Democratic messaging debates are bizarre because one group has been empowered to terrorize those they disagree with
This type of post is what made me subscribe to FdB initially. My dad was a lefty public school social studies teacher in NYC. I grew up with the notion that unions and tenure were there to protect teachers and professors from "the man" -- the administrators (translation: the conservatives). He passed away in 2015 but I wish he were alive today to see that those entities are needed to protect teachers and professors from the left these days. The left -- we are eating our own. I don't get it. I feel so bad for those in academia these days. I can't imagine what it's like to teach in this environment. Eggshells everywhere.
This point on how it doesn't lead to the elevation of the opinions of the actually oppressed is really one of the worst parts of this.
I remember a few years ago when this was breaking through suddenly being casually accused of racism for such things like not voting for Hilary. What was weird is that these were people who had lived the most lilywhite lives possible. Until I graduated law school I spent most of my life around POC, Black people particularly. I was raised in a church that was 50% Black. I worked lots of blue collar jobs. I interacted with a lot of Black people, few of whom were college educated, none of whom were from elite institutions. All of whom were actual human beings with a wide diversity of thoughts and opinions, but broadly to the right of me. Meanwhile, here's white people (or people claiming POC status with no actual real world experience as a POC) stealing their mantle to spout a bunch of things they probably wouldn't be saying.
But I don't think it's out of malice or duplicity. Because when I'd ask what Black people they actually know it would almost always be someone they went to school with, another PMC, another elite institution graduate. So in their life experience, this is actually what Black people believe. They actually do think LatinX is the preferred term because that's what a half Colombian in their PhD program told them, and they haven't had a conversation with Guadalupe and Angel because they eat at TGI Friday's and shop at Wal-Mart and really they find them as icky as they do white working class people.
I don't think what we're seeing with "marginalized voices" (lol) is that different from what happens with white people. It's just replacing the voices of working people with those of elites because we professionalized society.
I once heard a ranger talk about baby rattlesnakes. Apparently, they are at their most dangerous when they're young and out and about because they can't control their venom. I always think about the generation that came of age on Tumblr and then got older and went to Twitter and then joined the work force as being like the baby rattlesnakes. They do not know their power so they kill things. What worries me more than the activists themselves are the corporations bowing to them. Therein lies the problem for our society. When publishing houses ban books, and movies and TV shows are dumbed down for the most sensitive among us, when we no longer can laugh at offensive jokes, when people can be fired for criticizing BLM -- that is when it goes from just destructive to the party to full blown 1984 land. I spend a lot of time on the right and they have the same inclinations as the left does - they just don't have the insitutional power. We need neutral entities and they're not at the moment. They've cast their side with the moneyed class which, now, is the left.
I work for probably strongest Democratic state Legislature and I've seen older coworkers terrified (many of them Black) of saying the wrong thing or getting mixed up in something accidentally.
Something is seriously wrong when a woman born in the Jim Crow south (the REAL one) is apologizing for calling me honey.
I've never been one to defend the status quo, but the lack of allowing good faith dissent (and being able to handle the non good faith) has been extremely disappointing.
"Your with us or against us" the children of Bush are doing that right by him.
I'm a humanities professor who has had the misfortune of quarreling with a couple woke Twitter meanies. They really do play by different rules: gossiping, cyber-stalking, subtweeting, harassing. And as long as one side energetically resorts to tactics that ordinary people find repellent, they're going to have an advantage. I don't really see a solution here, until more people find the courage to confidently stand up for themselves and their beliefs. (I remind people that doing your own thing is actually far more "radical" than belonging to a social justice mob.)
I'm sorry to say that I don't think this dynamic in the Democratic party is fixable under current conditions. There's too much inertia and too much power behind this shitty status quo. Sooner or later it will almost certainly explode, lead to a political thrashing the likes of which we have never seen before. There's a vast reservoir of contempt, loathing, and resentment for these activists. It won't take much for the right kind of politician to tap into it. I find it highly unlikely that someone won't, and it probably won't take very long. It's not going to be pretty. I don't think activist Dems are aware this is as close as they'll probably get to power for a very long time. When you constantly antagonize most of the population sooner or later that same majority will stop putting up with it.
Great post on the erstwhile Columbus Day! I was ceremoniously unfriended last year for jokingly wishing everyone a "Happy Columbus Day" on FB. The unfriending then led to the lady doxing me for "defending rape" on some feminist site. Lost in all the rancor was the fact that I am a moderate Democrat who was just pointing out the absurdity of a half-assed name change to a holiday without ever trying to understand the voyages of discovery in the context of the era in which they happened. Or that the name change has not led to any real improvements within the Native-American communities. My post was sarcastic. At least I had no job to lose. . .But the irony of actually being lectured about my ignorance on a subject that I've thought deeply about over decades was amusing and pathetic.
Given the (I think) similar tendency on the right toward increasing intolerance of dissenting views, I'm inclined to think the problem is less with the ideology of the social justice movement than of the social dynamics of created by social media and increasing political polarization.
I think this is basically sums it up:
'In the span of a decade or less a bizarre form of linguistically-radical but substantively-conservative identity neoliberalism descended from decaying humanities departments in elite universities and infected social media like Tumblr and Twitter, through which it conquered the media and entertainment industries, the nonprofit industrial complex, and government entities as wide-ranging as the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights and the brass of the Pentagon.'
I don't what to say other than that the 'Left' is doing it wrong if it:
1) Is in the thrall of esoteric ideological fixations that appeal to a small Mandarin elite.
2) Has a relatively warm relationship with the CIA, NSA, FBI, and security state.
3) As its main job program expands the social work/HR class to surveil and punish both working class and white collar employees.
4) Is enthusiastically embraced by everyone from Raytheon to Coca Cola to Disney to the Google in deflecting critique of the neoliberal order.
5) Becomes essentially a state religion administered the Power Elite that cannibalizes more meaningful dissent.
6) Has absolute disdain for the working class and those in the 10th through 60th percentile of income in the US.
All of the affluent moderate Republican suburban house wives of my affluent suburban upbringing are now Instagram radicals.
It's like the algorithm has been perfectly tuned to create endless engagement and bread and circuses (sans bread). The only cohort of the Left that hasn't disgraced itself the past five years are the progressive civil libertarians.
I appreciate your focus on the silencing effect of fear in these movements. Everyone argues about who is or isn't "canceled", and all of that inevitably focuses on big names everyone has heard of. There's little recognition of how your average person is simply afraid to voice their opinions (which are by definition fairly average opinions). It's very stressful to live in a position where you're afraid that one wrong word could make you lose your job. So thank you for focusing on that.
I remain completely mystified by the fact that you claim to want the activists to win though. You write essay after essay writing about how awful these people are, and yet continue to claim to ally yourself with them. Why? Because they label themselves "leftist" even though most of them couldn't give two shits
Excellent post. I remember in the 2000s, we were fretting about whether we’d lose the white working class over “social issues” such as abortion and gay marriage. 20 years later, we’re happily telling the WWC to go fuck themselves. Democrats are screwed.
There seems to be no way out of this and I think the biggest danger to the Dems and the left generally is disengagement of voters. The messaging and focus of democratic surrogates is so insufferable that someone like Trump is almost the only thing giving them any chance, by somehow being even more unhinged than they are. I have spent most of my adult life feeling like I didn’t fit neatly into any political category, but as politics didn’t define me as a person it never bothered me much. Now it’s an intolerable position to be in because it is the lens through which everyone sees everything. Underneath the miasma of toxic messaging surrounding both parties, I truly do believe that the material aims of the Republican Party are scarier, but the gap between them closes every day and makes me less motivated to care who wins. I will still vote like I always do but I feel like nothing can stop the sinking of this ship.
It’s the cruelty that gets me on both sides. And the utter conviction that each side is actual the righteous side. I don’t know how anyone can be so blind to the wanton cruelty and indifference to actual human beings that characterizes our discourse across the board. I am sorry to be the person to reference it, but the Art Friend story just distills it so perfectly. How this echo chamber has convinced people on the left (and honestly it’s BOTH neoliberals and leftists because the ones on twitter are from the same institutions and social circles even if their politics differ by degree) that they are good, and when they hurt people it’s only the bad people anyway, is so perfectly encapsulated in that story. In the weighing of what kind of person is worse - a disadvantaged but aesthetically embarrassing person or an intentionally cruel person - the righteous people of the left have chosen cruelty by a wide margin.
Freedom of speech is no longer valued by the left. Socialists are no longer even making nice gestures towards democracy. The left believes the rule of "experts" should replace the rule of law. The left thinks government by the consent of the governed is obsolete, because the people are too stupid and ignorant to give informed consent. The left thinks that "experts" know what's good for the people better than the people do themselves.
Although I come from an upper middle class background, my Montana childhood led me to identify as a redneck. My 2 Masters degrees didn’t knock it out of me. The elitist stance of the left is repellent. To me, John Locke is still a heck of a lot smarter than Karl Marx.
This is all extraordinarily well said. The eating-of-our-own within the Left, the mobbing and shaming of people for expressing something even slightly off from the Approved Dogma, the fear of losing one's friends and livelihood in a country that isn't kind to its most vulnerable people... THAT is what Cancel Culture is.
Yes, the Fox News crowd enjoys ranting about Cancel Culture. But they do it in a cynical, self-interested way. They want the Left to fail. But we criticize Cancel Culture because we're scared. We're scared of it tearing apart our movement, alienating people, and sending them into the waiting arms of the Fox News crowd. I've seen people get "red pilled" very badly. It is a very real phenomenon. And naturally the PMCs sneer and say "well good, fuck them. They were always headed to the Right anyway."
Cancel Culture is poison for any serious Left wing movement. That is why we despise it and want it gone.
It's the juxtaposition of affected, swooning powerlessness with reality that stands out to me as well. People who had more spent on their education than I've spent in my entire life on everything, who've moved in elite circles since they can toddle, going around acting like they're Steve Biko.
Where I differ is, I think a lot of these people genuinely did think the riots were a good thing and genuinely do believe the things they say about power and identity. Maybe I'm overly optimistic. (I'd rather believe them sincere - and thus persuadable - than believe them capable of putting on the mask and thus unfathomably cynical, to the point of evil.)
But sincerity seems likely to me because of the efficacy gap. As you correctly point out, the riots didn't do a huge amount. (Trump looked weak in the face of them but he was going to lose anyway, most likely, and they weren't uniformly deployed to places he would be affected by. Portland still burns, a bit, for example.) But people still fight tooth and nail to defend them. I have an easier time thinking it's because these people actually believe that throwing a trash can through a laundromat's window is a revolutionary act, that small businesses are some disgusting bourgeois thing, and that opposition to this cry of the oppressed is itself violence.
Plus... those of us shivering outside the comfy confines of the Overton window may have an interest in backing you up here, but the pettier angels of our nature enjoy a wry smile when the likes of Bari Weiss are diet-cancelled. None of these people ever stood up for our rights, quite the opposite. David Shor is required reading to understand US elections, but does he care when the shoe is on the other foot? Do any of them?
the incentives are so nasty i genuinely worry that the people running the "make people i disagree with homeless" brigades don't want a comprehensive welfare state cuz then you can't hold the cudgel of destitution over them. we are just so truly fucked, i don't see how you get back from this without doing irrecoverable damage to left wing causes that will actually help people. dems are losing non-white voters in droves with this shit...