Mar 23·edited Mar 23

Millennial Lefitsm has attempted to delegitimize everything on New Left terms.

Every institution is racist, sexist, phobic, exploitative, etc.

So, it's a movement that is nihilistic and not generative.

Because they're lazy and self entitled, they're not interested in the type of hard fought, incremental gains that accrue over time.

This is a generation that is over socialized, highly rehearsed, and ineffectual. That their politics has devolved to the grievances of ironic midwits is no surprise.

Expand full comment

I think really what we're dealing with is a problem inextricable from the internet at large.

It seems that posting, podcasting, etc. circumvents the need for IRL political action by providing a kind of release valve. Posting feels like doing something—largely because of the feedback web of social media. The need for political action is sublimated. Additionally, whether deeply sincere or acerbically ironic, these opinions occur in tiny vacuums that rarely touch those who aren't already inculcated in the "discourse". It shouldn't really be any surprise that the totalizing nature of the internet—it's infrastructure as mass surveillance and capital extraction—makes it an impossible place to direct revolutionary energy.

Expand full comment

I love this piece and your thinking on this subject. One elephant in the room is the fact that the irony bros fundamentally are not of the working class, and so their rhetoric is the same level of detached lip service as whatever Chuck Schumer says about BLM. Twitter leftists are generally educated elites who would probably off themselves if they woke up in a truly proletarian life. As urban elites, matters of taste seem as urgent as political priorities, and once they put their phone down, they really just want to go to cool bars and do cocaine and transit between LA and NYC. These people would rather not have any movement -- or keep a movement to themselves -- than be associated with uncool people.

Expand full comment

Good stuff, Freddie. I may as well come right out and say I've never been a serious leftist or socialist, though bits and pieces of the program are okay I guess. The main reason I started following you was because I badly needed someone left-of-center to criticize the insanely mean and alienating social justice politics that developed in the mid 2010s and seemingly took over the world.

But it seems to me like the socialist left has the same problem: endless dunking and yelling on Twitter and not much of an actual popular movement. Social media really ruins everything, doesn't it?

Expand full comment

Of course the left needs normies but The Left will always reject normies/scare them off with their bizarre identity politics. As a former union organizer/political organizer in the pre-occupy times, I tried my hand at DSA/local socialism and it wasn't worth my time.

Expand full comment

I’ll disagree with one little bit - your writing actually *is* convincing, because you rarely display (the broadly common on the left) contempt for those who disagree with you. I think you do change minds; you’ve certainly changed mine on more than one occasion. And it’s because you lay your arguments clearly, without looking downwards upon your audience. If only more of the left would adopt that style as well, perhaps we’d be better at convincing people to vote for our candidates.

Expand full comment

Liberals are far more likely to be unhappy and report worse mental health outcomes than conservatives. Are they depresses and miserable because they are liberals, or are they liberals because they are depressed and miserable?


Expand full comment

If these people knew anything about how politics actually worked, they would indeed be trying to attract more normies to support actual causes. And of course, I see a whole lot of them, mostly on Twitter, wondering why they're failing to get normies on board when the entirely of their schtick is "fuck the normies" style sneering.

I think the larger issue is that this "left" has no real politics at all. No real stances on any real issues. It's just an oppositional pose to anything and anyone perceived to be to "the right of", say, the Sierra Club, or oat milk.

I am not of the left, so I'm not totally displeased to see that this is the current animating force of the American left. From a political standpoint strategy, what destroys the left offers tactical advantages to the right, which I'm ok with!

However, as an American, I also have an interest in creating a healthier civic culture, so I do also hope that we see a healthier, smarter left ... someday.

Expand full comment

As someone whose been in DSA for 7 years, I can't speak enough to the dichotomy between internet and real life. It's so easy to be cruel and talk shit on the internet and so hard to reach an understanding. Online discussions always turn toxic. There are shitty and toxic people at real life DSA meetings, but they are much much rarer in my experience. Most people have a harder time being mean face to face. My IRL DSA experience has been rich and fulfilling, but it's always polluted by dumb and toxic internet controversies.

As a larger point I think the internet is good at providing a facsimile of real life, that's close but not nearly as good. In some cases it's good enough. I don't get the same experience buying clothes online as I do going to the mall, but it's worth it to me to save the hassle. I can post on this blog's comments section, rather than find real life people to talk to, to kill time at work and scratch an intellectual itch. I am less productive working from home, but luckily I'm good enough at my job they still keep me and I don't have to commute to work. But in moving dating, friendship, social life and politics to the internet you lose the humanity, which is the essential part.

Expand full comment

I know you're being self-deprecating but I think you're influential. I'm a sample size of 1, but you've changed my thinking around education and treatment of mental health issues. The way you frame the differences giving people material help versus policing the correct language has been helpful to me.

Expand full comment
Mar 23·edited Mar 23

In the spirit of earnest leftism, I offer up a series messages I have sent on one of my discord servers in the last week. We are not devoted to discussing politics but it does pop up from time to time while discussing current events. We’ve also been gaming and shitposting together for a few years now so everybody knows everybody- hence why I shared. The general tone I adopted is still ironic, because when the server has Americans born and raised in China, Finnish nationalists, American infantry officers, Pakistani-British muslims, stressed out Korean-American interns getting into the defense industry, well, irony is the grease that keeps the discussion from catching fire. But the content is earnest and understood to be so in spite of the forays into irony.


“Tomorrow, the local service union is striking, including my school because the UTLA.

My application to join the union is still pending, so I cannot legally join the strike. So if I don’t show up tomorrow and the days after I could get fired.

If I cross the picket line, I get my paycheck and bum around doing useless shit all day because my job revolves around the kids and the kids won’t be there.

If I stay home, I lose about $300ish dollars that I cannot afford to lose and risk my livelihood.

I fucking hate this.”


[in response to the union “fucking up my application] “My fault for not realizing I was eligible to apply. For roofing and operating, union membership was mandatory and worked out prior to be hired- safety thing, no nonunion workers allowed. I thought it worked like that everywhere.

So I didn’t realize I could be in the SEIU til this strike came up, and it took me a few days to hunt somebody down to explain the process on how to join. My application went out on *friday*, so yeah, not gonna be done by tomorrow.”

“ I’d really like to say that I can’t be bought for $300, but christ, I’m a mercenary at heart and I’m in debt. Every month that goes by without paying the debt down is an extra month or two on the far side as interest accrues.

I don’t know if I have it in me to cross the picket line. I also don’t know if I have the guts to leave $300 on table and walk away.

Why couldn’t I have just gotten my legs blown off in Afghanistan so I could live on VA money and not endure moral dilemmas“


“I bring grave and terrible tidings.

The strike is on- the last injunctions against it have been struck down and the die is cast.

After meeting with union reps from both the SEIU (my people) and the UTLA, it was agreed that my signing on with the union on Friday makes me one of them even if the paperwork is not processed yet and no dues have been paid. They agree that everybody has each other’s backs in this, and that management will not be able to retaliate against me at all in spite of my murky legal status. As such, I will not cross the picket line, but join it.

With this decision, I accept the financial penalty of lost wages. They used to fire, beat, hose down, gun down, render homeless, and terrorize the families of people like me for striking. I am lucky. All I have to lose is three days’ pay.

If we strike and lose, I will be debt stricken and desperate, which is where I’d be anyway if no strike occurred at all. If a man needs $300 to stay afloat, he needs a hell of a lot more than that. But if we strike and win, I could see higher wages and more support on the job. In that sense, I cannot lose- only stay as I am, or win.

I have nothing to lose but the grind.”

[in response to what the strike was about] “Better pay and more staffing, and the two are connected- it’s hard to hire people when they’re paying starvation wages to the point where like 1/4 service workers need a second job to afford to work here. So we’re short staffed and overworked because there’s not enough warm bodies on campus to accomplish to job safely for the kids. At my school we only have one bathroom open for the students on campus during class because there’s not enough campus aides to monitor the other four and the kids will cut class to fight and get high in the bathrooms if left unsupervised.

Then, while we were negotiating the contract, LAUSD started pulling bullshit like publicizing their offer to the press *before* giving it to the union negotiators to pressure them into accepting it, when they’d previously agreed to negotiate behind closed doors.”


“Update from the trenches

It started *pissing* rain last night, because apparently the rain god (or, for [the Pakistani-British muslim], the rain jinni) is on the capitalists’ side. Got about fifty dudes out in it setting up tents to picket under, a mix of teachers and service workers. Donuts and coffee provided by the local dockworkers union or crowdfunded.

They’re blasting Bob Marley on the portable player.

The picket line is largely symbolic- its understood who is crossing and why and who is honoring it. The principal and the APs are gonna be working here today and nobody is hassling them as they cross. In return, they’re letting us use the parking lot instead of being petty and making us park blocks away, and we can use the bathroom. They’re also snapping pictures for us for SEIU 99 to use on social media. They can my join but they do support.

People keep trickling in as the guys who didn’t wanna wake up at 5 to stand in the rain decide instead to show up at 7 or 8.

We should have no problems with cops as the strike is considered legal. But just in case we got union guys’ contact info passed around to call them up the moment anything happens.

It is well.”

“ Sitrep from the trenches

I showed up a half hour later than I did yesterday and was the fifth guy on the scene. The rest showed up even later than I did.

But we got the same number, with no drop outs or shirkers.

Today we shifted to having a skeleton crew man the “picket line” and had the bulk of us staking out an intersection nearby to engage with passers by.

Drivers are honking for us, raising their fists in support as they drive past. Each burst of car horn elicits a ragged cheer from us, building in strength and tenor as more strikes got in line. The long haul truckers are the most reliable marks, blasting their big horns with glee.

The neighborhood is overwhelmingly Hispanic, and they remember Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta from generations past. They chant the dread and potent slogan “¡SI, SE PUEDE!” through rolled down windows as they slow down to pass us.

We have the numbers to break into different platoon sized elements to cover more ground, and are marching across the intersection with signs and a boombox every red light. This increases the honking a *lot*.

Old timers are showing up. Teachers from other districts who remember the strike from 1989. A venerable old lady who helped build the St Louis teachers union in 1971. Old men in pick up trucks and contractor tool boxes who brought water to the farm workers under Chavez. The community is ours, heart and soul.

The talk among us revolves around fear, stress, and frustration. The teachers are almost as poor as I am. They’re scared for the future, scared of the lost wages on short warning- the UTLA voted to join at the last second, whereas the SEIU foresaw this for weeks and months. And yet, the atmosphere is like a block party with random dances breaking out to mariachi music and pop rock, pompoms being shaken, posing for instagram pics with massive smiles and peace signs.

We have no assurance of winning. In place of confidence, we have solidarity. For today, it is enough.”

Expand full comment

What you're describing, at least the nihilism, is not just a far-left thing, or even a left thing. You'll find it across the spectrum. If I'm being generous, it's evidence of extreme frustration. If I'm not being generous, it's the narcissistic element of our society shining through, or the helpless element. It's either "look at me" or "save me."

And you are changing the world with your writing. You and I would have radically different ideas about how to solve the problems we identify, but we see the same problems. And while I never thought Marxists or socialists were evil, I am embarrassed to admit that I underestimated how much common sense someone who has those beliefs could have. And I share your writing with other people to show them that we can come from radically different perspectives and still find common ground to start from. We should never write people off because they carry a certain "label" like Marxist, socialist, conservative, or liberal.

Expand full comment

I think (?) you’ve mentioned before feeling generally ambivalent towards David Foster Wallace, but this isn't the first time I've read one of your articles and thought his essay E Unibus Pluram might be of interest to you. Although it's not explicitly political it gets pretty deep into the emergence of smartest-guy-in-the-room snark in US culture, which seems to be a phenomenon whose roots go back several decades.

Expand full comment
Mar 23·edited Mar 23

This reminds me of Jesse Singal's piece in response to a snobby Vox article from a few years ago that declared Parks and Rec, Hamilton and Harry Potter are now cringe thanks to their representation of what the author calls "Obama era liberal optimism": https://jessesingal.substack.com/p/it-isnt-cool-or-interesting-to-reflexively.

I see this particularly in the criticism of Parks and Rec: it seems like right now it's cool on the left to mock exactly what the movement needs more of -- earnest belief that things can improve, willingness to do unglamorous work, ability to try again after getting your ass kicked (and accepting the occasional ass kicking as an inevitability when doing progressive politics), etc. I suspect most of this behavior stems from insecurity, a desire to fit in, and a fear of vulnerability. Not only is this position usually ineffective (to FdB's point), it also makes you absolutely exhausting to be around.

Expand full comment

One of the issues is that there really are no genuinely leftist institutions left in the US. Instead there are various flavors of liberal that are all terminally infected by idpol. You can nibble at the corners but even the occasional successes are doomed to run into the buzzsaw of the Supreme Court. A situation that occurred because of Obama, Hillary, and RBG were unwilling to play any kind of hardball whatsoever outside of protecting the established order. And Bernie has ended up joining that proverbial clown car in a way that makes it clear that even if he had succeeded he never had the fighter’s instincts that are needed to make real change in this country.

Irony used to be eye-opening but now we all know those truths on some level. There isn’t any fun in bringing truth to power once power can just ignore you and keep on stealing all the wealth.

Expand full comment

I think this will continue to happen as long as there's a lack of national organization, and everyone with left sympathies is forced into being a kind of political entrepreneur. Why be a foot soldier when there's no officer, general, or even army really?

Expand full comment