Critical Race Theory Flip Flops

Let’s face it. I skip much of the pulp (non-) fiction on cultural politics in today’s media, but I’ll occasionally find a bit in The Atlantic worth reading.[1] This one by Conor Friedersdorf, e.g., shows how “outrage entrepreneurs on either side” of hot-button issues like racism sometimes dance each other round until they swap places. Maybe I like this one because I have argued the same in this fine blog, sometimes humorously, as in my entry on Jonathan Swift and the Arc of Liberalism, sometimes more pedantically, as in my entry on Buckling and Curling in the US Political Spectrum. In any event, if you skip the Atlantic link, you can at least link to my previous entries for more entertaining, equally informative, and much shorter elucidations of Left and Right dancing around in their little (we can hope) death spiral 😊

Conor Friedersdorf article here

[1] The Atlantic is one of the few media outlets that has not zipped itself into an ideological straitjacket in the past few years. It leans left and includes new (woke)[2] progressive voices like Ibram X. Kendi, but also includes regular contributors such as former George W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum, and anti-woke liberals such as John McWhorter.

[2] A note on terminology: I am sometimes criticized for using the word “woke,” as if that aligns me with a conservative rhetoric. Although the term was at first amply used as a badge of honor for left-leaning politicians like my own New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, it is true that the right has seized the narrative and largely turned “woke” into a slur. In my case, I have always identified as progressive, not conservative, but for clarity today I need to distinguish between “progressive” as rooted in the 1960s radicalism of MLK and the hippies (which favors free speech and less racialization in our value judgments about people) and “woke progressive” (the identity politics sort, which favors stifling dissent and emphasizing race in value judgments about people and interactions). Thus, I use the term to distinguish two very different versions of progressivism which are often conflated because they carry the same “progressive” tag.

Wokeness under threat (or, gravity is a fascist)

One thing wokeness has opened our eyes to is collective guilt. All males are complicit in rape culture.1 All whites are complicit in white supremacy.2 Individuals are not responsible for crimes; they are just acting out the values of their culture. Extend the logic and you will see that when a black man commits a crime, the blame falls on black culture, in which all blacks are complicit; and when an Islamic terrorist strikes, all Moslems are complicit. And here’s a valuable addition for my woke brothers and sisters. I have recently discovered that women and gay people also commit crimes. Extend the collective guilt logic to those groups and, well, we are back in medieval times, where we are all going to hell in a handbasket, without a grim Calvin to save us.

Now that we have reached this pinnacle of religious truth, however, wokers beware! You are under threat. And it’s not conservatives you need to fear. There is an army of scientists and public intellectuals of the liberal sort – Steven Pinker and Jerry Coyne, John McWhorter and Glenn Loury – who are trying to turn us back. Even Obama and Noam Chomsky have taken liberal positions against wokeness. One vile woman is going so far as to twist the Diversity Training Industry away from its proper us-vs-them focus with whites in one box (racists) and blacks in another (victims) into a false narrative that “invite[s] our clients to explore what connects them as human beings.”

In 2021, we are finally moving past the age of so-called Enlightenment. We are finally getting back to where tribal biases can overrule the universal truths and universal rights associated with science and Enlightenment thinking, finally getting back to where tribal identity takes precedence over the idea of shared humanness. We’ve worked long and hard since the 1980s to integrate this neo-medieval world view into our academic, social, and political infrastructure. Don’t let them give us a neo-Enlightenment. Don’t let them put us back into the chains of scientific truth. These are the people who would deny that gravity is a fascist, even though it is plain to see that gravity forces all to abide by its truth, regardless of race or ethnicity. We need tribal truth, not the fascism of science’s universal truths. Don’t let them drag us back to the ideal of universal rights over tribe-based rights. Most of all don’t let them bring back that pre-1980s liberal cornerstone of oppression, “shared humanness,” which would be anathema to the most treasured ideals of wokeness: i.e., tribal bias and cross-racial suspicion.

Wake up, wokes! Liberals are out there, pushing their agenda (free speech, less racialization in our judgments of others) against the woke agenda (stifle dissent, increased racialization in our judgments of others). We’ve increased wokeness in newsrooms, schools, and elsewhere. We now need to consolidate that power and force people into vocal support for our side. Silence is violence. Demand vocal support for wokeness in the workplace, on campus, in the streets, or else. Criminalize all dissent as “unsafe,” as “harmful,” and therefore unprotected by the 1st Amendment. Get to work! The woke revolution is not as secure as you think!

1 ”We are all active contributors to rape culture. All of us. No one is exempt.” (Damon Young, Senior Editor of The Root)
2 “All white people are invested in and collude with racism.” (Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility).

Click covers below for links.

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Buckling and curling in the US political spectrum

Sometimes I think my liberal friends are wrong when they say that the Right has moved further right in recent years. Maybe they are correct, but here’s another way of looking at it. If you think of the spectrum as two poles with a center point, I’ll agree that the center has shifted right since the emergence of Fox news and talk radio, but the right ideological pole, with its emphasis on deregulation and privatization, lower taxes, a distrust of group-based rights, etc., has held firm. This means the right half of the spectrum has been compressed, bunching up and causing internal tensions. To keep to the metaphor, one could say that the right half of the spectrum has constricted and buckled, with new subgroups like the Tea Party and the Alt-Right buckling up from the base like tectonic plates. I propose, for the sake of argument, that we consider these groups not as philosophically more conservative, but rather as a sublimated version of the base. Sure, they push further right on some issues, like immigration, but for the most part they are not more right-wing but just a less grounded (historically, factually and psychologically) version of the conservative base: the idiot version of birthers and Obamacare death panels.

Although this analysis has seemed to take a partisan turn, the Left fares not much better. It might be that those who think the Left has moved further left may be wrong. Yes, they have become more strident, more unwilling to compromise, more given to vitriolic name-calling of their conservative counterparts, but that merely indicates a change in tone, not a philosophical move to the left. So has the Left buckled also? Not exactly. Has it stretched further left? I don’t think so. I think the problem on the left is that it is “curling” back to the right. The “true north” of the left-wing vision dates to the 1960s Civil Rights and hippie movements. The left-wing goal then was to liberate people from all conventional restraints on what to say and think, on living arrangements and paths to self-actualization. The goal was to celebrate our sexuality and our differences without denying our shared humanness, to see each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of race or demographics. We were fellow human beings, first and foremost, and it was precisely the vantage of that shared humanness that brought into focus the absurdity of racism, sexism, and other social injustices.

But now the curling. The Left’s new tendency to police sexuality (a new puritanism ever watchful to prove, e.g., that male desire and heterosexuality are intrinsically exploitative), to police dissent, to set us-vs-them identity-based triggers that shame and alienate white from black, male from female, for short-term political gain. In the New Left’s view, it seems that viewing each other as brothers and sisters regardless of race and gender is a “microaggression,” bridges are replaced by walls and defending one’s turf against “cultural appropriation,” the post-60s battle lines with a rainbow coalition of progressives resisting a status quo Establishment are replaced by demographic battle lines between white and black, male and female, and all of the other reified categories of the intersectional encyclopedia. In these ways – the cultural policing, the revivified segregation of demographic groups into insulated interest groups, the authoritarian resistance to dialogue and free expression – the Left has curled back toward the “Right” as it was defined on a 1960s spectrum.

So my contrarian conclusion to my friends at both ends is that the spectrum has not widened but narrowed, with the Right buckling up and the Left curling back. Sure, there are still policy differences – on immigration, health care, environmental regulation – and, to be clear, I favor the liberals on these issues – but the shorter the horizontal space of the spectrum becomes, the more ad hominem and the more vicious the personal attacks on those who disagree. And this is the state of things today. The only hope, if there is a hope, is for some new force to emerge outside of today’s left-right spectrum, a unifying voice that can connect with the idea that we are all in this together, and with a limited amount of time to address issues of environmental destruction and inequality and tribalism before the tipping point. There were such inspirational voices in the past, so perhaps it can be done again, but not from within the political spectrum as we now know it.

Links:

Obama’s Legacy Has Already Been Destroyed, Andrew Sullivan, New Yorker (5/18/18)

We need a PC that includes White People, John McWhorter, CNN Opinion (11/25/16)

1960s vs Post-1980s Liberals

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Post-Trump path to a whole new vision

To be honest, I was as disappointed as my liberal brothers and sisters at Trump’s victory. Equally disappointing, though, is that most liberals seem to have gotten exactly the wrong message.

2016 should have been a cakewalk for liberals. A civil war raged within Republican ranks between the old guard and the alt-right. The demographics of the U.S. population was growing less favorable for Republicans every year, and Obama had won two straight victories. Add Trump’s unlikely candidacy, and many wondered if the Republican Party would survive the next few years.

What went wrong? Surely, the 24/7 right-wing propaganda machine from talk radio and Fox News had some impact, but we had known their impact for years and Republicans still seemed on the ropes. So the real question is, how did liberals alienate so many people that they could not close what should have been a done deal? I believe a large part of it is liberalism’s self-inflicted wounds in the culture wars – “self-inflicted” because conservatives never had and still don’t have any credible vision of social harmony for white, black, male, female, gay, etc., people. Liberals had easy dibs on the moral high ground, but chose another path, a path that eschewed the traditional liberal principle of “shared humanness” as the cornerstone of race and gender analytics and opted for “us vs. them” models of identity politics.

This abdication of the moral high ground directly or indirectly alienated many people who might otherwise have been progressives. To make this as politically incorrect as possible, I think a lot of the blame (I offer this as a hypothesis and not as a fixed conclusion) may go to those Women’s Studies, Black Studies, etc., departments that have mushroomed in recent decades. No doubt, these departments emerged in response to real inequities and problems with representation, and I myself have known some good and noble faculty members in those departments. But then came the unintended consequences. Suddenly, they had a captive audience (required and recommended courses) to force-feed whatever the theories of the day were. And since they were now institutional structures with annual funding to protect, it became easy to reify “blackness” or “femaleness” into an absolute, perpetually at odds with the outside demographic (white male), in need of perpetual funding. And this funding is further secured in perpetuity if you jettison the old liberal tenet of “shared humanness” and play up your demographic (black, female, etc.) as the defining attribute of identity. Once the institutional structures were in place, it was inevitable that divisive theories would replace the old unifying approaches to racial and gender issues that we once saw in Mary Wollstonecraft and Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Mandela.

It was a terrible time for the left to crack – 2016 – a year when they should have flourished and when the cost of failure was a Trump presidency. That they were unable to thwart Trump indicates just how far the university re-education committees had alienated non-aligned moderates, many of whom were no doubt sick of political correctness, with its ever-growing repertoire of what we cannot say, do, or think, based on our demographic identity, and with its scarlet-lettering of any dissenter as racist, sexist, or xenophobic. If election pundits are to be trusted, white males were particularly affected, both those who were subjected to the forced re-education regimes in universities and those working-class whites who had worked hard all their lives, had now fallen on hard times, and felt they were being told daily by college liberals and HuffPo editors that they should shut up, sit down, and appreciate how privileged they were. This is no way to win people over. Many of these college kids and working class whites could easily have become progressives if progressives had not gone to such extremes to alienate them.

Oddly (or perhaps predictably, given the egocentrism of the human condition), most of my liberal friends seem to have gotten exactly the wrong message. The correct message, I should think, was that expressed in John McWhorter’s CNN op-ed, “We need a PC that includes white people.” Trump’s victory should have been a wake-up call for liberals to quit circling the wagons so narrowly, to quit building walls around this or that demographic, to open the doors and be more tolerant and inclusive. It was an opportune moment to review and retrieve a little of the freewheeling 1960s (when liberals celebrated the cacophony of viewpoints, let people speak freely and make mistakes, and thought that all progressives — including whites and males – were in this struggle together). Instead, many post-Trump liberals simply lumped in the half of the country that disagreed with them with the KKK (another self-inflicted wound, as they give far, far too much to the KKK). And I have even seen a number of my liberal compatriots “unfriended” for stepping outside of the party line on this or that cultural point, even though they share the broader liberal vision. Thus, my heretofore liberal allies, after shooting themselves in the foot by turning people away when they should have been more inclusive, have responded by becoming even less inclusive, circling the wagons tighter and tighter.

There is hope though. I myself feel alienated from both the left and the right. But therein lies an opportunity. I know that I am not alone. Yes, some of my liberal friends have become more intolerant than ever after Trump, but some have not. Some, I think, are open to a grass-roots movement, a new radicalism that must begin outside of the current political spectrum and outside of academia’s pseudo-radical theories. It must, at least temporarily, confront the liberal as well as the conservative fixtures of that establishment. That means it must be willing to take on the “identity politics” departments, which have already become a very powerful establishment in their own right (and an establishment that brooks no dissent). Or so it seems to me. I am willing to hear some other voices (including old friends and new students in women’s and ethnic studies departments, who may be able to qualify my generalizations with inside information).

Until then, as ever, I await the new hippie uprising.

The End of Civil Rights

Forgive another re-post; this was written before Trump, but seems timely again (if a little controversial) as we consider where to go from here:

Civil Rights is Dead

For a post-Trump (and lengthier) view, see John McWhorter’s article on the need for a new, more inclusive PC.