Friday, 30 December 2016

The Regressive Left Isn't Getting It. Big Surprise.

Much of the Western Left isn't Getting Why They Lost Last November.  Big Surprise.

The victory of Donald Trump in the recent US elections has prompted some rethinking in certain segments of the US left, as I've documented elsewhere.  But there's been no shortage of steadfast determination on part of the regressive left to dig in its heels and cling to postmodernist identity politics with all its might, as depicted in the image above.  

The reception my recent article "Sounds Regressive, but OK" received among the fan base of the group described in said article is another example.  Thanks for the coverage, guys.  You've collectively managed to make it my most successful article to date.  I wouldn't recommend any of you join a debating society any time soon, mind you.  Postmodernism is clearly the intellectual equivalent of Brawndo, if the language comprehension skills and the petty semantic gamesmanship demonstrated by its radical left adherents is any indication of its overall effect on clarity of thought.  Sorry folks, debating such flagrant idiocy and ego-centrism is a waste of my time.  Take your self righteous, entitled regressive tears elsewhere.  I could really give a shit what anyone at "Sounds Liberal but OK" thinks.  They've made their utter and complete stupidity abundantly clear to me and the many hundreds of my readers with the actual levels of literacy required to comprehend the written word effectively.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.  This gem, courtesy of Slate, makes quite clear what the reg-left saw transpire during the election.  The headline really does say it all.  And certainly, regressive rightism was a factor.  Some guys out there really do hate women and people of color.  I like to call those people assholes.   But were racism and sexism more of a factor than they've ever been?  

Never mind the ample levels of coverage of the real issues affecting the election that I discuss here and elsewhere, not to mention the countless links to much more indepth and widely circulated analysis contained in these articles.  Never mind Hillary's weakness as a candidate and the frustrations voters had with eight years of an ineffective democratic administration.  Never mind job losses due to free trade deals like NAFTA and free trade with China.  Never mind what a mess of things they've made in Iraq, Syria and Libya.  Never mind that we had a black president for eight years who managed to carry states that Clinton lost.  Never mind, never mind, never mind.

Because when you took a course in university wherein you learned that the "oppressions experienced by marginalized peoples" were somehow the highest and most unassailable form of truth that there is, even though there is also no such thing as a universal truth and that all perspectives are equal, than what the hell could you, YOU, the educated "intellectual" possibly have to learn from anyone else?  Especially when all these anyone elses are white males.  That's all you ever need to know, folks.  Don't ya know?  Because you took a course.  A COURSE!  In college, you stupid red-state, climate change denying, creationist dumbhead! So go and edumacate yourself already!  After I voxsplain to you why you are a racist and a misogynist, of course.

But to be completely honest, I'm having an easy time finding progressives hard to sympathize with on this one.  Big surprise.  After all, the idea that not only is truth relative, but basic epistemology; man's very means of discovering what truth is or even if there's any one central truth at all, was a precedent set by academic progressives going back to the 1980s and even before.  And now they want to cry and stomp their feet when their political opponents, ranging from climate change skeptics and creation "scientists" to white nationalists appealing to multiculturalist sentiments to men's rights activists making their own claims at gender oppression, to the Trump campaign's apparently cavalier attitude towards truth and media accuracy - employ these very same lines of reasoning in service to their own causes.

Stomp all you like.  Cry me a river.  

Some people no doubt hate your melanin, or hate your vagina.  And, like I said previously, those people are assholes.  Simple as that.  But a lot more people hate your self righteousness, hate your sense of entitlement, hate your incivility, hate your unwillingness to address opposed points of view, hate your flagrant dishonesty, hate your unabashed hypocrisy and double standards, and hate your abuse of regressive canards such as postmodern philosophy, privilege theory and "power plus prejudice" to rationalize all of the above.  And until you get honest and start looking in a mirror, things are just going to go downhill from here.

The house of cards that the post-socialist "left" has been building out of its own intellectual and moral dishonesty and opportunism over the past thirty years is now beginning to collapse.  You'll forgive me if I scoff at regressive leftist admonitions of my racism, misogyny and homophobia.  Stripped of all pretenses, your postmodernism, your knapsacks of privilege and your "power plus prejudice" ideological formulas served only to enable so called "leftists" to embrace a fundamentally ego-centric world view, wherein whims and feels dictate reality and direct behavior.  Much like a toddler.  People can be forgiven for regarding them in that manner.  Observe how regressive leftists:
  • Claim that morality is subjective and completely socially constructed.  Except when it isn't: racism, misogyny and homophobia are to be treated as eternal and transcendent evil - like the devil only worse - at all times, in all places and under all circumstances in which they are encountered.  Don't ask hard questions like what makes racist societies any worse than non-racist societies if there's no objective means of measuring the worth of one culture vs. another?  To ask such a question is racist, of course.  Because you're a white male!  Even if you're not.
  • Insist that all cultures are equal and that none could claim to be superior to any other.  Except when they aren't - white western European culture must yield at all times to foreign cultures, which it is implied are superior because they didn't have colonialism or racism.  Good thing those postmodern professors gave you license to "deconstruct" literature to make it say whatever you want it to say, or handwave what it says because logic is white male, otherwise there's a lot of history that you'd have a lot of 'splainin to do in order to uphold this ridiculous narrative.  Genghis Khan, anyone?  Rather than answer the hard questions, it's so much easier just to play the victim card and charge your opponent with being an oppressive, insensitive meanie.
  • Claim to be the defenders of science and reason in the face of dunderheaded Christian creation scientists and climate change denying corporate shills, except when they're not.  If the results of scientific study confirm genetic and hormonal differences between the genders (or even the races) than the objectivity of science as a means of acquiring knowledge is condemned as a "white male social construct" and the identity of the scientists as white males quite quickly becomes of paramount importance.  Even when they're not white males.  Their publishers, or their sponsors, or their educators, or somebody somewhere was, and that's the important thing.  
  • Profess to be the defenders of women's and LGBT rights, except when they're not.  Criticize Shari'a law for its treatment of women, and LGBT people, and you quite quickly become Islamophobic.  Compliments and cultural appropriation are oppressive, while being stoned to death for adultery or murdered by your own father for "dishonoring" your family, because you talked to a guy, is simply cultural expression.  And the more barbaric aspects of Shari'a are the west's fault anyway, because colonialism and racism.  Sure.  Deconstruct that one.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  Postmodern regressive leftism is based on the inherent contradictions of subjectivism and relativism as moral, epistemological and metaphysical stances.  But then, I doubt it was ever really meant to be a consistent world view or pattern for activism.

It was meant to enable an essentially ego-centric world view.  Now that it's crashing upon the rocks of a reality that's losing its patience for the toddler like thinking and behavior of radical regressive leftists, it's coming apart at the seams.  And they have no one to blame for it but themselves.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Turkey Dinner with the Turkeys

Many newsblogs run cute little articles on how to deal with those annoying relatives who start spouting nonsense political views at family gatherings.  Peace and goodwill towards man are hard enough at the best of times.  The stress of the Christmas season - the shopping, the crowds, the consumerism - doesn't make it any easier.  Finally, throw in that conservative or regressive left relative we all have who preaches and beaks off every chance they get.  Especially if they know you are an unbeliever, and peace on Earth seems as likely at your table as it does between Russia and Turkey these days.

Speaking of turkey.

This is doubly tricky for the alt-leftist.  We get it from both sides. Sometimes at the same dinner table over the same turkey.  And from the same turkeys, stuffed as they are with regressive opinions, and that's a generous assessment much of the time.  Better to think of it as a chance to expose the flawed thinking on both sides of the regressive isle.  What you're likely to hear about depends on whether your annoying relative is reg-left or right wing.  Fortunately, both of these are marked by paranoid obsessions with a handful of recurring issues, so that makes dealing with them a bit easier.

Issue: Abortion
Most conservatives don't care as much about abortion as you've likely been led to believe.  But for a minority on the right, the issue is an absolute obsession.  I hope you're not dealing with one of these.  They're usually deeply religious and thus quite unreasonable.  Regressive leftists are more concerned about abortion overall, and they're adamant in their views that attempts to curtail abortion access amount to an assault on women's rights.  These people are usually also unreasonable.

What to tell them: This depends much on your own views of abortion.  This doesn't tend to be a major issue on the alt-left and personally, I just avoid it.  I regard the paranoia on both sides of this issue to be quite ridiculous, and perhaps the best response is to somewhat snidely point this out.  "I'm sure holocaust survivors would really appreciate your comparison of the fate of the unborn" (or of women denied abortion access, as the case may be) to what actually happened in the camps" or the like.  Are most pro-choicers such amoral nut-cases as they've been made out to be on the right?  Are most pro-lifers the literally Hitler misogynists the left claims they are?  Such claims betray how insular and dogmatic both sides of the spectrum really are.

Issue: Guns
Most progressives don't care as much about guns as they doubtlessly let on.  The truth of the matter is that in the progressive mind, guns tend to symbolize white redneck culture and/or masculine virility, and gun confiscation is seen as a means of figuratively "castrating" these demographics they don't like.  The actual guns themselves aren't such a big thing here - if it were dildos instead of guns that macho white rednecks were into, progressives would be as opposed to them as they are guns.  They'd find a way to rationalize it, I'm sure.  The key point, however, is that given its symbolic nature to a lot of progressives, they adopt anti-gun stances more as a means of signalling disdain for the hillbilly rubes than as a hill they're serious about dying on.

Conservatives are obsessed with the prospect that the current leading politician in the Democratic party is personally going to oversee a nationwide gun confiscation, as a prelude to imposition of communist, Nazi or Islamic tyranny.  Of the last six presidential administrations, four have been Democratic, and though the right wing has harped on and on about Obama, Hillary or Nancy Pelosi personally coming to take away their guns, it's not going to happen, though the right winger will never accept this.

What to tell them: If you're in a really edgy mood, you could tell them that you're all for guns, and suggest that the proletariat will need them if they want to overthrow the bourgeoisie.  Karl Marx himself pretty much said so.  You could also point out the prevalence of gun ownership in urban minority, especially black populations.  Liberals would now be advocating the disarming of black people, and you may wish to ask them if that's what they really want, especially in light of recent police shootings.  If black lives truly mattered, should they not have the capacity to defend themselves?  This same line of reasoning could well have your die-hard right wing uncle thinking gun control might not be such a bad idea.

Issue: Immigration
Conservatives have a much stronger tendency to oppose immigration and lefties a much stronger tendency to support it.  This is rightly an alt-left issue, and both conservative and regressive left opinions on it are not logical.

Believe it or not, the progressive's world would not stop turning if immigration were curtailed.  To them, stressing immigration is pure signalling, no more, no less.  Honestly, what would it really matter to them if their neighbors were foreigners or not?  This is about being smug, being correct and demonstrating white guilt.

What to tell them: Immigration is about cheap labor, and you damn well know it.  Suggest that fewer immigrants would likely result in lower unemployment, and therefore higher wages overall.  Also suggest that solidarity comes more easily to a culturally homogeneous labor force.  Ask your conservative uncle if this is really what he wants?  Also suggest to him that this is why the right wing, once in office, always revs up immigration.

Your progressive sister in law might need more convincing.  While a better situation for the working class should, in theory, be something the progressive left would favor, they really don't.  Given a choice between low wage multiculturalism and a culturally homogeneous social democracy, progressives these days will chose the former, every time.  Perhaps they'll change their tune when you point out that lower wage earners are also disproportionately members of charmed-circle demographics such as women, people of color and immigrants.

Issue: Islam
This one is a lot like immigration in that the constellations of western political forces that support and oppose it are intuitively illogical to any thinking, reasoning person.  Sadly, that rules out most right wingers and regressive leftists.  So the religion of peace is likely to be the berserk button for right wingers while the college lefties rush to its defense.

What to tell them: Ask your conservative uncle if he figures that homosexuality is immoral, that it would be great to shoot commies, that a woman's place is in the kitchen, if we need God back in the classroom, or if the federal government of the United States is much too vast and powerful?  If he answers yes to most or all of the above, suggest that he might actually get along well with the Mujaheddin.  Lord knows, the messiah of the Republican party, Ronald Reagan, felt that way.

You would think that your progressive sister in law would be swayed by the above to think Islam a thing to be feared.  Less than you'd think.  You'll have to press the attack a bit.  The challenge here is to disentangle the religion from the race - suggest to her that maybe if more Muslims were white, she'd dislike them more?

If you fear such stances will have you dodging a bowl of gravy being thrown your way, take a slightly safer tack.  Suggest that Mideast politics comes down to oil and the sale of OPEC oil in US dollars.  As an alt-leftist, you can't go wrong falling back on macroeconomics.  Saudi Arabia excels in the export of two things: oil and Islamism.  US dollars play a key role in both.

Issue: The 2016 Election
A biggie, or perhaps I should say bigly, for sure.  The key to understanding it is thinking as much in terms of who people voted against as who they voted for.   Suffice it to say, the regressive left supported Clinton, the conservatives went for Trump.  Most on the alt-left would have preferred Sanders to either one (lord knows, I would have), but this was a yuge variable for alt-leftists, many of whom (for reasons I'll never quite grasp) supported Trump.

What to tell them: What you accentuate should depend much on whether you supported Trump, Clinton or neither.  You'll need to scrutinize your own reasons carefully if you decided to cast your lot with either one.  I wouldn't have been able to, personally.  If either one wasn't a hill you were ready to die on, than perhaps this argument shouldn't engage you.  A key thing to remember here is that while Trump's electoral college win was considerable, Clinton's win of the popular vote is likely to erode the strength of his mandate.  Keep in mind that if their positions were reversed, your conservative uncle and your reg-left sister in law would completely switch positions accordingly.

The underlying issue in this election, I think, is how both party partisanship and the underlying cultural divide has broken the country.  It's easy to tell your reg-left sister in law to stop rioting in the inner cities - would team Trump be handling things graciously if their positions were reversed?  We know the Tea-Party hard right demonstrated and claimed Obama wasn't their legitimate president either.  It's easy to brand Trump supporters as a "basket of deplorables", but doesn't painting them all with one brush undermine the very spirit of unity and equality and disdain for prejudice that is so much the concern of the Clinton camp in the first place?  Sure, we don't like misogyny, but what's with tarring Sanders supporters as "Bernie Bros?"   It's tempting to blame the democrat loss on identity politics alienating white working class voters, and not without cause, but since when were the republicans the horse to bet on for working class people?  Frankly, their distrust of Clinton was warranted, their support for Trump was not.

Family gatherings with opinionated regressive leftists and right wingers is challenging.  Hopefully their more redeeming personal qualities compensate for their politics.  Try, perhaps to keep the conversation away from politics all together.  But if things stray in that direction, the above advice and, as always, the other red pill are good bodies of knowledge and thought to have in your corner!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Sounds Regressive, but OK

"Sounds Liberal but OK" is a self described "radical leftist group" on Facebook that is based around "criticizing and mocking centrist (liberal) thought and concept through shitposting."  SLBOK has a link in its description to a "word bank" wherein its basic ideological precepts or links to them are outlined.

The word bank is a worthwhile read for the glimpse it offers of a lot of regressive left ideology in an almost perfectly distilled form.  Many of your favorite canards are there, along with typically vapid and weak definitions and defenses of these canards. But this one in particular is especially noteworthy, since it seems to be the basis of much of this group's - and the regressive left in general's outlook on relations between "marginalized" and "privileged" groups:

Just how long does one have to spend in the ivory tower in order to cultivate such absurdly reductionistic thinking?  Where does one even begin sorting this mess out?

Of course, whites can be racist towards PoC.  Of course there has been native American genocide, slavery, Japanese internment during WW2, and institutionalized discrimination in the form of Jim Crow laws that have targeted PoC.  None of this is good, of course, and it would be absurd to assume that mere legal equality would completely overcome the legacy of that in so short a time, relatively speaking. 

But the narrative quoted in the SLBOK word bank must necessarily leave out a good deal of history in order to maintain its integrity.  It begins to break down when you stop thinking of "white" people as a pale skinned monolith and start thinking of them the way the were often really thought of throughout history: in terms of their nations of origin.  

I make no apologies for the "whataboutism" I'm about to engage in here, because these questions work towards the undermining of the black-and-white (both literally and figuratively) narrative presented in the SLBOK word bank: but what about the Know-Nothing movement, and its attendant ideology of anti-Catholicism and anti-German and anti-Irish sentiment?  What about the fact that many Irish came to America as indentured servants: not the same as slavery, but hardly a position of power and privilege either.  What about African involvement in the Atlantic slave trade?  What about anti-German sentiment that naturally prevailed during the world wars?  What about anti-Polish sentiment?  These things aren't such concerns now, but there was a time, and it had real consequences.  Prejudice against these once despised groups played a real part in enabling mistreatment, discrimination and exploitation as sweat labor.  As bad as slavery?  Perhaps not, but slavery isn't practiced any more today either.  And what's to be gained by all of this competitive victimhood anyway?

The deeper point being that while racism against PoC has indeed been a historical ill in America, but hardly a monolithic one. Yet today's descendants of Irish immigrants (among others) are not demanding a de-facto carte-blanche to revisit ill will on the descendants of good, proper WASP Americans.  Whites in America are hardly a monolith, and were only ever treated as a homogenous block when it advantaged the elites to do so.  So called "radical leftists," of all people, should know this.  One wonders if it is because it is advantageous to elites today, particularly in academia and mass media, that so called "radical leftists" have now chosen to forget this?

But the problems with the SLBOK word bank's approach to intersectional politics don't end there.  

The entry on reverse racism seems to imply that "judging a man by the color of his skin" is not what is objectionable, but rather the historical and contemporary power to translate that prejudice into actual oppressive and discriminatory policy. This is a strange, and the more one thinks of it, troubling way of viewing racial politics.  For one thing, even if we did live in so monolithically white supremacist a society as the SBLOK word bank asserts we do, why hate the oppressor for the color of his skin rather than for the actual power the oppressor wields, above all, and the self serving rationalization of racial supremacy that is advanced to "justify" this abuse of power?  Not so long ago, most leftists acknowledged that the problem was racism, not white people.  What happened to this?  This relatively recent shift away from hating racism to hating whitey even in the mainstream center-leftist media (think The Guardian or the Huffington Post) should be raising red flags - literally and figuratively - for left leaning people.  This tumblrization of the left is among the most alarming political trends of our time, if for no other reason than that it lends credence to alt-right narratives and enables the far right to win bigly - to win so much they'll get tired of winning - if you catch my drift.

Why is prejudice based on skin color not so bad, nor are power differentials by themselves so bad, but the two together suddenly to become an uber-transcendent evil, against which all double standards and regressivism is justified?

And that all assumes that the SLBOK word bank's assertion that we live in so monolithically white supremacist a society even holds in the first place.  I would not consider it a mark of a white supremacist society that "blacks cannot be racist because prejudice plus power" be canonical dogma in the Universities and in most mainstream media discourse on racial politics.  I would not consider it the mark of a white supremacist society that to be credibly called a racist is among the most damaging allegations that could be made against someone.  If being demonstrably (or not) racist against PoC can result job loss, professional marginalization, ostracization and being the target of harassment or even violence, than I'd say it's a safe bet that we're not so monolithically white supremacist as most on the left would seem to think we are - especially since all of the above applies exclusively to white-on-black racism.

None of which is to say that we're black supremacist either.  That would be a patently ridiculous statement.  There is a soundness to the underlying logic of affirmative action - it's not reasonable to expect immediate recovery and equality for PoC from centuries of discrimination as a result of mere legislated equality of right.  Giving a hand up to those who've been unfairly treated in the past so that they may live their lives on more equal footing with those who've benefited from the unequal treatment in the past is a just and fair sentiment.  Of course, the historical reality is more complex and nuanced than that, but just the same, I'd say we live in a society that has shown itself committed to transcending white supremacy.  To a degree that looking the other way in the face of displays of hatred for whites by PoC is hardly unique to the radical left, but is actually quite mainstream.

It actually sounds quite liberal to me.  But OK.

Only it isn't OK.  It's actually a grave long term threat to both liberalism and radical leftism, and it would well behoove centrists and leftists alike to come to grips with PoC racism towards whites and start condemning it.

Not because PoC presently (or likely will in any foreseeable future) have the capacity to oppress whites in a manner comparable to the manner in which European colonialism resulted in the oppression of PoC.  But because two wrongs don't make a right, however incomparable the wrongs may be in terms of scale and harm done.  Yes, violence by PoC against whites do have "implications."  The implications for white families who lose a father and provider to PoC violence aren't appreciably different than the implications for PoC families who suffer a similar loss at the hands of a white person. Grief knows no color.  People are more than the abstract social categories to which they are ascribed, and those instances in which polities have lost sight have this have always been accompanied by mass bloodshed.

Because real white supremacy - the kind practiced in the pre-civil rights US, in apartheid era South Africa and Nazi Germany was terrible, and should not be trivialized in this manner.

Because it preserves the integrity of anti-racism as a political position.  You either think it's okay to discriminate on the basis of skin color or you don't.  If you think it's okay for some races to discriminate but not others, guess what?  You think it's okay to discriminate based on skin color.  And if you think it's okay to discriminate based on skin color, why should I listen to a word you say when you lecture me on why I shouldn't discriminate based on skin color?  Nothing sinks the credibility of a moral position faster or more thoroughly than this kind of arrogance and hypocrisy.  Just ask any washed up televangelist.

Power differentials between races and between people are vastly more complex than "whites have all the power and blacks none."  While certain overarching trends do hold when looked at from a big picture, macroeconomic perspective, context matters in individual cases.  Put your typical white dude in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson circa 1988, and who has the power in that situation?  Unless that white dude's name was Rocky Marciano circa the early 1950s, I'll tell you right now where my money's lying.  If allegations of racism on a college campus or in a human resources department threaten the livelihood of white but not PoC employees, who has the power in that circumstance?

Historically, it was asserted that the kulaks were a "privileged" class and that the Soviet Union, being a "socialist" society was incapable of being oppressive since oppression was defined as the means by which one class maintained an exploitative relation of production with another, which a socialist society was, by definition, incapable of. Violence carried out by the revolution against its class enemies was handwaved away in the familiar terms of being a "reaction" and "self defense" against power and privilege.  One wonders if SLBOK would regard the tens of millions murdered in the communist world as being less dead due to this line of rationalization?

Of course, there are many circumstances under which all other things being equal, being white would be an advantage, and that these are legitimate issues that should be tackled.  Point is, power differentials in the real world depend a great deal on specific context.  For all the criticisms of "class reductionism" prevalent in social media leftism, it is at least more solidly grounded in political and economic reality than identitarian reductionism is, though all forms of reductionism are inherently limited.

And all of this assumes that merely being lower on the totem pole of power and privilege automatically makes one morally superior in the first place.  This underlying implication that it does seems to be driving politics in increasingly caustic and decreasingly productive directions.  The popular term "oppression olympics" says a great deal about how this politics of competitive victimhood is playing out in actual practice.  But it does more damage than even pitting people against one another across racial or gender lines: it makes real social solidarity - the kind needed to win material benefits and political progress in a capitalist society - impossible.  Radical left groups like SLBOK, of all people, should know this.  It's why leftists began opposing racism in the first place - division of the white and black working classes constantly hampered organizing efforts.  The right's exploitation of white working class's attraction to reactionary politics is an ongoing frustration to the left to this day.  Their subsequent blindness to their own variations of the same divisive character thus becomes all the more frustrating and indefensible.

The sooner the left abandons privilege theory and "power plus prejudice" pseudo academic dogmas, the more effective and credible it will be.  One wonders if this is precisely why corporate backed center "left" parties, media and academic departments seem to like privilege theory as much as they do?

Racism is wrong no matter who does it.  This implies no less opposition to racism against PoC than privilege theory does, it merely prevents anti-racism from being itself a form of privilege for those PoC high enough up on the political and economic totem pole to actually make use of it. Or from being a tool used by academic and media elites at the behest of state and corporate power to promote scapegoating and resentment between the white and black underclasses, further undermining solidarity.  It actually brings anti-racism back into the philosophy of enlightenment humanism and universal human rights that was the source of its credibility in the first place.  Hopefully this can be done before said credibility is completely squandered.

That sounds liberal to me.  And that's quite OK.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Deep Politics: the Nation as Family Metaphor

The Nation as Family Metaphor: the Reg-Left wants mommy, the alt-right wants daddy, and the libertarian just wants you to get off his back, man!  Where does that leave the alt-left?

To gain a deep understanding of politics, there are few writers I'd recommend more than George Lakoff.  During his lengthy tenure at University of California Berkeley, he was involved in groundbreaking work in the field of cognitive linguistics - the study of the relationship between thought and language.  Don't worry, we won't discuss anything near so dry here.  This is about Lakoff's opus, a 1996 tome called Moral Politics that claims to get inside the minds of conservatives and liberals respectively.

Lakoff's work is relevant and worth a study by anyone serious about understanding the construction of ideology for two reasons.  The first, which I won't get into as much here, is his emphasis on the use of wording and metaphors to craft narratives that invoke specific moral frameworks when communicating political ideas. He warns against using the conceptual framework of one's ideological opponents when debating contested ideas, as this gives the natural advantage to your opponent, who's framed the issue in a way that's advantageous to their world view.

The second reason is that the moral frameworks used by both the right and the left in America are metaphors for family structure.  This is rooted in what he refers to as the "nation as family" metaphor, which has plenty of historical precedent; the reference to one's country as the "motherland" or "fatherland" being exemplary.  For Lakoff, the metaphors are the "Strict Father" family for the right wing and the "Nurturant Parent" for the left.  They're exactly what they say on the tin - use your own imagination, or perhaps more appropriately, let the words he uses invoke a conceptual framework in your own mind.  These models for family functioning serve as metaphors for the vision that conservatives and progressives have for the moral structure of the nation.

Remarkable about both the nurturant parent and the strict father metaphors is that both conceive of the citizenry in child-like terms.  They differ in terms of how they're going to bring out the best behavior in their pupils.  Again, let the labels Lakoff gives the metaphoric family models tell you how they work.

In this, I'm reminded of another remarkable sociological work, psychiatrist Arthur Deikman's 1990 study of cults and cult behavior, The Wrong Way Home.  It has since been republished as Them and Us: Cult Thinking and the Terrorist Threat.  Deikman describes the allure of "totalist" institutions lying in their appeal to two deep seated human drives: to be on the side of good, and a concept he labels the dependency dream:
The regressive(!) wish for security that uses the family as a model, creating an authoritarian leadership structure (the parent) and a close knit exclusive group (the children.)
The cult member - or member of any other closed social system or maybe even an extremist believer in a political ideology, seeks to regress back to a child-like state wherein an omnipotent parental figure is in complete control.  Maintenance of this illusion requires epistemic closure: an insulation of the belief system and its adherents from external influences that threaten to undermine it.  Thus, outsiders and dissidents are demonized and ideological conformity and groupthink is made paramount.

These conceptual models can be useful for understanding both reactionary right and regressive (there's that word again) left modes of thinking and politics.  They differ from one another over which parental figure is to be cast in the authoritative role.

I think it is obvious that the regressive left is all about maternalism.  Indeed, I think feminism today can be best described as universalizing the mother/child relationship model - making it the basis of all social interaction.  That femininity equates with morality in the regressive leftist mind is, I think, self evident, and doubtlessly derived from their own upbringings.  One displays nothing but ingratitude and disrespect by arguing with mommy feminist.  She gave you life, after all?  Is anything short of total empathy any way to thank her for that?  Mommy feminist will slap your hand and make you share your toys with your younger siblings and other children.  Mommy feminist won't let you hear dirty words or see dirty images.  Mommy Feminist will not allow the screening of films that convey dangerous ideas to the rest of the polity, which she seems compelled to think of in child like terms.

Any form of adult relationship is out, since it is the role of the maternal leftist to both care for and indoctrinate the children, and the duty of the children to learn and model this behavior.  While it is a relationship of caring and nurturance, it is not a relationship of equals, whatever they may claim.  Regressive leftism speaks to either a deep seated yearning for a maternal influence, or a rebellion against firm and disciplinarian masculine influence.  Mommy feminist is great; she gives me stuff!  Dad can go to hell!

That the right wing is paternalistic should require little in depth elaboration.  The religious right is the most glaring and obvious example.  Hell, Christianity is pretty much all about this.  Paternal archetypes and metaphors abound.  God the Father, and in the largest Christian denomination, the clergy are addressed as "father" additionally.  Religious conservatism is all about the projection of paternal archetypes onto abstract belief systems so full of magic and make belief that they'd be called fairy tales if they didn't have so many real world adherents even among the "adult" population.

But it's not just in religion - Donald Trump was not uncommonly referred to as "daddy" in alt-right circles during his presidential bid.  Daddy nationalist is a disciplinarian, who will keep the dirty and the unworthy out.  He is the militaristic protector and the capitalist provider.  But there is no place for the effeminate "cucks" and the weak "degenerates" - discipline and strength is required if America is to be made great again.  The right wing conversely speaks to either a deep seated yearning for paternal influence, or a rebellion against soft and nurturant feminine influence.  Daddy nationalist is the best!  He's the strongest man EVER!  Mom can get lost!

Both of these models are regressive: they speak to and enable child-like thinking and behaviors on part of their followers.  One look at them in action makes that perfectly clear.  Both have issues with the opposite sex: any feminist or alt right blog pretty much screams, "Ew! Boy germs" or "girls have cooties", when stripped of what passes for intellectual pretense.  Debates with either side quickly devolve into exchanges of school yard insults.  There's often a theatrical, make believe, playing dress-up aspect to demonstrations staged by both sides (though the lefties are the worse of the two these days, the rightists aren't innocent, especially among alt-right LARPers.)

An expression I've heard before is that conservatives want to be your daddy, liberals want to be your mommy while libertarians want you to be treated like an adult.  Is this true?  Or would it be more accurate to say that libertarians want to be treated like adults, but eschew the adult responsibilities that come with it.  Because, like, just leave me alone, man!  Don't touch my weed and my porn and, like, you can't make me go to school, dude!  Because, like, the non-aggression principal, okay bro?

Libertarians are a step up from the regressives of the right and left.  They'll at least try to reason with you, even if said reason ends up being more self serving sophistry than real understanding.  Underneath those spotty beards and pimples is a real desire to test the boundaries and see what's out there.  But when you tell them to clean their rooms or pay their taxes ... oh, the drama!

The place of the alt-left in all of this now becomes obvious.  That economy, unemployment or even a job guarantee is a central alt-left issue does say it all.  After all, what age category of person are you telling someone to act like when you sternly instruct them to get a job?

Thus, as a conceptual framework, the alt-left should reject family-as-nation metaphors that cast the political class in parental roles and the citizens in child roles.  The alt-left should view the nation as an association of free adults, whose adult decision making and autonomy is respected and from whom adult responsibilities are expected.  We've made peace with mom and dad, and relate to both as equals, in adult terms.

The alt-left disdains the regressive left and right, but for different reasons than they sneer at one another for.  The grandstanding SJW is contemptible not because she's fat or because she's covered in tattoos and piercings or because she insists on her own gender pronouns.  She's contemptible for her immature attention seeking and the myriad psychological insecurities that drive her behaviors.  The alt-left doesn't need to be told what sexual consent is or the difference between being against racism and being against white people.  We shake our heads at those on both sides who don't seem to know, or feel compelled to voxsplain the difference to rational people as if they've never heard the difference before.

We see the immaturity and sexual repression underlying both the reddit manosphere and tumblr social justice world views; the internet equivalent to the grade two schoolyard where the girls and boys line up on opposite ends and throw snowballs at each other.  Feminists and "redpills" exchange insults that remind one of jump-rope chants, and always boil down to "you're ugly and you can't get laid."  Perhaps neither tumblr feminists nor manosphere types should be getting laid.  After all, one must be an adult in order to give consent.

Adults don't need a mommy or daddy telling them whether they can smoke weed or use porn, though they'll be intelligent and rational in their use of such things.  We don't need to be told who we can and can't hook up with or marry - provided they're consenting adults themselves, of course.  There is no dichotomy between desire and respect in the adult mind, for it does not project parental archetypes onto members of the opposite sex (if that's what you're into).  Adults don't need protection from dirty or harmful words, but they do think before they speak and refrain from being assholes. There's nothing to be gained by being pricks to fat people, for example.  But there's plenty to be gained through a healthy lifestyle.  The patriarchy isn't going to be sorry when your rebellion against "beauty standards" ends up with you developing diabetes or heart disease.

Above all, adults want adult politics.  The economy.  Foreign affairs.  Environmental degradation.  Issues of substance.  We care about identity issues in as far as we care about honest and fair treatment of all, but have no time for attention seeking grandstanders who insist that the world revolves around their feelings.

It is in adult terms that the Alt-Left must frame and advance its world view.

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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Thinking Outside the Vox

Way back in the halcyon days of 2010, when hope and change were still things in the democratic party, blogger Julian Sanchez used the term epistemic closure to describe the crisis he saw on the political right in those days.  Long story short, epistemic closure refers to the insulation of both a belief system and the media built up around that belief system against any further knowledge, ideas or lines of reasoning.  Naysayers and dissenters are best ignored alltogether, or tarred by association with the enemy - whoever they are.  But it goes deeper than that: once an ideological system is firmly commited to, lines of thought that even potentially threaten it simply can't be given even the slightest legitimacy.  The rapidity with which the USSR unravelled after glasnost was introduced illustrates the risks invovled.

Hence epistemic closure.  For the American conservatives, the Reagan Era only really ended when our favorite reality T.V star won bigly over the GOP establishment.  Up until then, there was nothing a tax cut couldn't fix and the democrats were forever coming to take everybody's guns away.  Argue with them about any of it, and you'd had the wool pulled over your eyes personally by Obama, Hillary or Nancy Pelosi, who were nothing but Marxists out to destroy all things American.

When Sanchez described this phenomina on the right, he saw little comparison on the left in 2010.   As perhaps a foreshadowing of what was just around the corner, he cited liberal obsessions with racism as being the sole motivation of the tea party as the closest that the left, such as it was, came to its own brand of epistemic closure.

He would not have to wait long for the leftist equivalent to epistemic closure.  Allow me to explain.  Or perhaps I should say, allow me to voxsplain:
One of the most striking examples of this epistemic closure among liberal writers are their forays into “explanatory journalism.” The idea that many people might like clear, smart explanations of what’s going on in the news certainly has merit. But the tricky thing with “explaining” the news is that in order to do so fairly, you have to be able to do the mental exercise of detaching your ideological priors from just factually explaining what is going on. Of course, as non-liberal readers of the press have long been well aware, this has always been a problem for most journalists. And yet, the most prominent “explanatory journalism” venture has been strikingly bad at actually explaining things in a non-biased way. 
I am, of course, talking about Vox, the hot new venture of liberal wonkblogger extraordinaire Ezra Klein. It was already a bad sign that his starting lineup was mostly made up of ideological liberals. And a couple months in, it’s clear that much of what passes for “explanation” on Vox is really partisan commentary in question-and-answer disguise.
The article also mentions the fact that most "voxsplainers" - the tired pontification of liberal canards to the ignorant masses as if they've never heard it before - cannot pass Brian Caplan's Ideological Turing Test, defined as the ability to convincingly and authentically relay their ideological opponent's position on the relevant issues.

Perhaps the most quintessential Voxsplaining I've yet encountered is Aja Romano's protracted voxplanation of How the Alt-Right's Sexism Lures Men into White Supremacy.  It's what you'd expect:
In many alt-right communities, men are encouraged to view women as sexual and/or political targets that men must dominate. The men in these communities don’t see themselves as sexist; they see themselves as fighting against their own emasculation and sexual repression at the hands of strident feminists. 
So called "manosphere" concepts are then used as a kind of gateway drug to interest socially isolated young men deeper into an esoteric politics of crypto fascism and white supremacy.

Well, duh!

The alt-right and the manosphere are full of what the internet nowadays calls cancer - content that is light on intellectual content and heavy on cringe.  But the deeper point here can be summed up in an old African proverb that warns that if you don't initiate your young men into the tribe, they'll eventually come back and burn your village down.  Experts on gang, cult and extremist recruitment tactics have long understood this.  Alienated young men with no roots in the community and little prospect for a good life are easy marks.  Ironic then that the most strident on the alt-right, and their Islamic Jihadist nemesis, are ultimately drawn from the same ranks of humanity.  Ironic, but hardly without precedent.

Absent from Romano's analysis of the Alt-Right and its origins is any prescription of actually countering this that might actually reduce the propensity of young men to be drawn to extremism.  Targets are described as being sexually frustrated and often raised by feminist single moms, and the lure of being a real man as opposed to being weak and emasculated is what's used to draw them in.  The only difference between "Sieg Heil" and "Allahu Akbar" in this case could well be whichever one gets to them first, and what color their skin is.

The article chides the alt-right for offering alienated young men no real advice for dealing with loneliness, emotional issues and relationship difficulties and instead simply scapegoating independent women and minorities for their personal problems.  While this is a fair criticism, it's one that could as easily be leveled against Vox, and its countless clones across the internet.  Apart from scolding young white men for their racism and sexism, what is the mainstream left really offering them by way of an alternative?

Especially since the Vox article traces the history of the Alt-Right through Donald Trump's victory, through the Brexit vote and back to the GamerGate online movement, and to the various segments of the "manosphere" that existed prior to that.  The numbers and influence of these angry white dudes - the rank-and-file, or mooks - to use online video game terminology - of the forces of oppression only grew, despite all of the efforts made by Vox, Slate, Salon, Everyday Feminism, Occupy Democrats, Jezebel, The Mary Sue and other outlets of enlightened progressivism to tell them how very, very sexist, racist and fascist they were being all the while.  In fact, how very Nazi they had always been simply by virtue of being white males.

And now they're surprised when these same angry young dudes turn out to accept and embrace an ideology that actually promotes racism, misogyny and fascism.  They're surprised that the generation of young men these single feminist mothers raised have become exactly what single feminist women have been telling them they were since they were old enough to pluck letters off a computer screen: racist, misogynist and fascist.

Who would have guessed?

That, folks, is what epistemic closure on the left looks like.

Young white males are quite within their rights to reject the online left's obsessive and compulsive idealization of women and minorities.  They are well within their rights to reject the ceaseless narrative of white male "power" and "privilege," especially when it comes from credentialed academics and pundits who have way more power and privilege than many of these young white dudes will ever have.

They are not entitled to have the women to whom they're attracted reciprocate that attraction.  That much is true.  But they are entitled to not have their natural instinctive urges tarred as misogyny, entitlement and objectification.  They are entitled to pursue love in a culture in which all the weight of mass society is not behind the demonization of male sexuality and the equation of female rejection of men with female power and independence.  And they sure as hell are entitled to not have to function in a society that brands their own similar rejection of women (or men passing themselves off as women) to whom they're not attracted as being misogyny, "fatphobia" or "transphobia."

Alternative online communities are not attacking "social justice warriors" because they're all - to the last, racist, mysogynistic and otherwise deplorable.  People of all descriptions object to the SJW's self righteousness, their hypocrisy, their arrogance and their propensity to milk privilege theory and "power plus prejudice" rationalizations for all the self serving double standards and get-out-of-jail free cards they're worth.  This, it would seem, is the real gateway drug to bona-fide fascism, racism and misogyny if indeed there ever was one.  And that should concern us all.

Fighting the alt-right cannot be done by further pontificating to angry white dudes on how very deplorable their anger, their whiteness and their dudeness is.  Perhaps the wisdom of Lao-Tsu could be of help to us - and the wisdom he conveyed in The Tao Te Ching, not The Art of War.  Sometimes the way to victory is by not fighting, but by offering an olive branch; membership in the tribe before the village gets burned down.

The mainstream leftist media shows at best a mixed inclination to do this.  Perhaps the real antidote to the alternative right is an alternative left.  One that might think that full employment, maybe even a job guarantee, might be a more effective way to get young men out of their parent's basements than yet another lecture on girl power would be.  One that has not yet succumbed to epistemic closure and is thus able to think outside the Vox.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

My Own Alt Left Manifesto

Alternative left manifestos are springing up left and right these days.  Let's not forget some of the older mainstays, such as Rabbit's Counter Currents article and Bob Lindsay's definition of the alt left, more based on what it isn't than what it is.  Others abound, amidst a growing bevy of media exposure, most of which is getting us entirely and completely wrong.

I've wandered into these waters myselfon occasion.  Sort of.  But only in a somewhat general sense.  So some clarity then.  What follows is an abbreviated outline of what I call "My own Alt-Left Manifesto.  With Blackjack and Hookers." A treatise on Postmodern Political Economy .  

  • Since the end of WWII, the American left has been primarily concerned with anti-racism, while the American right has been primarily concerned with anti-communism.  While there are other concerns in both cases, those ones dominate.
  • Both sides have therefore been successful.  Not totally successful, but more or less so.  The left has seen the passage of civil rights laws, affirmative action, an anti-racist consensus among the general public and even elected a black man for two consecutive terms in the oval office.  The right has seen the dissolution of the USSR, market reforms in China, and a retreat of ideological socialism in most parts of the world.
  • Despite, or possibly because of this success, both sides of the US political spectrum have vocal factions that are more rather than less strident and fanatical, such as the paleo-cons and the Tea Party on the right and Black Lives Matter and the social justice warriors on the left.
  • What typifies these strident ideologues is epistemic closure - the ideologies are marked by obsessive preoccupation with issues that are of little relevance to others (microaggressions, democrats coming to take everybody's guns away, safe spaces, tax revolt etc) refuse dialogue and negotiation and are impervious to persuasion.  All liberals are America hating cultural Marxists, all white males are racist and sexist, and so on.
  • Epistemic closure and overall ideological excess has been enabled by the rise and spread of postmodern philosophy and thought: first in academia and subsequently throughout popular culture.  Postmodernism isn't an easy thing to pin down, but critical to it is a rejection of philosophical objectivism on all levels.  Postmodernists would not only claim that morality is subjective, but also that very axiomatic concepts: the nature of basic perception of reality and the foundations of thought, are socially constructed.  The resulting denial of a common reality and a common set of moral and philosophical principles binding to all has caused increased political and social fragmentation and divisiveness.
  • Alternative politics have arisen out of frustration with the above and with how tepid and unresponsive mainstream centrist politics is.  Alternative politics have been further enabled by the enhanced reach and networking capability of social media.
  • In response to the race-obsessed left, the Alternative Right is marked by "race realism", white nationalism and a narrative of white victimhood at the hands of a militant left enabled by a weak state, corporate power and obliviousness on part of a mainstream right too preoccupied with wealth accumulation to be at all concerned with preservation of European cultural and racial heritage.
Class Realism
  • In keeping with the above, in response to the wealth and property obsessed right, the Alternative Left is marked by "class realism," working and middle class solidarity and a narrative of class war waged by a greedy right enabled by a weak state, corporate power and obliviousness on part of a mainstream left too preoccupied with identity politics to be at all concerned with the welfare of working and middle class people.
  • "Class Realism" is defined as acknowledging the reality of class, in the historical materialist sense of the term.  Meaning that class is marked by relations of production - some people make their living entirely off ownership of capital through rent, interest, dividends and so on, while others make their living only by selling their own labor power, while still others are some combination of the two, with wildly varying income levels all around.  Class is best seen then in terms of income, net worth and relations of production.
  • Class realism acknowledges that at least since the elections of Ronald Reagan in America and Margaret Thatcher in the UK, western governments have been waging active class war against their own working classes.  This is chiefly marked by the exporting of jobs, importing of mass surplus labor, attacking the unions, deregulation, privatization, and the enabling of large amounts of private and public debt.
  • While the right wing has been the main driver in this class warfare, it has been enabled by a regressive left that has displayed neutrality on class and economic issues and defines oppression and marginalization instead in terms of culture and identity, causing socially destructive racial and sexual strife and enabling the right's class warfare.
Manifesto of the Alt Left
  • The alt left shall strive to be principled but not dogmatic.  Its primary purpose should be able to passionately and philosophically advocate on behalf of the material needs and interests of the working and middle classes, in favor of policies that materially benefit the broader portion of the population and defend them against rentier policies and economics that would only benefit the few.
  • The alt left shall remain committed to full employment and worker's rights at all times.
  • The alt left recognizes and opposes all forms bigotry as being socially divisive and undermining working class consciousness and solidarity.  But the alt-left does not recognize any form of systemic racial or sexual oppression as taking place in the western world, and rejects the self serving regressive left dogmas of privilege theory and "power plus prejudice."  
  • The alt left recognizes no preferred racial, sexual, gender, ethnic or religious categories, and shall not hinder or oppose free expression thereof or free identification with any of them, subject of course to the laws that govern us all.
  • The alt left shall value rationality, reason, free thought and other enlightenment humanist values.  The alt left should eschew dogmatism, fanaticism and be no place for the "true believer."  Conversely, the alt-left should be skeptical of postmodernism and its doctrines of extreme cultural relativism and social constructionism.  Romanticism and religion are important aspects of human nature whose free expression in the private realm should be protected, but are poor guides to governance and public policy.
  • The alt left is therefore civilly and culturally libertarian.  The alt left fights for rights, not feelings.  Censorship and penalizing of "offensive" speech is dangerous in light of the fact that what is deemed offensive is subjective.  The alt-left recognizes no special prerogatives (such as past or present marginalized status) on part of any segment of society to censor or penalize expression it deems offensive.
  • The Alt Left is gravely concerned about ideological capture of higher education, social media and mass media, and the abuse of organizational structures of these institutions by managerial personnel acting as ideological gatekeepers.  This should be a matter of public concern and corrective measures sought out and taken.
  • The alt left believes that questions of human biodiversity across racial and gender lines is a matter best left to scientists rather than politicians, and should no way alter our commitment to the above listed principles.
  • The alt left believes that intervention in the affairs of other nations does much more harm than good the vast majority of the time.
  • The alt left recognizes that fossil fuels will not last forever and that their ongoing use contributes to climate change, pollution and habitat degradation.  It would well behoove us to research and convert to renewable and clean sources of energy sooner rather than later.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Progressive Reformation: Theses 21 to 40

In a previous blog entry, I had discussed the need for a progressive reformation, and listed 20 proposed theses.  The response was quite positive - the most viewed post on this blog so far, so I'll take that as a good sign and carry on, then.  Another twenty theses it is!

21.  The left has an academia problem.  There's nothing wrong with being a leftist academic. But too much time in Ivory Tower echo chambers creates distance from the realities of common people, and over reliance on self-referencing theory that seems to have to take precedence over reality whenever the two conflict.  Academic disdain for the plebs, when it happens, does not belong on the left.
22.  Academia has a left problem.  It is no secret now that political correctness and an ideological chill effect prevails on many campuses.  Censorship and no-platforming of right leaning speakers is merely the tip of the iceberg.  Leftist ideologues act as gate keepers, barring career progress for academics who don't tow the correct line.  This is not a healthy thing for a democratic polity.
23.  Let's be honest here: Do any of you really believe this postmodernism crap?  If morality and even man's basic means of acquiring moral knowledge are really socially constructed and merely reflections of existing prejudices, than how can you be so sure that feminism and multiculturalism are truly preferable to patriarchy and racism?  Because you sure act as if they are.
24.  The black studies and women's studies departments do not speak for all people of color and women.  Stop acting as if they do.  They speak for a cult of ideologues and the closed body of self referencing work it produces.  Where external (or even internal) criticisms of cherished doctrines are frowned upon as being 'oppressive', you've created a credentialized ideological echo chamber.  
25.  There is a crucial difference between advocating for equal rights for a discriminated against group, and simply being partisans in favor of that group.  Progressives have lost sight of the difference long ago.  This was supposed to be about bring women and minorities to parity with white males, not simply being pro-woman, pro minority, right or wrong.  See theses 1 and 2.
26.  There is a crucial difference between "harassment" and "hate speech,"on the one hand, and disagreement in good faith with the tenets of social justice academia, on the other.  Learn what that difference is and see to it that it is respected in legislation, in academia, in the workplace, online and in all of your personal relationships.  
27.  For God's sake (no pun intended), learn the difference between a race and a religion.  Stop treating religion as a proxy for race, and stop assuming that despite for religions coded white (Christianity) is fair game while despite for religions coded brown/black (Islam) somehow equates to racism or colonialism.  See theses 1 and 5 in the previous entry.
28.  Pursuant to 21 above, stop with the Islamic exceptionalism already.  Please.  Just stop.  You'd be the first to object to dominionist theologians who want biblical law for western nations, so stop pandering and kowtowing to Islamist migrants who want Shari'a law.  Sharia' law does not belong in the west.  Period.
29.  There's a difference between an honest and critical analysis of Islamic theology on the one hand, and hatred for Muslim people and advocacy of abuse against them on the other.  Please display knowledge of this difference during discourse on the subject.  See theses 7, 8, 15-18 in the previous entry.
30.  Much of the concern that westerners have with Islamism lies with just how illiberal it is.  They have no concept of separation of church and state.  They have blasphemy laws.  They execute people who renounce the faith.  They call for the infiltration of and, if possible, the conquest of non Islamic societies.  What business do progressive leftists have with any of this?  Why do we want it in our countries?
31.  The treatment of women, LGBT people, non Muslims, the wrong kinds of Muslims and so on in places like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State and Taliban controlled Afghanistan should especially concern progressive people.  Or is their plight not important because their oppressors aren't white, Christian or European?  Think long on the racism implicit in this line of reasoning.  See thesis 1 in the previous entry. 
32.  Mass immigration.  Just mass immigration.  Stop and think.  By flooding a polity in unskilled laborers, you drive wages down and prices up, and strain existing infrastructure, compromising the government's ability to provide essential services to its population.  The poor and lower rungs of the working classes pay the price for this.  If support for mass immigration is therefore progressive, who needs conservatives?  See theses 7 and 8 in the previous entry.
33.  Reconciling support for mass immigration, especially from Islamic societies with support for radical feminism, queer politics, trans-rights and so on makes squaring the circle look easy, logical and obvious.  Unless the name of the game is "destroy western civilization by whatever means are necessary," which progressives insist it isn't whenever the far right suggests this, pause and reflect on this.  See theses 1, 7 and 8 in the previous entry.
34.  Being offended isn't an argument.  Stop acting like it is.  Hurt feelings do not absolve you of the requirement that you prove your point.  See theses 15, 18 and 20.
35.  Stop denying or handwaving events that are harmful to your narrative.  Do not say that there are no false claims of campus date rape or that there are no substantiated claims of migrant rape, especially in Europe.  It's hard to keep information away from people in the social media age.  Even if most moderators on social media pages are progressives who work hard to suppress such news.  The news will get out, and it will damage your credibility if you've previously tried to suppress it.
36.  Most mainstream media and especially most social media platforms have a strongly progressive/liberal bias.  Just admit it.  They do.  Consider how this might invalidate your claims that your charmed circle of preferred identities are marginalized.  See thesis 19.  And claiming corporate concentration of media ownership does not get you out of this.  Rather, ponder instead the relationship between rapacious capitalism and social liberalism.
37.  Laws and corporate policies that limit or suppress free speech almost always work to the ultimate benefit of the powerful.  Censorship has very rarely, if ever, really benefited marginalized people.  Using hate speech and harassment laws and allegations of bigotry to smear or silence people empowers state and corporate power much more than it empowers marginalized minorities.  It is a strategy the left needs to reconsider.
38.  Left of center activists have no business trying to get people fired from their jobs due to their political beliefs.  For how long did leftists object, and rightly so, when this was done to them?  Have we forgotten the red scare and McCarthyism?  Supporting the sacking of white nationalists and Christian fundamentalists sets a dangerous precedent that progressives will be reminded of when this is, once again, done to them and they object to it.
39.  Any kind of "leftism" that measures progress by how many women and people of color are CEOs  of or sit on the boards of directors of fortune 500 corporations is hardly a leftism worth having.  The problem here is not equal opportunity to serve in senior management if qualified, but of ignoring the huge concentrations of wealth and power in the hands of so few senior personnel.
40.  An off color joke or remark that offends a minority, or a male complementing a female coworker can result in legal settlements worth millions of dollars and destroy multiple careers while abuse of the rights of the workers, union busting, outsourcing, predatory marketing practices, accountancy scandals, environmental degradation and corruption of public officials - among other abuses - barely warrant legislative and quite often media attention.  I shouldn't have to say this is a problem, but I do have to.  Frequently. 

Ideas for a thesis?  Share in the comments!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Identity Politics: Pro Social Justice, Anti SJW

Identity politics is all over the media these days.  Did it contribute to Donald Trump's electoral victory or not?  Were white voters put off of the excessive feminist and POC (people of color) identity politics of the democratic party?  Were white male voters engaging in a reactionary identity politics of their own in their support for Trump?  These allegations abound.

I am not a fan of identity politics, by and large.  But I think it's important to clear up exactly what I think identity politics are and my opinion of the role I think identity politics should play in a reformed progressive left.

To be a progressive leftist is to be concerned first and foremost with social justice.  Now this is a loaded term these days.  I do not refer to the monstrously bastardized form of "social justice" that we've all come to know and ridicule on the internet over the last ten years or so.  This isn't about some blue haired lolcow on tumblr with her own pronouns and made up sexual orientation posting about how all cishet white males need to go die.  I'm referring to what the term has actually meant throughout the millennia over which the concept has existed and the century and a half that the phrase itself has been in use: a belief in the essential worth and dignity of all people and that the social order should reflect this.  In light of this, the recent mutations of identity politics exemplified by what's happened on tumblr has, in fact, been a glaring blow the concept of social justice has taken in living memory.

So, identity politics (IdPol) then.  To be an honest and meaningful concept, social justice cannot blind itself to those instances where there is unfair treatment of people based on some arbitrary characteristic like race, gender and so on.  The defenders of IdPol would object that history is replete with such instances and that their effects continue to be felt in unequal opportunities suffered by members of the victim-groups to this day.  To say nothing of the fact that racism, misogyny, homophobia and so forth are by no means confined to the ash heap of history.  And that there is nothing wrong with pointing any or all of this out.  This is true.  To redress the grievances of people who have been discriminated against due to some aspect or another of their identity requires a political activism that can, with but little exaggeration, be described as identity politics, and that it would be morally and intellectually disingenuous of any self described leftist people or groups to disregard these politics merely for their identitarian character.

None of the above is what most critics of identity politics object to.  Only the far right fringe would object to Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that we be judged by the content of our character rather than by the color of our skin.  What the critics of IdPol object to is the deterministic and Manichean character that such politics can, at times, take on.  In these instances, logic becomes distorted and what began as a push for social justice can become its polar opposite.

What seems to drive this is the IdPol activist seeing not instances of discrimination and oppression of her group here and there throughout history, but rather seeing discrimination and oppression of her group as being the motive force in history.  The totality of all history, at least of a certain culture or definable era, is the oppression of her people at the hands of a broader society characterized by no other quality than hatred for the oppressed group.  What is therefore felt needed to liberate her people and secure justice for them is therefore not equal status within the society, but the root and branch destruction, or at least radical transformation, of that society.  From there, much discourse involves the ongoing process of shoehorning events and issues into that narrative.

Once accepted, if not consciously and intellectually at least subconsciously and instinctively, the IdPol activist has opened the door to the acceptance of all the most detestable features of regressive leftism or right wing extremism, as the case may be.

When one is locked in a winner take all death-grapple against the ultimate evil oppressor, one cannot afford to be bothered with the niceties of civil discourse or even political give and take.  When the stakes are nothing less than the freedom or even the very survival of your people, one does not negotiate with evil without compromising one's own goodness.  To even consider the possibility that the "dark side" might actually make some good points or have some legitimacy of any kind is to open the door to temptation and eventual heresy and treachery.  Such misgivings cannot be entertained, even a bit!  Only complete victory will suffice.  And it must be achieved by whatever means are necessary.

In such a struggle, the ends justify all means.  Double standards when they serve the ends of the "good" side are not merely acceptable, but necessary.  So too is censorship and repression of members of the "bad" side, even if they're not acting bad in that particular instance.  In fact, the good side cannot afford to be lulled into believing that the bad side, both individually and collectively, can do anything that isn't bad, at least in the long run.  Any act of good faith or charity done by any member of the oppressor group or class is done only to lull the marginalized side into false complacency.  All arguments made by the oppressor groups are done with nothing other than the sole intention of betrussing their privilege and reinforcing the marginalized status of oppressed groups.  Pointing out that one belongs to the oppressor class is therefore more than sufficient to shut down any argument they make.  Only the utmost of unwavering vigilance at all times is a fair and acceptable means of dealing with any member of the oppressor group.

The dangers of this kind of thinking should be obvious.  It lends itself to precisely the kind of self righteousness that ends up enabling the very kinds of oppressive and attrocious actions that give rise to later variations of IdPol.  Ironically, it tends to devolve into the IdPol movements coming to resemble their opponents at their very worst.  When we identify ourselves by who we oppose, we have a funny way of coming to imitate them.  So we end up with feminists who police even non-coercive sexual expression and mandate gender roles, men's groups that advocate the wholesale sexual and romantic rejection of women, POC groups that insist upon "safe spaces" that amount to de-facto racial segregation, and white nationalist advocates appealing to multi-culturalist sentiment.

Bear in mind that the attrocities that most incense western progressives these days were motivated, at least in part, by similar kinds of dualistic, Manichean thinking.  Adolf Hitler believed the Jews to be so malignant that to even share the same world with them was a risk not worth taking.  The European Christian powers colonized other parts of the world in part due to a desire to save the indiginous peoples of the colonized regions from the damnation they'd suffer as a result of not being Christianized, and to bring the light of European rationalism to the uncivilized savages.  The very definition of the White Man's burden.  Of course, they made a tidy profit while doing so, but one is entitled to material comfort for doing God's work, is he not?

Once the attrocity has been commited, after that, it is too late.  Restitution is slow and costly.  The ends only rarely justify the means.  This kind of Manichean self righteousness has a powerful way of blinding people to their own potential moral failings.  Those who see the world entirely in pure good vs. ultimate evil terms put themselves at great risk of ending up in the latter rather than the former category.

What I've described here is the most extreme and quintessential form of IdPol.  Most feminists, MRAs, Black Lives Matter supporters or white nationalists would not go this far.  But some do.  Think of IdPol as a continuum.  To be totally anti IdPol is reductionist, and usually done for self serving reasons.  Reasonable concerns with IdPol should not serve as a shield against all allegations of racism, sexism or the like.  Such allegations should be looked at objectively and accepted - or not based on their merits.

But the tendency to take such an assertion as itself an act of racism or sexism - common in today's hypersensitive social justice spaces, is an equally dangerous extreme, and usually done with equally self serving intent.  It is tempting and flattering to view oneself and one's identity as being a stalwart force for good against an onslaught of pure evil.  Not to mention that it gives our humdrum everyday lives a sense of meaning and purpose.  It taps into what I believe is an instinctual desire to be heroic.  We are drawn to heroic mythology, be it the quest of the Argonauts to claim the golden fleece or the Fellowship of the Ring's mission to destroy the one ring, and quite often we are drawn to the politics we embrace for similar underlying reasons.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  But it must always be tempered by self reflection.  Such thinking can be quite ego stroking and therefore addictive.  Thus, support or opposition to IdPol must be tempered by self reflection and a capacity to see ourselves as being a potential force for the very kinds of evils we set out to conquer.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Progressive Reformation

It becomes increasingly clear as time goes on that we need a progressive reformation.

Wait a minute.  Why just the progressives?  Why not the conservatives?  Anyone wanting a conservative reformation certainly has my blessing and best wishes.  Really.  Good luck with that.  But that's not my thing.  I'll stick to the lefties for now, because that's my world.  That's what I'm familiar with.  Plus, I think the left really should strive for a higher standard of intellectual and moral honesty.  To be honest, I expect dishonesty and opportunism from the right.  Rationalizing abuses of power and obscene concentrations of wealth and denying the harmful effects of these is a major aspect of what right wing politics has been demonstrably about for as long as I can remember.  Witnessing the waxing of dishonesty and opportunism of liberal activism over the last several years has been especially unnerving.

So without further ado then, here are my theses:

  1. Exceptionalism based on white male guilt has been a profoundly negative influence on the 1st world political left.  It minimizes the flaws of foreign peoples and governments, and minimizes the strengths of western peoples and governments, and drives the profound distortions that plague the progressive world view.  Recognizing this does not preclude an honest and critical assessment of of western civilization past and present.
  2. Karl Marx was a brilliant man with many useful insights.  But the historical dialectic, this determinist, bipolar division of society into oppressive Empire and marginalized and oppressed Rebels needs to die.  This is not a call for a blind moral relativism and especially not a call to exempt rich and powerful elites from scrutiny, but rather a call for a more nuanced view of history and social conflict.  That said, the idea that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" belongs at the center of any sane view of society.
  3. It is flattering to believe oneself a part of a larger than life, heroic struggle against some kind of oppression or another.  A world view like this adds excitement and meaning to any otherwise drab or spoilt life.  It also enables self righteousness in favor of self reflection, and a tendency to demonize others.  This does not mean that opposition corruption and abuse of power should not be undertaken, but rather that it be done in a spirit of sobriety and self awareness rather than a spirit of zealotry and crusade.
  4. Privilege theory has done vastly more harm than good.  This is not to say that discrimination cannot be identified and combated.  But privilege theory is not about this.  Privilege theory is all about ego.  It is all about holding all white men collectively accountable for the worst actions of specific individuals, and for circumstances that are not in their power to change.  Were feminist and critical race theorists to be honest, they would admit that this is all about implying collective moral superiority.
  5. "Power plus prejudice" - this self serving rationalization that claims that women and minorities cannot be sexist or racist because those things require power, which their self referencing dogmas claim they don't have - needs to die.  Again, were honesty to prevail, this post modern antenomianism (an old religious heresy that claimed that moral law did not apply to the "elect")  is all about smugness and licensing the shitty behavior of those fortunate enough to fall within the charmed circle of preferred identities privileged enough not to be "privileged."  
  6. Privilege and inequality, where they still exist and are pressing in their nature, are now primarily economic in nature.  Income inequality and the undue influence of money in politics is addressed by center-left parties only at election time.  That these parties are often in the back pockets of moneyed interests perhaps explains why identity instead of economics have become such central issues on the left in the last few decades. The need for this to change is urgent.
  7. Willful misuse of terms like "racist", "misogynist", "homophobe", "Islamophobe" and so on was not a wise idea.  People are becoming increasingly less easily emotionally blackmailed or kafkatrapped into accepting liberal positions on issues by intentionally falsified accusations of bigotry.  Doing this also trivializes these terms and erodes their seriousness in the public eye.  Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf?
  8. Particularly galling is the exploitative misuse of bigotry smears to shield people, ideas or policies from otherwise legitimate criticism and scrutiny.  Branding all opposition to mass immigration as "racist" or refusal to support Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign as "misogyny" would be cases in point.
  9. It is incumbent upon progressive people to convince others of the merits of their world view.  It is not, under any circumstances, an entitlement of progressive people to be agreed with on anything.  Progressives must act accordingly at all times.
  10. Thesis 9 holds true even if you have a vagina.  Or black skin.  Or any other marginalized identity.  Identity does not determine truth (see theses 4 and 5).  Progressives must stop resorting to identity to smear opponents or sidestep arguments made against their positions.
  11. Your political views, voting patterns, stances on social issues, marginalized identities or any combination thereof does not make you either morally or intellectually superior to others.  Stop acting as though they do.
  12. People of color can be racist, even against whites.  Women can be sexist, even against men.  LGBT people can be cis/heterophobic.  Denying this undermines the entire purpose of being against racism, sexism or homophobia.  Stop falling back on the worn self serving rationalizations of privilege and power plus prejudice - see theses 4 and 5 above.  Progressives will be taken more seriously when they hold themselves to their own moral codes.
  13. Expressing disdain for working class and poor white men in liberal terms - implying that they're stupid, inbred, inherently racist and bigoted is the utmost height of arrogance and hypocrisy.  Doubly so if this is done from the privileged upper middle class bully pulpits of academia or mainstream media. That the left has no business stigmatizing poverty for anyone, but especially on the basis of race, should require no elaboration.
  14. Stop lying.  Really.  Just stop.  Stop denying that any progressive pundit or academic holds unpopular or controversial views when it is demonstrably the case that at least some of them do. Don't claim that there are no feminists who hate all men or equate heterosex with rape (as two examples of many) when this is demonstrably and provably the case.  Once the lie is exposed, do not minimize or rationalize it, or play semantic games to avoid dealing with the implications.  Admit, and distance yourselves from stupid or mean spirited views on the left. 
  15. Deal with dissent and counter arguments in an open and honest manner.  Stop with such passive-aggressive behaviors such as playing stupid and willfully misinterpreting or misunderstanding arguments that challenge your world views.  Correctly understand opposed arguments before responding to them - even if they trigger you in some way, and address their central thesis and main supporting points when in contention with them.
  16. Do not cherry pick opponent's arguments and present them out of context in order to make them say something they're not.
  17. Do not derail conversations by making issues out of minor details in opponent's arguments that are not essential to their main point or thesis.
  18. Do not exploit faux outrage - of the "I just can't even" variety - or treat opponent's arguments as morally abhorrent or intentionally provocative or insulting without clear evidence to support your outrage.  Remember that emotional states do not constitute arguments.  See theses 9 and 10.
  19. When your views are protected in academic safe spaces, are funded by big business and the state, are protected from criticism and scrutiny by "harassment" or "hate speech" laws, and enjoy unchallenged favorable bias in mainstream media outlets, the group that you belong to can no longer call itself or the people it claims to represent "marginalized."  The status enjoyed by feminism and anti-racism in western societies are the very textbook definitions of privilege.
  20. Your emotional states are not claims on other people's behaviors.  It is not incumbent on males to cross the street or vote for Hillary Clinton because you're a woman (see thesis 5) and are afraid of the consequences of males not complying with what would, if honestly assessed, be prejudiced and ideological assumptions underlying those fears. 

Critical Theory - the Unlikely Conservatism

If "critical theory" is to be a useful and good thing, it needs to punch up, not down. This is a crux of social justice thinking. ...