Sunday, 19 March 2017

Regressive Left Pt. 4: Postmodern Pandemonium


Critical theory and postmodern philosophy are not inherently regressive.  Elements of them were important to the enabling of present day regressive theory and practise, however.  Of note is the concept of the "authority of experience" - another feminist equivalent to a papal bull, asserting the fundamentally different manners in which men vs. women experience the world.  Which men?  Which women?  We are not told.  The concept has been codified into law as a result of high profile sexual harassment cases from the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which what a "reasonable woman" feels to be offensive and discriminatory, rather than the intent of the presumably white male to offend or discriminate, became the legal standard in harassment cases.  Ostensibly on the grounds of anti-discrimination law.

The implications of requiring men to be responsible for the emotional experiences of women in this manner should disturb anybody who's serious about the use of anti-harassment laws to actually eliminate harassment rather than be a club in the hands of women in their dealing with men, not to mention implicitly extremely paternalistic.

It also flies in the face of how we now know the human mind works, which would confirm the postmodern theorist's view that experience is subjective and filtered through the subject's unique experiences and beliefs, of which an alleged "harasser" could not possibly have knowledge.  An educated woman in today's world, duly instructed in feminist theory while in college, could no doubt easily take offense to nearly anything a male could theoretically say or do: a glance being "male gaze", a compliment or even a polite civil greeting becoming "objectification", consensual sex being rape if she later reports "feeling violated" and so on, and he be fully responsible for it.

It also explains a great deal of present day SJW methodology: in light of the extension of this concept to other kinds of "hate" speech regarding race and other vectors of identity, this is the root of the concept of the microaggression.  The authority of experience idea is largely why SJWs appeal to identity almost reflexively when arguing, immortalized in the clip below:


Compare this with Herbert Marcuse’s infamous concept of “repressive tolerance”, appearing in the 1965 publication A Critique of Pure Toleranceasserting that censorship and repression of conservative and right wing ideas was justified in a way that repression and censorship of liberal and progressive ideas were not was, perhaps the most glaring example.  Also the tendency to idealize, or at least rationalize or downplay oppressive characteristics in non-western societies became prominent, though this tendency was not new even in the late 60s.

Regressive left cozying to Islamism today has plenty of precedent in the new left’s romanticism of 3rd world revolutionaries or even the old left’s idealization of Soviet Russia (by now disavowed); the vast majority of which ended up being quite brutal and authoritarian.

Related to Marcuse’s concept of repressive tolerance was the concept of “prejudice plus power” proposed in 1970 by feminist activist Patricia Bidol-Padva in her book Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level.  This has gone on to become another fundamental core doctrine of present day SJW thought, and it is the oft stated notion that women cannot be sexist, minorities cannot be racist and so on, since racism and sexism require power, which women and minorities by definition do not have.  But this was not, even then, a new line of reasoning.  

The USSR of Stalin and even Lenin’s time defended itself from criticisms of its human rights records along similar rationalizations: oppression is the means by which one class exploits another, which the working class by its nature cannot do and the USSR, by virtue of being a socialist nation ruled by its working class, therefore cannot be oppressive.  Regressive strains of thought run old and deep indeed!

Beginning after WW2, leftist critique went beyond the capitalist mode of production and began deconstructing western civilization itself, largely in an attempt to explain why fascism and not socialism ended up benefiting politically from the great depression, the greatest crisis in the history of capitalism.

The idea that there was something inherently and exceptionally wicked about western civilization when compared to others, a very crucial element of present day regressive and SJW thinking, finds its bedrock in the ideological and philosophical developments spanning the post WW2 to the summer of love era.  Speaking of which, the revival of romanticism that was the flower-child era, with its emphasis on subjectivity and experience over rationalism and empiricism, was part and parcel of this era’s departure from a leftist thinking that had until then been dominated by Marxist objectivism and materialism.

Another related concept to emerge from this era is that of a “long march through the institutions” – proposed by the more conspiratorially minded as the impetus behind leftist dominance in academia, both entertainment and informative media, and culture in general.  Paleo-conservatives in particular were concerned with Frankfurt School inspired ideas that western culture had to be deconstructed in order to groom the populace for a revolutionary socialist takeover, even decades after communism fell.  With the more recent rise of the alt-right, the Jewish identity and ancestry of many Frankfurt associated intellectuals is increasingly emphasized.  Let it never be forgotten that absurd regressivism is by no means exclusive to the left.

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who coined this phrase (though his ideas of “cultural hegemony” as an explanation for a lack of revolutionary consciousness among western working classes warrant comparison to critical theory) but rather a German student leftist by the name of Rudi Dutschke

The right's "cultural Marxism" concerns were thus not completely ill founded.  The problem with the idea, though, was that if the intent was to pave the way for socialism, this long march through the institutions could not have failed more miserably.  Eight years after Herbert Marcuse wrote favorably of this concept in his 1972 book, Counterrevolution and Revolt, one would reasonably expect a more leftist political climate to be the result.  The elections of Ronald Reagan in America and Margaret Thatcher in the UK would suggest otherwise. 

At least on the surface of it.  But while economic Marxism was by then in decline, the results of growing progressive dominance in academia and, by extent, higher culture, was being felt in more social and cultural realms.  Plus, if there had been a leftist capture of academia, the Reagan-Thatcher neo-cons either didn’t notice or didn’t care.  The right wing in America especially, but elsewhere too, tended to sneer at and ridicule the academic left, but no more than that. 

An anti Intellectual climate was even then setting in among conservatives, and they found much more political kinship with evolution-denying Christian fundamentalists than with the professors of the western cultural canon in the English department.  They might appeal to cultural and social conservatism come election time to garner votes, but once in office, the neo-cons displayed concern mainly for cutting taxes, weakening unions and projecting military power in the middle east and elsewhere.  This would eventually prove every bit as essential to the rise of the regressive left as anything taught in the women’s studies department ever did.

Indeed, the social conservatives worked hand-in-glove with radical feminists in opposing pornography in the 1980s, and Anita Sarkeesian’s criticism of video-game culture followed a path well worn by social conservatives.  The tragic outcome of this is not only that liberals were slow to accept threats to free speech coming from the left, but that conservatives had little credibility with which to defend free speech against campus speech codes or to criticize the science-denialism of feminists who insisted gender and sexuality are entirely socially constructed.  Had conservatives only so recently tried to censor heavy metal music and deny the theory of evolution? And this when the right bothered to care about these issues at all, which they rarely did.  Milo Yiannopoulos’s “Dangerous Faggot” tour would be far too little, far too late.

Consistently throughout its more recent history, the regressive left has adopted for itself models of organizing that had only a short time earlier been pioneered by social conservatives.  From feminists adopting strategies devised of conservative media watchdog groups like the Parent’s Music Resource Center, to progressive strategists such as George Lakoff counseling the democrats on techniques of using language to frame issues in morally ideological ways, to the creation of media and online echo chambers to the very recent adaptation of angry and confrontational Tea-Party tactics by democratic supporters at town-hall meetings put on by GOP representatives, the progressive left has never been far behind the religious right in its march into epistemic closure and regressivism.

As such, the right bears considerable responsibility for enabling the rise of the current crop of regressive leftism.  And some responsibility also resides in broader political, social and demographic trends.  The gerrymandering of congressional districts, done mainly by GOP dominated states, results in a strengthened tendency towards ideological purism within the parties as opposed to both parties tending towards moderation to win over independents, swing voters and moderates.  

The tendency towards demographic “sorting” of the population into ideologically homogenous communities works in basically the same way.  Media echo chambers have been the growing trend ever since the rise of cable TV relaxed the grip that the “big three” had over broadcasting.  Fox News was the first, but not the last, more ideologically homogenous voice to make it big on cable.  Of course, the internet only strengthened this trend, and social media gave anyone with an internet connection and an axe to grind the reach once accessible only to those with costly printing presses and broadcast technology.  This leads to dominance by media that is tailored to ideological audiences and produced on rapid cycles that allow less time for fact checking. 

The end result of these decades spanning trends is that people are less likely to stray from their own ideological communities and interact with people of differing opinions, increasing susceptibility to extremist and regressive ideology.

As mentioned previously, by the time Allan Bloom, Dinesh D’Sousa, Christina Hoff Sommers and others began raising the alarm over “political correctness” back in the late 80s and early 90s – while Milo Yiannopoulos was still in his early childhood - the foundations were already long set.  The matrix of critical theory, postmodern relativism, identity politics, the long march through the institutions, repressive tolerance, power plus prejudice, the authority of experience, privilege theory and intersectionality that mark today’s post materialist regressive leftism were already firmly established.

This matrix was itself rooted in the disillusionment that post WW2 western leftists had towards Marxism – the practise of which became the single most oppressive and bloody exercise in regressive leftism in human history, and that other great post WW2 western reaction against Marxism – neoconservatism, was poorly equipped to deal with it.  

Marxist materialism would seem to have rubbed off on the neo-cons, some of whom were ex-leftists themselves, for they were much too preoccupied with economic and foreign policy to concern themselves much with academic and cultural goings-on.  Though Marx’s theories remained an influence upon regressive leftism, especially his division of society into oppressor and oppressed classes, his focus on economics and relations of production as being the determinants of power and oppression had long since been abandoned.

With materialist Marxism, enlightenment liberalism, Christian theology the classical canon of western civilization all – to varying degrees – discredited, the post-materialist regressive left had almost unchecked free reign in our academic and cultural institutions for decades. 

The travesty that unfolded at UC Berkeley the night of February 2, 2017, should therefore not surprise us at all. 

... Continued in Part 4: Postmodern Pandemonium




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