Saturday, March 28, 2015

Liquidation Theology

Reading Russell Jacoby's The End of Utopia last year crystallized a lot of things for me, and since then, it's been a bit of a recurring theme here: what does it even mean to be leftist anymore? Does anyone still believe in a radical break between the old world of exploitative oppression and the new world of classless cooperation, bridged by violent revolution? Is a gradual transition to democratic socialism, accomplished through the existing political system, the best anyone dares to dream of? Or is leftism more of a moral stance, at best a comprehensive cataloging of neoliberalism's many flaws accompanied by impotent fist-shaking, at worst the sort of cliquish posturing that pervades the web? Does anyone honestly believe a bullshitting buffoon like Slavoj Žižek has anything of value to offer, or is leftism more green instead of red these days? Perhaps it's a cyclical thing, and leftism is currently in a mystical, inward state, where the focus shifts away from changing the world toward purifying one's soul of impure thoughts.

Radical leftism and organized religion have had an often-antagonistic relationship since the French Revolution, of course, but being that both traditions have seen better days, perhaps they could consider trying to form an alliance based on the goals they ostensibly hold in common. If you're trying to re-create a political framework to accommodate idealistic goals, why not save yourself some trouble? Christianity has the mission and the infrastructure in place already; why not set theological disputes aside and see if you can't find common ground in tending to the world's poor and downtrodden, especially seeing as how the current Pope seems a lot more open to such cooperation? Having been mulling over thoughts like these for a while now, my attention was caught by this essay from Federico Campagna:

The natural question arising at this point is: why should the secular, radical Left seek Franciscus as its ally? Why should the Left trust the leader of an institution with a long history of connivance with the bleakest reactionary forces and a track record of repressive violence? Once again, I invite the reader to consider this in purely strategic terms. The Left, like the Catholic Church, has been forced to reconsider its strategy by analysis of the current political situation. There is increased support among Western populations for xenophobic, repressive governmental policies against those who can least defend themselves, and the Western Left is no longer capable of reversing this turn to the Right. Mainstream ‘left-wing’ politicians seem keener to chase their right-wing counterparts than to produce their own new brand of emancipatory politics, and the electorate is growing ever more tired with the homogeneity of mainstream policy. Communist parties are no more, trade unions are in crisis, and bottom-up radical movements such as Occupy seem like awkward re-enactments of twentieth-century scripts. The Left needs new allies if it is to check our descent into abyssal inequality, global civil war, environmental catastrophe and the further expansion of the prison-industrial system.

Franciscus’ absolutist Vatican monarchy can be a precious ally to the struggling Western Left. Indeed, that the Catholic Church has kept many of the most reactionary regimes in history in power is proof of the great value of its political support. As an Italian, and as an atheist and left-wing anarch, I can hardly neglect the role played by the Catholic Church in maintaining the corrupt regime of the Democrazia Cristiana for over fifty years – yet, this only makes me wonder what we could do now, with the Church on our side.

Exactly. Politics is the art of the possible and all that. Well, I'd be all for it. I mean, I assume we've all learned our lessons from the horrible, bloody histories of both supernatural and political religions, so as long as we proceed from there, I don't see any reason wh—

Reconstructed in these terms, xenophobic, repressive, financial and neoliberal forces cease even to be the targets of a concerted attack, transformed instead into unhygienic elements to be cleaned away. How could it be otherwise, if ‘we’ – the unemployed, the working poor, the prisoners, the illegal aliens, the single mothers – are the forces of Love? Necessarily our enemies must be the agents of Hatred and Destruction. No longer will leftists be forced into the awkward position of answering whether sinking migrant boats and privatising public healthcare is ‘good for the economy’ or ‘bad for the economy’: finally, they will be able to simply rail against the ‘abomination’, the ‘bestiality’, and ultimately the ‘Satanism’ of their opponents.

There is no doubt that this conceptual construction of the enemy as a sub- human monster has a long and appalling history. It is the rhetoric of the Crusades, of totalitarian regimes and, indeed, of recent right-wing politics such as those demonising ‘terrorists’, paedophiles and the ‘feral’ underclasses. To embrace it is dangerous. Yet we must acknowledge that this brand of populist discourse is extremely effective in the construction of a united front. Allying with Franciscus’ new Church, embracing its crusading rhetoric of Love and even accepting the likely hegemonic position of the Church in the network of left-wing forces, will enable just that: a strong, well- organised and financially powerful global network of radical-left forces capable of effectively unleashing the pent-up, reterritorialising violence of the masses and to redirect it against the barbaric, late-capitalist, nationalist ‘host of Satan’.

Franciscus’ war rhetoric sounds terrifying, and rightly so. If it is embraced by a transnational, united Left-wing front, it might be capable of destroying its enemies, placing the poor and dispossessed as close to a position of power as they have ever been. But it would be a mistake to assume a safe and consistent path that will lead from this revolutionary explosion to the creation of a stable and effective system of emancipatory politics in the following peacetime. It might be the case that, having harnessed the power of the Church to their own ends, the victorious Left will decide to overthrow their old, Catholic allies and to enforce a further, post-theological turn to the new political and administrative framework. That will be the hard path of reform and, as Alex Williams once remarked, ‘revolution is easy, reform is hard’. Yet, without a victorious revolution, the chance for reform might never arise.

...Did he just say that we need to frame this new leftism as the forces of Love against the forces of...Satan? Because hey, Manichean rhetoric gets results?

...Unleash the pent-up violence of the masses?

...Unhygenic elements to be cleaned away?

...Let's just start destroying and killing and if this all goes wrong somehow, ahh, whatever, we'll fix it in post?

Neoliberalism it is, then!

Friday, March 27, 2015

I'm The Confuser!

David Cannadine:

Anyone who has persevered with this book thus far should be aware at least of this: the claim that the male and female identities established by biology and culture are more important than any other collective identities is at best highly tendentious. For it is merely one more example, alongside those made on behalf of religion, nation, and class, of the misleading but widespread practice of what has been termed "totalizing": namely, the habit of describing and defining individuals by their membership in one single group, deemed to be more important and more all-encompassing than any other solidarity — and indeed than all others — to which they might simultaneously belong.

Yep. To re-quote Steven Pinker:

We live in an age of social science, and have become accustomed to understanding the social world in terms of "forces," "pressures," "processes," and "developments." It is easy to forget that these "forces" are statistical summaries of the deeds of millions of men and women who act on their beliefs in pursuit of their desires. The habit of submerging the individual into abstractions can lead not only to bad science (it's not as if the "social forces" obeyed Newton's laws) but to dehumanization. We are apt to think, "I (and my kind) choose to do things for reasons; he (and his kind) are part of a social process."

Vince Noir had the right idea: synthesize the categories, don't cling to them even more tightly.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wages Against The Machines

Evgeny Morozov:

Thus, there’s a very sinister and disturbing implication to be drawn from Carr’s work—namely, that only the rich will be able to cultivate their skills and enjoy their life to the fullest while the poor will be confined to mediocre virtual substitutes—but Carr doesn’t draw it. Here again we see what happens once technology criticism is decoupled from social criticism. All Carr can do is moralize and blame those who have opted for some form of automation for not being able to see where it ultimately leads us. How did we fail to grasp just how fun and stimulating it would be to read a book a week and speak fluent Mandarin? If Mark Zuckerberg can do it, what excuses do we have?

“By offering to reduce the amount of work we have to do, by promising to imbue our lives with greater ease, comfort, and convenience, computers and other labor-saving technologies appeal to our eager but misguided desire for release from what we perceive as toil,” notes Carr in an unashamedly elitist tone. Workers of the world, relax—your toil is just a perception! However, once we accept that there might exist another, more banal reason why people embrace automation, then it’s not clear why automation à la Carr, with all its interruptions and new avenues for cognitive stimulation, would be of much interest to them: a less intelligent microwave oven is a poor solution for those who want to cook their own dinners but simply have no time for it. But problems faced by millions of people are of only passing interest to Carr, who is more preoccupied by the non-problems that fascinate pedantic academics; he ruminates at length, for example, on the morality of Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner.

...How, the critics ask, could we be so blind to the deeply alienating effects of modern technology? Their tentative answer—that we are simply lazy suckers for technologically mediated convenience—reveals many of them to be insufferable, pompous moralizers. The more plausible thesis—that the growing demands on our time probably have something to do with the uptake of apps and the substitution of the real (say, parenting) with the virtual (say, the many apps that allow us to monitor kids remotely)—is not even broached. For to speak of our shrinking free time would also mean speaking of capital and labor, and this would take the technology critic too far away from “technology proper.”

I don't have the breadth of knowledge to be an actual critic, so it pleases me when someone who does have it says what I've been saying all along. It makes me feel a bit like the kid who first noticed the emperor's danglies swinging in the breeze.

Leaving aside the whole difficult question of whether most people actually want to live up to Carr's ideal vision of the contemplative, literate citizen, or whether they just dimly recognize that it makes them look good to at least profess to want it, the simple fact remains that most people simply don't have the fucking time and energy after a long day of work to relax by reading modernist literature before bed instead of scrolling aimlessly through Facebook (or to go for a walk according to the exacting standards of another elitist twat). People who actually, you know, work for a living have bigger and more urgent problems to worry about than whether their brains are getting the correct sort of exercise by sending text messages instead of composing letters with quill and inkwell.

And so fretting about one's technological consumption habits is becoming just one more trivial class signifier, one more way for people with the money to afford artisanal, free-range, handcrafted leisure time to conspicuously signal their status. The revolution is over, or, rather, it was stillborn to begin with. The bums, as always, are the ones who lose.


Wendy Kaminer:

How did we get here? How did a verbal defense of free speech become tantamount to a hate crime and offensive words become the equivalent of physical assaults?

You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades: the feminist anti-porn crusades, the pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses.

Interesting. I read her book Sleeping With Extraterrestrials over a decade ago, but hadn't seen her around since. I had no idea her reasonableness had transformed her into a quasi-reactionary, gender-traitor enemy of all that is good and holy. Glad to see it.

Our progressives strike me largely as the kind of people who will endlessly congratulate themselves for having successfully rebelled against the uptight, repressed mores of the Victorian age while failing to consider that not only were the Victorians proud of their enlightened, sophisticated attitudes, but that in another couple centuries, it's just as likely that people will be looking back with astonished laughter at our own hypocritical taboos and uptight mores. As always, history stops right here where we happen to be standing, conveniently enough. We are the punctuation mark following the final word on enlightened values. I know, right? What are the odds? Why, it almost seems too good to be true.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Wrath Toward Khan

I've read Razib Khan's blog for a few years. I find him insightful on a number of topics, including religion, history, and culture, and I found his perspective as a self-identified conservative very helpful as I attempted to make sense of the people now commonly known as social justice warriors (even there, it often seems like his conservatism is motivated largely by opposition to the politically correct left as much as anything; this particular spleen-venting doesn't sound any different from the themes Freddie deBoer, an avowed socialist, specializes in, a fact noted by one of his commenters.)

I have no opinion on whether he's racist or not. I'm not nearly educated enough to follow his posts about genetics. I certainly recognize that there's enough circumstantial evidence to construct the sort of guilt-by-association hit piece that Gawker used to get the NYT to drop him like a hot potato, but I also note a distinct lack of any direct, damning quotes from the man himself. I certainly recognize that he has clearly signaled either his openness to taboo thoughts about race and biology, or his sheer refusal to play politics when it comes to science. The real point is, I don't care. I have enough faith in my own thinking ability to not get tricked into believing in some kind of malevolent "race science", even if he were trying to subtly indoctrinate his readers with it, and there's too much good stuff on his blog to avoid it for the sake of appearances. More importantly, I'm just sick of the shrieking and the demands for collective shunning that dominate online discussions.

It almost surprises me to admit that. At this point, I would prefer a conversation with a mild reactionary to one with a self-righteous progressive who only knows enough to master the dynamics of high-school cafeteria politics. Too many people assume they already know everything they need to know, and the only thing left to do is make a big public display of which team you're on. To hell with that.

In the midst of this otherwise disheartening fracas, I did snicker at this comment:

The left argues that while no governmental law is explicitly racist, governmental and societal institutions have racism built into them. So this is what enables leftists to decry racism even though there are no governmental laws explicitly permitting it. The left calls this “institutionalized racism.”

The same argument applies to free speech. While it’s true that there is no governmental law explicitly preventing Razib from expressing his views, governmental and societal institutions have built into them mechanisms that prevent Razib from expressing his views. Perhaps we should call this institutionalized censorship.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Tide Is High

Brad Warner:

Someone meditates for a long time and has a profound insight into the nature of reality. He or she then decides to try and teach that insight and how to reach it to others. This goes fine for a little while, but then an institution is established to try and make the lessons more standardized, efficient and accessible. At this point certain people notice that there are opportunities for power, authority and money to be had within that institution so they get involved. Once these weasels start running things the original purpose is lost. Then someone else has to come along, call bullshit on the institution and start the whole thing up again as an outsider. The same pattern occurs with predictable regularity.

Right now in the West, we are in one of these transitional periods. Back in Japan, Zen has become an orthodox institution that offers its members opportunities for power, authority and sometimes even money. Disgusted with this situation, a few sincere practitioners packed up and moved to America and Europe. They found some genuine students and started a few temples. But now those temples are growing in stature and importance, and ambitious people are starting to see that they might be able to climb their institutional ladders and become powerful. The rot is setting in.

This process is still in its infancy, so things haven’t gotten too bad just yet. Whenever I complain about the organizations who are trying to standardize the Zen curriculum into mind-numbing uselessness I’m always told something like, “Aw, but these guys aren’t a giant evil institution! They’re just a nice group of low-key people who want to do good things.” Which I’m sure is more-or-less true. But you don’t have to be a genius to see where things are heading.

Brad is, of course, paraphrasing a famous passage from The Book of Panta Rheism, which says, "All philosophical systems of men are mere castles of sand before the ancient wisdom of the ocean; bow ye before the power of the moon's gravitational pull and be sore afraid." Man-made religions arise and fall, ossify and regenerate, until the sacred waters tire of their foolishness and wash them all away. Incidentally, this explains the omnipresence of great flood myths in cultures around the world.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Who's Žižoomin' Who?

Josh Cohen:

Where, in the standard reading of Hegel, one element comes into conflict with another external to it, in Žižek’s reading, conflict is internal or “immanent” to the first element. The resulting paradox is that an action becomes the result (rather than the cause) of its counteraction. To take the best-known example in Hegel, the master discovers that the slave is not his other but the condition of his status as master – that he is the master only by virtue of his dependence on (or enslavement to) the slave. The precariousness of the master’s identity lies in how he can be master only by virtue of not being master (as Arctic Monkeys put it in an album title, referencing Alan Sillitoe, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not).

The diagnosis of our inertia becomes the basis for a brutally unsentimental politics in which all voluntary commitments are mere ruses of ideology. Following the French philosopher Alain Badiou, his friend and interlocutor, Žižek insists on the revolutionary moment as an unpredictable “Event”. Change cannot be agitated by the active agent of traditional politics. On the contrary, “The change will be most radical if we do nothing.” The attempt to make things happen can only ever entrench the order it claims to be contesting, whereas by waiting passively we open ourselves to being swept up in an authentic event.

“Sometimes doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.” As though to affirm this aphorism, which ended his 2008 book Violence, Žižek takes pains to show how the renunciation of action authorises “Leninist” ruthlessness.

Žižek’s pronouncements on our political predicaments often seem animated by the same fantasies of making and unmaking the world with brazen unconcern for the consequences. Surely it is only in such a spirit of cartoonish indifference that a serious thinker could open a sentence with the phrase: “Even Nazi anti-Semitism . . .” Restoring the phrase to the full sentence does nothing to redeem it. “Even Nazi anti-Semitism, however ghastly it was, opened up a world: it described its critical situation by positing an enemy, which was ‘a Jewish conspiracy’; it named a goal and the means of achieving it.” This is in contrast to the corrosiveness of capitalism, which deprives “the large majority of people of any meaningful ‘cognitive mapping’”. In other words: yes, it may have been ghastly but at least with Nazi anti-Semitism you knew where you were.

I wish that this summary translation were mere flippancy but it is depressingly precise. The grim prospect of “non-eventful survival in a hedonist-utilitarian universe” licenses Žižek to prefer even the most catastrophic political experiment to our current set-up. As he writes: “Better the worst of Stalinism than the best of the liberal-capitalist welfare state.”

Žižek’s contention in Trouble in Paradise is that our liberal-capitalist civilisation, for all its injunctions to enjoy ourselves, is devoid of genuine love and life. Yet there is nothing in Žižek’s brutal and peculiarly thin political vision to persuade his reader that life on the other side of capitalism, for which he lies impassively in wait, will be any more fun.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

We'll Be Happy And We'll Dance; Oh, Oh, Listen To The Music

I gotta say it was a good day:

This Week’s Releases: March 17, 2015
New stuff (CDs / vinyl)


...Modest Mouse “Strangers to Ourselves”

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Stand-Up Philosopher

Having watched History of the World, Part 1 about eleventy-teen times as a kid, to the point of having the entire dialogue practically memorized, I am dismayed to realize that I never thought to incorporate Comicus's job description into my own persona before now. Well, that's fixed.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Take Me To Your Leader

British liberals, perhaps haunted by colonial guilt, have sometimes gone further and positively encouraged people to conserve their traditions, since any pressure to conform to British customs would smack of imperial arrogance. Guilt, in this case, hides a peculiar irony, for this type of "multiculturalism", much hated by conservatives, actually reflects the way much of the British Empire was governed, by dividing colonial subjects into communal groups, and ruling through their leaders.

In addition to being pithily amusing, this echoes what Kenan Malik has often said:

And this brings us to another irony about multiculturalism: multiculturalists insist that society is diverse, but somehow fail to see the diversity of minority communities. On the multicultural map, diversity magically ends at the edges of minority communities. Multiculturalists tend to treat minority communities as if each was a distinct, singular, homogenous, authentic whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. In so doing, they all too often ignore conflicts within those communities. All the dissent and diversity gets washed out. As a result the most progressive voices often get silenced as not being truly of that community or truly authentic, while the most conservative voices get celebrated as community leaders, the authentic voices of minority groups.

The Danish MP Naser Khader tells of a conversation with Toger Seidenfaden, editor of Politiken, a left-wing Danish newspaper that was highly critical of the Danish cartoons. Seidenfaden claimed that ‘the cartoons insulted all Muslims’. Khader responded that ‘I am not insulted’. ‘But you’re not a real Muslim’, was Seidenfaden’s response.

‘You’re not a real Muslim.’ Why? Because to be proper Muslim is, from such a perspective, to be reactionary, to find the Danish cartoons offensive. Anyone who isn’t reactionary or offended is by definition not a proper Muslim. Here leftwing ‘anti-racism’ meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For many leftwing anti-racists, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim.

The Virtues Of Silence

Blakey Vermeule:

But as I looked around for guidance and clarification—what sorts of passions do the Algerian war and its complicated aftermath—especially in Algeria—raise nowadays?-- I found that the loudest voices were the most certain and the most certain voices were the least informative. Everybody was trying to find an angle, to take a line, to drown out somebody else, to predict disastrous consequences, to moralize, punish, engage. And I found myself yearning for one or two intellectuals to be un peu désengagés—a bit less warlike and a bit more cautious. Maybe I was yearning for late Camus—a man who fell silent because he just didn’t know what to say.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

He's Into That, That, Spiritual Stuff

Roger Housden:

Those who are on the path of individuation are the most likely members of the “spiritual, not religious” sector of the population. These are the people for whom faith tends to be more central than belief; for whom religion has become a personal spiritual affair instead of an institution whose belief system you sign up for. People like this are not so concerned with what they believe or don’t believe; they want to know how rather than what — how they can connect to a world beyond their own ego, a world of meaning and value that they intuit to be present, and yet are not always in touch with.

Unlike religion and atheism, the faith that lives in the heart transcends our mania for conclusions. Religion is full of definitive answers about the meaning and purpose of life meant to guide you safely from the cradle to the grave. Atheism is equally conclusive in insisting that there is no meaning or purpose to life at all and that what we see is all we get. Spirituality without religion, on the other hand, allows us to live with uncertainty, change, and ultimately, death, not because we believe that a better place awaits us, but because we intuitively sense that there is an intelligence, an inherent rightness, in the way life presents itself moment by moment. We have faith that life has its own Logos beyond all physical appearances — that life is deeper than our minds can ever know.

Cliques Nix Politics

Tom Bartlett:

Ancient quarreling aside, the over­arching theme of the Bailey episode for Dreger was whether or not a scholar should be allowed to present evidence for a theory that some find profoundly threatening and deeply offensive. The critiques of Bailey often revolved around whether his book was "invalidating to transwomen" — which seemed like a separate question from whether the argument itself had any merit, a question that continues to be debated.

In her new book, Dreger also empathizes with Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, authors of A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (2001). They argue that rape is motivated at least in part by sexual attraction, a view that diverges from the widely held notion that it is solely about violence and control. Palmer and Thornhill see their work as contributing to an understanding of why rapists rape and therefore, ultimately, of help to victims. Their many irate detractors see them as rape apologists. What started as science devolved into name-calling and death threats.

..."I very much identify as a liberal feminist," she says. "That said, I get extremely impatient with liberals who want to rail about Republicans who won’t look at facts and then you get people who are making decisions based on identity and not on the facts. To me, that’s just a perversion of liberalism." That stance wins her fans among a crowd she’s not sure she wants on her side. "Believe me, it makes me uncomfortable that my last 20 Twitter followers are right-wingers," she says.

Yet she worries that partisan team-playing — making sure the progressive cool kids like you — is a hindrance to reasoned dialogue on tough topics. "I think we get lazy sometimes, and we let our politics rule what we’re doing, and as academics we can’t do that," she says. "There’s this whole branch of academe in which simply telling your story is taken as some sort of data beyond just telling your story. To me it’s just telling your story."

If I had the stature or the ability to write a Letters to a Young Foolosopher sort of book, I would center it around this simple advice: Be suspicious of narratives. Not reflexively contrarian — don't argue just for the sake of it. Automatically taking the opposite side of any given argument is just another way of letting other people set the terms of your thinking for you. Not nihilistically paranoid, either — don't assume that anyone speaking of "truth" and "objectivity" is just cynically concealing a lust for power and dominance. That sort of nihilism is a comforting meta-narrative itself, a way of shrugging off the burden of weighing, judging and measuring each new set of circumstances. Just be suspicious. For various reasons, from biological to social to individual, it's very easy for us to notice patterns and submit to their internal logic. Like jogging through the woods, it's natural to notice a clear trail and let that determine our direction. Narratives are both indispensable and unstable, and thus require constant vigilance.

When Michael Bérubé famously joked about people who "used to be a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, (are) now outraged by Chappaquiddick", he was basically talking about the power of narratives, the need to fit this particular experience into a preexisting story. Pace Bérubé, though, I don't think you need Marxist theorists to make sense of the phenomenon; I think it can be explained by the cognitive phenomenon of chunking. It may seem paradoxical at first glance, but it's actually easier, given the way our brains work, to substitute one grand narrative for another, like switching railroad tracks, than it is to rethink individual principles piece by piece, which can be frustrating and time-consuming. In other words, confronted with a traumatic shock like 9/11, many liberals might have felt disoriented and confused over principles that they had formerly taken for granted. But rather than think slowly and methodically about whether their personal pacifism had been too reflexive, or whether liberalism as a whole had let multicultural dogma blind itself to a serious threat, they responded by wiping the intellectual slate clean (simplicity!) and replacing their former worldview with another one, fully-formed (more simplicity!). Crisis averted, and at minimal cognitive cost. They might be wrong about a whole bunch of different things now, but at least they feel comfortable again.

But that, right there at the crisis point when you're not sure what to think or who to believe, is where I would suggest you need to be suspicious and resist the urge to seek comfort among allies. Having emerged, blinking, into the sunlight, don't be so eager to turn right back into the shadows. Take your sweet time, don't be afraid to be left behind by those who have already made up their minds, and consider what makes this experience unique before deciding it's merely a reflection of something else. Many of the people who would laugh knowingly at Bérubé's witty formulation are the same ones who favor a different narrative, in which they are too sophisticated, rational and objective to ever fall prey to such groupthink, and the cycle begins again, to the delight of whichever trickster god gave us the gift of narrative to begin with.

There may not be any singular, objective truth about the world to be found. There may even be several, or many, irreducible truths, all in permanent conflict with each other. Still, using the general concept as a lodestar seems to be beneficial, especially when, as Dreger has experienced, up becomes down and ally becomes enemy. Concentrate on finding as much truth as you can, don't be in any hurry to assemble it into an overarching narrative, and don't be intimidated by those who use guilt, anger and shame to prevent you from inconveniencing their own narratives. Doing so may marginalize you in favor of those who are always ready to put politics ahead of truth-seeking, but I'd hope you find that a fair price to pay.