Sunday, February 28, 2016

Only the Yoni Know This Feeling Ain't Right

Livia Gershon:

Freeman argued that the key to the movement’s success was its potential to combine two ways of addressing society’s gender problems: the Egalitarian Ethic and the Liberation Ethic. The first demands an end to sex discrimination and fixed gender roles, but the second seeks a deeper change. ‘To seek only equality, given the current male bias of the social values, is to assume that women want to be like men or that men are worth emulating,’ she wrote. ‘It is to demand that women be allowed to participate in society as we know it… without questioning the extent to which that society is worth participating in.’

Meanwhile, the Liberation Ethic has faded from view. The Furies’ concept of a ‘male world view’, and their notion of dismantling competition and acquisitiveness, would sound, to many modern ears, like antiquated gibberish. And yet the Liberation Ethic might be the best place to start, not only for addressing the special burdens modern women continue to bear, but also for making life better, along a whole lot of dimensions, for both men and women.

And yet, outside the realm of traditional politics, many people – especially young ones – are seeking entirely different ways of seeing relationships, gender, and sex. Growing numbers of people identify as neither male nor female, upending not just gender roles but gender itself. Polyamorous triads and quads and more exotic geometries are reconfiguring romance. BDSM (bondage, dominance, sado-masochism etc) players are dragging unspoken assumptions about sexual dominance and submission out into the light and then reworking them in novel ways. These movements are often framed as simply a matter of individual choice, but they owe their existence to a Liberation Ethic, and they have the potential to cut to the core of centuries-old assumptions about women and men. Kate Bornstein, a prominent gender theorist and transgender activist, argues that challenging assumptions about gender is part of a broader campaign against all sorts of power structures. ‘The value of breaking the gender binary will be to use what we’ve learned to help break down the false binaries masking hierarchical vectors of oppression – namely age, race, class, religion, looks, ability, language, citizenship, family, and reproductive status and sexuality,’ Bornstein said in a 2011 interview with the magazine Herizons.

A feminism based on the Liberation Ethic would question the very foundations of our work and family lives. It would attack the ‘masculine’ obsession with narrowly defined profit and productivity. It would demand generous social welfare programmes and part-time jobs with good pay, interesting work, and room for advancement. It would help people transform marriage to work for them – or create different kinds of relationships that suit them better. It would ditch the false dichotomy of dependence and independence and acknowledge that, in a complex human society, we are all necessarily interdependent. Above all, it would argue not that women should live more like men, but that everyone, regardless of gender, should live more like they want to.

Verily, Verily, I Say Unto Thee

I read Thomas Chatterton Williams's memoir, Losing My Cool, last summer and found it engrossing. I recommend checking it out, but until you do, here's a couple more recent articles from him worth reading. One, on everybody's least favorite buzzword, privilege:

What is more harmful — and pervasive in these disillusioned last days of the first black presidency — are the ways in which left-leaning discussions now share assumptions with the worst conservative and even white supremacist ideology. Whether put forth by racists or anti-racists, the insistence that, as James Baldwin noted, it is a person's “categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended,” is oppressive. When genuinely anti-racist views lead us to the same practical conclusions an open bigot would embrace — that black life is miserable compared with white life — we give white people too much credit and strengthen the status quo.

The false choice between acknowledging the repugnant history of racism that informs the present, and the wish to accept the reality that a growing number of black people may nonetheless experience the freedom to define ourselves, is infantilizing. What this current moment of protest and awakening must lead us to, if it is to lead us anywhere, is a dignified means of fully inhabiting our ever more complicated identities.

And two, on everybody's second-least favorite buzzword(s), safe spaces:

It’s a strange and ironic double diminishment: first to feel oneself aggrieved, and then to conclude that the best response is to bask in fragility and retreat into an artificially indulgent social context. There is something utterly dehumanizing about being fit to a demographic profile, reduced to the sex or color of a body. While I may not be able to control how I look or how others perceive me, I control absolutely the ways I perceive myself. The idea that minorities need bubbles betrays an internalized sense of inferiority. When we concede public space as inherently hostile instead of deliberately claiming it as our own — as Martin Luther King Jr. and so many others did in the Sixties, as the gay-rights movement did more recently — we perpetuate and reinforce some of the very biases we seek to counteract.

Just as troubling, the growing power and influence of the appeal to vulnerability transforms it from a strictly defensive (if ineffective) tool into an increasingly potent method of intimidation that can silence even meaningful disagreement.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Don't Cross the Streams

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn:

For the therapeutic society, such a goal continually recedes beyond the horizon. These therapies share many of the new assumptions about race: racism continues unabated; all slights are equal; anyone who endures racial slights of any kind or degree is a victim or a survivor who needs help; racism is an illness shared by all oppressors, who also need therapy; and small-group interactions and emotional catharsis are the primary ways in which the racial problems of the country should be faced. That there is never an end in sight — racism remains completely unchanged — handily gives the new therapies the rationale not just for persevering but for proselytizing through pamphlets, books, journals, classes, workshops and retreats.

...The therapeutic movement, with this ethos of empowerment, has trumped the civil rights movement, with its vision of the just society and the good life. The culture of therapy's view that the problem for everyone — bigots, oppressors and leaders alike — is a lack of nurture, validation and support has inspired numerous best-selling books and talk shows. The spirit of the movement is that we are all owed unconditional acceptance at all times, and that any weaknesses we have are not our own responsibility.

...The notion of incorrect attitudes — stereotypes — both expands and diminishes the extent of the problem. No one is truly guilty here — no one is actually at fault — because it is society that breeds the wrong attitudes. Yet everyone must be subjected to self-examination, because everyone harbors these attitudes. Thus any distinction between a racially motivated act — like refusing to hire or promote someone or chasing someone out of one's neighborhood on account of race, or worse — and a passive misconception one might have about a group one has never known intimately gets lost. This focus on attitudes of nebulous origin, and the misleading assumption that they are universal and as lethal as racist acts, comes from a loss of judgment and proportion. This loss of proportion and inability to distinguish among wrong acts rests on the idea that stereotypes are responsible for racism, not individuals.

I became interested in reading this book after seeing an intriguing reference to it in a Spiked article a few months ago. Shortly afterward, I fortuitously came across a copy in a secondhand bookstore. Having now read it, I have to amend my thinking a bit. You've heard me say many times that the trendy emphasis on intersectional social justice is merely the millennial generation's twist on the tired old fashion of left-wing identity politics. I still think this is true, but slightly incomplete. Lasch-Quinn's book does a very good job of illustrating the overlooked fact that both the vocabulary and the rhetorical framework favored by social justice warriors owe as much to the maudlin, emotionally-incontinent therapeutic culture as to the New Left. Truly, a grim example of the worst of both worlds combining as one.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Matthew 12:30

Nick Cohen:

His throat cleared as he got to the meat of his complaint. Left-wingers, who criticise other left-wingers, must be closet conservatives. The Eustonites were like the early American neoconservatives who condemned the stance of others on the left, he said. They went on ‘a journey that led most of us eventually to abandon the left for good’.

I had Labour MPs and intellectuals deliver the same lecture. Stick to your own tribe, they said. Don’t wash dirty linen in public. Pretend that the left did not contain moral and intellectual gulfs that could not be crossed, and more to the point should not be crossed.

Like Jonathan Haidt, Cohen will learn, if he hasn't already, that there comes a point for gadflies when your right of self-definition is rescinded by the community. You are what a larger number of people say you are. The more you point at the scandalous behavior of your ostensible allies, the more their apologists will point threateningly at you. There's no exit from the maze of question-begging and circular reasoning among those committed to defending the indefensible. Thomas Sowell once noted that "If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 50 years ago, a liberal 25 years ago and a racist today." It's a paradox of political physics — to traverse the political spectrum, you only need to stand firm on some principle. You'll travel from left to right without taking a single step.

I began to increasingly focus on criticizing the intersectional, social justice left a few years ago, and met with a fair amount of resistance from readers. Yet my criticisms themselves weren't disputed — they were just "contextualized" into irrelevance. Well, that may be true, but in the aggregate, the other side is worse, so... Still, I insisted, the soil of left-wing thought has been contaminated for decades and shows no signs of improving. Nothing worth keeping is ever going to grow from it. The rest is useless hand-waving and special pleading.

When faced with such a bleak, overwhelming problem, it's always tempting to look for another distraction, to personalize the impersonal. Comments here accordingly began to focus less on what I was seeing in order to fixate on what seeing it supposedly said about me. Straightforward observations made in a normal speaking voice were suddenly being tuned out and received on the ultrasonic level of signaling or the infrasonic level of personal subtext.

There are few things more insulting to a person's dignity than to be treated as a victim of false consciousness. If you criticize your peers for a betrayal of principles, people who haven't made a fraction of the effort you have to see and think clearly will appoint themselves your shepherd to make sure you don't wander too far out of the progressive pasture. They will hover over your shoulder like a modern-day version of the Roman public slave, whispering "Remember, thou art liberal!" They will fuss and fret over your words like a hypochondriac and keep trying to stick a political thermometer under your tongue to check for signs of a conservative fever. Whatever it takes to keep the mirror focused on you and thus avoid any uncomfortable reflection.

Most people naturally react to tribal accusations of treachery by attempting to soften their pointed criticism, to justify themselves. But like a Chinese finger trap, this only keeps them held fast in a rhetorical snare. It's futile to attempt to force your way free from the constrictions being imposed on you, which only plays into the logic of the trap. If you accept a need to justify your criticism, you play into the hands of those who will keep you permanently on the defensive by questioning your motivations. The only way you'll convince them that you're not criticizing your own side for ulterior motives is to stop criticizing. The trick, then, as with the finger trap, is to relax under the pressure rather than fight it. Speak the truth as you see it and associate with others who do the same. Ignore those who are more concerned with keeping up tribal appearances. Their respect isn't worth what it takes to obtain it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ol' Massa's Gone Away

Sonny Bunch:

There’s something endlessly fascinating about the left’s insistence that Clarence Thomas is not “authentically” black—that this descendant of slaves, this grandson of sharecroppers, this hardworking man who rose to the grandest heights of the legal profession, is a traitor to his race and his class. I don’t know what it is about Thomas that drives the left so nuts, but it’s there, and it’s very real. Could you imagine what would happen if someone on the right described a brilliant liberal African-American of being no more than a slave controlled by white devils?

I hate to say this—the charge is offered all too often with far little in the way of support—but that shit is racist as hell.

Leave aside the “More like Uncle Clarence Thomas, amirite?” sniggering. The suggestion that Clarence Thomas is just a mindless puppet whose strings were pulled by Antonin Scalia is racist and ignorant and wholly unsupported by anything resembling the facts. Jeffrey Toobin—no fan of Thomas, he!—has said as much in the storied pages of the New Yorker.

I'm sure Bunch's befuddlement is just rhetorical; he knows full well that Thomas is guilty of giving the lie to progressive homilies about race. "Authentic" blacks just coincidentally happen to be the ones who choose the same political positions as the white progressives who want to be credited for making a big display of standing aside and relinquishing their grip on power. "Now, Clarence, where on Earth did you get your head filled with all these crazy conservative ideas? Have you been hanging around with that Scalia boy again? I've told you he's bad news, haven't I? Look, we only want you to be happy and successful, but that means you have to listen to us when we give you advice. We know best, after all." Actually, come to think of it, I'd love to see the Venn diagram of patronizing progressive racists and helicopter parents.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Stand In the Place Where You Live

Frank Furedi:

The principal achievement of the crusade against cultural appropriation is to turn every form of cultural interaction into a site for conflict. This idea of appropriation has as its foundation the conviction that culture is the sacred property of its moral guardians. It is based on the premise that unless cultural artefacts, practices, rituals and even food are used in a reverent and respectful manner, then something akin to religious sacrilege has been committed. Such a pious attitude towards culture does not merely apply to religious rituals and symbols; it also applies to the most banal features of everyday existence, such as the label on your shirt or the snack you are eating.

The constant demand for respect and culturally correct behaviour actually serves to desensitise people to the distinction between rituals and practices that are genuinely worthy of respect and those that can be taken in one’s stride. If the demand for respect for everything becomes automatic, then making distinctions between truly important practices, such as a religious ritual, and trivial ones, such as eating a curry, becomes complicated and even meaningless.

Two things especially amuse me here. One, how innocent I was six years ago, as I considered Aseem Shukla some sort of weird outlier, little suspecting what a harbinger of madness he was! Two, the thought of an old-school white separatist — as opposed to the new progressive variety — watching all this unfold. Is he amused or bemused at the thought that the sons and daughters of the liberals he hated are doing his work for him? Or perhaps he's muttering softly to himself, "Branding. It's all about branding."

Friday, February 12, 2016

But If You Have an Enemy, Prove That He Did You Some Good

Well, there's a name I hadn't heard or thought about in a good while — it seems Peezus Myers recently got caught piling one lie upon another before responding with his usual bluster to being called on it. How do I feel about this? Grateful, I have to say.

No, I'm not being facetious. In truth, I stopped reading the godless blogosphere a year ago, and during my hiatus, when I was only online for brief periods, I never saw any mention of him or his clownish comrades to keep my scorn levels elevated. Now, with the perspective gained through the passing of time, I realize that I owe the man some genuine gratitude. I can't deny that because of him, in a very direct way, my life has changed for the better.

Peezus was the inspiration for my own Cartesian reckoning, as I like to call it. I don't mean that I sat down like Descartes and doubted my own existence and sanity — I just mean that, thanks to his example, I was forced into doing some serious conceptual renovating from the ground up. I used to read Pharyngula every day, so from the start, I watched him develop his futile project to fuse New Atheism with New Left identity politics and pseudo-radicalism. As he began to increasingly venture outside of his comfort zone of biology or atheist pedantry, I would start to notice how shallow and uninformed his "arguments" were. What he lacked in knowledge or curiosity, he made up for with bombast and sneering contempt. He was bolstered in this by the symbiotic relationship he developed with his commentariat, both sides becoming worse than they could have ever managed on their own. It was like being given a free online course to study cognitive biases, virtue signaling, in-group vs. out-group dynamics, the attraction and perils of groupthink, and the ultra-conformist tendencies built into the structure of social media. I gazed into the Nietzschean abyss, but thankfully, the abyss was too dysfunctional and narcissistic to gaze back into me.

Faced with what seemed to be a bewildering transformation among people I thought I understood, I threw myself into learning as much as I could to place it all in context. That meant having the humility to declare a near-complete agnosticism about sociopolitical issues while I took the time to ask questions I should have asked long before. Slowly, over the next few years, I began to rebuild the foundations of a coherent perspective, one piece of insight at a time, jettisoning all the broken pieces that no longer fit. It seemed daunting at first, but it has become increasingly joyful. So much wisdom to be found in places I was scared to look before!

It's true that the more you learn, the more you become aware of how little you actually know. But I've come far enough to be able to look back in appreciation at the irony of how this pathetic, rage-filled man who wanted to help lead an atheist revolution to change the world, through his ignominious failure, unwittingly became the Archimedean lever that moved my worldview.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

We Built This City on Blogrolls

David Weinberger:

But, we thought, the most important challenge blogging posed was to the idea of the self in self-expression. Blogging was more about connecting with others than about expressing ourselves. Truth, we thought, was more likely to live in webs of ideas and responses than in the mouth of any one individual braying from soapbox, whether that soapbox was The New York Times or a blogger read by five people. By linking and commenting, we were consciously building a social space for voices in conversation.

...So what happened?

Mainly, Facebook happened. Constructing social networks by blogging takes work. You have to read, respond, post. You have to stay on top of the topics sweeping through what used to be called the “blogosphere.” Facebook is much better at building social networks for people. And you don’t have to spend serious time writing essays. Twitter lowered the character count further.

Blogging still lives, Weinberger triumphantly concludes, which will only be surprising to those who have repeatedly pronounced it dead, in which "dead" is understood to mean "less novel and popular than it was ten years ago", which is only "death" if you conceive of social media as the world's longest fashion catwalk where "uncool" is the undiscovered country, from which no tech-savvy hipster has ever returned, awaiting at the edge, and if you're that shallow and flighty, you probably prefer gifs and emoticons to words and sentences anyway. All of which is to say, personal essays have been around ever since Montaigne scratched his bald head and pondered "What the hell do I know anyway?" before picking up his quill. They'll still be around after different technological platforms come and go.

Given how many other blogs I have seen turning off comments, though, I think that whole "connecting with others" idea has long since lost its sparkle. Facebook can have it. Leave this space to those of us who have always known that the best thinking and writing blooms during solitary reflection.

Verily, Verily, I Say Unto Thee

Though there are individual exceptions, the absence of Beard is usually a sign of physical and moral weakness; and in degenerate tribes wholly without, or very deficient, there is a conscious want of manly dignity, and contentedness with a low physical, moral, and intellectual condition. Such tribes have to be sought for by the physiologist and ethnologist; the historian is never called upon to do honor to their deeds.

— Thomas S. Gowing, The Philosophy of Beards

Doing the Best Things So Conservatively

Aurelian Craiutu, "Of Love and Politics":

True to his commitment to moderation, Oakeshott sought to put politics and political participation in their right place, neither too high nor too low. Our first business, he argued, is to live, the second is to understand life properly, and only after that comes changing the world, to the extent to which that might be possible. Often times, he believed, “It is the failure to think out & have clearly before us a view of life & a view of how such a life is to be achieved which stands in our way.” Hence the primary importance he ascribed to achieving self-knowledge.

...“If I wrote it to persuade others,” he admitted, “I should be guilty of self-contradiction: I write it to persuade myself, & because no man can be said to be master of himself until he has made himself clear to himself.” Oakeshott was not just an academic who reads only in order to write for a small audience. He read first and foremost to educate himself and to find the meaning of the good life. “It is not my ambition to dictate to the future the way of life it shall follow,” he wrote in September 1928, when he was 27 years old. “All I have wished is to think out for myself a way of life, to make it clear to myself, so that I must follow it.”

For anyone reading these notebooks it is evident that much of what Oakeshott read and took interest in had to do with his restless romantic temperament and represented an effort to discover himself. To discover oneself, he believed, is to find “true” freedom, and “until this discovery is made all freedom is frivolity.”

...In times of crisis, when societies are in danger of destruction, politics tends to become prominent, but then it is important to remember that its main task is not to endow life with splendor and greatness like literature, philosophy, and the arts, but more modestly, to provide the framework for the gradual readjustment of human relationships by fallible men. In normal times, it is literature, philosophy, and the arts rather than politics that should be the outlets of superior intellects called to create the values of their communities.

As Notebooks suggests, Oakeshott rejected the all-consuming obsession with productivity, and deemed shallow that conception of the good life that claims that there is nothing worth pursuing beyond the enjoyment of material goods. He admitted with sadness that almost all forms of politics today have become rationalist, or near-rationalist, and lamented that the rationalist disposition has pervaded our political thought and practice. At the heart of rationalism he identified the belief that all human activity should be guided by unhindered reason, taken to be a sovereign, authoritative, and infallible guide in political activity. Greatness, Oakeshott believed, cannot be derived from the philistinism, intellectual mediocrity, conformity, and complacency that characterize, in his opinion, the rationalist spirit.

This was a position that Oakeshott shared with others, who were equally opposed to the technocratic outlook imbued with the belief in the superiority of expert knowledge. And he viewed ideologies as radical expressions of the rationalism he criticized. The proponents of ideological politics think they possess an infallible measuring-rod, and tend to evaluate all proposals for social and political change “against a single, unambiguous, universally valid measure,” which is given the status of axiom. In so doing, they seek to emancipate politics from opinion and conjecture, conducting themselves as they do according to the “iron laws” of history.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

These People Talk Too Much, Need to Shut 'em Up

Allum Bokhari:

This is another chapter in the left’s long-running war on comments sections, which we have previously covered at Breitbart Tech. Once upon a time, comments sections were welcomed by the left as the a huge leap forward for democracy and free speech.

...The left’s embrace of comments sections lasted only as long as commenters agreed with them. Once the masses started challenging the elites above the comment line, it was only a matter of time before the innate authoritarianism of the regressive left showed itself.

If your Internet persona was born yesterday, you, like Bokhari, might find this to be an occasion for smug self-back-patting. Lefty writers have indeed become boring, predictable, and particularly intolerant of dissent. I attribute this to the old maxim "power makes stupid". Our political discourse these days is dominated by a left-wing obsession with intersectionality, and most prominent writers have committed themselves to circling the wagons and defending the party line. There is nothing surprising about this. People in control of a narrative have no interest in promoting free-thinking which might undermine it. Opponents who are seeking a way back into power can afford to be more heterodox. This is just a structural factor, you might say, not a partisan one.

Which brings us to our time machine, in which we travel back to the days of 2001-2006 when Republicans were in charge of the White House and Congress, and the Iraq war, rather than the taxonomy of gender, was the burning political topic on everyone's mind. If you were in the blogosphere back then, you likely remember, as I do, that right-wing websites were notorious for censoring comments from dissenters, if they even allowed comments at all, which they frequently didn't. Not only that, many prominent right-wing bloggers engaged in what we now know as doxxing, i.e. ferreting out and publishing personal information about hitherto anonymous people. Why, it's almost like there's nothing inherent in partisan identity that makes one side reliably more virtuous than the other. Power makes stupid, and self-serving rationalization is a tool we all reach for when our territory is threatened. Stick around, and you'll surely see the whole charade reverse itself again and again.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Wanna See a Monkey and a Clown Do Semaphore

I've recently read two very interesting pieces about signaling. First, Ryan Murphy:

Second — and it's impossible for any brief excerpt to do it justice — David Chapman:

At the beginning of this page, I asked: “What is ‘Buddhist ethics’ for?” My answer has been that it’s a strategy for advertising yourself as a “good” person—good to work with, hang out with, or have children with. I’ve explained why this strategy worked. I say “worked,” because it no longer does. Various trends I described have progressively lowered Western Buddhism’s signaling value. “Buddhist ethics” isn’t fooling anyone anymore; everyone understands, implicitly, that there’s no such thing. Buddhism isn’t daring and sexy and hip anymore; it’s your batty aunt’s quaint, harmless, old-fashioned hobby. And it has gone from an upper middle class religion to a middle-middle one, and now probably a lower middle one.

Lower middle class people are not losers! There is nothing wrong with lower middle class Buddhism. In fact, the Aro gTér lineage, which I practice, was almost entirely working class in the 1980s, and is still mainly working and lower middle class. I myself am working class by some criteria, and lower middle by some others.

There is nothing wrong with comfortable, simplified, status-quo Buddhism, either! The Consensus impulse to create that was well-motivated and useful. I would like to see different Buddhisms available for all sorts of different people.

By “Buddhism is for losers” I mean that, at this point, saying you are a Buddhist is likely to signal that you are loser in the eyes of many people who, a couple decades ago, would have been impressed. For them, “Buddhist” now means “well-intentioned but ineffectual”; someone who can’t get their stuff together enough to do anything significant or interesting.

What’s dysfunctional is using Buddhism to signal high status if that doesn’t work. That is definitely a loser’s strategy. It was bad enough that Consensus Buddhism was mostly empty posturing. Empty posturing that doesn’t fool anyone is totally pointless.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Chinaman Is Not the Issue Here

Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature...

I asked the Coens to respond to criticisms that there aren’t more minority characters in the film. In other words, why is #HailCaesarSoWhite?

“Why would there be?” countered Joel Coen. “I don’t understand the question. No—I understand that you’re asking the question, I don’t understand where the question comes from.

“Not why people want more diversity—why they would single out a particular movie and say, ‘Why aren’t there black or Chinese or Martians in this movie? What’s going on?’ That’s the question I don’t understand. The person who asks that question has to come in the room and explain it to me.”

As filmmakers, is it important or not important to consciously factor in concerns like diversity, I asked.

“Not in the least!” Ethan answered. “It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity—or it might not.”

“It’s an absolute, absurd misunderstanding of how things get made to single out any particular story and say, ‘Why aren’t there this, that, or the other thing?’” added Joel. “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how stories are written. So you have to start there and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

He continued: “You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,’—right? That’s not how stories get written. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything about how stories get written and you don’t realize that the question you’re asking is idiotic."

I already loved the Coens' films anyway. Hearing them tell the philistines in the Aesthetic Affirmative Action Brigade to go fuck themselves without consent is just a sweet, sweet bonus.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Good That We Would, We Do Not


My argument here, of course, is subject to the same critique: by indicting the people who so conspicuously acknowledge their white privilege, I’m setting myself on a higher plane than they are, and thus guilty of the same kind of jockeying for rank on the righteousness hierarchy I’m critiquing. But this merely serves to underscore the problem: anti-racism as mental hygiene is a road that has no ending. The question is whether our goal is to be good or to do good.

The question of what he would have us do about privilege and racism is answered a couple paragraphs earlier, and it's as predictable as you might expect: more affirmative action, more cosmetic diversity in high-status areas. Conservatives, as well as liberals with integrity, have long observed that progressives only care about superficial diversity while demanding ideological conformity. The same people who can't congratulate themselves enough for managing to enjoy the company of people who look different than them will break out into hives if the objects of their patronizing attention should have the unmitigated gall to hold different political opinions from them. If you need to see proof of this in action, just watch how progressives feel perfectly free to use outright racist language toward black conservatives.

Speaking of that endangered species, Shelby Steele has reiterated in several books his conviction that affirmative action is primarily a scheme for restoring white moral authority. By that, he means that such programs have never come close to accomplishing their ostensible goals, but, as always when policies are rooted in emotional need rather than practical results, the failure is ours, not theirs. We didn't try hard enough, we didn't clap loud enough, we need to do it again, this time with feeling. Steele's insightful approach owes much more to psychology than political science — as he describes it, "Whites and American institutions live by a simple formula: lessening moral responsibility for minorities equals moral authority; increasing it equals racism." But, he adds, "White guilt wants no obligation to minority development. It needs only the display of social justice to win moral authority. It gets no credit when blacks independently develop themselves."

In other words, white progressives are primarily concerned with being seen to make amends for the sins of their race in order to regain the authority they always enjoyed, whether they actually make anything better or not. Doing so keeps them in charge of proceedings. Again, note the way in which "diversity" among, say, Supreme Court justices is only a good thing as long as it can be taken for granted that the minority representatives will act in accordance with the political values of the white progressives who make such a false show of stepping aside and renouncing their control. Let someone like Clarence Thomas step into the gap, though, and see how they react. As Steele bitterly summarizes the mentality, "We'll throw you a bone like affirmative action if you'll just let us reduce you to your race so we can take moral authority for 'helping' you. When they called you a nigger back in the days of segregation, at least they didn't ask you to be grateful." Blacks who refuse to agree that white progressives always know best are further humiliated by the indignity of having their opinions belittled, stripped from them, and credited to the racist white conservatives who have supposedly brainwashed them or bought them off. Clearly, if they didn't come to the correct conclusions, they must not know how to think at all. If you're not with us, you can only be an idiot or a whore.

How amusingly ironic, then, that by offering those same old ersatz solutions, Freddie thinks he's escaping the spectacle of white progressives competing to see who can take more responsibility for black uplift. At least the conspicuous anti-racism he's criticizing is safely contained in a social media playpen where its effects on the real world are limited.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Is Our Children Learning?

Sam Kriss:

In general, the hard left tends to be a slow learner; that's why there are still thousands of people who think selling newspapers on university campuses is a productive revolutionary activity.

A return to nice postwar social democracy would be far harder to achieve than the total revolutionary reconstruction of the state. If we're serious about making a better world, the last year should teach us to be not against austerity, but for communism.

In general, the hard left tends to be a slow learner...

If we're serious about making a better world, the last year should teach us to be not against austerity, but for communism.

...the hard left tends to be a slow learner...

...for communism.

A return to nice postwar social democracy would be far harder to achieve than the total revolutionary reconstruction of the state. If we're serious about making a better world, the last year should teach us to be not against austerity, but for communism.

Looking to the Left to See the Right

Cathy Young:

There is a word for ideologies, religious or secular, that seek to politicize and control every aspect of human life: totalitarian. Unlike most such ideologies, SocJus has no fixed doctrine or clear utopian vision. But in a way, its amorphousness makes it more tyrannical. While all revolutions are prone to devouring their children, the SocJus movement may be especially vulnerable to self-immolation: its creed of “intersectionality”—multiple overlapping oppressions—means that the oppressed are always one misstep away from becoming the oppressor. Your cool feminist T-shirt can become a racist atrocity in a mouse-click. And, since new “marginalized” identities can always emerge, no one can tell what currently acceptable words or ideas may be excommunicated tomorrow.

...The social justice movement has many well-meaning followers who want to make the world a better place. But most of its “activism” is little more than a self-centered quest for moral purity.

Irving Howe wrote a viral post identifying the key characteristics of the social justice movement. It was not based on a "politics of common action", because that would require them to make common cause with "saints, sinners and ordinary folk"; rather, it was a "gesture of moral rectitude" designed to set them apart from this fallen world. But none of them actually believe in the possibility of Marxist-style revolution, Howe wrote, and combined with their unrealistic standards and demands, there's nothing left for these would-be radicals to do but maintain "a distinct personal style". Howe noted how strikingly often these fundamentalist preachers of privilege-checking were themselves the privileged offspring of the white middle-class, and fretted over their radical zeal to jettison everything valuable in their Western heritage in the process of striving for "a mode of personal differentiation" in which style becomes "the very substance of revolt".

Now, alert readers, having clicked through the link already, will have noticed that I was funnin' with them a bit. Irving Howe was actually an anti-Stalinist leftist critic, and his essay "New Styles in 'Leftism'" was written in 1965. To go ahead and put a fine point on it, nothing significant has changed about these people in over fifty years. They're still using the same counter-productive tactics that their parents (or even grandparents) were using, still trying to extract ore from the same exhausted vein of narcissistic identity politics. Envisioning themselves in the moral vanguard, they're blind to the ways they're bound by thoughtless tradition. Believing themselves too clever to learn from history, they're oblivious to how their radicalism follows the cyclical whims of fashion. Desiring a world filled with culture wars of liberation, they find themselves within shrinking horizons, isolated and constrained by atavistic tribal enmity.