Thursday, February 09, 2017

via Rod Dreher, one of his commenters describes the social justice warrior as a result of neo-liberalism

Now it seems a bit of an over-statement to describe all social justice warriors as

SJWism is the logical result of neoliberalism. As such, they will reinforce the globalist, imperialist Empire. The power of the meritocratic society gives our untitled aristocrats a belief in the rightness of their rule through the power of the resume and college credentialing. It’s kind of like being Born Again, except there’s not even the ghost of a belief in Sin to keep them in check. And there’s nothing like Confession, except making a list of grievances.

There’s a reason they’ve attached themselves to identity politics and gender ideology as opposed to climate change. They can jet to Southeast Asia for a semester, volunteer in South America for a year, travel to Turkey twice a year, and never think twice about their carbon footprint. They dine out more than any generation ever has, but they vote the right away and never think about warehouses or trucking lines. One fights climate change through the government, not through one’s personal choices.

Put that way it might seem that the social justice warrior as an iteration of neoliberalism combines the worst aspects of a liberal nanny state thought police officer (often self-appointed at an informal level but able to hold roles of institutional power) with the most libertine elements of libertarian ideas.  Or as the satirical website Stuff White People Like said about "hating your parents", the white parent is screwed either way because if they provide firm boundaries they get labeled as controlling and abusive and if they don't provide boundaries and the kid ends up in a Thai prison the parents are to blame for not establishing safe boundaries.  Or something vaguely like that.  One of my conservative friends lamented that it would appear that 16 year olds should be able to have as much sex as they want with access to birth control options across the entire spectrum because "we" can't stop them from being mature enough to handle their own sexuality ... and then ten years later they want complete forgiveness of their student debt?  The disconnect is in the power to bring new life into the world through sexual reproduction on the one hand and the ability to fiscally manage merely one's own life on the other.  If you can't pay your own bills how do you pay the bills for the person you could bring into the world? 

Neither the let nor the right seem worth anything there.  The social conservative seems aghast that people are post-poning the debt-incurring processes of starting families and raising kids on the one hand but the beef seems to be the benchmarks of socially recognized adulthood as formalities.  If people on the left seem to view sex as liberation they sem to view actual family life as some kind of invisible hell/gulag that follows you everywhere you go unless the state steps in.  It sometimes feels as if the left and the right are both really just totalitarian ideologues whose only debate is about what kidn of police state they want.  If there's a mainstream comedic show that gets anywhere near this point it might be South Park.

Still, one of the problems I keep seeing with how the left and the right write about each other is it hardly seems as though there have been coherent alliances on either the left or the right.  If anything ... we'll get to that later.  There's this from the commenter quoted at Dreher's post:

It almost makes you long for an aristocracy where the power was an accident of birth, where there were reciprocal obligations. Interesting that the gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater than in the global meritocracy. They believe they actually have earned the right to tell the lower middle class why they were replaceable, or the poor why they should be grateful to be forced to stay in their failing schools. I, too, fear where this will lead.

Not really!  The aristocratic castes of yore didn't feel a whole lot of obligations to be nice to people they didn't consider worthy of niceties.  What was different back then was that the aristocracies may have had established religions within which they could get arguments from theologians about how far afield of the professed ethics of the religion of the realm they were ruling.  Now that's possible now, and if anyone were going to be in a position to make that kind of constraining case it would, on paper, be social justice warriors.  But the problem may be that the paragons of privilege are the social justice warriors who have, at times, acclimated themselves to only seeing the privilege of other people 

When the different ruling castes have an ideology or religion in common there's room to "speak truth to power" from somewhere close enough to the seats of power to get a message across.  One of the more famous examples of this in the Old Testament would be Nathan and David, for instance.  More often than not the speaking-truth-to-power not only falls on unreceptive ears the prophet could ... often get killed or exiled.

Neoliberalism presents a slightly different possible case.  You can hardly exercise a prophetic voice speaking to the powers that be when the powers that be ultimately regard themselves as above reproach both in the abstract and in actual practice.   King could write a letter from a Birmingham jail appealing to a common faith.  What do we have?  In a sense what the social justice warriors are doomed to fail for is the lack of an ideological rationale for the kind of plurality they want.  If in the last decades we've had "the end of history" or talk of the problems of teleological views of history then you can't even appeal to being on the right side of history anymore.  You can't because all histories are power claims and once all histories are power claims truth is a matter of whose power claims should be granted for grounds that may or may not correspond to what may be traditionally described as facts.  So as odious as alternative facts may really be it's a little tough to get worked up about that in a post-structuralist neoliberal order. 

The last couple of years have highlighted a breakdown between the old right and new right and the old left and the new left.  While the new left, which seemed to back Clinton avidly, seems devastated at Trump's victory, people with more old/hard left inclinations seem dismayed but not the least bit surprised.

There was a commenter at Dreher's blog noting that the right and left fringes can start to sound really similar.  Which reminded me of something John Halle blogged about the self-rewarding nature of this era's cognitive elites.

(Translation of Bourdieu’s 1983 Racisme de l’intelligence republished here.)

It is necessary to understand that there is no such thing as racism. Rather there are racisms-as many racisms as there are groups which need to justify their status, which is the usual function of racism. It seems to me therefore very important to apply the same analysis to forms of racism which are undoubtedly the most subtle, the most elusive and therefore the most rarely denounced, possible because usually those making the denunciations are themselves inclined to this form of racism. I’m referring to the racism of the intellect.

Racism of the intellect among the dominant classes is distinguished in several ways from that which one typically designates as racism, namely, the petit bourgeois form which is the target of most critiques, most notably beginning with that of Sartre.

This form of racism is characteristic of a dominant class whose maintenance depends to some extent on the transmission of inherited cultural capital understood as inherent and therefore natural and innate. Racism of intelligence is that through which elites aim to produce a “theodicy (rationalization) of their own privilege”, as Weber characterizes it, which is to say a justification of the social order which they dominate. It is this which makes elites convinced of their own inherent superiority.

All forms of racism are based on essentialism and racism of the intellect is the rationalization of the social order characteristic of the elite class whose power resides in the possession of credentials which, as do scholarly credentials, are supposed to confer the possession of specialized knowledge. These have taken the place of aristocratic titles of previous epochs in many societies-and confer access to positions of economic power-in the same way that the latter did.

If we could translate that into a possible interpretation of the last ten or so years we could try this, college students who have the privilege of attending liberal arts colleges and get humanities degrees or go into social sciences can't exempt themselves from being bourgeouis class enemies in more traditionally Marxist dialectics of history just because they can quote Derrida or Walter Benjamin.  In the wake of Trump's election pretending that that was all about anti-intellectual loathing is too easy a way for academics to let themselves off the hook. 

But ... in spite of the fact that a great deal of higher education quite literally is the government ... it seems that education is in peril.

Not since the era of witch hunts and “red baiting” has the American university faced so great a threat from government. How is the university to function when a president’s administration blurs the distinction between fact and fiction by asserting the existence of “alternative facts”? How can the university turn a blind eye to what every historian knows to be a key instrument of modern authoritarian regimes: the capacity to dress falsehood up as truth and reject the fruits of reasoned argument, evidence and rigorous verification?

The atmosphere of suspicion and insecurity created by the undermining of truth provides the perfect environment for President Trump’s recent actions on immigration. The American university’s future, indeed its most fundamental reason for being, is imperiled by a government that constructs walls on the Mexican border, restricts Muslim immigrants and denigrates the idea of America as a destination for refugees.
Again, to the extent that American universities are extensions of the state (Ellul went so far as to describe all state-funded and state-administered education as, by definition, some form of pre-propaganda), the education sector living in fear of government is one extension of government fearing another level of government.  That the educational ruling castes fear what the executive and legislative branches may do is understandable but it can blind people in those ruling castes from their actually being in one of the ruling castes of the United States.  If anything the realm of narratives predicated on alternative facts that are themselves predicated on identitarian political narratives might be one of the weirder self-fulfilling prophecies of American academics in the course of the last twenty years. 
I get the part where it's frustrating to have German idealist philosophers cripple the terms of discourse in a range of subjects.  I get that part.  I think Adorno was wrong about jazz but then MOST Americans who know what jazz is and know what Adorno said about jazz probably think he was wrong about it. 
I admit I've kept coming back to this idea that neither the left nor right have been coherent teams in the last few years but perhaps something from The Baffler can elucidate why, even within what might be dubbed the liberal/left spectrum there were people who regarded Clinton as worse than just boring and compromised. 
How, exactly, had this carefully choreographed moment of executive feminist triumph come so disastrously undone, after so much concerted mobilization of Democratic clout and expert planning and largesse over the past two years? To get to the bottom of this catastrophe, we must begin with the many elite-engineered catastrophes that have gone into Hillary Clinton’s storied résumé.
And this requires some careful acts of historical reconstruction, since there is so much Hillary Clinton wanted us to forget. There was her role in helping to bring about the “end of welfare as we know it,” and the disastrous effects of that policy reversal on the lives of the poor. There was the 1994 Crime Bill, which she promoted from the bully pulpit of her historic mid-nineties “co-presidency,” and which coincided with an equally historic rise in mass incarceration—together with that now-infamous clip of her maligning black youth as “superpredators.” There was that ridiculous lie about sniper fire in Bosnia. And there were, of course, the entirely uncontrollable stories about her husband’s multiple dalliances.

After all of that it could seem as though when the shoe was on the other foot red state voters could decide that if personal character's really not relevant to holding high office then, well, okay then!  This is another point at which the old/hard left may have had a clearer understanding of what the new left/pro-Clinton scene really gave up in terms of being able to assert some kind of clear moral high ground.  Even the uglier tales of what Trump's said to have done still seem to veer into the zones of things done by a Kennedy or a Polanski that people have been willing to overlook. 

One of my black friends startled me last year by saying he voted for Trump.  He really likes Trump.  But, more than that, he also really distrusts Clinton and he said that people who simply assume the Democratic machinery leaders actually have the best interests of black people in mind don't know how the Democratic party has had no problem screwing over black communities when it suited their goals.  He also told me that if Sanders rather than Clinton had gotten the nomination Sanders probably could have won.  At least he was clearly against high finance big banking sectors. 

Unfortunately the level and nature of the scapegoating by people on the left and right for the electoral demographics on the opposite teams suggests that neither the left nor the right will get past their historically cultivated grievances to agree on stuff.  That might change, and we can certainly hope for that, and people can suggest ways in which working together for the public good can happen.  But it can seem as though the people least likely to have help to offer would be the Clinton supporters who deluded themselves into thinking that the Clintonian legacy, cumulatively, was anything but a raw deal for working class types. 

While a joke could be made that the old left and old right seem to agree on stuff and that seems crazy (and it is if that thing were anti-Semitism) the agreement that the social justice warrior set are basking in a privilege they are hyper-tuned to spot in others but never examine in themselves doesn't seem crazy at all.

The Stranger's reaction to Trump's victory was what I would have expected (imagine so many iterations of a short word that starts with "f" that it'd be pointless to replicate the title), but the irony of The Stranger editorial staff lament in light of their explicit "rural Americans aren't real Americans and don't matter" in The Urban Archipeligo is hard to forget.  It's easy to look with contempt on rural redneck voters for being racist ignorant rubes and some of them, no doubt, are.  But it's often felt like the people who are in positions to feel this way don't have the honesty or nerve to admit to themselves they are part of a ruling class.  Some of them, however, are, and not just old school conservative elitists of the Roger Scruton type, either. We all expect that of Scruton, don't we because he's been saying so for decades, right? ;)

[and back to the rest of the first draft]

When cases for epistocracy are explicitly discussed in mainstream outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and The New Yorker this might not really be a sign of neoliberalism as such, because the paradoxical possibility here is that many a social justice warrior can get angry about the long-term influence of neo-liberalism, it might be a sign that the academic ruling castes are getting closer and closer to the point where they just admit they think they have the right to rule world by dint of their wisdom.  That would get us back to medieval scholastic clerics reaching a somewhat similar conclusion but back in medieval Europe there was room for a Protestant Reformation to happen by challenging established institutional interpretations.  The kind of scholastic orthodoxy American intellectual life may eventually settle on may never provide such a countervailing possibility.   It's not just that, as the left would have it, capitalism can assimilate dissent. 

It can, but academic life has millennia of history to demonstrate that it can exonerate itself from complicity with whatever the reigning repressive regime is in play.  The ideological justifications for aristocratic castes can change but the end result seems to be that the aristocrats of our ages always agree that they deserve to run our lives because of good reasons.  The trouble with the social justice warriors may not be that they notice their demographic is under-represented in the ruling castes but that they don't yet get that the ruling castes won't be different just because they see someone who reminds them of themselves in a power position.  Or as Pete Townsend put it in a song, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

1 comment:

Cal P said...

As someone who lives/works in academia, much of this was spot on. My officemate is relatively middle-of-the-road politically, but he's so disgusted with Trump he jokes about returning to monarchy. Of course, he is not really middle of the road. Most of my colleagues possess the high-handed disgust that combines aspirant petit-bourgeois with intellectual arrogance. That's the clincher: accumulation of knowledge does not imply understanding or wisdom. But the West possesses a cultural value attached to the PhD where it basically like medieval clerical ordination (and, as you know, the former emerged from the latter). Of course people knew priests were slobs, but the halo always remains by default. The fact people had to tell stories about the drunk local priest fondling the servant girl enforces the sense of power one expected or knew that belonged to this caste. The fact we have people 'having' to say that so-and-so is an egghead who doesn't know the real world smacks of a kind of anxiety. If it was so obvious that PhDs mean nothing, why do we have to attack this class? I like Bourdieu a lot, and one of his major breakthroughs was the application of anthropological/sociological methods to anthropologists/sociologists. They are just as tribal, because they are Human(!), as the peoples they study.

I tend to think being bourgeois is a mindset more primarily before it is a class reality or a tax bracket. And the people crying about privilege are ones who will never surrender their class interests. This is why I'm classic Left: I'm baffled that somehow privilege has basically come to mean racial and gender, when it is clearly about class. Yeah, race and gender (though I'm pretty reserved about the latter) can be mechanisms of class formation. But, really, that becomes the alternative facts before Trump's alternative facts. People are so sure about psychological experience and sociological features, but won't cut Trump a break because he feels that he is being hamstrung by congress and the media?

Anyway, this leads me to the ultimate fact in all of this: memes. The meme has become an argument, the ultimate form of reductionistic media. It is the most brilliant form of propaganda, far exceeding twitter. As Ellul very well knew, pictures and images possess the potential of truly overwhelming the senses in ways words, even inscripturated words, can't. And if anyone looks as a generic facebook feed, one is being blasted with these images. It is like Brave New World, we don't have to get brainwashed by Big Brother, we do it to ourselves because it feels right. If I were to point at one piece of evidence that America is doomed to oblivion, it would be the meme.