The Atlantic purports to tell us Why the Left is Losing Ground, as if we were calling the shots about anything. The problem is that we have principles and complain when they’re violated, obviously. I’m a bit annoyed that I got a lot out of Rorty and thinking about epistemological pragmatism, and now The Atlantic is using Rorty against me.
“Are Campus Activists Too Dogmatic? They often take an almost religious approach to politics, rooted in a belief in the irredeemable sin of America and its mainstream.”
Accompanying that title is this picture, showing the profound emotional disconnect of liberals like Victon Tan Chen:
That is, the picture being used as an example of leftist fundamentalism is of someone that recognizes the obvious reality that fascists are violently intimidating people. Someone who’s unreservedly against that is the archnemesis of the liberal. The liberal is only reservedly against it. On a human rights, basic justice level, liberals don’t believe in self-defense for minorities against their conservative friends.
“Fuck you, we’re intimidating you back because that’s the language you understand, having gleefully left the moral community.” They call that attitude the problem, rather than themselves for appeasing the Nazis.
One criticism of college students today is that they’ve fallen into a kind of fundamentalism in their efforts to call out racism, sexism, and other forms of intolerance. When they pressure university officials to un-invite conservative speakers, or demand that heads roll for insensitive comments, conservative critics argue that they too are engaging in intolerance. Even some liberal voices have urged students to dial back their outrage. John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University, argued last month that student activists are tackling legitimate issues, but they go too far when they ban speakers from campus in a belief they will “pollute the space with their words,” or when they hector those ignorant of the politically correct way to express their thoughts.
Is racism categorically unacceptable or not? If you can’t say it’s unacceptable, you’re on the other team, because you won’t actually do anything meaningful to help me. You only tell me to stop demanding the dignity I’m entitled to, beause it threatens your insecure racist friends.
People shunning fascists understand the importance of symbolism. They understand the real game that conservative are playing, and are fighting back on that front. Global warming deniers win by showing up on television, not by winning arguments. Today, the Klan is winning by removing exactly the stigma the left is trying to maintain.
Framing it as a free speech issue is just the latest example in a long tradition of turning leftists rhetoric back on the left just to be dickfaces. This is why they think it’s clever to use MLK to oppose affirmative action, why they present themselves as oppressed freedom fighters. It’s because it’s a perverse, sick joke. They want minorities to go through life in a state of having emotional trauma in their face 24/7, because that gives them a feeling of calm satisfaction that relaxes them.
By accepting these kinds of arguments from conservatives at face value, liberals signal that they are fundamentally assholes, too.
I have always had more contempt for the people who stood around laughing while I got bullied, which is how liberals helped elect Trump.
At the core of the issue is a troubling tendency, on both the left and right, that goes well beyond college campuses: a consuming obsession with sin. Given the right’s religious base, it’s not all that surprising that conservatives focus on moral transgressions—whether they violate God’s divine law, America’s founding ideals of liberty, ’50s-style norms of sexual behavior and good housekeeping, or other codes of conduct. But the left can be prudish and judgmental about the evils it holds in special contempt, too. On college campuses in particular, activists often take an almost religious approach to politics, rooted in a belief—sometimes stated, sometimes implied—in the irredeemable sin of America and its mainstream. Their work on vital issues gets diverted from real-world objectives and takes on the character of a church revival, with rituals to express its believers’ sin and salvation, and a fundamentalist attention to language and doctrine.
Isn’t it amazing that this guy believes morality itself belongs to conservative hypocrites, being completely unaware of how much MLK or Malcolm X talked about morality? There’s this liberal posing that they’ve transcended morality, not like Nietzsche, but like people too stupid to see why all human societies before us found it necessary. People so selfish that they think the essence of morality is that it tells them not to do stuff they feel like doing.
Can Victor Tan Chen name a principle that’s nonnegotiable for him, a concession that it would defeat the purpose to make?
You know who else said the mainstream was irredeemable? Malcolm X. The moral rot is too strong, he said.
The late American philosopher Richard Rorty famously argued in his 1998 book, Achieving Our Country, that this inward-looking dogmatism and zealotry was a major problem for the left. To a self-destructive degree, activists rejected dissent and criticism of their hallowed principles. They alienated the uninitiated with their join-us-or-else self-righteousness, undermining public support for the important causes they cared about. They turned away with disdain from any whiff of political power, elitism, or national pride, thus depriving themselves of some of the tools they needed to bring about tangible changes to policy.
The left, Rorty claimed, had become too enamored with ideas of purity and sin. The sin at issue, though, was not about violating biblical commandments. It was the sin of bigotry, imperialism, and power: the accumulation of heinous acts in America’s history that, in some critics’ eyes, had moved the nation beyond redemption.
There’s more subtle victim-blaming in this line of thinking, which is that the racist backlash is blamed on anti-racism instead of racists. The unstated and false assumption here is that the public is basically good, and its whim should be catered to. People have invested sooo much effort and money into making the public basically not good.
Feel the disdain: “hallowed principles.” It makes him sound real grown up because he’s not naming the principels he’s ridiculing: treat human beings with dignity.
The phrase “in some critics’ eyes” says everything. If we can acknowledge the basic outline of how America has conducted itself throughout its entire history, how bad is that? It’s not that the nation is inherently beyond redemption. It’s that it’s stubbornly, proudly, and deliberately beyond redemption. If you do “heinous acts” and can’t say that you did wrong, there is definitely no redemption for you until you change that.
He’s saying that insisting on anti-racism is insisting on “too much purity.” How much racism should be allowed? Be explicit. Actually explain what you mean with all this pragmatism. How distasteful of people should we work with, and what are we getting out of it? Articles like this only ever appeal to abstract notions of cooperation and “bipartisanship.”
I think it was interesting that Andrea Dworkin allied herself with conservative women against pornography. That was a good call. I’m not dogmatic in the straw-man way he’s talking about. If we can all agree that something is bad, let’s all get together and end up. It’s that we can’t agree that racism is bad.
The New Left of cultural warriors that became influential in the 1960s, he argued in Achieving Our Country, led America on a very different path than the one blazed for them by union organizers, progressive activists, and the other architects of the New Deal state and postwar economy. The “cultural left,” as he called it, took concerns over Jim Crow and the Vietnam War and transformed them into a fiery jeremiad against American society and its principles. A kind of political nihilism emerged, Rorty observed, as anti-war activists arrived at the view that the Vietnam War “not only could never be forgiven, but had shown us to be a nation conceived in sin, and irredeemable.” At the same time, the new generation of activists did not follow through on the egalitarian economic agenda and savvy political strategizing of their predecessors, which would have provided a useful counterweight to their idealism. As a result, Rorty claimed, America’s left became trapped in its own indignation and skepticism, substituting sound and fury in the secular pews over the sorts of constructive, pragmatic, and unabashedly power-hungry action required to change an oppressive system. Importantly, it gave up on the white working class, neglecting their concerns about the disappearance of good jobs and the growth of economic inequality, and leaving that crucial voting bloc to be wooed by America-first conservatives like Pat Buchanan—and, later, Donald Trump.
First, the New Deal was deliberately racist.
Is Jim Crow not emblematic of American principles and deeply fucked up? See? It’s normal and mainstream for Asian people to write pro-segregationist stuff in The Atlantic. That’s why it is said that America is beyond redemption.
He wants to make it sound like the left abandoned its smart, “colorblind” economic agenda to listen to a bunch of whiney niggers. This is the first communique of the Weather Underground:
Hello. This is Bernardine Dohrn.
I’m going to read A DECLARATION OF A STATE OF WAR.
This is the first communication from the Weatherman underground.
All over the world, people fighting Amerikan imperialism look to Amerika’s youth to use our strategic position behind enemy lines to join forces in the destruction of the empire.
Black people have been fighting almost alone for years. We’ve known that our job is to lead white kids into armed revolution. We never intended to spend the next five or twenty-five years of our lives in jail. Ever since SDS became revolutionary, we’ve been trying to show how it is possible to overcome the frustration and impotence that comes from trying to reform this system. Kids know the lines are drawn revolution is touching all of our lives. Tens of thousands have learned that protest and marches don’t do it. Revolutionary violence is the only way.
Now we are adapting the classic guerrilla strategy of the Viet Cong and the urban guerrilla strategy of the Tupamaros to our own situation here in the most technically advanced country in the world.
Ché taught us that “revolutionaries move like fish in the sea.” The alienation and contempt that young people have for this country has created the ocean for this revolution.
The hundreds and thousands of young people who demonstrated in the Sixties against the war and for civil rights grew to hundreds of thousands in the past few weeks actively fighting Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the attempted genocide against black people. The insanity of Amerikan “justice” has added to its list of atrocities six blacks killed in Augusta, two in Jackson and four white Kent State students, making thousands more into revolutionaries.
The parents of “privileged” kids have been saying for years that the revolution was a game for us. But the war and the racism of this society show that it is too fucked-up. We will never live peaceably under this system.
This was totally true of those who died in the New York townhouse explosion. The third person who was killed there was Terry Robbins, who led the first rebellion at Kent State less than two years ago.
The twelve Weathermen who were indicted for leading last October’s riots in Chicago have never left the country. Terry is dead, Linda was captured by a pig informer, but the rest of us move freely in and out of every city and youth scene in this country. We’re not hiding out but we’re invisible.
There are several hundred members of the Weatherman underground and some of us face more years in jail than the fifty thousand deserters and draft dodgers now in Canada. Already many of them are coming back to join us in the underground or to return to the Man’s army and tear it up from inside along with those who never left.
We fight in many ways. Dope is one of our weapons. The laws against marijuana mean that millions of us are outlaws long before we actually split. Guns and grass are united in the youth underground.
Freaks are revolutionaries and revolutionaries are freaks. If you want to find us, this is where we are. In every tribe, commune, dormitory, farmhouse, barracks and townhouse where kids are making love, smoking dope and loading guns—fugitives from Amerikan justice are free to go.
For Diana Oughton, Ted Gold and Terry Robbins, and for all the revolutionaries who are still on the move here, there has been no question for a long time now—we will never go back.
Within the next fourteen days we will attack a symbol or institution of Amerikan injustice. This is the way we celebrate the example of Eldridge Cleaver and H. Rap Brown and all black revolutionaries who first inspired us by their fight behind enemy lines for the liberation of their people.
Never again will they fight alone.
Fuck, I want friends like that nowadays. Instead I have an Asian guy in a mainstream publication telling me that never happened.
My point is not that the Weather Underground was successful. My point is to show how far expectations for what constitutes anti-racism have dropped.
You used to have to think about whether you would bleed.
The only people displaying this spirit are the anti-fascists in the picture. That is why The Atlantic has to smear them. It’s just obviously how you’d nip the problem in the bud if you were an evil dictator.
I think it’s a historical fact that the “nonviolent” elements of the civil rights movement succeeded because white people were scared shitless of Malcolm X. Cops are afraid of the black people who used to hunt them down and kill them, not a bunch of “progressives” that they beat up for fun.
If revolution didn’t happen when we had Malcolm X, it’s a nonstarter because people mostly don’t want to look the situation in the face like Malcolm X anymore. The white people need to fix their feelings. We haven’t tried that, yet.
Right now we’re talking about how the left “abandoned the white working class.” This is just racist people reminding us who’s boss. It doesn’t matter that an Asian guy wrote it. Appease the honkies who already rebuffed us. Got it.
The cultural left, Rorty emphasized, made people far more sensitive about matters of identity and language, bringing about an “enormous” change for the better in the way Americans treated each other and making America a “far more civilized society.” At the same time, it “reinvented” sin—taking a concept often employed by its counterparts on the right to attack morally undeserving Americans who lived on state largesse, and using it to decry a morally undeserving America that abused state power and victimized weaker nations. Yet, the new generation of activists, progressive and conservative alike, often seemed oblivious to the idea of forgiveness that figures so prominently in Christian understandings of sin, he argued.
I grew up with a more hardcore, traditional idea of original sin than most people, I think it’s fair to say. Adam and Eve lost their immortality, their perfection, by disobeying God. Hence, we’re congenitally sinners. What this implies is that everyone will make mistakes and thus needs forgiveness, preferably from Jesus. All of that is true. What it also means is that converting sinners is the whole point. The forgiveness requires accepting Jehovah’s laws.
What he’s saying here is, “Yeah, we’re racist, why don’t you get over it and forgive us already, nigger?” But he’s too polite to stand up and write what he means because he thinks this is a debate about etiquette, sure sign of a dick:
The identity politics that thrives on today’s college campuses continues to use the language of sin adopted more broadly by the cultural left of the ’60s. Students are taking on urgent issues like women’s rights, racial profiling and police brutality, climate change, and economic inequality. And while they spend a lot of their time refining politically correct forms of speech, these can be helpful learning tools, especially for young people making their way into society. When their approach becomes judgmental and unyielding, however, it backfires, leaving activists vulnerable to apathy, infighting, and ineffectiveness.
The things people are arguing about always offensive because of the attitudes they reveal. Nobody is just saying you shouldn’t say those things because they’re rude. Trying to keep the conversation contained to that level is what allows racists to ridicule us for “oversensitivity.”
“Whites have always hidden or justified all of the guilts they could by ridiculing or blaming Negroes.” — Malcolm X
The “alt-right” thinks they’re so fucking clever like we haven’t heard this shit a million times.
Among other things, their focus on sinfulness turns politically useful activism into useless performance. On college campuses, for example, candid and necessary discussions about race among well-meaning students can degenerate into something less productive, according to McWhorter. “For white people, it is a great way to show that you understand racism is real,” McWhorter said last month. “For black people and Latino people, it is a great way to assuage how bad a self-image a race can have after hundreds of years of torture.” In this way, activism becomes more about an insider conversation and competition, and less about effecting change. “White privilege is real,” McWhorter said. “The issue is that it shouldn’t be used as something to shut down conversation, to inculcate unreligious people with a new sense of original sin.”
No, the white people are bringing their status-seeking bullshit and making everything about that. Or the general consumerism of society is weakening activism from the inside out.
There are so many working class white guys who would punch McWhorter in the face for what he’s trying to say about their self-esteem. “How’s it feel to be a little bitch, bitch? I own you.” That’s what it means. Condescending to us, again by making it sound like we object to racism the same way we’d object to someone calling us a poophead. That’s essentially the message we’re getting from people who raped our mothers. How dare he?
If they talked down to Jewish people like that, they’d rightfully be excluded from polite society as barbarians. But we’re just a bunch of niggers and can we please quiet down and learn our place before we make them teach it to us?
I’m not projecting all of this ugly shit into the article. It’s really there. That’s what it really means. Another striking quote from chapter 1 of Malcolm X’s autobiography:
The white kids didn’t make any great thing about us, either. They called us “nigger” and “darkie” and “Rastus” so much that we thought those were our natural names. But they didn’t think of it as an insult; it was just the way they thought about us.
The function of a liberal is to be a useful idiot who advances the right wing agenda far more effectively than the right ever could. For all I know, Victor Tan Chen is moved by the plight of transgender military officers and and believes the anarchists are getting in the way of making things right. He’s still functioning as an enemy of black people.
This is why “divisiveness” is actually good. It’s serving a valuable function. The problem is that liberals have gotten by this whole time hiding their racism behind neutrality, and it tremendously muddies the waters and confuses things. The situation would actually be improved if all the fake progressives just shut the fuck up or openly sided with the other team. Letting liberals who can’t give up their racist friends set our agenda is cancer.