Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Regressive Left Pt. 5: Radical Ruckus

The feminist and critical race theories that swept higher education in the 1980s did not spring suddenly from nowhere. Radical feminism emerged as an outgrowth of the so called new left of the 1960s, and these were in turn influenced by the German Institute for Social Research, more commonly known as the Frankfurt School. It is to these that we now turn our attention.

It is important that we divest ourselves of the notion of "good second wave, bad third wave" when it comes to feminist radicalism. Alongside reforms necessary to achieve the worthy goal of gender equality was a deeply regressive streak has marked the shadow side of feminism from its inception. As we will discover in future installments of this series, ideas surrounding the abolition of the family and marriage as core kinship arrangements and replacing this with communal child care and free love go back to the utopian communalists of the early 19th century, on both sides of the Atlantic. While for some this might not sound so bad, consistent throughout the movement's history is an ideological purism that was disdainful of notions such as privacy and individual rights. Thus, what came to be called radical feminism in the late 1960s, early 1970s was itself less of a break from the feminist tradition than it first appeared, just as the third or fourth or whatever wave we're on now is less novel than is commonly believed once delved into a little.

While some on the new left of that time tried to argue that feminism merely distracted from the more "important" issues of class, race and war, the feminists had claimed the ideological and moral high ground by establishing themselves as oppressed and men, even male leftists, as oppressors, as well as by extending its radical critique further, into even people's most private and intimate relationships and innermost thoughts. The new left, intentionally rooting itself in a critical theory much more comprehensive than the mere economic relations emphasized by Marxism, had set the precedent whereby more totalistic and sweeping forms of critique took precedent over lesser, mere "institutional" forms, was without any kind legitimate defense against the feminist criticisms.

Early second wave feminist organizations and activists, such as the October 17th movement, later renamed The Feminists, founded in the late 1960s by radical activist Ti-Grace Atkinson, well exemplified the strange sort of co-dependency that so often exists between radical egalitarianism on the one hand, and the totalitarian impulse on the other. While an even then sympathetic media showed the public a movement of idealists committed to uplifting women's status in a patriarchal world - a laudable goal - the reality underlying the image was much more - to borrow one of their own terms - problematic.

The group did away even with the concept of elected offices, since these created hierarchy, and lots were drawn to delegate tasks once done by officers to the membership on a rotating basis. While idealistic, this also diminished group efficacy as the talents of the membership were misappropriated and project continuity continually disrupted. The group became almost cult-like in its level of demands placed on the membership, and the zealous degree of in-group policing. Members who were late for meetings or put private and personal priorities ahead of the movement's were reprimanded.  It was determined, for example, that no more than 1/3 of the membership could consist of married women (and later barring married women all together), since marriage was determined to be an oppressive institution and married women risked having their loyalties divided between the group and their families.

Early feminism was known for the practice of "consciousness raising" wherein members would hold group "struggle sessions" to borrow a term from the Maoist lexicon, wherein they'd discuss their experiences of life in a patriarchal society. The concept of disadvantaged people joining together to discuss their problems and strategize about ways of dealing with them is not inherently regressive, and is indeed a potentially liberating and democratic exercise. However, as is often the case with regressive leftism, the devil is in the details.

Activist Kathie Sarachild, who coined the term consciousness raising, produced an article entitled "A Program for Feminist Consciousness Raising" which makes these diabolical details immediately apparent to anyone with any penchant of how ideological indoctrination works.  Sarachild outlines "classic forms of resisting consciousness" some of which include:
  • Excusing the oppressor (and feeling sorry for him)
  • False identification with the oppressor and other socially privileged groups
  • Shunning identification with one's own oppressed group and other oppressed groups
  • Thinking one has power in the traditional role
  • Belief that one has found an adequate personal solution or will be able to find one without large social changes
  • Self cultivation, rugged individualism, seclusion and other forms of go-it-alonism
In short, dependency on the group was intentionally fostered by demonizing persons outside the group or those women who had succumbed to "false consciousness" and strayed from the narrow path of the one true faith. As Eric Hoffer puts it in his seminal work on ideological fanaticism: "To be in possession of an absolute truth is to have a net of familiarity spread over the whole of eternity. There are no surprises and no unknowns." 

You may be asking: why should I be concerned about this? What impact could a small handful of marginalized radicals half a century ago possibly have in today's world? While bizarre and eccentric, surely the excesses of the early radical feminists could be forgiven in light of the vastly greater evils they struggled against?  

The answer is that the early radical feminists, though not wholly innovative as mentioned previously, did lay the foundations for how their more enduring and successful sisters in academia a generation later would operate, and what their core ideology would be. And that, in turn, is what gave rise to the current cultural hegemony of the SJWs. The emphasis placed by consciousness raising on activism and group solidarity around the idea of an infallible doctrine was carried over into the women's studies classroom.  The second wave notion that "the personal is the political" began the process of legitimizing the politicization of individual's private choices, which when coupled with critical theory (which we'll soon examine) laid the groundwork for the legitimization of feminist criticism and now colonization of popular culture. Even sex was not spared the critical gaze, and it was here that doubt was cast on women's capacity to legitimately consent to heterosexual relationships, so comprehensive was the grip of patriarchy theorized to be on not only the material conditions, but the very thoughts of the downtrodden and marginalized.

The radical feminists were an outgrowth of the new left of the 1960s, and here the apple did not fall far from the tree. This period in the history of western radicalism, perhaps the most legendary and romanticized in western history, is deep and complex, with a lot of ins and a lot of outs, as the old saying goes. It cannot be dealt with in any real measure of detail here. What was seen repeatedly, however, were the problems inherent to a politics committed to dramatic and sweeping changes to the very structure of society and human relationships, and how difficult this is to effect without resorting to regressive means.

Perhaps the definitive new-left organization was the Students for a Democratic Society, or the SDS for short. Here again, as with the feminists, we see the wide gap that separates the idealistic origins of radical egalitarian activism, and the frequently regressive and violent acts that follow. 

In his brilliant work, The Dark Side of the Left, author Richard J. Ellis traces the movement, beginning with its origins in the idealism expressed in the Port Huron Statement, authored primarily by SDS front-man Tom Hayden. The SDS criticized not only the pervasive racism and inequality of American society at the time, but also the failure of the old-left, with its ossified trade unions and bureaucratized socialist parties, to adequately address the problems. The SDS would move beyond its origins as the student wing of old left League for Industrial Democracy.  Bureaucratic capitalism and socialism alike were denounced in favor of a more comprehensive and inclusive participatory democracy. 

The old left's dogmatic Marxism and idealization of the Soviet Union were held to criticism, though the new left would come to repeat the same mistakes with its own idealization of third world revolutionaries such as Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro and the Vietcong.  Today's regressive left, condemned by Maajid Nawaz for its idealization (or at least refusal to condemn) Islamist societies is indeed following a very well trodden path. 

The SDS committed itself to many laudable goals, including civil rights, southern voter registration, opposition to the Vietnam war, anti poverty activism and a more thorough democratization of American society. But, as Ellis observes, its utopian ideals were liabilities to group efficacy. Like the feminists would a short time later and that its spiritual successors in the anti-globalization movement and Occupy Wall Street would decades later, the SDS undertook experiments in radical democracy that caused more problems than they solved. A commitment to direct democracy consensus decision making that might have been workable on a very small scale caused organizational paralysis that only worsened as the decade of the 1960s progressed. Meetings became notoriously long and drawn out. The group squandered its credibility on the romanticization of both the marginalized poor at home and oppressive regimes abroad, such as Castro's Cuba and Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam.

In group loyalty grew harder to maintain as the movement became increasingly disconnected from mainstream political life. The time honored methods of maintaining group cohesion became increasingly paramount. Namely the demonization and devaluation of society outside the group. For leftist groups whose nature was to champion the people against the oppressive system, this became (and remains) a difficult circle to square. The outcome, by the late 1960s, were the reasons that the rational reaction among long time observers to the antifa riots surrounding Trump's 2017 inauguration and at college campuses around the nation that same year would have been a strong sense of deja-vu. The 1968 democratic party convention and the final SDS convention in 1969, followed by the "days of rage" - led and instigated by antifa's spiritual predecessors, the Weather Underground-in Chicago that fall, saw what would have made the rioting we've seen in recent years look tame.   

As with the feminist radicalism of the time, the new left of the 1960s remains relevant today because in many crucial respects, it never really ended. The weathermen would go underground and eventually fade away during the 1970s, but the romance of the 1960s revolutionaries at home and abroad remained and influenced the culture of the west. Looking back, one wonders why it took until 2016 to return with the vengeance that it finally did. Then again, looking at the WTO protests of the late 1990s and Occupy Wall Street following the 2008 great recession, it becomes apparent that it never really went away completely, even in the US. 

It is worth looking, then, at the intellectual and ideological origins of the new left, as these origins explain events in 1968 as well as they do events in 2017. The often maligned German Institute for Social Research, more commonly known as the Frankfurt School, had its origins in post world war one Germany. Max Horkheimer differentiated critical theory from traditional theory in that "it seeks to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them."

A noble endeavor.  Critical theory, both in the Frankfurt School and outside of it, has become a vast body of work, with perhaps the only consistency being its complexity. Like the French postmodernists whom we discussed previously, who owe much intellectual lineage to Frankfurt despite their frequent disagreements, Frankfurt critical theory is notoriously vague, abstract and dense material to study. Key works of critical theory include The Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, The Authoritarian Personality coauthored by Adorno and several other Frankfurt Intellectuals, and The One Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse.  There are many, many others.

Early critical theory draws on the ideas of Sigmund Freud as much as on the ideas of Karl Marx, to leave the strict economic determinism attributed to Marx behind and to suggest that repression was psychologically internalized, like a form of neurosis. Their critique went beyond the capitalist mode of production and began deconstructing western civilization itself, largely in an attempt to explain why fascism and not socialism ended up benefiting politically from the great depression, the greatest crisis in the history of capitalism, as well as the reasons why authoritarian norms were reproduced inside the ostensibly socialist Soviet Union. 

In some cases, modernity and the enlightenment themselves were held to criticism. It was not merely that reason, rationality and the scientific method resulted in technology that extended the power and reach of any would-be tyrant. It was that domination and oppression were literally encoded into these ways of thinking. Knowledge itself was seen as a thing to be mastered and controlled. Later identitarian variations on this idea framed the enlightenment as the "colonization" of knowledge in the case of race theorists or the "penetration" of knowledge in the case of feminist theorists. The reason for the metaphors should be obvious. 

Here we see some of the origins of the reemergence of romanticismthe original counter-enlightenment, that swept the world in the 1960s, exemplified by the flower-child era.  Emphasis is placed on subjectivity and experience over rationalism and empiricism, and people and cultures who were more expressive and were supposed to have lived in harmony with nature are extolled in preference to the regimentation thought inherent to a strictly enlightenment world view.

This romanticist turn on the left was in response to the failures of Marxism: its failure to triumph in the west, as well as its failure to realize a liberated society in the USSR and its satellites. Socialist economic ideals were not abandoned, mind you, not yet at least. But they would increasingly take a back seat to cultural issues and a critique of mass society. As exemplified by the SDS we looked at earlier, the radical left would focus less and less on the unions and socialist parties, who had become ossified, bureaucratic and conservative. More emphasis was placed on media and academia, as this was where ideas were produced and disseminated.

This leads us to the idea of a long march through the institutions” - this idea that a vanguard of leftist intelligentsia were going to gradually ascend to prominent positions in cultural institutions and use those positions of influence to shape the population according to their liking. Here we see precedent and origins for the "transformative" educational initiatives that feminist theorists would undertake decades later. This is the dreaded "cultural Marxism" so often touted by the right wing as the cause of the erosion of western cultural vitality. And not without some warrant, though we've seen that the critical theorists were distrustful of orthodox Marxism as well.  Contrary to popular belief, it was not Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who coined the concept of the long march (though his ideas of “cultural hegemony” as an explanation for a lack of revolutionary consciousness among western working classes warrant comparison to critical theory) but rather a German student leftist by the name of Rudi Dutschke

Like many elements we look at in our study of the regressive left, critical theory is not inherently regressive. Collective self reflection of this nature can be a good thing. But the right wing is not as without cause for concern as the orthodox progressives in places like rationalwiki (ha ha!) would have us believe. The inversion of the modernist ideas of western exceptionalism, white man's burden and manifest destiny that we see among SJWs today - the view that white European culture is uniquely and exceptionally evil no doubt finds a good part of its origins in Frankfurt School inspired ideas. Western civilization's loss of robustness and confidence in its own history and traditions is fast revealing itself to be causing as many, if not more problems than it's solving. 

In addition, Frankfurt School intellectuals were not themselves immune to their own brand of authoritarianism, even as they sought to themselves understand the Authoritarian Personality more deeply. As a more historical example, observe Herbert Marcuse’s infamous concept of “repressive tolerance”, appearing in the 1965 publication A Critique of Pure Toleranceasserting that censorship and repression of conservative and right wing ideas was justified in a way that repression and censorship of liberal and progressive ideas were not was, perhaps the most glaring example.  This idea, itself derived from Leninist thinking that we'll look at in future installments, also underlies and precedes the power-plus-prejudice formulation we looked at in the last installment, and the kinds of hypocrisies this enables. 

The Radical Ruckus that was kicked up in the 1960s and 70s obviously failed to transform society in the ways they'd hoped. This was due to the contradictions inherent to radical egalitarian thought and activism, as expressed by Ellis in Dark Side of the Left.  But neither was it completely defeated either, despite an ostensibly conservative turn in the political climate come the 1980s. The radicals retreated into counter cultural enclaves and, of course, the humanities and social sciences in academia, with results we saw in the previous installment, Postmodern Pandemonium. The feminist transformation of the academy was the success of the long march through the institutions, with regressive results we're now seeing both on and off campus.

It would be tempting to ask: where was the right wing in all of this? For all the panic you've no doubt recently heard from the right about cultural Marxism, conservatism had, by and large, been poorly equipped to handle this regressive left coup in the academy, and from there in the broader popular culture.  

To be continued in Part 6: Conservative Complacency

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Sunday, 11 February 2018

An Edifying Spectacle

My brother is a tenured history professor at a university in our mutual home town. Like many academics in the social sciences, he's generally left leaning. But he's not the sort you'd read about in the anti-SJW blogosphere. My bro, much like myself, is living testament to the fact that a based left is not only possible, but taking shape online and in the academy, little by little.  He recently posted this, evidencing the fact that greatness flows in the family veins! <grin> It reads as follows: 
An Edifying Spectacle: “Freedom of Expression and Making the Campus a Safe Space: Where Should the Line be Drawn?” Public Forum, Mount Royal University, February 9, 2018.

A Review 
Proviso: I had to leave the Edifying Spectacle at about 3:50, before observers were invited to ask questions, make statements, and/or render judgment. Or "freak out." I suspect that the proceedings remained cordial. The inevitable grumbling and “unpacking” took place elsewhere, perhaps on “Twitter.” 
This is my "truth." 
I have long admired Dr. Frances Widdowson. She will not be cowed. Her views are not “correct” in an age when Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister, and most famous functional alcoholic, is no longer deified but reviled by many. 
Dr. Widdowson has been called racist for questioning the well-meaning enthusiasm for allowing First Nations elders to bless business proceedings at Mount Royal University. Her commitment to materialist empiricism – thought by some to be a white supremacist construct - cannot be doubted. She is MRU’s Jordan Peterson. This despite being a self-described Marxist and presumably a foe of capitalism. 
Such are the times we live in. 
Meanwhile, people earning six figures nodded sincerely and disapprovingly while hearing of “privilege,” which encompasses qualities (whiteness, heterosexuality, having a penis) that supposedly define all social relations. Guest speaker James Turk, an old white dude who gave up a tenured position to work in the trade union movement, tried to substitute “privilege” with the term “power,” bravely daring to suggest that money trumps other factors in placing people in their place. 
Fool. Dupe! 
In Europe, for centuries, wealthy people, mainly white dudes (in Europe – imagine that!) determined what constitutes “Truth.” Today others scrap over crumbs from that feast. All truths are equally valid. Except for Turk’s truth. Being an old white guy, he was doomed from the beginning. Nevertheless, I am joining the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS), which he represents. 
You should too. 
Meanwhile, Francis Widdowson continued to insist that there exists an objective reality, Sinclair MacRae did his best to be reasonable, and Marc Schroeder prevented a riot by massaging the interchange. Epistemology was mentioned. The mood was subdued. 
Offering other perspectives were Rinaldo Walcott, member of the Department of Social Justice Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and MRU’s own Kimberly Williams, director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program in the Humanities Department. Both scholars offered heartfelt rebuttals to the cold and fiercely “logical” viewpoints represented by Widdowson, MacRae, and Turk. Both of them transcended intellect and connected with feeling.. 
There can be no doubt that injustice stalks the land, in Canada and everywhere else. Times have changed, but “alt-right” crypto-Nazis are stinking up the land and non-white people remain disproportionately represented in prisons and elsewhere where poor people dwell. (Although it needs to be pointed out that plenty of poor whites dwell in those places as well. Sorry if this sounds like a “White Lives Matter Too” moment!) 
I had to sneak out before the conflab ended, but not before Dr. Williams offered some top-notch advice based in some solid wisdom: “Be kind.” 
Wow! What a concept! BE KIND! 
We live in an age of anxiety and uncertainty. The only thing that is certain is this: We are trapped together in this gravity well called “earth.” Stop being creeps. Maybe that atheist is Not a racist, and maybe that feminist does NOT hate men. Maybe we are all humans who just want to be treated with kindness. 
Indeed. While I don't see myself agreeing with the Women's and Gender Studies Program Director on many of the finer points of the distribution of wealth and power in western civilization overall, I'll join with my wise elder brother and concur here. Be kind.

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Saturday, 3 February 2018

Regressive Left Pt. 4: Postmodern Pandemonium

Critical theory and postmodern philosophy, which were discussed in the previous section, are not inherently regressive. Neither is the women's liberation movement, the civil rights movement and other causes for social justice that gained traction in the late 20th century. We are a better polity for our valuing of racial and gender equality, and for seriously and honestly scrutinizing our own past, history and even or deepest held philosophical convictions. 

There is an enormous gap, however, between these noble endeavors, which is the face of "transformation" in academia and elsewhere that the public, media and policy makers at all levels saw, and what was actually going on behind the scenes, where far fewer people looked with a scrutinizing eye.  The goal of the emerging political transformation in academia beginning in the late 70s was not merely to make these places more open and inclusive to those who'd previously been excluded, but to remake the very philosophical foundations upon which western liberal civilization rested and at the very least, to turn numerous other mediums, including video game journalism, into bully pulpits from which to convert the privileged heathen into woke privilege checking "social justice" activists. 

Outside the academy, the results of this transformation seemed comical and ridiculous.  Examples are numerous and easy to find in anti-SJW and anti-postmodernist spaces online. The infamous Alan Sokal affair lampooned the excesses of transformational curriculum, as well as exposing its weaknesses. The curriculums of "dead white males" were seen as built upon foundations of privilege and discrimination, even as those curriculums emphasized foundational enlightenment and liberal values upon which the importance of racial and gender equality were based.  All of this talk of science and mathematics privileging the "male" values of logic and reason over the "women's way of knowing" that emphasized emotion and empathy are easy to scoff at.  Not to mention how ironically reactionary is the implication that logic is inherently masculine and emotion inherently feminine. Isn't that kind of thinking what feminists were supposed to be against?

But the underlying issues are more serious, and "transformative curriculums" became the foundation of what has turned out to be a growing threat to liberty and perhaps the very survival of western civilization. It is important, therefore, to look at some of the more important doctrines and how they've driven regressive tendencies we've seen.

Perhaps the most important and dangerous of these doctrines is "Standpoint theory" which asserts that "knowledge stems from social position. The perspective denies that traditional science is objective and suggests that research and theory has ignored and marginalized women and feminist ways of thinking. Conspicuously and tragically absent is the postmodernist admonition against broad, sweeping universally applicable metanarratives. The theory emerged from the Marxist argument that people from an oppressed class have special access to knowledge that is not available to those from a privileged class, and is essentialist and reductionist in the extreme. In the 1970s feminist writers inspired by that Marxist insight began to examine how inequalities between men and women influence knowledge production.

We've all seen footage of SJWs at demonstrations loudly reminding their opponents that "you're a white male!" and otherwise falling back on identity to circumvent argument. This is among the most frustrating aspects of dealing with the SJW and the intersectional social justice left more generally.  This rhetorical, and ultimately philosophical device is founded upon standpoint theory, wherein marginalized or oppressed identity confers infallible moral and intellectual authority, so long as the correct party line is being espoused, of course.

An intersecting concept, if I may borrow the term, is “prejudice plus power” proposed in 1970 by feminist activist Patricia Bidol-Padva in her book Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level.  Besides being as much postmodern wokeness as I've yet seen in one book title, this has gone on to become another fundamental core doctrine of present day SJW thought, and it is the oft stated notion that women cannot be sexist, minorities cannot be racist and so on. Here, what it means to be prejudiced is redefined in terms of social power, in a self referential, self serving and ideological way. It also gives an easy out for members of so called marginalized demographics to indulge in as much bigotry and stereotyping as they want without fear of social censure.  Critics have called it the bigotry of lowered expectations.

A related concept is the "authority of experience" which relies upon a similar concept of making standpoint on a privilege vs marginalization continuum a determining factor in the evaluation of an individual's speech or conduct. The "experience" even of offense or inconvenience, let alone oppression by a marginalized person becomes equivalent to admissible evidence of racist or sexist conduct if done by a "privileged" person, regardless of their intent.  The speech-act hypothesis, which blurs the distinction between words and actions, was seized upon by these kinds of feminist theorists to assert that so called hate speech, or anything that marginalized people found offensive, was actually dangerous and oppressive, and thus warranted censorship.  Here we have the foundations for the concepts of microaggressions, safe spaces and trigger warnings.

It is all well and good that we listen to those from designated marginalized demographics when they discuss their experiences. There is truth in the notion that it's hard to understand others until you've walked in their shoes. When that's impossible, simply listening is the best that can be done.  This critique is not a call that feminist or critical race theorists be silenced or ignored - that would be hypocrisy in the extreme. 

Rather that we be careful in attributing to the subjective experience of the marginalized the status of moral and intellectual infallibility, and especially of treating their standpoints as license to circumvent essential bedrock liberal concepts - civil liberties, due process for the accused and so on. Or even as a license to act obnoxious, as is so often done in social justice circles. Standpoint theory is deeply flawed and prone to abuse, for reasons that should be self evident, and personal experience is likewise a flawed means of arriving at truth, for reasons best articulated by the social constructionist postmodernists themselves.

It is also worth asking ourselves just whose voices are going to constitute the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized? By the logic inherent to standpoint theory we should ask ourselves if tenured professors in premier educational institutions in first world countries are really the best people to be speaking on behalf of the downtrodden and marginalized? While there's nothing wrong with having the opportunity to get a first class education in such an institution, that seems to me itself the hallmark of privilege. Social class and economics as a factor in pervasive inequality is conspicuous by its absence in much of transformative postmodern academia and associated activism, and is perhaps the one thing about Marx that they'd be improved by adopting. The popular image of the smug, well to do college prof telling the unemployed white male construction worker to "check his privilege" perfectly represents the hubris and hypocrisy of the transformative academy, and smacks of more than just a little psychological projection.

For educated professionals versed in "transformative" theories to graduate from such a college, and move on to acquire an influential position in education, media, tech or other influential field and use said position as a bully pulpit from which to beat less institutionally powerful people over the head with their white or male privilege is an act of audacious hypocrisy that escapes scrutiny largely due to just how vast a scale this kind of behavior occurs on, as the recent Damore lawsuit against Google is one prime example of, among many. The allegations in said lawsuit cover a harrowing list of abuses of power undertaken in the name of "diversity" and justified by its supposed challenge to white male privilege. Notice how the privilege of the all powerful CEO and management over the workers to enable such abuse does not factor into their analysis of privilege.  The use of standpoint theory by decidedly privileged executives and intellectuals to shield their own views from criticism smacks of Lenin's authoritarian concept of the revolutionary vanguard party.

Yet this kind of Leninist ideological institutional capture is precisely what was advocated and practiced by the regressive architects of so called transformative academia.  Peggy McIntosh, who we met previously as the mother of contemporary privilege theories so popular among today's SJWs, is quoted by Christina Hoff Sommers in her opus, Who Stole Feminism?:
I think it is not so important for us to get women's bodies in high places, because that doesn't necessarily help at all in social change. But to promote women who carry a new consciousness of how the mountain strongholds of white men need valley values - this will change society ... Such persons placed high up in existing power structures can really make a difference.
When you get through the woke metaphors, what this really boils down to is the capture of institutions and the diversion of their purpose to the advancement of regressive left ideology. The idea that academia, among other institutions, should remain essentially neutral and promote clear and critical thinking regarding all ideas does not fly among ideologues who view knowledge and the means of acquiring knowledge as being socially constructed, for the benefit of the privileged and the expense of the marginalized.  

And as Sommers describes, McIntosh was but one of a vast network of activists who were very good at this. It was suggested that applicants for positions of influence in the academy and (eventually) outside of it be screened for their ideological correctness.  Again, all of this seems alarmingly reminiscent of the old Leninist concept of democratic centralism and the vanguard party.  Concerns raised by the likes of Jonathan Haidt regarding the leftward swing in academia find their origins in the ideology of McIntosh and her contemporaries as much as they do in broader demographic trends, though Haidt definitely deserves our support and commendation in his efforts to stem the tide. 

Sadly, these are considerations that few in academia and the media have chosen to vocalize, and almost universal appeasement on an institutional level has enabled the growth and empowerment of a decidedly illiberal social trajectory, especially among the younger millennial generation.  Their success in the capture of academia goes a long way to explaining the dominance of their ideology in mass media and its control over the discourse surrounding race and gender relations in the agenda setting institutions of our civilization.

It is a mark of transformative curriculum's success that the glaring problems with this cluster of ideas should require elaboration.  They fly in the face of how we now know the human mind works, which would confirm the postmodern theorist's view that experience is subjective and filtered through the subject's unique psychologically constructed interpretation of experiences and beliefs, of which an alleged "harasser" could not possibly have knowledge.  An educated woman in today's world, for example, duly instructed in feminist theory while in college, could no doubt easily take offense to nearly anything a male could theoretically say or do: a glance being "male gaze", a compliment or even a polite civil greeting becoming "harassment", attraction becoming "objectification" and consensual sex being rape if she later reports "feeling violated" and so on, although feminist theorists will virtually always deny these linkages if actually challenged on them.

Regardless, these concepts had been codified into law as a result of high profile sexual harassment cases from the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which what a "reasonable woman" feels to be offensive and discriminatory, rather than the intent of the presumably white male to offend, discriminate, or abuse institutional power, was to be what determines guilt. Hence the disregard the "believe women" movement had for any notion of due process. 

In 2017 - 2018, the juggernaut gained still more momentum through the #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns. Here we see standpoint theory and the authority of experience deployed when, via the phrase "you're a male, you don't get to decide" is used to justify an unwillingness to differentiate between flagrant abuses of power a-la Harvey Weinstein on the one hand and day after regret or bad sex on the other and a whole gamut of unpleasant but not necessarily coercive sexual experiences in between.

The implications of requiring men to be responsible for the emotional experiences of women in this manner should disturb anybody who's serious about the use of anti-harassment laws to actually eliminate harassment rather than be a club in the hands of women in their relations with men, not to mention extremely paternalistic. Implicit here is the decidedly reactionary notion that men are driven by sex while the morally and aesthetically superior female is above such animalistic concerns, and that women must weaponize access, or lack thereof to sex as a means of controlling and punishing men. All for great social justice, of course.  This extremely sex-negative outlook bodes ill for the future of gender relations, and we're already seeing a tendency towards stark decline in the levels of partnering correlating with age in America and elsewhere.  

While very few regressive feminists would take this to the penetrative sex equalling rape extreme for which such feminists as Andrea Dworkin (who would later deny holding this view) were notorious, perpetual emphasis on women's experience of violation rather than of pleasure as being the norm in heterosexuality led to a dim view of human sexuality.  The outcome, desired I suspect, is to place a chill effect on heterosexual romance that we increasingly see reflected throughout all of society.

The present epidemic of sexlessness in Japan, concerning as it is for demographers and psychologists observing the harmful psychological and economic impact this is going to have, is where these trends are likely to take us, and the recent spate of me too sexual misconduct allegations following the Harvey Weinstein meltdown are not going to help any, and neither are most popular male responses to feminism, such as the MGTOW - men going their own way movement, which often comes across as being the male version of the same thing.  An unlikely outcome of all of this is the mutual respect and equality across gender lines that contemporary feminism so often claims is its goal.

Thus far I've spoken of feminism and gender theory, but many of the same concepts are applicable in critical race theory, queer theory and others like them. Frantz Fanon's views merit a look where race and decolonization are concerned.  Here again, we see mere political reform as being insufficient.  Wholesale cultural change, in which "redemptive violence" is suggested to play a role in exorcising deeply internalized colonization and white supremacy, is said to be what's necessary. 

There is nothing wrong, of course, with a historically colonized nation wanting to return to its cultural roots and reclaim its language and symbols in addition to political independence. However, the Mau Mau tactics employed by Black Lives Matter and the South African Fallist Movement, not to mention the horrific spate of farm murders also in South Africa and finally the deepening poverty in Zimbabwe should all remind us not to view decolonizing struggles and efforts through too rosy a lens.  It is tragic that these kinds of theories may drive people of color and the third world to learn the hard way, just as Europe did in its wars of nationalism and religion, and later with fascism and communism, that liberal principles are not mere social and cultural constructs designed to legitimize the rule of the privileged, but very much the opposite: a bulwark that protects all people, regardless of color or identity, from the terrors of mob and state violence. 

Radical feminism and anti colonial racial nationalism came into their own on college campuses in the 1980s. A part of their success was due to the vacuum left on the left by the decline of socialism and trade unionism during the Reagan/Thatcher era.  Yet they did not suddenly materialize in that time, but rather evolved alongside of the broader new left of the 1960s. And that is where our focus will turn next.

... to be continued in Part 5: Radical Ruckus

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Thursday, 1 February 2018

Those Classy Classical Liberalists

Work Harder. For Freedom, of Course.
YouTuber Sargon of Akkad has launched "The Liberalists" as a means of reviving classical liberal thought - the finer points of which he finally got around to hashing out on a livestream, which he'd postponed for a day due to having committed himself to dungeons and dragons. Good for him. I admire his sense of priorities. D&D is good fun, though I've had my fill of it since I first started playing the game back in the days of Reagan and Thatcher. My character was a thief - well suited to the era.  Anyway, I digress.

Liberalist-ism, if you can call it that, boils down to seven principles that would be familiar to anyone knowledgeable on classical liberal thought.  They are: individual rights, democracy, economic freedom, freedom of speech, self reliance, blind justice and secularism.  These ideas are fleshed out somewhat on the Liberalist Society blog

I do like classical liberalism, and think it one part of the foundation for the alt left.  One half of the equation - social democracy or democratic socialism being the other half.  So I joined the Liberalists Facebook group, of which Sargon himself is a member.  I'd encourage realist alt-leftists to do likewise.  Not as part of a group takeover but because, as I've said, classical liberalism is an important ingredient in realist alt-left thinking.  But, as I've detailed elsewhere, I also have some misgivings about what some of my fellow realist leftists have termed 'Sargonism.' 

While I think classical liberalism has many key insights regarding the nature of liberty and how polities are best constituted to protect individual rights, I likewise have misgivings about classical liberal takes on economics.  Not much liberty in a sweatshop or a workhouse, I hate to point out.  While I thought the liberalists would be good allies in the realist/alt-left's struggle to reclaim civil liberties as a center-left cause, I feared what I'd get at the Liberalists is a whole lot of the gospels of Milton FriedmanRobert NozickFriedrich Hayek and Ludwig Von Mises.  

There is some of that, of course.  But a whole lot of Liberalists did a good job passing their intelligence checks when this question was posed:
Opinions, privatization or publicly owned services? Police, fire, ems, public transport?
Most of the answers this question got were damn near enough to restore my faith in humanity. The best news I've had in awhile.
  • Public. Privatisation of essential services just leads inexorably to abuse of power.
  • Too many externalities not be public, IMO. If your house burns down, there's a good chance of the fire spreading to the next house, then the next (eventually reaching mine). Or, at minimum, it creates a neighborhood blight, hurting me economically. You don't have to abandon all rational self interest to support public goods and services.  If you have the option of making it private, those who don't opt in will require some sort of free-rider carrier. So, no.  Also, the idea of private police is just... alarming.
  • Privatisation will always mean that the main goal of the service will be money. How to produce more money, how to save money. Publicly funded means the main priority will be to serve the people. Ofc i believe if you can have private management to achieve the same goal, example publicly funded hospitals but private management, is the best way to go.
  • It all depends on how it is done. For instance, Sask and Alberta are very similar jurisdictions, but one has government car insurance and the other uses private. The private insurance is basically twice as much with worse customer service and more inefficient administration. The government run insurance is cheaper, easier to manage, and more effective.
  • All of these need to be public services.
  • (my own answer)  Keep core infrastructure and essential services public. Oftentimes, they are services that are not easily provided as commodities for a profit: barriers to entry and capital requirements are high, earning potential limited, deterring investment. If there's not a sufficient market to bear numerous competitors, then the competition that is supposedly privatization's biggest advantage becomes null. Plus, does universal access to essential services not simply make for a better, more inclusive polity for all?
  • So private police? so would you need insurance to be able to call the cops? what happens if you cant pay, "I'm sorry you were raped ma'am but your credit sucks, have a nice day."
  • I don't think that's a good idea for essential services. Certain services shouldn't have a profit motive factored in, for moral reasons.
  • The idea of private fire ems or police terrifies me, it should be a responsibility, not a business decision whether your house fire is put out or the burglary investigated or the ambulance takes you to hospital.
  • From an economic perspective privatizing some services creates wasteful an redundant infrastructure so it is more efficient to keep them public. Think about the multiple fire departments in early New York. What if one has it's own set of hydrants that only one department can use, so the other departments install there own hydrants so now we have multiple hydrants on every block.
  • This is why we only have one provider for certain services here in the US, like water of gas, because installing multiple pipes underground for every house is terrible wasteful. This solves one problem but creates another, a captive market. This allows the utilities to price fix. Making these public and thus removing the profit motive would fix this, but it would add more bureaucracy which might be a net bad.
  • The privatization of essential services is always exploitative to citizenry. The government has a responsibility to ensure basic protections and freedoms of it's citizens. Police, Fire departments, health, incarceration, all of these should not be designed for profit.
There were, quite naturally, some dissidents:
  • Imo, looking at the handling of other services compared to government run programs I think privatization could lead to streamlining of a lot of these things. It may then come with a price tag. Especially public transport and the police force.
  • University libraries vs public libraries is the only one that comes to mind right off. But as it stands, government run services are kind of beyond the law. Given infrastructure status and water treatment. I feel that If these were taken over by a company that is trying to make a profit, the motivation to do it properly to turn the dollar would be higher. As it is now, the taxes are already paid up-front, so there's no drive to do the jobs in a timely manner or with any form of quality.
  • It comes down to how its done. Voluntarism and small government sound nice.
  • As individualists it would be hypocritical to deny an individual the freedom to start their own security, transport, fire service etc. Or force that individual to pay for such services through force (taxation)
Admittedly, privatization isn't always bad.  Stopped clocks are right twice a day.  My home province privatized its liquor stores (why they were state run to begin with, I'm not sure) and the results weren't bad.  But privatization more often than not tends to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

The responses to this question were positive and hopeful, but the Libearlists and the broader cultural libertarian movement remains a lightning rod for the Von Mises fan club, which has been a powerful force on the internet almost since its inception. Libertarianism is not liberal; it is essentialist and dogmatic to the core. It sees liberty entirely in terms of the absence of government, and ignores or rationalizes away the very real capacity for private sources of power to tyrannize over individuals, especially if joined to a laissez faire capitalist system.  

The millennials in particular will not be drawn away from the excesses of intersectional social justice by those who take a devil-take-the-hindmost attitude towards economics and inequality more generally.  Moreover, being made to choose between freedom of speech and social security is a choice no one should have to make.

Libertarianism has as firm a grip on the young male mind as feminist theory has on the young female mind, especially on social media. It is a toss-up as to which doctrine is more harmful. Both dragons need slaying, and the campaign promises to be a long one. 

Arm yourself with the facts. Powerful arguments against SJW and Libertarian excesses
Social Democracy for the 21st Century

Additional Commentary from the Alternative Left
Beware Sargonism
The Theory of Surplus Value
Do You Even Socialist, Bro?

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. ...