Thursday, 9 March 2017

Regressive Left Pt. 2: Senseless Social Justice

The migrant rape crisis coincides with the emergence of the term “social justice warrior” as a pejorative rather than as a complimentary term, especially following the infamous gamergate controversy. Compare with “political correctness” in the 1990s.  Both political correctness and social justice warrior denote dogmatism and authoritarianism in identity politics, and both are used interchangeably by the right wing as snarl terms to attack all liberal and leftist thought.

Regressive leftism and SJWs are now a major internet phenomena, with newsblogs and pundits both for and against being major sources of controversy and thus big business, especially in ad revenue generated clickbait social media outlets.  The problem is especially bad on college campuses, as the Feb 2, 2017 UC Berkeley riots so recently brought to the attention of so many.

The present form of SJW leftism seemed to kick into high gear during the Obama years, especially at the high water mark of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Beneath the veneer of what came across as a radical protest against the entrenchment of corporate power in American politics were deep strains of regressivism.

Some of it were cultural dysfunctions that plagued American radicalism throughout its entire history: a preoccupation with direct democracy and mass-consensus decision making resulting in movement paralysis.  But alongside this was a kind of SJW operational prototype called the “progressive stack” wherein preference at meetings was given to members of "marginalized groups" over the "privileged."  White males spoke last at meetings, if at all,  Accompanying this were the now familiar accoutrements of the feminization of radicalism: anti-heterosexuality and the insistence upon white and/or male free spaces and ideas being at the heart of the movement.  The only way to end the dominance of one group would be, it would seem, is the imposition of the dominance of another.

"We are the 99%" became "Queer womyn of color uber-alles!"

All of this has had the effect of creating a huge space on the political right to capitalize on popular anxieties over Muslim immigration, frustration with frivolous social justice activism and the dictatorial political correctness underlying it all, that the progressives refuse to acknowledge.  The results have no doubt contributed greatly to the rise of populist nationalism, of the kind exemplified by Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, across Europe and the English speaking world.

Donald Trump's electoral victory stunned a world that had written him off as an unqualified racist and misogynistic curmudgeon.  In retrospect, it is easy to see how his win is a vote of non-confidence against both a GOP establishment that has had no new ideas since Reagan, and a hopelessly compromised DNC establishment that stacked the deck against Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton - a corporatist hawk with a lengthy record of voting with the Bush administration behind a thin girl-power veneer.  None of this has taught the DNC much needed lessons about the dangers of ignoring public concerns in favor of doubling down on the narratives dominant in their own mainstream media echo chambers.

The sudden emergence of the identity obsessed social justice warrior in tandem with the Occupy movement does give one pause.  We also know through WikiLeaks that a well funded and concerted effort to create a “liberal echo chamber” began in the 2007-2008 period.  But this echo chamber was built upon a firmly established foundation. Regressive leftism predates America’s first black president.  In his 2007 book What’s LeftBritish leftist Nick Cohen attacks what he perceives as a knee-jerk anti-western tendency in the English speaking western world, which causes them to cherry pick the human rights causes that galvanize them and find common cause with authoritarian government and regimes abroad.

Center left parties in the western world gradually built electoral coalitions around the demographic changes that have been occurring since the 1970s.  Both immigration and political correctness are key components of this coalition.  It was a politically sensible move back in the 1990s when socialism fell out of favor and the clout of organized labor declined due to outsourcing, automation and a more conservative political climate.  But, as Sam Harris enunciates in this video, this coalition is becoming toxic for the center left.

Accusations of racism as a means of stifling debate and smearing opponents have worn thin on once sympathetic populations.

On the subject of Sam Harris, it would seem at first glance that the so called new atheist writers of the early 21st century: besides Sam Harris there were Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, among others, who do not seem to typify regressive leftism.  Most of these figures are not that left wing for one thing, and for another, their criticisms of the dogmatism and irrationality of religious belief were in direct keeping with the humanist liberal tradition of Bertrand Russel and others like him.  It was these authors who first informed the online “skeptic community” that are among today’s staunchest critics of regressive leftism. 

But they set many precedents that helped to legitimize the current wave of regressives.  Some of this was inadvertent: the doctrine of original sin both created and legitimized internalized guilt and inferiority complexes, which subsequently sought out other forms of expression after Christian theology had been thoroughly deconstructed.  White male guilt, by now long institutionalized in some branches of academia for reasons soon to be expanded on, stepped in to fill this psychological void.  In even deeply personal affairs, this dynamic proved useful to certain types of people – radical feminism made it acceptable to think sex is dirty again.  Notice that regressive leftism wasn’t nearly as successful in regions such as the US south, where the Southern Baptist Convention did not liberalize to nearly the degree that mainline protestant denominations did.

The new atheism also galvanized the current crop of SJWs more directly when they made treatment of women and racial minorities a part of their overall critique of religious belief.  Moreover, I think, the new atheism went beyond politics or even relationships between people in their critiques, but also politicized people’s most deeply held beliefs.  While lip service was paid to freedom of conscience, as far as the online league of the militant Godless was concerned, one was on the side of wrong, backwardness and oppression merely for having the wrong beliefs.  Oftentimes, merely believing in the Christian God was equated to being a racist or a fascist sympathizer. 

None of this is to say that critique of religious doctrine is itself inherently regressive, nor did the early 21st century crop of atheist authors pioneer ideological policing in "liberal" quarters.  But stating, or at least implying, that one is stupid or morally wrong for holding the incorrect beliefs both sets and follows dangerous precedents, even if sometimes warranted.  This is especially so when there is, as there frequently was in online flame wars between Christians and atheists, a strong undertone of classist elitism, with religiosity, together with racism, misogyny and homophobia, being associated with being poor, uneducated or a redneck.  While many of Harris, Dawkins and Hitchens's critiques of Christian doctrine were fair and accurate, liberal stances in the culture wars were accompanied, perhaps unwittingly, by a growing tendency to stand above, rather than beside, the poor and marginalized.  So long as the poor and marginalized were white, mind you.

Plus, prior to the very recent emergence of controversy surrounding regressive left coddling of Islamism and the whole SJW phenomenon - itself due in part to a schism within the skeptic community over its alleged sexism, the new atheists were extremely sensitive to any suggestion that repression and dogmatism could come from atheists or from the left.  But as we shall see, and have seen, it can and does.

Controversies surrounding dogmatism and censorship on western college campuses predate the presidency of George W. Bush.  Shock pundits such as Milo Yiannopoulos were not the first to call our attention to fanatical and dogmatic enclaves of left wing ideologues on college campuses.  During the Clinton years, and even during the presidency of W’s father, concerns over “political correctness” were raised by authors such as Allan BloomDinesh D’Sousa and Christina Hoff Sommers.  The ideological foundations of the present SJW movement had been long in the process of being laid even then.

Concern was raised not merely regarding the radical nature of the ideas being taught in black studies or women’s studies departments, but with the impact leftist movements were having on campuses.  Concerns that a western conservatism built entirely on anti-communism and then at the peak of its power and influence, were willing, for the most part, to ignore in the days following the collapse of the Berlin wall and the break up of the USSR. 

... Continued in Part 3: Academic Anarchy

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