it's got nothing to do with "wokeness," really
John McWhorter wrote the book others are expecting yours to be, but instead of a takedown the polemical style came across more like sour grapes and bitching. Looking forward to seeing your ideas.
Sounds good, you've earned yourself a preorder. I'm even more harshly critical of movement organizing than you are, and your book will likely be a valuable resource for communicating with more normie leftists.
“Let’s stop and think for a moment...if we want to do better in the future, we have to have a free, honest, and critical accounting of where things went wrong. Why did so much noise result in so little change? And what can we do better moving forward, to craft the kind of equitable society we say we want?”
To me, the inability of people on the left to absorb and process critique -- rather than deflect it and feel victimized by it -- is at the heart of the problem. The more tribal one's politics, the less that any free, open, and critical discussion is possible, because any critique, any pushback, any argument, feels like a threat to the cohesion of the tribe.
There are some of us who bring our critiques to the table because we really want to see the movement work better and create the kind of change it envisions, only to find that we are very much unwelcome. I have encountered this problem from Berkeley in the 70s to the present moment, and in the era of identity politics, I'm sorry to say, it's only gotten much worse.
I don't know how to get around it except to refuse to back down in the face of the kind of pressures that culture warriors bring. One of the reasons that I love your work, Freddie, is that you do not back down when you see things going awry out there, no matter how much bullshit comes your way. It's such a breath of fresh air and it gives me hope for the future.
"Why did so much noise result in so little change?"
Unfortunately the little change that has happened has been around a lack of enforcement and prosecution of various crimes (and other "decarceration" efforts) that end up disproportionately hurting disadvantaged communities by allowing public safety and quality of life to deteriorate.
Looking forward to getting the audible edition. Thank you for your thoughtful writing.
The shoe-shining thing, which I had to read maybe three times over to make sure it was LITERAL, jfc, reminds me of this concept of "bending the knee," which I first heard about on Chapo Trap House, who alternately want to make people bend the knee/don't want to be made to bend the knee. I agree with CTH on many many points, but not this bend-the-knee fixation, because I don't believe in grinding your victim's face in the mud, or making some kid apologize to another kid. Forced apologies are worse than worthless. And to offer a bent knee (literally again! lolsob!) as some kind of fix to the problem is so inadequate as to be worse than nothing. Which is also how I view land acknowledgements, until someone talks me out of it.
Sarah Schulman is one of my favorite chroniclers of the AIDS/ACT UP movement, and the history of gay rights movements in general. She did an excellent interview with Ezra Klein (I know, I know) on his podcast when her last book came out a couple of years ago and talks explicitly about why she feels the ACT UP movement was so successful, and the BLM movement has been so unsuccessful (in terms of enacting concrete change). She goes so far as to say the ACT UP movement was the last successful protest movement this country has seen, and I think she's right. She's a brilliant thinker, and speaks in very plain language that's accessible and empathetic, and I assign this podcast interview and a chapter from her book "The Gentrification of the Mind" to my doctoral psychology students every year. I could seriously listen to her talk all day.
I have to say, Freddie, that I read your articles faithfully and consider myself your polar opposite in politics--but perhaps, maybe, not in philosophy. I am certain that your book will be worth reading.
Gotta admit - those chapter titles really draw you in. I may just read this.
I think it's worth noting that Cathy comes from the Christian tradition and is pulling these words and ideas from that tradition, so while I have no idea what Cathy really believes it is worth thinking about what these ideas mean in the context of that tradition. The kind of contrition the gospel is talking about isn't just the self care kind of contrition where your feeling bad leads you to pat yourself on the back for how great you are for feeling bad about the way you hurt other people before giving yourself a pass, but the deep kind of contrition where you wrestle honestly with the harm you did and it makes you feel so bad you can't stand to not try and make it right. Similarly, Cathy uses the word apologetic, but the word the gospel usually uses is repentance. Again repentance isn't a get out of jain free card where you say you are sorry and then you're in the clear. Repentance in the gospel means to turn around, to realize you are on the wrong path and that you need to go back and get on the right path. In the gospel contrition and repentance are feelings that produce actions, in fact we can test the sincerity of the feeling by the action it produces. Freddie is certainly correct that there is a lot of cheap contrition/repentance going around that is focused on feeling bad in place of action or even worse is just an accessary to show off one's tribal status. And we can tell it is cheap because it doesn't produce action. That said I wouldn't undersell the role truly feeling bad for one's actions plays in wrestling with the consequences of those actions in a sincere way that produces action.
I blame Kant and the Romantics he inspired. He argued that the only thing that could be morally approved or disapproved were good intentions, not outcomes. It's often forgotten that with regard to the physical world, he was a determinist (I think he often forgot it, too) so that one could not rationally control behavior and its consequences, but only the moral maxim under which one acts. Thus if two people, for example, work at a soup kitchen, and one does so because he loves people, sympathizes with their suffering, and works to help them, this is NOT a moral choice for Kant, because he's acting in accord with his nature, not by rational moral choice under a universal rule. So, the other person, who finds the poor disgusting but helps them because it's the moral thing to do, under a rule of altruism, is the moral one, though the two do the same thing--work at the soup kitchen.
The Romantics then take this innerlichkeit (inwardness) idea (including his metaphysics in which the mind creates the knowable world) and fuses it with the power of creative imagination and feeling. This begets interiority and the modern novel, and what I've called the Cult of Feeling. Feeling the right things becomes the mark of a Good (Woke) Person, so, now, curating the Good Person and putting it on Tik-Tok has become the thing to do. These new Morality Influencers encourage others to go and do likewise, becoming Good People, too, and when the mass becomes critical, the world will become perfect. Hence, the emphasis on feeling in the clip you posted. Even corporate CEOs are Romantics.
Side note. Kant was, surprise to those who've suffered through the Critiques, a popular prof. In his day, getting students into seats was a prof's measure of employability. His popular course was "Lectures on Anthropology from a Pragmatic Standpoint." They were published but never translated, though the book version (Dropping "Lectures") has been. It's the first self-help book! It has many pointers on how to speak effectively, how to mingle in society, give parties for academics, and write. On the last, you should be a bit obscure, making the reader work to grasp your insight so he will at the end feel a sense of accomplishment. I think the Critiques over-did it.
My man, you have me with those chapter titles! Looking forward to it.
Almost 40 years ago, I was in a Com Studies class and the teacher was a Democratic political person. She said we were entering a new era of politics based on emotional appeals not reasoned, rational arguments. I think she was accurate. People on both sides of issues are looking for the emotional hook.
That gut feeling, which is often wrong. Many things are counter-intuitive, for instance the reusable grocery bag policy like that which has been instituted in Oregon. If there had been a reasoned discussion, it would have come out that the "reusable plastic bag" is equal to 145 disposable bags. No one is going to reuse those heavy plastic bags that many times. It's a net loss for environmental policy. The same goes for ethanol. Its not good environmentally, or socially, and amounts to a huge tax going to a few giant corporations. These policies came about by emotional appeals and faulty logic.
The current liberal stance of all talk, and policies that won't and can't fly, are examples of emotional appeals. Logic and reason are lost...and actively rejected.
If I say we need public policy that will give people opportunities to lift out of poverty, but I think reparations to Blacks is unworkable...then I'm a racist. It won't be a discussion of why I feel reparations won't work, the response will be howling emotion. Emotional arguments don't make good policy. Nor do they make a political movements with staying power.
A common view among libertarians is that a key obstacle to police reform is police unions and professional associations. A free society can't prohibit the latter, and the structural incentives that perpetuate the former pose significant political challenges. Curious as to your views on this, although of course they may be in the book: do you think there's any validity to the idea that police unions are a key obstacle? If so, do you think there are any viable political methods to reduce their influence?
I am looking forward to the book. Our politics are very similar in that they are class based though I'm probably less interested in identity politics than you are. As someone who organized marches during Occupy then hired activists to be community organizers soon after I can honestly say the organized progressive movement has been a complete failure.
It is possible to go too far in the other direction. The materialist direction.
Hollywood stars, tech executives, bankers, and other "successful" people have a lot of material wealth and are therefore idolized by many in our culture, even by those on the left. Many poor people have much better lives than the materially wealthy.
Though they have the material trappings of "success," their lives are alienated, meaningless, and shitty. It is vitally important that society relearn the importance of real relationships, of thinking about life without being concerned about money, and of doing things that are meaningful on their own and don't have to be broadcast to others via various apps.