Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Regressive Left Pt. 1: Recent Regression

A thorough exploration of the theory and history of regressive, illiberal leftism in today’s world is a massive project.  I cannot begin to cover it all here.  What I offer is not a thorough, comprehensive explanation but an introduction and perhaps some perspective.  In this social media age, regressive leftism and social justice warriors came seemingly out of nowhere, appearing to both create and thrive off of chaos, dissention and controversy.  What I intend to show here is that the regressive left of the present day, though new and unique in some respects, is part of a tradition as old as western civilization itself.    

What is new about it is that the English speaking world at least has had, up until now, little experience with authoritarian leftism in the modern sense.  While Marxist-Leninist and Maoist groups have existed in the 20th century, and utopian communities can be traced back to or even before the days of the French and American revolutions, they have not been significant forces in the politics of the US and other English speaking and European countries to nearly the degree that politically correct social justice movements are today.  This is, I think, a significant factor in their recent success.  The liberal tradition in America struggles to cope with illiberal movements from the left because it has so little real experience with them.  The revolutionary socialist tradition in America never really recovered from its red-scare and McCarthy era repressions.

Dating back to 1930s Germany,
 Antifa is a relative
newcomer to regressivism.
It is important to bear in mind therefore that regressivism is not inherently left wing, and leftism in America or Europe is not inherently regressive.  Pro free speech and anti-censorship voices in America have, for the vast majority of its history, come from the left against repressive forces on the right and only very recently has the reverse been true.  Had he been born at any other time in history, Milo Yiannopoulos would have been a leftist. 

Ten times this much material could be written about the regressive right.  The present day hostility towards the far right seen in most American media and public discourse is the exception and not the rule historically.  Most of the time it has been right wing thought that was tolerated and encouraged while the left was frowned upon, although the overall trajectory of social progress in the western world has been towards greater degrees of liberalism. 

This is why I think the present day regressive left is worth paying attention to.  It advances under banners that historically have meant increased rather than decreased liberty, equality and public accountability.   This is what is dangerous about it.  There has been, at least as far back as the dissolution of the USSR, a tendency to see greater threat in fascism than in communism, a greater willingness to censor material offensive to feminists and gays rather than material offensive to conservatives and Christians, and a greater willingness to condemn and punish the racism of the Ku Klux Klan while remaining lax towards the racism of the Nation of Islam.  It is acceptable to bash white males in mainstream media in a way that would be beyond the pale if done to women or minorities. 

At first glance, the rationale behind this seems solid.  All things considered, the capacity of white America to oppress its blacks is greater by orders of magnitude than the capacity of black America to oppress its whites.  But as the recent rise of the latest incarnation of the regressive right – the “alt-right” as represented by the likes of Richard Spencer and the politically incorrect forums on 4chan demonstrate, white male America’s tolerance for these kinds of reverse double standards is not infinite.  This is especially so since the white male working class has been hard hit by recent structural changes to the economy, and admonitions of white male privilege are increasingly ringing hollow to those who are themselves unemployed and down on their luck.  No privilege to check there.  

The surprising electoral successes of Brexit, Donald Trump’s bid for the white house and the sudden rise of populist nationalism in Europe shows us that regressive leftism poses a dual danger to the western world: its own illiberal tendencies on the one hand, and the very real possibility of a regressive right wing backlash to it on the other. 

It is therefore imperative that regressive leftism be seen and understood clearly, and this requires a look at its chief doctrines and the history of how those doctrines came about. 

The term “regressive left” entered the political parlance of our times in 2012 when UK politician and author Maajid Nawaz used the term to describe left leaning people who are reluctant to challenge bigotry and oppressive cultural practises that occur within minority communities, especially Islamic ones, out of a fear of being labeled as racist or otherwise politically incorrect.  This issue entered mainstream consciousness following Sam Harris and Bill Maher’s heated debate with Ben Affleck on a 2014 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.  

Debates over "Islamophobia" reveal deep seated dysfunctions in the culture of western leftism.  Dysfunctions that have long and deep roots in the culture of western progressive and radical thought, as we will discover.  The equation of criticism of the genuinely harsh and retrograde nature of Shari'a Law, or the social consequences of mass immigration, Muslim and otherwise, with "racism" is now the signature argumentative tactic of the regressive left, with the term "Afflecking" now being used to describe it, based on the above video.

The obvious and correct response: that Islam is a religion, not a race, and that to use the moral shield of anti-racism to shield Islamic theology from scrutiny and criticism is not only disingenuous, but dangerous, naturally fall on deaf ears.  It must be pointed out, of course, that a strong line of demarcation is needed between honest criticism of religious tenets on the one hand and an attitude of bigotry and hatred towards adherents to the religion in question on the other.  The former must be acceptable, the later must not be.

The ridiculous decision on part of the Southern Poverty Law Center to include Maajid Nawaz and anti female genital mutilation activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali on a list of "anti-Muslim extremists" exemplifies what goes wrong when this distinction is not properly made.  Maajid Nawaz has as impeccable of liberal credentials as anyone possibly could, and to put him and Ali on such a list is a sad triumph of political posturing and pandering to the base over philosophical principle.

The incompatibilities of Shari'a with the western liberal tradition need not be elaborated on, I would hope.  When it comes to women's rights, LGBT rights, secularism, civil liberties and other indices of liberal thought, what we've seen of Shari'a in action in places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State and Iran make it look orders of magnitude worse than the US religious right, which these same regressive leftists pull no punches in their criticisms of.  

In addition to this are the effects that mass immigration has on infrastructure and job prospects, especially for those already in the lower socioeconomic classes.  While some immigration is a good thing for shoring up shortages of needed skills and population levels in nations with low birth rates, too much immigration strains infrastructure and social services - at least short term - and creates downward pressure on wages, especially for those already at the lower end of the wage earning spectrum, usually immigrants, women or minorities themselves.  Migrant scab labor has a long history of use in strike breaking.  Progressives have no business enabling any of this.

Yet because Muslims are associated with not having white skin and not being of European origin, figures critical of Islam such as Bill Maher, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz are figures of controversy in western liberalism.  It is very telling that people like Linda Sarsour, a defender of Shari'a law are among the leadership of the US women's movement's protests against Donald Trump.  While I do not condone Donald Trump's boorish locker-room talk regarding women, is the crudest of his admittedly embarrassing pubescent-level machismo really worse than the tenets of Shari'a that severely circumscribe the life of women in a way that would make Trump's cringe-worthy phony Playboy persona appear enlightened in comparison?   Another of its leaders, Donna Hylton, served 27 years for the kidnapping, torture and murder of a 60 year old homosexual man.  

Politically motivated refusal to face harsh truths regarding immigration policies in Europe has had devastating consequences, as the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal, the 2016 New Year's Eve attacks, the Migrant Crisis of 2015 and a painfully long list of Islamic terror attacks in Europe from 2014 to the present, exemplify.  More tragic still is how politicized the issue has become, with progressives taking a defensive stance vis-a-vis mass Islamic immigration.

This is especially bizarre and vexing in the case of the sex assault cases, like Rotherham and the Cologne attacks.  Regressive leftists do not hesitate to sympathize with feminist demands that we "listen and believe" when women come forward with allegations of sexual assault.  And this is well beyond the reasonable demand for a proper investigation and into the realm of guilty until proven innocent and abandonment of due process for the accused, as has been seen on some college campuses.  Such measures, we are told, are needed to defeat "rape culture" and we are assured that false allegations are rare and, apparently, excusable in light of how many guilty men do go free.  Apparently, however, these demands do not necessarily apply when the men being so accused are not white Christian citizens.  Then, refusal to listen or believe is the surest way to avoid a potentially career ruining accusation of racial profiling.

As previously mentioned, anti-Muslim bigotry does need to be condemned, especially in light of the erosions of civil liberties, expansions of domestic surveillance and hawkish foreign policy stances taken by the Bush White House in response to the threat of Islamic terrorism.  It is equally regressive to condemn the mentality of collective responsibility underlying feminist attitudes towards men accused of date rape on college campuses while endorsing collective responsibility for all Muslim immigrants and refugees, as it is the other way around.

Anti Islamism should not be an impetus to the embrace of regressive politics in the west.  But neither should very real and demonstrable acts of terrorism and violence against women - otherwise so staunchly condemned in progressive circles - be downplayed or swept under the rug out of white male guilt, guilt over western colonialism or the holocaust, and fears of being thought of as racist likewise be an impetus to the embrace of another kind of regressivism.  Islam should no more be subjected to, or shielded from, the scrutiny that all belief systems should get.  Both far right anti-Islamism and the regressive left's willful refusal to countenance anything "Islamophobic" are twin paths into a future no liberal minded person should be interested in.

... Continued in Part 2: Senseless Social Justice

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