts their anger towards scapegoats - immigrants, minorities and the like, to gain their votes. Once in office, the right then abandons cultural populism in favor of economic neoliberalism. 
The upshot of all of this is that the leftist political parties of the first world shifted from the unionized blue collar working class to educated cosmopolitan urban knowledge workers as their basis of support, and they really didn't have much choice if they wanted to stay relevant in electoral politics. From the early 1980s onward, it simply wasn't possible to win an election on a socialist or social democratic platform in most developed nations. It's as simple as that. Sorry. I don't like it either, but that's the way it was, and in many places continues to be. Social democracy is struggling world wide, with few exceptions. One of these exceptions being, of all places, the USA, where Bernie Sanders has galvanized considerable support for a social democratic platform. 

Did the moneyed classes capitalize on their newfound advantages over the working class? Certainly. But was it all part of a conspiracy to destroy the working class right from the get go? I doubt it. In a way, that's really the damning thing about capitalism. It's destructiveness is so unintentional. Capital follows the path of least resistance and maximal profit by its nature. Conspiracy is not only unnecessary, but often counterproductive.

Which brings us to the second thrust of Deirdre's article, summed up in this passage:
In the light of this its difficult not to consider the rapid rise of transgender ideology and its concomitant activism enthusiastically embraced by the middle class left, to be connected to the dismantling of radical politics over the last 40 years and the demoralization and feelings of defeat it has engendered.
From here, the article veers into "TERF" or trans-exclusionary radical feminist territory. While I sympathize with some if its criticisms of "transgender ideology" the problem I see with the older 2nd wave TERF brand of radical / socialist feminism is that they opened the door to all of the metapolitical tactics that the transgender ideologues are now using on them. That the intersectional transgender movement would upset the TERFs has more than a whiff of karmic justice to it. The transgender activists have not only beaten the TERFs at their own game, they've beaten the TERFs at the very game the TERFs wrote the rules for.

That's gotta hurt.

Let's take a closer look.
Transgender activism has presented the privileged with an opportunity to ignore questions of class inequality while at the same time allowing some the opportunity to perform a superficial radicalism and progressiveness.
This was radical feminism from the 1960s onwards. Shooting down the romantic overtures of the male of the species took on the moral and cultural gravitas of a revolutionary act against tyrannical power in the ego drenched minds of pseudo intellectual women and their male lapdogs from the 1980s onwards, at least as far as most mainstream media was concerned. A lot easier than unionizing the local supermarket, I suppose. If society is going to legitimize any demographic's favorite activity as an act of glorified transgression against supposedly illegitimate power structures, who wouldn't jump at the chance if it was their group that would be so privileged?
The transgender movement demands a rejection of biological reality. There is something very terrifyingly fragile about our commitment to reasoned debate if we can so nonchalantly cast aside facts such as our biological constitution.
TERFs were looking on much of gender as being no more than a social construct going back to the 1960s. Many such feminists went as far as to claim that heterosexuality itself was little more than a creation of the patriarchy designed to objectify and oppress women, and would dismiss all arguments to the contrary appealing to evolution and biology as mere apologetics for male power and privilege.

Funny how it's okay to handwave realities we don't like when we're the ones in the privileged position of being able to call others out on their privilege. When it's us who are supposedly privileged, that's when it's different. That's when the Anita Sarkeesians of this world suddenly start understanding where the Carl Benjamins of this world have been coming from all this time.
There has been a glaring refusal on the part of the left to come to terms with the question of transgenderism and its impact on women and by women I mean people who belong to the sex class that has ovaries and is able to give birth.
There has been a glaring refusal on the part of the left to come to terms with the twin and intersecting questions of feminism and neoliberalism and their impact on men and by men I mean people who belong to the sex that has testicles and are able to impregnate women. A "left" consisting of a bunch of infighting identity based movements drawing their lines of concern only up to the point where their own "marginalized" identities can be deployed for political and social advantage is not a left that can successfully push back against global neoliberal hegemony.
The levels of groupthink necessary to keep this ship afloat, the self censorship, the intimidation, the blatant dishonesty, the denial of debate with howls of ‘transphobia’ point to a left in deep crisis.
You don't say! Just replace howls of transphobia with howls of racism and howls of misogyny and I think you get the picture. Back in the 1990s, liberal feminists along the lines of Christina Hoff Sommers, Camille Paglia and Cathy Young were describing the radical feminist women's studies classrooms in very similar terms. You can guess how well they were, and continue to be, received in feminist circles.

Are we starting to notice a pattern here?
The middle class dominated left has abandoned its obligation to critically engage, to clarify and to lead on the political issues of the day. Instead it has simply accepted the terms of the debate put forward by the trans militants (including their really basic conflation of sex and gender). This failure is rooted in the left’s acceptance of identity politics with its assumption that how a group (or the primary definers within a group) articulates its oppression is the last word in the matter.
This is called Standpoint theory and was a central element in radical feminist ideology almost right from its inception, and the source of much of its authoritarian and antinomian character. Implicitly up into the 1980s, explicitly since then.  Related to this is the notion of a vanguard party or movement taking it upon itself to define who is and isn't part of the charmed circle they've taken it upon themselves to represent, and decide unilaterally what the group's interests are, on behalf of the entire group. This has been standard practice on the regressive authoritarian left going all the way back to Lenin.

The decision of liberal academia to acquiesce to the demands of the standpoint feminists and deligitimize any and all criticism of women's studies as misogyny, criticism of critical race theory/black studies as racism and so on has been a dagger to the heart of every good and noble aspiration that the political left has had over the last several decades. Centuries even. The damage that this has done has been absolutely incalculable. At the very least, it's laid the foundations for all of the excesses of current year SJW culture. And it wasn't done to appease the transgender activists. It was done to appease the second wave feminists in academia during the 1970s and 80s.
The closing down of the complexities of this discussion with the mantra ‘transwomen are women’ is profoundly undemocratic. In a properly functioning democracy the concerns of everyone would be included in an open and transparent discussion.
The concerns of everyone would be included in an open, transparent discussion? Would this include men's rights activists, typically brushed off as misogynists? Would this include that segment of the working class opposed to high levels of immigration, typically handwaved as racists? Would this include feminists who are not women of color? Typically brushed off as white feminists? Would this include cisgender heterosexual black males, sometimes brushed off as "hoteps" or as "the white people of black people?" Would this include white cisgender homosexual males, who are branded as misogynistic for doing exactly what TERFs think white cisgender females should be doing: rejecting the opposite sex for sexual and romantic partnership? Does it include the white male class conscious working class, the "brocialists" so called?  Does it include the original alt-left; race conscious white socialists? We wouldn't want to leave anybody out now, would we?

I think we all know what Deirdre's answer to all of those questions would be.

While I agree that stratifying people in accordance to how "marginalized" they are is incredibly counterproductive and completely contrary to the notions of inclusivity and equality that the social justice crowd so loves to pay lip service to, once again we can hardly lay the blame for this at the feet of the recent wave of transgender activism. Welcome to the world non-black, non-women and non-queer leftists have been living in ever since the summer of love, Deirdre. I'm pretty sure I can guess your response. Some sort of sneer about really giving a shit about the privileged class. Well then, forgive me if I don't give a shit about whatever frustrations you've suffered at the hands of the transgender activists. So much for solidarity, or an injury to one being an injury to all, I guess.
Instead, critical thinking is relabeled ‘transphobia’, even basic facts are now apparently a sign of Trump leaning tendencies (thereby ensuring that the Right will own this issue, because the left cannot sensibly discuss it). Rather than fighting for us all to transition to a fairer more equal society, the social justice warriors focus on the right of men to adopt the stereotypes that most women have long ago rejected.
Once again, this pandora's box was flung open by the 1960s and 70s wave of radical feminism, and this now apparent sense of indignity and having been cheated by transgender activists utilizing all the same methods reveals just how arrogant and bloated with a sense of entitlement feminism's 2nd wave really was. Who decided what "stereotypes" were "outdated" and that any defense of traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, even if voluntarily adopted instead of socially mandated - was indicative of far right politicial leaning? What are we to make of women who are frustrated with being shamed out of activities deemed too traditionally feminine, such as being stay at home moms, getting married or having romantic relationships with men? Your frustration with being silenced by transgender activists is understandable, Deirdre, but what about all the people who had to be silenced so that your brand of misandrist radical feminism could become hegemonic in academia and most media?

Contrary to current year perspectives, the academy of the mid 1970s onward wasn't some stronghold of ideological pluralism and sexual license that we've only very recently lost. Rather, it was the anti heterosex radical feminists who had seized the commanding heights of politically correct discussion, and they were saying to male liberals all the same things this article accuses transgender activists of saying to TERFs. A decade prior, the 2nd wave radfems had done the same thing to the 1960s new left. When the male radicals of the time accused the feminists of distracting from and derailing class based politics, I'm sure we can all guess how sympathetic the radfems of the time were.

Welcome to the Revolution
Hell, it may not even have really begun there. The new left had supplanted the old by sidelining the blue collar proletariat in favor of the third world and ethnic minorities. The old left had supplanted the classical liberals by sidelining the property owning bourgeoisie in favor of the industrial workers, the classical liberals sidelined the aristocracy and the clergy, and so on. With but little exaggeration, we can trace this back all the way to the signing of the Magna Carta.

All of this points to the fatal flaw at the heart of the direction the left has gone in almost since its inception. A politics based on the oppression olympics, so called, is doomed to fail. Sooner or later, you meet someone more oppressed than you, and the moral force with which you've been pressing your claims against those higher up the social hierarchy than yourself now compel you to yield to those pressing claims against you from below.  We need a better approach. We need a comprehensive theory of liberation applicable to all, rather than a ceaseless dialectic of oppressed and oppressor, a dialectic that promises revolution, but only seems to deliver a circular firing squad.

Follow Ernest Everhard on these formats:



Saturday, 21 September 2019

Why the Left is Winning the Culture War: Hard Right


Previously, I wrote of the common notion that the progressives were winning the culture war, a brief and by no means complete survey of reactionary thought on the matter and proposed a number of explanations for and caveats to that idea. Now, I begin to look at the deeper reasons why the right, the reactionaries especially, have a difficult time even maintaining the status quo, let alone in turning back the clock, in modern civilization.

The right wing political message is harder. By harder, I mean that right wing political thought trades in both foundational principles and policy proposals that are less likely to be widely popular. Conservatives have always been the "party of no", the party-poopers of the political scene. They claim that we cannot achieve all of our legislative goals without punishing levels of taxation and government overreach.

Central to conservative thought as far back as Edmund Burke is the notion that human nature is not fundamentally perfectible, and indeed it's an uphill battle to improve it at all. Humanity is in need of some kind of higher set of moral and philosophical principles beyond the reach of his will to power in order to keep him on the right track. Religion is often touted as the source of this.

Overall, this is a less popular message than that peddled by reformist politicians and ideologies of boundless optimism. First classical liberalism, then socialism and today feminism promise if not utopia, at least a greatly improved way of life over what we have now. This is naturally a more attractive message. It is more attractive to believe that pressing social problems can be solved, than to view them as intractable and that trying to solve them will simply squander limited and valuable resources. We feel better about the left's message of a brighter future. It flatters our egos. We don't like being told that we have a naturally debased nature that makes social progress very difficult and even dangerous.

The left has a long history of offering up ideal classes of people: the proletariat, the 3rd world, women, the poor and marginalized, who if they were just given the reins of power, would guide us into a world free of exploitation, poverty and war. Being the sober voice in a climate of excitement and enthusiasm doesn't win popularity contests. And don't expect to be exonerated in hindsight when the project truly does go awry, just as you predicted it would, either. Of course, the right does sometimes enter its own politics of fervent hope and even utopianism, but these incidences occur in spite of, rather than because of, the underlying nature of conservative thought.

It is not that the left does not posit the need to make sacrifices for the achievement of its goals. But the left tends to ask more of those who are, at least according to leftist bodies of thought, able to give up more. Moreover, leftism offers hope of societal improvement when all is said and done. The sacrifices demanded by reactionaries, on the other hand, are mainly to stop things getting worse than they already are, and more often fall on those already on the less fortunate end of the social spectrum. This is in contrast to the deeply rooted Christian ethic otherwise so much touted on at least some segments of the left, which generally extols charity and concern for the less fortunate.

It is not that right leaning people are unwilling to be charitable. But they're far more likely to balk at the encoding of charity into our political, economic and social structures in the way that leftist calls for reform advocate for. Rightism would prefer that charity be a private, individual decision, and don't like the notion that there are structural inequities and injustices in the way that wealth and resources end up being distributed. Most people know, or at least suspect how inadequate this will be in the face of the real need out there. Right wing people may sneer at how easy it is to be generous and charitable with other people's money, and that's precisely the point. It is easier. It is easier to at least advocate for redistributive taxation and social spending, even if the threat of capital flight and investment strike make those programs tricky to implement.

Up until very recently, the right was seen as the side of the prudish, the censorious and the puritanical. Say no to drugs. No sex until marriage. Abstinence only. Contraception and abortion are bad, murder even. Every sperm is sacred. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were seen as the gateway to Sodom and Gomorrah. Not among all right leaning people, but those who thought that way did lean right.

That is not the path of least resistance to which people are naturally inclined. While we can hew to very straight and narrow lifestyles in times of shortage and hardship, or else when in tight knit social environments that share the same values, once modern levels of affluence and technological development made less stringent ways of life attainable with reduced social costs, that's naturally what most people did. Who would naturally deal with the shortage and hardship of marrying young and having a mess of children once this ceased to be economically necessary or socially mandated? If there's no real reason not to enjoy sex, drugs and rock and roll once we stop believing that they'll make the baby Jesus cry and your parents, boss and neighbors won't object to it, it's easier to do so than not to, however real the very real problems of addiction and abuse are, at least for some people.

Over the last decade or so, the cultural left has introduced its own culture of austerity, with privilege checking, broadening definitions of sexual harassment and rape, speech codes, avoidance of bad words that might trigger someone with a marginalized identity, deconstruction and critique of movies, music, video games and so on for sexist and racist content and so on. This goes back a bit further on college campuses, to the late 1980s approximately. And even here, they are not so much suggesting that we "just say no" but rather that we merely get informed, enthusiastic and affirmative consent. In triplicate, and you'd better cross all the t's and dot all the i's. And still hope that no one cries rape or harassment, since the zeitgeist demands that the accuser be given the benefit of the doubt. Moreover, this new stringency doesn't seem to apply to historically "marginalized" groups: women, ethnic minorities, trans folks etc.

Still and all, this is an altogether different message than abstinence only, at least until marriage. An option that is increasingly beyond many people's price range, and not likely to be entered into until after the long period of education and preparation needed to secure the kinds of middle class jobs you can raise a family on. Whatever flaws exist in hook-up culture so called, and there are many, people will simply not revert back to the sexual morality that prevailed in agricultural societies where for all intents and purposes, you were an adult at fifteen.

So while not completely equivalent, the emergent social justice warrior (SJW) is sometimes mentioned as the leftist counterpart to the stuffy Christian conservative. Hard leftists - Marxists, Stalinists and Maoists and the like, have had a similar sort of tough mindedness, but these have never been significant even on what's considered left wing in the 1st world. What's relevant here is that the last few decades wherein second wave feminism gradually gave way to the SJWs are a wink of an eye in the face of the history of western civilization overall, wherein it has been religion and conservatism that has eschewed creature comforts in favor of stoicism and stern morality.

Moreover, reactionaries propose some genuinely harsh measures. Who is going to tell women - the majority of the population and currently united and galvanized by feminist ideology - that their place is at home, barefoot and pregnant after all? This seems like political suicide, and so not surprisingly is backed away from even by those on the right who actually do think this way. In a similar vein, it is the right wing that is proposing that worker's rights be curtailed or even done away with entirely, and employment for mid to low skill workers with little bargaining power reduced to something comparable to serfdom. It is the right wing that proposes that much of the populace lose access to health care, public education, or a social safety net in times of need. Outside the United States, these messages unsurprisingly do not resonate with working and middle class people. And conservatives within America must go to great lengths and expense to gain working class buy-in for their frankly sado-masochistic kinds of policies.

So it is that the right wing presents a harder path for individuals and societies to follow, and not always with a long term payoff to make it worthwhile, other than the suggestion that the left will lead us to a still worse place. This is a handicap for the right. As a reason for progressive dominance in the culture war, I'd say it's relevant, significant even but not central.

For one thing, the right's message of austerity doesn't always fail to resonate. While they haven't convinced most to just say no or wait for marriage, they've convinced many more, particularly in the English speaking world, that harsh cutbacks to social services, infrastructure and the like, along with weakening the power of the unions and the state to affect wages and working conditions were necessary to preserve the long term economic health of the 1st world nations.

The message resonated deeply with many of the people who had the most to lose from it, because it appealed to a sense of heroic mission and sacrifice, as well as to a sense of individualistic masculine pride. The aforementioned Robert Conquest and John O'Sullivan, they who believed leftward drift inevitable in any but explicitly right wing institutions, would have been quite surprised by the direction that Tony Blair would take the British Labour party, and how this was the rule and not the exception in social democratic parties across the western world.

In my own jurisdiction of the province of Alberta in western Canada, it's very hard to win an election if one isn't running on a platform of economic austerity. The deep cuts to social spending implemented in the 1990s by then Premier Ralph Klein make him one of the best remembered premiers in provincial history among Albertans, and they elected United Conservative leader Jason Kenney as premier in April of 2019 in the hopes that he can repeat Klein's performance.

The trick to pulling this off, though, is that a LOT of long term investment into policy institutes, think tanks, alternative media and similar kinds of capital intensive ideological infrastructure was necessary to eventually gain mainstream buy-in. Not just investment, but long term strategic thinking that boiled down the message of austerity to three to four word sound bite slogans with which a compliant media could saturation bomb the public, until massive cut backs and privatization just became common sense.

Another example: to this date, the late David Koch and his brother Charles have financed libertarian minded organizations, with highly successful online outreach and thus right-libertarianism has a notable following among post-boomer generations, particularly of white males who've been excluded from the mainstream narrative of privilege and social justice, themselves rather infamously funded by rival billionaire "philanthropists" such as George Soros. While libertarianism has been, for reasons soon to be discussed, less successful than social justice overall, it does show that the more dour nature of right wing thought is not an insurmountable weakness, provided there's sufficient resources and organization behind it. Which there often isn't, for reasons to be discussed in future installments of this series.

Another weakness of leftism is that it's ideologies are more complex and systemic. The core of right wing thought can be boiled down to the idea that some people are naturally more gifted than others, or that good and/or smart people do good and/or smart things, and so succeed. When society goes astray, it's because bad people are gaining the reins of state power and implementing redistributionist policies. These ideas can range from relatively reasonable criticisms of center left politicians to bizarre conspiracy theories implicating the Illuminati, Elders of Zion or even reptilian space aliens.  As naive as these views are, they are also simpler and easier to understand for the uninitiated.

Leftist theories, by contrast, posit deeper, more complex, abstract and systemic views of the world, and come up with their own unsettling sorts of ideological claims. Leftist explanations of poverty and steep levels of inequality are systemic and therefore not as easy to grasp. They're also easier for the right to straw-man: "leftists are just jealous of people who are better than them and want to take their wealth and resources for themselves" or similar nonsense.

Moreover, leftist claims posit their own challenges that no shortage of people would like to duck or deny. If poverty and hardship have systemic causes and could happen to anyone, does this not then place a burden of responsibility upon the polity and its citizens? Should we not be willing to pony up more in taxes to help the poor, raise the minimum wage or even be prepared to roll up our sleeves and take to the streets because, after all, the means of production aren't going to seize themselves? Is it not easier to simply suggest that the poor are just stupid and lazy and leave the tough job of managing the economy and the polity to the smart fellas willing to put in the time and effort to do it? And if they get paid a lot more money to do so, aren't they deserving of it? This isn't so easy a line of argument to refute as the left would like it to be. It's not completely and entirely untrue either.

Of course, the outcomes of this kind of thinking don't always rebound to the benefit of the right, as "woke" dominance in cultural spheres imposed by incorporated cultural institutions make clear. Cultural leftists did an effective job of organizing and strategizing in order to increase their influence in academia and the media, as any paleoconservative willing to talk about "cultural Marxism" would be only happy to tell you. The thing is, the whole "long march through the institutions" thing isn't simply a right wing conspiracy theory. There's something to it and it goes a long way towards explaining current progressive cultural dominance in cultural spheres, because the right was so poorly equipped to deal with it.

So the right's core political message is tougher overall to accept, though there's plenty of qualifications and exceptions to this. This is one reason for progressive dominance in the current culture war, but by no means the most significant one.

Continued in Part 3: Left Alone

Follow Ernest Everhard on these formats:

Friday, 6 September 2019

Why the Left is Winning the Culture War: An Introduction to and Rejection of that Fundamental Premise


I must confess here and now that listening to conservative and reactionary YouTubers is a guilty pleasure of mine. They do, believe it or not, have their admirable traits. On average they come across as more reasonable than their woke counterparts, though this is a fairly recent phenomena. It is, sadly to say, easier to have a conversation with a conservative intellectual than a leftist college activist these days. Would that the former were a bit more numerous and the later a good bit less so. Of course, reasonable leftists would be best of all.

A common lament among the more astute and honest people on the right (yes, they do exist) is the long defeat they've been waging against emergent progressive culture. A good recent example of this is a video posted to YouTube by the Heritage Foundation of a moderated panel discussion hosted by the Claremont Institute entitled America's Cold Civil War. The panelists engage in a familiar refrain: why does the strategic initiative in America's long running culture war now most certainly reside on the left?

The answers that they come up with should be familiar to anyone at all versed in conservative and reactionary thought. It's attributed mostly to the emergence of the new left in the 1960s and their capture of academia and radicalization of the democratic party shortly thereafter. This is not entirely untrue, nor even insignificant. In fact, so not insignificant is it that I've even done a blog series about it, and said series has even been cited as a "foundational text" for reform of the current year social justice movement! But enough plugging out of me. The point being is that many right wing thinkers, ranging from Patrick Buchanan to the more moderate David Brooks to conservative mainstays such as Dinesh D'Souza, Sean Hannity and just about any Fox News commenter you can name lay the blame for the current climate of moral laxity and political correctness at the feet of the new social movements that arose in the 1960s and after.

Some reactionary thinkers trace progressive dominance back much farther than that, and lay it at the feet of the enlightenment itself. This is the premise of the infamous Dark Enlightenment outlook. This being the big N neoreaction, abbreviated NRx and exemplified by thinkers such as Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug) and Nick Land.

Progressive triumph and concomitant civilizational decline is such a prevalent theme in neoreactionary work that it's become one of their axiomatic philosophical claims. NRx refers to the current dominance of progressive thought and values as "the Cathedral" and compare it to the dominance of the Catholic Church over medieval culture. They regard mainstream conservative political parties as little more than severely compromised and controlled opposition. A common observation they make is that "any institution not explicitly right wing will gradually drift left," a law of politics they often cite. It is one of three of Robert Conquest's laws of politics, and John O'Sullivan's first law states something very similar. Discussions of the Cathedral and the long term prospects for western civilization are common in neoreactionary spaces, and the mood is not a positive one. Democracy and egalitarianism have triumphed, in their view, and civilization is doomed now that the riffraff are at the helm.

It's interesting to note that neoreaction's criticism of the enlightenment and its views on left wing cultural hegemony place them in a curious and ironic kind of kinship with the very "cultural Marxists" they're otherwise so critical of: the Frankfurt School, the French post-structuralists and even Italian communist leader Antonio Gramsci's theories of cultural hegemony. This blog features a discussion of neoreaction as actually being the right's embrace of postmodernism.

Neoreactionary thinkers have spawned an entire underground of bloggers and YouTube commentators. One notable neoreactionary YouTuber who tackles these questions frequently is a trad-Catholic who calls himself The Distributist. I mention him specifically because he's put out some very deep and thought provoking material on this subject that would be well worth looking at. This includes a multi-video series asking What's Wrong with the Alt-Right, a near two hour long video (combining several shorter episodes) on Resisting Progressive Institutions, a video called Sargon, storytelling, Patreon, and power (why the left is winning the culture war) - the name says it all, and a noteworthy video discussing the left as being antifragile. The Distributist is by no means alone in holding these views, but is noteworthy because he articulates them especially well, and his videos are worth a watch if a long view, as in a civilizational level view of the ongoing culture war interests you.

And of course, no discussion of this subject would be complete without a mention of the brilliant Decline of the West, opus of the German philosopher of history Oswald Spengler, published in two parts, one in 1918 and one in 1921. Spengler's influence on reactionary thought would be hard to understate. Basically, he proposes that civilizations go through life-cycles, and he uses seasonal cycles as a kind of metaphor to outline this. Spengler calls western civilization "Faustian" and that its primary cultural motif or "ur-symbol" is a striving for an unattainable infinity, thus lending it a tragic character. The premise of the work is that Faustian civilization is entering its "winter" phase.

This phase is marked by a rise in materialism and primarily economic and world-power concerns and a concomitant loss of connection to its foundational culture. For Spengler, ideas we would term "progressive" - democracy, emphasis on economics, secularism and the like, exemplify the decoupling of civilization from the culture that initially galvanized it. While deep and thought provoking, Decline of the West is a very ponderous and dense work. Spengler's core ideas are also outlined in this 63 video series outlining the work. Yes, 63 videos, and I would recommend you watch them all. I would name only Karl Marx as a thinker that's been more influential to me personally long term than Oswald Spengler.

I would not necessarily call Spengler a reactionary, and in some ways he had an influence on the eventual emergence of the cultural relativism that today's right so despises. This is because he doesn't believe that a culture or civilization can be rightly understood in the terms established by another culture or civilization. Moreover, he doesn't seem to think that civilizational decline can even be reversed. Attempts to recapture lost glory are part-and-parcel of what the decline, or winter phase is all about. In short, reactionary thinking is a symptom of, rather than an antidote to, civilizational decline.

Moreover, his analysis of western civilization seems to make a progressive orientation practically inherent to its very nature. For Spengler, Faustian civilization is a "historical" as opposed to an "ahistorical" civilization. Historical civilizations see themselves as having a wider sense of involvement in the unfolding direction taken by the human race as a whole, and mark the passage of time and significant events in the civilization's history. This naturally lends itself to a progressive as opposed to a conservative or reactionary view. This underlies much of Spengler's apparent pessimism concerning western civilizational decline.

While Spengler's work was generally regarded as reactionary - he considered "blood" the only force capable of overthrowing the power of money (though he does conceive of race in very different terms than the Nazis and fascists did, and was therefore critical of them) - he did attract some progressive and even radical attention. Frankfurt theorist Theodore Adorno published an analysis of Decline in 1950, which while frequently critical, also hoped that Spengler's reactionary ideas could be turned towards progressive ends. Adorno is a man after my heart, it would seem.

Pessimism pervades classical conservative and neoreactionary thought on cultural matters. Leftism has triumphed, and there's nothing for it now except to observe the long descent into destructive anarchy, from which a culture rooted in strong and sustainable cultural and social norms may eventually reemerge. Or not. According to the reactionary narrative, liberal social norms lead to falling birth rates, which cast the economic and even military advantage of the west into long term doubt, or else necessitate high levels of immigration from nations with very different cultural traditions. Cultural traditions not afflicted by the postmodern malaise and atomistic individualism of the west. It is only a matter of time, therefore, before we all end up having to face Mecca five times a day, whether we wish it or no. Already the cities of western Europe have "no go zones" wherein immigrant communities essentially rule and conduct their affairs in accordance with their own indigenous traditions.

Worse yet, this defeatism underlies much of the nihilism and bitterness one encounters on the fringe right, including that nihilism and bitterness that can drive them to kill. As such, this is a more serious issue than it may at first appear. The manifestos of many an apparently deranged far right terrorist or mass shooter highlight this sense of impending civilizational doom. Feeling like there's nothing left to lose, domestic terrorists such as Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarrant go on murderous rampages bent on taking as many leftists and Muslims down with them as they can. As such, this is an issue of concern to us all. Now, before you all start barking, I should note that comparable motives such as disdain for the decadent materialism and sexual laxity of the west also underlie a lot of Jihadist militancy and terrorism.

What I want to propose, and what I will explore in further installments of this series is that while this pessimism is not entirely baseless, it's also far from being completely warranted.

Of course there are certain very real advantages that the left enjoys, especially at present and on cultural and social issues. Some of these advantages are "merely" temporal and institutional, such as dominance in mainstream media and academia. Others of these advantages are deeper and more fundamental to the way the progressive vs the reactionary political mind works on a deep level, and each side's views on and resulting forms of political activity.

However, the right wing also has and continues to have its own advantages, and I doubt that the victory of the progressive left in the culture war was ever certain and need not have even been likely. A different kind of right wing could have gotten a different kind of result. Moreover, there are presently very real areas of right wing ideological dominance, and for several decades, hegemony even. What this shows us is that rather than leftist victory being inevitable, both the left and right have been successful in those areas in which each has invested the greatest measure of importance, and thereby activist vigor.

Finally, I ask whether or not what has triumphed in the zeitgeist of the current year really does constitute leftism at all? Are the neoreactionaries correct in that equality, democracy, liberalism and socialism are essentially triumphant, and all that remains now is to watch this unsustainable faux egalitarianism bring about societal collapse? This is a highly questionable proposition. While social equality across certain lines; race, gender and sexuality especially, are currently vigorous and popular notions, in other ways we've never been more unequal and under the thumb of forces and institutions completely lacking in any kind of transparency or democratic legitimacy and accountability than we are now, and this has repercussions for the authenticity of such democracy and egalitarianism as we now have in the west.

Continued in part 2: The Hard Right

Follow Ernest Everhard on these formats:


Nutpicking Left and Right

The Left, the Right and the Milkshake Recently, there occurred an interesting conversation between one Stephen Woodford, better known as...