Tuesday, 18 October 2016

What the regressive left knows that libertarians and the populist right does not.

The online cultural libertarian movement is in a tailspin again.  In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking that they've ever been in anything other than a tailspin.  This time, it's because feminist critic Christina Hoff Sommers is alleging that several of her YouTube videos have been classed as "potentially objectionable."  Social media user clauses under names like "community guidelines" are notoriously vague, and the only patterns to emerge from the Kafkaesque world of social media moderation seem to be that it's primarily right-leaning stuff that gets deleted and accounts suspended.  These kinds of stories are commonplace, from the deletion of anti-SJW Facebook pages to Milo Yiannopoulos's infamous Twitter ban.

What is happening, our beleaguered shitlords wonder?  What of freedom of speech?  What of objectivity in media, in academia, in the broader society?

There are certain things you learn and catch onto when your political background is in Marxism, or an offshoot of it.  One of those things is that the hard left does not approach politics the way liberals of various hues approach it.  The liberal tends to have faith in human reason and its eventual impact on politics.  The truth once told will set us free, and the reasonable people in positions of power in our various organs of state and culture will set about acting upon what they know to be right.  Failure to do so is simply chalked up to stupidity or ignorance, or perhaps at being bought out. Come election time, simply vote in people who will listen.  Or not, if the incumbents win.  Or not, if a "reformer" wins but nothing substantial changes.  This seems to be happening a lot these days.

People with ideological roots on the far left harbor no such illusions.  They do not see politics as a chivalrous clash of ideas.  They see it as a war of irreconcilable interests between oppressed and oppressor groups.  In this war, anything goes so long as it is done in the interests of the "oppressed" or their self appointed representatives.

This is not new.  The tumblr generation did not invent this.  The great grandfather of tumblr, Vladimir Lenin, called the concept Kto-Kovo, translating roughly into "who, whom?"  Who benefits?  Whose interests prevail, that of the capitalists or that of the revolutionaries?  It is on this basis and this basis alone that the right or wrongness of a given course of action is to be evaluated.

Such thinking did not confine itself to the USSR.  No less a luminary of the (then) new left, Frankfurt School standard bearer Herbert Marcuse famously argued in his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance:

Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.

Surely, no government can be expected to foster its own subversion, but in a democracy such a right is vested in the people (i.e. in the majority of the people). This means that the ways should not be blocked on which a subversive majority could develop, and if they are blocked by organized repression and indoctrination, their reopening may require apparently undemocratic means. They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.
This by one of the founding fathers of critical theory, which along with varying strands of postmodern philosophy, notorious for its denial of enlightenment era claims of objective morality and liberal notions of enlightenment universalism, underlie the core ideology of the regressive left. Should it surprise us, therefore, that people trained in such thought act as ideological gatekeepers in the academic and media institutions their credentials enable them to take administrative posts at?

Back in the USSR, meanwhile, the Leninist traditions carried on, with liberal notions of civil liberties being dismissed as "bourgeois morality" and guilt or innocence in criminal and civil proceedings being determined more by one's professional and class background than whether the evidence of the actual accused's guilt or innocence.

Sound familiar?

When we hear SJWs today claim that there's no such thing as misandry, or racism against white people, they're trodding a very, very well worn path.  Pravda was saying similar things for many decades before tumblr was ever up and running.

Naturally, all of this lends itself to a ruthless political approach that the cultural libertarians and social conservatives have been unable to respond at all well to.  Except where they had no need to respond well since the collapse of the USSR did their work for them as far as refuting Marxist Leninist political economy is concerned, thought the "new" left had long since abandoned those ideas in any event.  But in the realm of identity and cultural politics, different story. Perhaps the Milo Yiannopouloses of this world need to dust off their copies of Machiavelli, if they have any.  For starters.  And the cultural right might want to give up its silly obsessions with true Scotsmen and make Milo their leader.  He's as savvy an activist as they've had in a long time, however much an avatar of everything not socially conservative he quite obviously is.

The alt-left will have similar difficulties if it does not study and learn what the regressive left has been decades in the studying and learning.  Ultimately, the alt-left seeks to challenge not only regressive left dominance in cultural matters, but neo-liberal dominance in economic matters.  We're going to need all the help we can get:

  • We would do well to study the above mentioned Frankfurt School and its theoreticians.
  • It's a myth that Antonio Gramsci coined the phrase "long march through the institutions." It's still an idea worth looking long and hard at, though.  As are Gramsci's theories.
  • The postmodern emphasis on language deconstruction is no mere academic exercise.  It's revealed powerful knowledge on how the human mind uses language to structure and frame thought. You need not study such wordy and pretentious volumes to get an idea.  Cognitive linguist George Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant" is a great little primer on this whole subject.
  • Speaking of media, it works in ways people who don't study media at a post-secondary level don't realize.  Message content is barely the tip of the iceberg.  It can't hurt to study a bit of Marshall McLuhan as part of your broader curriculum in political efficacy.
  • Did I mention Saul Alinsky yet?  Conservatives love to grumble about him.  They love to grumble about a lot of things that their opponents learn and put to effective use.  As my earliest political mentor, former Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra once said, "don't hate the media, become the media."
And I'm sure there's lots more than this, and it will all need to be worked into broader political strategies as time goes on.  It might be useful to know, for example, that campus speech codes can be attacked and ridiculed until hell freezes over; university boards of governors are much more worried about compliance with government hate speech and harassment laws.  It's something called a fiduciary duty.  So nothing will change until those laws do.  Just as one example.  Who knows what might be possible one day?  But a lot can be made possible today too, even if it's just you not walking away from a flame war with a regressive leftist wondering what the hell happened?

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