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Exiting the Vampire Castle
November 25, 2013 5:21 PM   Subscribe

‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism. The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. The bullies were in another part of the playground. I didn’t want to attract their attention to me.
In Exiting the Vampire Castle, Mark Fisher finds two recurrent bad dynamics in online left-politics debate: identity-essentialist witch-hunting and neo-anarchist fatalism. Jodi Dean agrees with the diagnosis:
[T]he left finds itself attached to practices that undermine solidarity. Perpetually suspicious and mistrustful, it eats its own.

There are multiple versions of this mistrust. Sometimes it manifests as a preoccupation with process. Sometimes it manifests as critique and "problematization" before anything has even been carried out. For those who engage in social media, the left-liberal press, and left academia, it appears as a set of predictable responses and snarky one-liners, which then devolve into debates over tone, and various accusations, most of which are mean-spirited, many of which demolish rather than build. [...] What would the left mediapelago look like if we treated one another as comrades?
Other left bloggers, though, have leapt to condemn Fisher's piece, calling it a "spectacularly pompous" "castle of bollocks", an "infantilising" "fantasy", and an example of "brocialism" (which last is also discussed, along with "manarchism", in a recent conversation between Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour).
posted by RogerB (167 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm still reading, but:
Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.
What does "graduate chancers" mean? A Google search returns a bunch of people quoting this post.
posted by brundlefly at 5:35 PM on November 25, 2013


I'm not sure but this is UK-centric, so it could be a reference to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chancer
posted by cell divide at 5:39 PM on November 25, 2013


it appears as a set of predictable responses and snarky one-liners, which then devolve into debates over tone, and various accusations, most of which are mean-spirited, many of which demolish rather than build

What forum does this remind me of? It sounds so familiar ...
posted by jayder at 5:40 PM on November 25, 2013 [35 favorites]


What does "graduate chancers" mean?

University-educated opportunists.
posted by RogerB at 5:40 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah! Thanks, cell divide & RogerB.
posted by brundlefly at 5:41 PM on November 25, 2013


The neo-anarchist fatalism is the worst. Laziness dressed up as carring, just as long as the inevitableness of it all going bad excuses working on the problem.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:41 PM on November 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


People looking for their chance. Slight implication that they are dodgy.

As to the OP; imo the most recent SJW wave has broken and is rolling back out to sea. There will be another along in a while, though. That's how social change works.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:42 PM on November 25, 2013


Left-wing person criticizes left-wing witch hunts, immediately condemned in a left-wing witch hunt.

*popcorn*

I mean, you can try to have your revolution without including the straight white cis first-world privileged males. You can try. But, you know, they've got the money, power and influence so you'd better come up with a damn good alternative plan.
posted by Jimbob at 5:44 PM on November 25, 2013 [27 favorites]


The third law of the Vampires’ Castle is: propagate as much guilt as you can.
The more guilt the better. People must feel bad: it is a sign that they understand the gravity of things. It’s OK to be class-privileged if you feel guilty about privilege and make others in a subordinate class position to you feel guilty too. You do some good works for the poor, too, right?


This is something I hear people complaining about, but I'll be damned if I've ever actually encountered it in the wild.
posted by brundlefly at 5:45 PM on November 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


That was not like what I remember of Mark K-Punk's earlier writing. I notice he's writing a book on depression; I wonder if he's been through the mill.

One thing I have noticed - there's a LOT of infighting in a particular couple of marxist internet circles - the Zero Books people, the former SWPers, some others...and Mark K-Punk used to really get into it with a couple of other bloggers in a way that struck me as bizarrely personal and petty on everyone's sides. (And yes, a very macho dynamic, but it was by no means just him.) There seems to be a lot of the same bullshit around Jacobin, if the linked commentaries are any indication. My point being, I don't think that this particular piece is totally about the internet and its woes; I think it's about a lot of interpersonal crap in a particular social milieu. A milieu that, actually, makes Tumblr look pleasant, now that I remember when I used to read a lot on that particular set of blogs.
posted by Frowner at 5:45 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Brocialism" is about right. I (painfully) read the whole thing through to the end, but I kept imagining it was written by drunk 50s-era socialist who corners women at parties and mansplains marxism to them while staring at their breasts.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:49 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just don't understand people who, when someone points out a way they've never noticed before to be kinder and more compassionate to others, react by feeling guilt.
posted by straight at 6:01 PM on November 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


I think flex's post from a while ago was a really good collection of links that got at this question from a zillion different angles.
posted by kavasa at 6:01 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: the diagnosis: [more inside]
posted by mwhybark at 6:02 PM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is something I hear people complaining about, but I'll be damned if I've ever actually encountered it in the wild.

I think that it's a left internet gestalt thing - I don't think anyone is all "la la I shall create guilt to gain personal power". I wish this piece had gotten at how certain internet social circles are guilt-driven environments, where the appropriate affect is one of guilt. That's not the same as saying that people are trying to make others feel guilty.

I also think that certain personality types really suffer from left/internet bullshit more than others do. Like, Tumblr really fucks with me, but that's because I'm anxious and guilty by nature so the anxiety-and-guilt-inducing currents really hit me pretty hard. I think they really exist, but I also think that they are not the only thing about Tumblr.

If there's one thing that is true about the piece, it's about the allure of a certain bad aspect of radical/left/anarchist culture - the allure of a climate of confession and guilt. I think if he'd written this from the angle of "it's really emotionally reassuring to a lot of people to feel guilty, confess, be absolved, etc" it would not push people's buttons in the same way. (Andrea Smith has an essay that deals with this.) People aren't for the most part into the guilt/shame/confession mode because they like power; they're into it because they're scared and miserable and it offers a way to understand the world that keeps them both feeling bad about themselves and paralyzed.

I also thought the fluid-identities part quite good. I mean, I totally support "identity politics" and I think that you have to do some very careful footwork when critiquing them (especially if your critique is basically "I'm upset that you got your gender/queerness/race in my nice class discourse") but there is this risk of falling into a way of thought that assigns people really fixed and simple identities.

I don't think this piece represents brocialism, or manarchism, or whatever. I do think that what inevitably happens in this kind of situation is that different groups of people get upset, caricature each others' positions and actually avoid thinking through the real tensions of a situation. Like, Russell Brand is charming and important and also kind of a sexist creeper in some ways, and those things are both true, and there's risks and losses no matter how you deal with that. People really do get treated very nastily over ignorant mistakes or due to misapprehensions of what they actually said/did, but at the same time the overall milieu really is fucked up, misogynist, racist, etc. Both those things are true, but people talk as though it's one or the other.

Also, I think the larger social forces pushing things to go the way they do...I mean, critiques of these things are always like "la la you are so indvidualistic" but they fall back into the same old trap of an individualistic analysis of why people do what they do.

I used to read Abstract Dynamics all the time, I really enjoyed it.
posted by Frowner at 6:02 PM on November 25, 2013 [40 favorites]


I will admit that having gone to university (though I'm still poor, just educated-poor), a lot of people don't believe that I'm working class or afford me the designation at all. When I attempt to talk about my class identity, background, or upbringing, I'm usually told I'm being condescending, not listening to working class people, &c., mostly accusations which are contradictory and strange. They assume I'm middle-class and just temporarily broke, which I guess to all appearances it must seem I am, since part of leaving the disenfranchised working class environment is rapidly internalizing the behaviors and habits of another class. I am American, so the dynamics are different.

On the other hand, I'm also a woman. I don't think most of Russell Brand's sexist actions were so egregious as to warrant real vitriol, but this:

For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism.

... makes me want to spit in this guy's face like the working class broad I am.

I mean, you can try to have your revolution without including the straight white cis first-world privileged males. You can try. But, you know, they've got the money, power and influence so you'd better come up with a damn good alternative plan.

Are you asking us to pander to you? How bold.



I just don't understand people who, when someone points out a way they've never noticed before to be kinder and more compassionate to others, react by feeling guilt.

This too. It's like they want to be a public personality utterly free from criticism. Good luck with that.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:03 PM on November 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


The third law of the Vampires’ Castle is: propagate as much guilt as you can...
This is something I hear people complaining about, but I'll be damned if I've ever actually encountered it in the wild.
It happens all the time. For some examples, keep this in mind next time you read any post here where someone is trying to empathize with the poverty-stricken, or the young unemployed, and mentions a job they have or an amount of money they get paid - almost inevitably someone comes along moments later to point out how privileged that person is, how the amount they get paid is so extravagantly more than the $17K per year or whatever that the chastiser is making, with the implication that they should just shut up and get back to lighting cigars with $100 bills or whatever. Basically, how people at the poverty level manage to resent and play off of the median-earners, instead of everybody getting each other's backs to maybe work on raising billionaire's taxes a little bit. That's not the only example, but it's one example.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 6:04 PM on November 25, 2013 [18 favorites]


I used to think it was clever to point out how useless left-wing "circular firing squad" tendencies are towards getting things done for progress, but then I met people (some here on metafilter) who instead address all internal complaints as serious issues that fit in some way into the pattern of political power that keeps us apart. Those people get shit done. They don't accuse and they don't accuse of accusing, they don't snark, and they don't snark about snarking. They are leaders. We need more of them.

I'm still not able to help being annoyed by some of the overblown rhetoric that people use to attack allies, but I can at least quit whining about it most of the time, and just assume everyone has a good reason to speaking out about things they care about. The answer to too much negativity isn't more negativity, it is organization and focus. And that goes for all groups of people, from basketball teams to bands to corporations. If everyone is bitching at eachother instead of attacking the common enemy (whether that is Republicans or poverty or bigotry or The Lakers) you can contribute your voice to the shouting or you can clap your hands and pass the damn ball.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:07 PM on November 25, 2013 [35 favorites]


As someone too old to be a neo-anarchist I presumably fall outside of the Vampire Castle, but I certainly don't want to be a bag-carrier for Fisher-as-Van-Helsing.

He could have written something about the nature of twitter, how the limited word count plus instant nature of the medium can lead to all kinds of drama, but really, this article misses the point entirely.

He accuses the undead hordes of identitarianism and essentialism, yet falls back on both when it comes to class.

I have some qualms about the way privilege theory is sometimes expressed, and do find some people's understanding of intersectionality liberal (ironically when the 'class' aspect of it is in agreement with Fisher's), but from what I've seen most of the people he's attacking are committed anti-capitalists who are politically active.

The radical answer Fisher proposes? Vote Labour.
posted by spectrevsrector at 6:15 PM on November 25, 2013


I think the guilt thing arises from the discomfort one feels when one's worldview changes. It's generally not a pleasant experience. It requires you to reassess your own behavior, past and future. Those things are also true of guilt, so that's where the experience gets filed.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:16 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


What does "graduate chancers" mean?

It means the writer dislikes the Footlights et al.
posted by jaduncan at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2013


While in theory it claims to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour.

I thought this was a good point. I find it odd that many left causes are about systemic issues, like sexism and racism and global warming, then we all talk about how little gas we use, how we don't own cars and recycle and are introspective of our own privilege like that does anything about system. Sure, every drop raises the ocean, but it's still an ocean.

I do think this happens on both sides though. I've seen enough talks about racism and sexism on Metafilter get derailed in a "but what about class?" exchanges, even on Metafilter.
posted by zabuni at 6:21 PM on November 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Basically, how people at the poverty level manage to resent and play off of the median-earners, instead of everybody getting each other's backs to maybe work on raising billionaire's taxes a little bit. That's not the only example, but it's one example."

I find it oddly awesome that this is how you apply his "Vampire Castle" metaphor — that this is what you take from an essay that is all about the primacy of class conflict and viciously lamenting the corruption of leftism by bourgeois liberalism.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:23 PM on November 25, 2013


Oh, and as insipid as MacIntire doublessly is, I understand that he dropped out of public school for financial reasons and never graduated from Edinburgh. This makes me a bit dubious of an author calling him an ultra-posh graduate.
posted by jaduncan at 6:24 PM on November 25, 2013


I think the guilt thing arises from the discomfort one feels when one's worldview changes. It's generally not a pleasant experience. It requires you to reassess your own behavior, past and future. Those things are also true of guilt, so that's where the experience gets filed.

Sometimes, yes. But honestly, if you grew up in an emotionally abusive situation where you were always-already guilty, or if you grew up in a situation where you were a "failure" in some essential way, radical discourse can completely fuck with you because what it slots into is not "discomfort over reassessing your worldview" but "a return to one more situation where what defines you is failure and shame". For me, when I was growing up, I was always conscious of myself as a gender-failure and a body-failure (fat, not pretty at all) and a class failure (upper-working/lower middle in a rich town, no social graces) - so what happens is that when someone is like "hey Frowner, you suck because of [radical reasons]" my emotional response is "yes you are right at last someone has recognized what I have always known about myself, to wit that I am a worthless piece of human garbage"....and the more strongly worded the "you are human garbage" part is, the more powerful it is for me. And I think this is not totally uncommon amongst radicals.
posted by Frowner at 6:25 PM on November 25, 2013 [44 favorites]


How about this? Frowner, you seem generally awesome on here even if there are things you (as do we all) understand more over time. This is just your moment of props.
posted by jaduncan at 6:28 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Maybe instead of living in fear of being called a racist or a transphobe, your ideas actually reflect that you've listened to criticism! Instead, we're asked to be inspired by the guy who prank called rape hotlines. Sorry for destroying left unity by asking people be held accountable for their actions.

I keep returning to this Selma James piece:

Our identity, our social roles, the way we are seen, appears to be disconnected from our capitalist functions. To be liberated from them (or through them) appears to be independent from our liberation from capitalist wage slavery. In my view, identity-caste-is the very substance of class.
posted by gorbweaver at 6:32 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Brocialism" is about right. I (painfully) read the whole thing through to the end, but I kept imagining it was written by drunk 50s-era socialist who corners women at parties and mansplains marxism to them while staring at their breasts.

Nice burn, Ivan. That's sort of making his point for him though, isn't it?
posted by Sebmojo at 6:35 PM on November 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


Holy crap that Russell Brand prank call thing is gross. I'm amazed that in all the criticisms of Brand I have seen that has not been the top thing on the list, as it certainly does cause one to be like "to hell with him and the horse he rode in on and his supporters down to the last man".
posted by Frowner at 6:39 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like I understand metafilter much better now.
posted by fraxil at 6:46 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


But honestly, if you grew up in an emotionally abusive situation where you were always-already guilty, or if you grew up in a situation where you were a "failure" in some essential way, radical discourse can completely fuck with you

This is so blisteringly true. Hey, look what you got wrong NOW. It can get you to the point where you're trying to be so careful, that you end up not saying or doing anything at all. (Which I guess fits into the 'vampire castle' law #2. Although why do vampire castles need laws? Bad metaphor!)

Hey, speaking of getting things wrong, I'm about to launch into my completely shallow analysis of The Problems With The Left: The left has forgotten, or has only a half-memory of, religion.

I don't mean the social gospel, doing unto the least of these, really, as much as I mean, the secularized society forgets the useful forms and mechanisms by which evangelical religious belief is self-propagating, which includes recognition of/forgiveness of/realist contextualizing of the sin that nudges one away from the group, the satisfactions of communion, and the simplification of language to encourage clear thought rather than doctrinal dispute. The whole bit, the fights and the witch hunts, are the sort of medieval religion that did not seek to convert because it assumed no growth of the church was really possible. The left should be emulating the movements that desired growth, the welcoming, the getting-over-oneself in a state of humility. We have these cultural tools that we know how to use to draw people in, not via propaganda and lies, but by appealing to the desire to have basic needs satisfied, the desire to be right, the desire to be among people who understand. Otherwise, what is the point, other than a constant state of inquisition and enervation?
posted by mittens at 6:48 PM on November 25, 2013 [34 favorites]


"Nice burn, Ivan. That's sort of making his point for him though, isn't it?"

You think? So he's proved right! How convenient for him.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:52 PM on November 25, 2013


Imbroglios like this are why I always say "policy over politics."
posted by ob1quixote at 6:56 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


You think? So he's proved right! How convenient for him.

Sometimes when people are proved right it is because they are right.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:57 PM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I feel like all this whining about "guilt" is just the refusal to live in a complex system called reality. Yes, even when you seek refuge in sweet Marxism, reality remains complex.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:07 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought this was a great post, and attacking the messenger doesn't do much to refute it.

An excellent case in point? Check out writer Matt Breunig's Twitter fight with Sarah Kendzior (who I haven't heard of).

For the tl;dr set: One of Bruenig's hobbyhorses is that lowering the price of a university education - a long-standing left goal - doesn't actually expand access to the university ceteris paribus. He pretty exhaustively shows in a series of several posts that the much-ballyhooed spike in tuition has almost uniformly fallen on students with families in the top two income quartiles, and that decreases in university tuition would in fact be regressive reforms, almost entirely benefitting rich students. His proposal is to fund expanded university educations with a graduate tax - a la Oregon's "Pay it Forward" initiative - a tax that would fall disproportionately on the wealthier students that make up most college graduating classes.

This has been greeted by the predictable "neoliberal!" cries, but the spat with Kendzior was particularly interesting in that she instructed Bruenig to ~check his privilege~ and actually talk to some poor people, a typical left argumentative tactic. Trouble is, Bruenig himself comes from a very poor family, and indicated that the data jives with his own experience - that vanishingly few of his family and poor friends were kept from a college education by money.

Now it's 100% clear that Kendzior thought she was getting in a zinger with the privilege checking stuff, but it turned out she was wrong and her interlocutor had no such privilege. So she immediately moved to a different argument - that Bruenig should talk to some more poor people, because the sample of his family and friends was unrepresentative. (Bruenig makes the point that this would never be asked of any other identity group in the post I linked to - can you imagine a black writer writing something about black people, and being told by a white person to "talk to more black people"?) And, predictably, Bruenig was "called out" for his hostility toward women writers.

And this so neatly shows that identitarianism, for leftists, is an argumentative tactic and not really a coherent set of beliefs. "Check your privilege and go speak to some X", whether X is black people, gay people, whatever, is a means of shutting down debate. It's a means of winning, of social positioning, especially given that the person using it is almost never X, themselves.

I don't know whether this is something inherent in left viewpoints, whether it's a consequence of the immediacy and competitiveness of social media, or some combination of the two. But it's pretty goddamn depressing, to say the least.
posted by downing street memo at 7:08 PM on November 25, 2013 [91 favorites]


Holy crap that Russell Brand prank call thing is gross. I'm amazed that in all the criticisms of Brand I have seen that has not been the top thing on the list, as it certainly does cause one to be like "to hell with him and the horse he rode in on and his supporters down to the last man".

A total moron. Knows nothing of what he speaks. Gimme Matt Damon reading a Zinn Speech any day.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:13 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


And this so neatly shows that identitarianism, for leftists, is an argumentative tactic and not really a coherent set of beliefs. "Check your privilege and go speak to some X", whether X is black people, gay people, whatever, is a means of shutting down debate. It's a means of winning, of social positioning, especially given that the person using it is almost never X, themselves.

Bloody brilliant.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:14 PM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I kept imagining it was written by drunk 50s-era socialist who corners women at parties and mansplains marxism to them while staring at their breasts.

Recapitulating the article instead of responding to it doesn't hurt Fisher's case.
posted by weston at 7:18 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


And sometimes it's because they've stacked the rhetorical deck in their favor.

His argument against "identitarianism" is the same argument offered up by the right against "identity politics", which is to say that it's a bunch of whining by white men that their privilege is being questioned and that they feel hurt and treated unfairly because they're being judged as white men. They're outraged by what they feel is this conspiracy to smother them with guilt. Why should they feel guilty? They're the heroes, struggling valiantly!

"And this so neatly shows that identitarianism, for leftists, is an argumentative tactic and not really a coherent set of beliefs."

Apparently, "identitarianism" is the British left's version of the American right's 90s "political correctness". Which is useful, really, because it's a shibboleth for identifying people to be ignored.

"It's a means of winning, of social positioning, especially given that the person using it is almost never X, themselves."

This is absolute, distilled bullshit.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:20 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


But even if they are X, I think that doesn't make it any more valid. Lived experiences are powerful - of course they are - but in the murky terrain of public policy, they are just one roadsign with which to navigate by, there are frequently other roadsigns at least as good, if not better.

In some ways I feel it's a kind of reverse argument from authority. Without trying to deride or minimise (well, I guess I am minimising, in a way) anyone's experiences, forums I have frequent - including this one - sometimes seem to devolve into a kind of "poverty/disadvantage olympics" wherein people try to win an argument by demonstrating the depths of deprivation/experience.

I think it's totally understandable, but can sometimes really come across as a bald attempt at invalidating a person's opinion/experience, and often isn't particularly relevant to the argument at hand.

Then again, stories are used for so much interpretation, and they play a huge role in our political discourse, both left and right.
posted by smoke at 7:23 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The thing is, though, there's so many different lefts (or anarchisms, etc). Failure to talk about that is one of the problems with this piece, I think.

So for instance, a space that was truly aiming at welcoming and protecting sex workers might need rhetorical strategies which would alienate or drive away non-sex-workers, up to and including well-meaning radical non-sex-workers. Hell, a space which was aiming to welcome and protect people like me would of necessity not be welcoming to everyone else, because a sizable chunk of "everyone else" are the very people who cause my various problems, intentionally or no.

And this so neatly shows that identitarianism, for leftists, is an argumentative tactic and not really a coherent set of beliefs. "Check your privilege and go speak to some X", whether X is black people, gay people, whatever, is a means of shutting down debate. It's a means of winning, of social positioning, especially given that the person using it is almost never X, themselves.

Again, there's a lot of different "lefts". If you're in a radical milieu which prizes "winning", or in the kind of environment where you can make a career out of some variant of "radicalism", then yes, bad-faith call-outs are going to happen because they're a useful lever of power - just as if you were a right-wing academic or whomever, you'd be looking to knife others the same way. I think that's an aspect of the OP - there's just enough internet clout and money in this Zero Books/British Marxist wheeze that people really want to win. (I actually really like Zero Books and have a bunch of their stuff; this should not be interpreted as an attack on these people in particular.)

But that doesn't mean that call-outs are all bad faith, just that radicals can be self-serving at times, like everyone else. I think the internet in particular triggers an "I want to win so I will stretch my rhetoric" feeling because you can (or you have to) respond to things so fast and you often don't actually know any of the people you're talking to.

I think we often expect that if someone is radical, not only should they hold themselves to a high ethical standard but that this is easy and normal for radicals, unlike other people. So when someone acts moderately badly, it's all "this proves The Hypocrisy of the Left" when really it's just what absolutely random civil servants or junior managers do all the time. Also, I think it's easy to expect radicals - especially ones who are, perversely, less privileged - to act in some kind of universal "best interest" rather than in their own interests. Like, yes, maybe some woman of color blogger said something rather sharp on the internet instead of thinking of The Internet Community And All Of Our Relationships.

It's really difficult to balance stuff out. It's really difficult to know, in the moment, when you're saying what needs to be said even if it's painful, and when you're being unfair or cruel or telling only a partial truth. It's really difficult to know when a political difference is significant enough that you say "fuck the relationships, we have to part ways" and when you will look back and say "parting ways and throwing those relationships out was actually a huge mistake". Sometimes it's one and sometimes it's the other, and you can act in total good faith and do too little or too much. It's really easy to assume that everyone else can tell, so if they're too soft or too cruel, it's because they are insufficiently radical or thoughtless or whatever.
posted by Frowner at 7:27 PM on November 25, 2013 [26 favorites]


But even if they are X, I think that doesn't make it any more valid.

To be clear, I don't think it does, either. A black conservative who says conservatism will help black people rise out of poverty is as close to empirically wrong as these things get, but the identitarian framework either doesn't allow us to acknowledge this (which would be bad) or collapses on itself (which shows how much the identitarian framework is actually worth).
posted by downing street memo at 7:29 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


The aim is not to popularise a leftist position, or to win people over to it, but to remain in a position of elite superiority, but now with class superiority redoubled by moral superiority too.

Great article. So. Much. Truth.
posted by bongo_x at 7:35 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


and that they feel hurt and treated unfairly because they're being judged as white men. They're outraged by what they feel is this conspiracy to smother them with guilt.

I think they feel outraged that right-wing arguments of nature vs. nurture are being used by supposedly left-wing people. Taken to its logical conclusion, privilege theory results in a worldview that you are born X, therefore you are X, you can't change X, you can't do anything, learn anything, become anything other than X no matter how hard you try, and that Xs in general, by the very nature of them being Xs, are the cause of all the world's problems. On the other hand, other people are born Y, which gives them a special status - their worldview should not be questioned by the X's, who are basically damaged goods.

It's nothing about being a hero, struggling valiantly. It's about being told that there's nothing you can do about anything - you are what you are, you were born that way, you're not part of the struggle, you're not part of the discussion, you are flawed on account of "privilege" that there is no earthly way to rid yourself of. You might be desperate to help, to be involved, but your status will be subordinate rather than equal because of who you were born.

That sounds like some reactionary bullshit to me. It sounds like a recipe for isolated defensive in-groups. There's no places for allies. There's no place for material progress. What ever happened to Internationalism, unity?
posted by Jimbob at 7:40 PM on November 25, 2013 [14 favorites]


I really want a "mainstream" Socialist organization (I long ago got frustrated trying to sort out the divisions.) Where people like Russell Brand are welcome, even if they have faults.
posted by bongo_x at 7:42 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I really want a "mainstream" Socialist organization (I long ago got frustrated trying to sort out the divisions.) Where people like Russell Brand are welcome, even if they have faults.

Good luck. It's ice-picks all the way down.
posted by Jimbob at 7:43 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Twitter is awful.
Socialists are awful.
British graduate students are the worst.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:46 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Theses on this bullshit:

1. The North Star is a swamp.
2. Internet leftism is a larger swamp (or maybe a series of swamps).
3. Neither of these things is worth spending time on.
4. Seriously, a fucking "twitterstorm"? Get over yourself.
5. Straight white men who want to be leftists need to suck it up sometimes.
6. The working class does matter. Big chunks of this class are not white, male or straight.
7. Fighting oppression should be more about objective conditions and less about language.
8. That doesn't make it OK to, you know, be sexist or racist or homophobic or anything, including in language. (See thesis #5 above.)
posted by graymouser at 7:47 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


The aim is not to popularise a leftist position, or to win people over to it, but to remain in a position of elite superiority, but now with class superiority redoubled by moral superiority too.

Interestingly, a friend linked me this article, which really captured a lot of what I object to in the modern sjw/tumblr/twitter morality brigade that passes for current leftism. It's the constant hunt for a moment, a single moment of sin where you reveal those deeply suppressed thoughts that meant you were really a No Good Oppressor Like The Rest Of Them All Along and everyone can be outraged along with you at the fallen one and, indeed, failure to sufficiently condemn them makes you morally suspect, too.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:48 PM on November 25, 2013 [20 favorites]


Socialists are awful.

No, internet leftists are awful. Being a socialist and having spent lots of time with real socialists, I can honestly say most of them are not at all like internet leftists.
posted by graymouser at 7:48 PM on November 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you're in a radical milieu which prizes "winning", or in the kind of environment where you can make a career out of some variant of "radicalism", then yes, bad-faith call-outs are going to happen because they're a useful lever of power

This is absolutely central, I think. Much "radical" politics comes from university environments, particularly social science and CompLit department. In these departments, making a career out of "radicalism" is the name of the game. So bad-faith call-outs are the easiest way to knock down those above, and climb up a rung or two. In intra-Marxist Twitterfights, as in Marxist analysis, look to how power is obtained.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's a fair point that there are many "lefts". I should stipulate that the "left" I'm talking about is the online left, which I'll loosely define as the left movement led by Americans, typically middle to upper-middle-class college graduates, who write for organizations like Gawker, Jezebel, Al Jazeera, The New Inquiry, Jacobin, etc. I'd lump in this very website - as well as Twitter/Tumblr - as a place where many such people (and like-minded others) congregate.

That having been said: I don't have hard data or anything, but a cursory look at such spaces confirms that what might be considered isolated bad behavior is actually quite pervasive. I mean, I've more or less retreated from most politics threads here, just because I can't deal with the favorite-mongers. I keep an eye out for (and quite enjoy) ones like this, which are mostly tl;dr and not outragey enough for the folks who love to drop in predictable zingers.
posted by downing street memo at 7:50 PM on November 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's the constant hunt for a moment, a single moment of sin where you reveal those deeply suppressed thoughts that meant you were really a No Good Oppressor Like The Rest Of Them All Along and everyone can be outraged along with you at the fallen one and, indeed, failure to sufficiently condemn them makes you morally suspect, too.

The funny thing is that I've actually observed this stuff happening in various internet communities that I've been part of. First the community is formed in opposition to X; then the community discovers elements of X-ism within itself and splinters with a lot of nastiness; then the subcommunities splinter. Once the founding opposition to X is no longer strong enough to overcome other political or social differences, then the group falls apart over "you're just as bad as X". The kicker is that it is really, genuinely difficult to tell when these splinterings are totally necessary and when they make everyone worse off, until a long time after. Because sometimes they are necessary, for sure.

Maybe a position that would be helpful would be for more people to focus on their own fallibility. Not their own guilt, but their own contingency and fallibility. I don't really like the cheery "we're all going to fuck up sometimes!" model, because that suggests that we're all self-policing and moving ever upwards and Eternal Self Improvement is a cruel cruel framework. But what about "I am a limited person and I will always be limited and partial in my understanding because that's what brings subjectivity into being and therefore I'm going to act accordingly, with caution and without making Giant Universal Claims About Truth"? Instead of guilt or Relentless Privilege-Checking Self-Improvement, a positive politics of fallibility? And what that gets you is a way out of internet bullshit, right? Because you no longer need to win or be perfect so you don't have to defeat people who disagree with you, and the Twitter rants and takedowns are just a paradigm that you're not engaging with any more.
posted by Frowner at 8:02 PM on November 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


I think flex's post from a while ago was a really good collection of links that got at this question from a zillion different angles.

God, I miss flex.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:09 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll be damned if I've ever actually encountered it in the wild.

That's what I've always found so fascinating about these internet lefty arguments.

They have so little relevance to anything going on in the world outside the little hothouse internet bubble the argument is taking place in.

Agreed, too, with Frowner's assessment. I feel like there's a sense that, in the absence of meaningful social action to take, the point is to feel as much guilt as possible. Deny yourself as much, on an individual level, as possible. If there's something you like, liking it probably makes you a bad ally.

This is all stuff that I pretty much only see happening online. It's like we're all so desperate to figure out how to make this internet stuff mean something that we've decided it's a guilt engine.

In the 60s, you could go to a sit-in and come home and feel like you had absolved yourself in some way. That doesn't really exist anymore.

So

Internet -> Guilt -> Purification -> Cookie, or something like that?

It's not a circular firing squad at all. It's more like that one well-off white girl in your African-American lit class crying, over and over again forever.
posted by Sara C. at 8:15 PM on November 25, 2013 [26 favorites]


Goodness, I just went back to re-read the piece and read the comments this time - really great at illustrating the points he makes. I do think he goes a little too far with his generalisations, but I honestly think there's some valid critiques in there.

I was especially taken with the stuff about neo-anarchism. And indeed, I think it's revealed quite clearly when looking at right and left. The Left that he talks about is often, ummm, almost quarantined from the Left of advocacy and social justice organisations - the ones actually working to effect change through established political channels. I say this based around my experience of years-long participation in internet left circles, and many different activist organisations and political parties. The neo-anarchist internet left is deeply individualistic and observational. Indeed, I wonder if it doesn't exist as a form of media more than anything else.

The intersections between this advocacy Left and the second type often seem haphazard or arbitrary to me - and I think it's because a significant chunk of the left has basically opted out of the political process (and, though he didn't, you could argue that Brand has with his call to not vote and... I'm not sure wait for revolution to come knocking?), and with it they've opted out of discourses of political action, at least, meaningful action.

Unfettered by the necessity of working together, bringing in outsiders etc, his 'neo-anarchist' group is ultimately narcissistic and yes, I agree, a tool of capitalists. I feel like this is really visible around the positioning of consumption as a substitute for political action and participation ("buy this thing and support this other thing! Change society through your purchasing choices!"). Though the accusation of selling out is often levelled at activists working within the current system, in some ways I feel Consumer-socialism is actually selling out, both literally, and because it is not dependent on actually changing anything, relying as it does on every single person changing their minds.

Compare the Right, which tends to be very inclusive at folding in new causes to its bosom, and is explicitly focused on seizing the reins of power to its advantage, democracy and fair play be damned. Granted, the Tea Party was not legitimately grass roots, but it became so. Imagine if the Occupy movement was fielding all those governors, and a bloc like that within the Democrats.

The Right still has its think tanks and flying keyboard brigades, but the links between those and true activists are much tighter and less disparate. Disagreements are there, too, but they tend not to lose sight of who their real enemy is.

Interesting stuff.
posted by smoke at 8:26 PM on November 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


Or, what Sara said far more pithily.
posted by smoke at 8:28 PM on November 25, 2013


smoke Imagine if the Occupy movement was fielding all those governors, and a bloc like that within the Democrats.

If that were the case, it would be the Democrats that would be imploding right now
posted by surazal at 8:32 PM on November 25, 2013


And indeed, I think it's revealed quite clearly when looking at right and left. The Left that he talks about is often, ummm, almost quarantined from the Left of advocacy and social justice organisations - the ones actually working to effect change through established political channels. I say this based around my experience of years-long participation in internet left circles, and many different activist organisations and political parties.

Thanks for saying this.

I remember a recent AskMe, where someone asked for a better/less offensive/more "in group" term for Tumblr "Social Justice Warriors". A bunch of people answered that such people should be referred to as "activists". Which really rankled me for reasons I couldn't articulate and which weren't terribly germane to the nature of Ask Metafilter.

This is why that bothered me. So often, there is little to no overlap between someone bitching about Russell Brand on the internet and someone who is involved off of the internet, away from the computer, in real life. I don't think there's anything wrong with bitching about Russell Brand on Tumblr or Twitter or any internet forum you like, but it's not activism.

I'm glad I'm not the only person on the planet who can tell the difference. (Again, as valid as I find the criticism of asshole sexist comedians who wear ugly pants.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:34 PM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I feel like there's a sense that, in the absence of meaningful social action to take

This is ultimately the problem for middle/upper-middle-class liberalism/socialism/leftism, I think. We all want to do something except for the things that need doing that would actually get us thrown in jail. I've just finished reading The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman's history of Europe in the period leading up to WWI, and a lot of the arguments here seem familiar from the chapters that cover international socialism and the labor movement. Not so much in the sense of discussions about racism and sexism, obviously, but in the discussion of political channels, accommodation, and how much ideological purity is necessary for the revolution.

(The stuff where he's dealing with the problems of twitter storms/blog wars/etc. sounds like he's spending too much time in the wrong internet hothouses crossed with every argument I've ever heard about why we need to solve the class problem first because it is the ultimate struggle and therefore we should ignore racism, sexism, and every other form of oppression we could name. And the Russell Brand argument just seems like he can't walk and chew gum at the same time: Brand has some good things to say and some awful things to say. It's okay to like speeches by people whose behavior is problematic. Fisher seems to have that same strain of puritanism: his hero is not beyond criticism and class treachery because of feminism isn't the only reason women have problems with Brand. Also, the class struggle should not exclude the feminist struggle or vice versa and to the extent that Brand and/or Fisher think it does, they have missed the point.)
posted by immlass at 8:37 PM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have no clue what "identitarianism" is. None. There are liberal and radical theories of identity. As far as I can tell, some in this thread think there's a sizable portion of progressive-minded folks who believe being a white male makes one inherently incorrect.

As a cis white guy, I've never encountered this. I have encountered people who have a suspicion of white men because, statistically, we're far more likely to murder and rape. Is this making you feel guilty? Tough shit.

Identities are based in material reality. Murder, rape, and poverty affect certain groups more than others. Murder rates for black trans women are higher than white trans women. Is this what "identiarianism" is about? If so, I am an identitarian.

If someone tells me to "check my privilege" I'm going to first assume I said a shitty thing. But even if I conclude I'm correct and they're misusing the term, I'm not going to blame them for holding back progress, or The Left, or the Rapture. Poverty and its inherently racist, sexist dimensions are holding back progress, not those who are, quite understandably, tired of dealing with people who look like me.
posted by gorbweaver at 8:39 PM on November 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


you could argue that Brand has with his call to not vote and... I'm not sure wait for revolution to come knocking?

Yeah this basically started with the whole Nader thing and reminds me so much of so much that's bad about the left in this century and I can't even HANDLE IT.

I know there's traditionally a stark divide between the Left and Liberalism, and that usually "ooooh get out the voooooote yay rah rah Democrats" has been a hallmark of Liberalism as opposed to Leftism, but fuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkk guys if we don't show up, they win. And it's been conclusively proven that this is the case, within our political lifetime. Maybe it's just because 2000 was the first election I could vote in, and now I'm scarred for life, but the question is not "either" vote "or" be an anarchist, it's VOTE AND ALSO BE A FUCKING ANARCHIST.

Because it's a hell of a lot easier to be an anarchist in the Obama administration than in the fucking Bush administration, and anyone who doesn't get that is... I don't know, bad, OK. Stupid? The worst? I'm out of words, about this particular thing.
posted by Sara C. at 8:40 PM on November 25, 2013 [19 favorites]


if only nader had pulled through in 2000
posted by flyinghamster at 8:42 PM on November 25, 2013


a lot of the arguments here seem familiar from the chapters that cover international socialism and the labor movement.

That's because the roots of this are exactly there. This is a conversation that has been repeating itself since October of 1919, if not before. It's the fucking "99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall" of leftist discourse.
posted by Sara C. at 8:42 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think we're struggling with the practice of politics. Retail activism / talismanic consumerism (fair trade chocolate! sustainable palm oil!) bows to market logics. "Buy your way to a carbon neutral future!" Electoral politics at the national level is exhausting and demoralizing. I remain a fan of municipal politics but even the most farseeing mayor or city council can't address decades of deindustrialization and the defunding of education. In fact, you end up with a lot of entrepreneurial mayors desperately seeking corporate headquarters. So we're left with communicative rationality of Habermas and the muddled hope that the right words will lead the right acts.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:42 PM on November 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


communicative rationality of Habermas is my new band name.
posted by Sara C. at 8:43 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


communicative rationality of Habermas is my new band name.

I hope there are umlauts involved. And spiky lettering.
posted by bongo_x at 8:49 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing is, though, there's so many different lefts (or anarchisms, etc). Failure to talk about that is one of the problems with this piece, I think.

I essentially agree with this. Neo-liberal capitalism and cultural hegemony are easy things to get people to rally around. There are many, many (sometimes) incompatible ways that you can oppose and resist the above. The left isn't really a singular thing, but rather a coalition of people who have a same-ish general high level goal which becomes diffuse when you get to the particulars.
posted by codacorolla at 8:50 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This sort of witch hunting is destroying a community I'm a part of right now. Someone declares that a media figure's comments constitute an -ism and must be boycotted immediately, and anyone who does anything other than agree with the resolution as written is guilty of the same -ism, utterly blind to the flaws of said media figure, or ignorant of what that -ism is and how it affects people. I had a person repeatedly insist that I wasn't the race I said I was and take me to task ("no, this is how we really think") because I didn't agree that racism against Caucasians was ok. (I don't think any racism is ok. Ever.) Now people are leaving or are scared to comment and have discussions because the community is a minefield.

I feel like it's an act of dominance. Which is funny and makes me even more furious because they seem not to notice that their actions are Part of the Problem just like the people they claim to be Understanding and Fighting. If the intent is to teach people about these -isms, people have to feel like they can come in and talk it out and air those thoughts that might be "wrong" in order to have them corrected.

I get that people are angry and passionate and you can feel like you're drowning in the -isms sometimes, but engaging the people who put on these witch hunts is impossible. It descends instantly into name-calling and tart little comebacks and it makes me not want to try.
posted by koucha at 8:50 PM on November 25, 2013 [13 favorites]


electoral politics at the national level is exhausting and demoralizing.

It really is. It's the worst, sometimes (says he not a member of any party any more and not volunteering for any party any more) but man alive look at what can happen when you stick with it. Here in Australia, we got a leftist (ish is probably more accurate, tbh) from 2007, elected - certainly - with the "it's time" factor, but whatever their flaws they:

1. Set up a national disability insurance scheme
2. Established a mining super profits tax
3. (eventually) brought in a carbon trading mechanism
4. Issued an apology to indigenous victims of the government since there was a government
5. Pulled us out of Iraq
6. Revoked harsh workplace laws and established independent commissions again

and much more (including shitty shit), and they took the public along for the ride with them. It wasn't until they started quavering on their ostensible left agenda (most notably, climate change action), that the wheels well and truly fell off the bus. And despite scampering to the right has fast as they could, the public never came back, and they mightily pissed off their few active members remaining.

No amount of the talismanic opposition could have accomplished this. Only a government in power and a (relatively) quiescent senate.

It concerns me, because as our activism becomes more 'secular', we cede the genuine political ground - the ground where laws are made - to special interests with money, who have no stake in ideological purity, and regard every millimetre won as a victory that's helping them, over an all-or-nothing mentality.
posted by smoke at 8:51 PM on November 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Like we're at the point where the collective political project is just so hemmed in by structures of consumption and private property that I'm not surprised a lot of people are engaged in a self purification ritual. We mean really really well.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:52 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have encountered people who have a suspicion of white men because, statistically, we're far more likely to murder and rape. Is this making you feel guilty? Tough shit.

This seems like a pretty bad direction to go given how often I've seen variations of the argument pointed at [not white men].

Anyway I'm a little perplexed by the idea that the people doing internet callouts are "quarantined" from actual activists. They are not identical groups (the former obviously takes far less effort to join) but I can think of plenty of people (like, actual people I have met) who could be considered members of both.
posted by atoxyl at 8:54 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


You need to form a social group to batter against the walls of society in the service of a beautiful idea. Unfortunately social groups are made of people.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:58 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can think of plenty of people (like, actual people I have met) who could be considered members of both.

That's really interesting. My experience here in Australia is that the overlap is very small. Both in terms of numbers, and volume of contribution in one or the other. Active party members may be members of political forums (on both sides) here, but generally as commenters, not posters; and generally they participate minimally. I

n addition to the.... frustration, the risks are far too high. You participate in public life - especially if you're in advocacy and trying to work in even a tokenistc bipartisan way - you don't want to be linked with a site/community/twitter account that is not only explicitly and strongly on one side of the political spectrum, but issues truly vile or aggressive invective at times.
posted by smoke at 8:58 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, of course there are members of both. I'm one, and if anything am probably more a member of the internet whining division more than an actual activist anymore.

But that's the thing. While some activists whine on the internet, whining on the internet doesn't make someone an activist.

And considering the typical lack of overlap (while some activists whine on the internet, it's certainly not all, and not an important aspect of being an activist), it seemed weird to me how many people were insisting that the correct term for "person who whines on the internet" is "activist".

Again, no matter how valid, fulfilling, and politically necessary said whining may be.
posted by Sara C. at 8:59 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have no clue what "identitarianism" is. None. There are liberal and radical theories of identity. As far as I can tell, some in this thread think there's a sizable portion of progressive-minded folks who believe being a white male makes one inherently incorrect.

As a cis white guy, I've never encountered this. I have encountered people who have a suspicion of white men because, statistically, we're far more likely to murder and rape. Is this making you feel guilty? Tough shit.


I agree that we're using the term fairly loosely. But contra Ivan Fyodorovich, I don't think it's a lefty version of complaints about "identity politics"; rather, it's the notion that personal identity is the overriding factor in determining the quality or rightness of an argument.

A great example of identitarianism at work is in my comment upthread. A poor writer (as in, a writer from a background of poverty) wrote a blog post making the case that lowering the price of university education would not likely benefit the lives of poor people. He did not reference his identity in the post, building it instead by reference to fairly exhaustive data on who pays what.

In response, a university-centric left blogger essentially accused him of lacking the right identity or credentials to make this case. She essentially said, you cannot say these things, because you are not poor, and you haven't talked to poor people directly in this line of inquiry (since his post was built off a dataset, not interviews he had done personally). The message, in so many words, was "You are a bigot against poor people."

In this frame, "privilege checking" can be understood as "asserting the right to speak". But the most interesting thing to me is that, at least nominally, "privilege checking" is an expression of ontological uncertainty - in other words, "I don't know everything, and I'm going to proclaim my biases up front." But the rest of arguments that begin with privilege checking typically exhibit no ontological uncertainty whatsoever - giving even more credence to identitarianism-as-rhetorical-device.

I actually think the "black conservative test" is a good one. What do you say to a poor black conservative who says voting Republican will help poor blacks move forward? Identitarianism, taken seriously, has no reply to such a person; therefore, it's either useless, or a rhetorical tactic.
posted by downing street memo at 8:59 PM on November 25, 2013 [34 favorites]


Indeed, I would say that most active activists I know would find the hair-splitting and ambition of online political discourse puzzling and unproductive. Because they are working in and with existing political realities (and often with people that really aren't very political at all) and you know, actual reality, their goals would be considered modest, if not Fabian and sell-outy, by many of the online left, and some would be regarded with suspicion because of their fraternising with the enemy.
posted by smoke at 9:01 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have encountered people who have a suspicion of white men because, statistically, we're far more likely to murder and rape. Is this making you feel guilty? Tough shit.

You really want to be careful about making this argument. I understand it makes you feel macho to swear at imaginary people on the internet, but you maybe don't have your statistics right and this argument has been used against a lot of more oppressed groups than the one you are desperate to distinguish yourself from.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:21 PM on November 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


A great example of identitarianism at work is in my comment upthread. A poor writer (as in, a writer from a background of poverty) wrote a blog post making the case that lowering the price of university education would not likely benefit the lives of poor people. He did not reference his identity in the post, building it instead by reference to fairly exhaustive data on who pays what.

In response, a university-centric left blogger essentially accused him of lacking the right identity or credentials to make this case. She essentially said, you cannot say these things, because you are not poor, and you haven't talked to poor people directly in this line of inquiry (since his post was built off a dataset, not interviews he had done personally). The message, in so many words, was "You are a bigot against poor people."

In this frame, "privilege checking" can be understood as "asserting the right to speak". But the most interesting thing to me is that, at least nominally, "privilege checking" is an expression of ontological uncertainty - in other words, "I don't know everything, and I'm going to proclaim my biases up front." But the rest of arguments that begin with privilege checking typically exhibit no ontological uncertainty whatsoever - giving even more credence to identitarianism-as-rhetorical-device.


I don't agree. Privilege and identity are inequivalent.

Identitarianism, taken seriously, has no reply to such a person; therefore, it's either useless, or a rhetorical tactic.

It's not useless, it's just incomplete. The proper analysis involves accounting for what is called internalization. I'm a gay person so to cite a well-known example, the "closet homophobe" is an example of internalization. The point is that there is no inconsistency; this common complaint about "social-theoretic" critique is in fact addressed. I've read this in at least one book, so I'm sure there are texts that go into this in detail.
posted by polymodus at 9:22 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know there's traditionally a stark divide between the Left and Liberalism, and that usually "ooooh get out the voooooote yay rah rah Democrats" has been a hallmark of Liberalism as opposed to Leftism, but fuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkk guys if we don't show up, they win. Maybe it's just because 2000 was the first election I could vote in, and now I'm scarred for life, but the question is not "either" vote "or" be an anarchist, it's VOTE AND ALSO BE A FUCKING ANARCHIST.

You've kind of just reiterated the characterization you gave, not re-contextualized it. Who are "they"? Who are "we"? Obviously people can reach their own decision about whether or not it's the right thing to support the Democratic Party, but it's obviously in no way a foregone conclusion, which you sort of recognized in your own comment but didn't actually critique. I mean, none of this should be news to anyone, but I guess I don't really understand the basis for what you're saying. If anarchism means anything, you can't be an anarchist and also a Democrat. I'm not attaching value anywhere there at the moment, just recognizing that there has to be some defining power to words and ideas...right?
posted by threeants at 9:28 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because it's a hell of a lot easier to be an anarchist in the Obama administration than in the fucking Bush administration, and anyone who doesn't get that is... I don't know, bad, OK. Stupid? The worst? I'm out of words, about this particular thing.

Also, I don't get this. Not trying to be snarky, I just literally don't get why it's supposed to be easier to be an anarchist during the Obama administration than during the Bush administration?
posted by threeants at 9:32 PM on November 25, 2013


OK so the thing about "The Democratic Party" is that, while obviously they're not great, they are so much better than the competition that it's stupid not to vote for them.

As anarchistically repellant as one might find voting.

The whole "but they're really all the saaaaaaame" argument was proven conclusively wrong by the 2000 election.

Not trying to be snarky, I just literally don't get why it's supposed to be easier to be an anarchist during the Obama administration than during the Bush administration?

Clearly you weren't politically active during the Bush administration.

I mean, I just remember fighting SO HARD, as an activist, for stuff that Obama took care of with a flick of the wrist in his first hour as president.

Maybe this is crazy, but I prefer living in a world where certain basic things are sort of background noise to be handled by liberal Democrat types, while the serious leftists concentrate on the stuff we're supposed to be doing. Not "OMG SERIOUSLY DO NOT RANDOMLY INVADE A COUNTRY FOR NO REASON. PLEASE." or "WE WOULD LIKE THIS VERY SAFE NO-BRAINER OF A DRUG TO BE OVER THE COUNTER. PLEASE." Both of which are what I spent basically the whole Bush administration fighting for.

It's nice not to have to be in the streets trying in vain to prevent wars, or holding our basic truths together with our bare hands.

Call it the overton window, or whatever. I'm much happier having the Democrats to sort of hold shit together on a basic level so we can work on the Revolution part. I'd be over the moon if it could be us against the Liberals, without having the Right to worry about. But the worst possible option is the Right in the driver's seat. Then we get fuck all accomplished.

It's like letting a five year old drive you to the store. You're not going to get far on that grocery list if you've got to keep one hand on the wheel.
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 PM on November 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


You really want to be careful about making this argument. I understand it makes you feel macho to swear at imaginary people on the internet, but you maybe don't have your statistics right and this argument has been used against a lot of more oppressed groups than the one you are desperate to distinguish yourself from.

I'm not trying to "distinguish" myself from anyone. I said upfront I'm a cis white guy to be honest, I'm not claiming to be "one of the good ones" because that's not up to me to decide. So, okay, rape statistics. It's committed predominately by men. I hope that's not controversial. It's my fuckup for using race in my example because, yes, it's a minefield of hideous racist stereotypes. But going back to the previous statistic - am I supposed to not say that men commit the vast majority of rape because, if a racist adds a word, it becomes racist? It's not much of an argument.

I read your comment upthread downing but I'll address it directly, and I appreciate the lack of snark. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume Bruenig's research is correct.

You say privilege-checking is "asserting the right to speak" but my problem is white men are already given a certain "right to speak," as in, the ability to be taken seriously by those with influence. So if someone is using a peculiar variant of privilege-checking to ignore his argument, or even attempting to silence him, is that really changing anything in the actually-existing power relations? Feminist bloggers are not gonna stop this guy from getting an audience.
posted by gorbweaver at 9:56 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a conversation that has been repeating itself since October of 1919, if not before.

Some of the international meetings I was reading about were 15+ years before that. These arguments are going all the way back to the very roots of international socialism. The tensions may not be entirely soluble.

(And to say feminism wasn't an issue isn't entirely true if only because of suffrage issues; I'm ignorant of the ways in which racism played out in European history in that period, but it's probably there too.)
posted by immlass at 9:59 PM on November 25, 2013


OK so the thing about "The Democratic Party" is that, while obviously they're not great, they are so much better than the competition that it's stupid not to vote for them.

As anarchistically repellant as one might find voting.

The whole "but they're really all the saaaaaaame" argument was proven conclusively wrong by the 2000 election.


Ok...I don't mean to be rude, but this is a very glib and disrespectful glossing-over of an ethically and strategically complex issue that's been discussed a zillion times everywhere, so I'm not sure I can really add anything here other than to simply register my disagreement.

Not trying to be snarky, I just literally don't get why it's supposed to be easier to be an anarchist during the Obama administration than during the Bush administration?

Clearly you weren't politically active during the Bush administration.


Actually, I was somewhat politically active during the Bush administration. I remember marching in 2003 against overseas US imperialism, which...surprise!
posted by threeants at 10:01 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I actually think the "black conservative test" is a good one. What do you say to a poor black conservative who says voting Republican will help poor blacks move forward? Identitarianism, taken seriously, has no reply to such a person; therefore, it's either useless, or a rhetorical tactic.

Well, is the subject of the hypothetical a poor black leftist?

As a relatively-bourgeois white person, I would never even dream of trying to argue with this person in the first place. Why do I have to? Is there a shortage of black people on the left? Or is there some reason none of them are willing to engage with the subject instead?

I don't know, I have a lot of reservations about rejecting an ethos as useless just because it doesn't allow me to participate in every argument, everywhere. It strikes me that that would be privilege in a nutshell, claiming that there can't be any such space where I don't belong. Certainly there's no shortage of things that poor black people are prevented from participating in, de facto.
posted by Androgenes at 10:07 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe this is obvious, but it seems to me one thing about the way leftist projects are apparently always getting mired in cycles of hyper-refinement of The Position and policing its boundaries, is that the progressive meta-argument is in a way just the story of the moral illusions and confabulations of the past. So the progressive undertaking just is all about taking seriously even dimly glimpsed possibilities of similarly slumbering evils of the present--which really does involve a kind of heroic self-interrogation and so on. So, I don't think it's completely obvious that the painfulness of this kind of thing is indicative of a design flaw. What should such a process feel like, to put it in those terms?

Coming from a slightly different angle, it really does seem obvious that shaming can pay big cultural dividends. I don't doubt that american racism, for instance, waned over the twentieth century as a result of genuine cultural awakening and things like that, but I also can't imagine that that value hasn't been held in place by a kind of standardized middle-class enculturation of shame around racism.

Finally, just as a point of conceptual hygiene, there really is no contradiction in the cultural elites at the forefront of progressive politics also being mean-spirited snobs.
posted by batfish at 10:13 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now that I've finally read the whole thing, my favorite passages are:

"The Vampires’ Castle feeds on the energy and anxieties and vulnerabilities of young students, but most of all it lives by converting the suffering of particular groups – the more ‘marginal’ the better – into academic capital."


And this, which perfectly summarizes a great many internet shitstorms:

"X has made a remark/ has behaved in a particular way – these remarks/ this behaviour might be construed as transphobic/ sexist etc. So far, OK. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/ latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy."

"the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie". Yes.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:35 PM on November 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


What ever happened to Internationalism, unity?

Police agents happened.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:47 PM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I actually think the "black conservative test" is a good one. What do you say to a poor black conservative who says voting Republican will help poor blacks move forward? Identitarianism, taken seriously, has no reply to such a person; therefore, it's either useless, or a rhetorical tactic.

Hmm, I don't know, maybe "black" is the key ingredient there. As a gay working-class immigrant English Language Learner who's a survivor, I guess, of both physical abuse and life-threatening chronic illness, I haven't really noticed a shortage of people lining up to tell me to stuff it.
posted by Nomyte at 11:13 PM on November 25, 2013


Although why do vampire castles need laws?

Vampires are definitely one of the more legalistic monsters. The only monsters that immediately come to mind as besting them in that category are devils.

This guy basically read my mind on numerous points, most specifically the Nietzsche reference.

I am Atheist from Catholicism (that is, if I'm wrong about the God thing, it's definitely Catholic Hell I'm going to) and so had the benefit of a full regimen of religious indoctrination and much exposure to the practice of religion while not believing in it since a few years after I stopped believing in Santa. It makes me wonder if Internet identity politicians tend to be brought up with little to no religion or in dissipated, lukewarm sects where they're not seeing the real thing in all its glory. These past few years it's been looking more and more like people are basically doing religion without knowing they are doing religion, which just seems like a bad idea considering what people do when they are fully aware they are engaging in religion.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 12:15 AM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


A great example of identitarianism at work is in my comment upthread.

The Teamsters have been linked with organized crime before. Does that mean organized labor as a whole is suspect?

I can give great examples of online "social justice" activism effecting real positive change, like the proliferation of real anti-harassment policies at cons (of various stripes, and they're not perfect safeguards but they're better than the nothing that was there before) and the outing of abusive assholes who hid behind the cloak of privilege for decades. But I guess they were all just victimized pariahs too.

This whole thing is particularly funny because just today a whole bunch of people got super mad at Gail Simone for daring to suggest that straight white males are maybe not an oppressed class in the comics writing community.
posted by kmz at 12:56 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


> there really is no contradiction in the cultural elites at the forefront of progressive politics also being mean-spirited snobs.

And then you ask why people "vote against their economic interests", and it never occurs to you that the answer might be "because you hate us".
posted by nangar at 1:25 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


"You, you, you're like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y'know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper, stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself."

"No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype."

"Right, I'm a bigot, I know, but for the left."

posted by gucci mane at 1:56 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't understand why people are making up "identitarianism" and then laughing at straw "leftists" who, confounded by the failure of their sole, overarching worldview (which is tied together with twine - those silly leftists!), are left unable to explain the things and events around them. As usual, it seems like a lot of people simply (purposefully?) misunderstand the jargon of social justice (including - especially - the author, who seems to have a view more similar to that prevalent on the conservative right) - there have certainly been instances in this thread of taking "privilege" in pretty much the worst accusatory way possible. I often hate-read The American Conservative, and if got tabs confused and thought I was reading this there I wouldn't even notice (he's even got the spiel about biased universities corrupting our vulnerable youth down).

A lot of people also are making some pretty silly assumptions about the efforts of "the left" as a whole, concentrating on internet arguments instead of stuff like marriage equality spreading like a virus and ENDA passing the Senate and the fact that trans students are guaranteed their rights in the entire state of California. Maybe people haven't noticed, but for the first time in years we're actually moving forward.

I also resent the implication that I can't be pissed off when people say transphobic things without apology. He's mad that people get called out on shit like this, but I have to say I prefer having the internet available to me to defend myself than having essentially no ability to respond in the status quo of the past. How does he expect that Brand would have to answer for his sexist remarks, otherwise? Most people don't have a way to "question" Brand in an "atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity" as he proposes, and I seriously doubt that his promise to work on his sexism (however cavalierly given) would have happened without this derided progressive "bullying." I feel way more qualified to judge transphobia than this chucklehead - so what makes his protestations that I'm just oversensitive or disproportionate in my response any different from the right's? And seriously, the person perpetuating bigotry is the victim of my "witch hunt?" Do we need a Day of Remembrance for all the people like him people like me are killing? Did the internet "goad" Penny Arcade's Gabe into saying hateful shit? Did we ask for it? Get real.

(He also has the audacity to claim that the left has the better oiled outrage machine, which just strikes me as absurd from any realistic macro perspective. Maybe he should see what the conservative blogosphere says about trans kids underneath articles about California's AB 1266, or what actual regressive "activism" they've been doing about it.)

This doesn't feel like speaking truth to power (such as it is). It just feels like the power speaking its same old truth. He finds the progressive blogosphere "grim and demoralising" - well, a lot of oppressed people find it empowering, hopeful and most of all effective, both internally and externally. This sounds exactly like the usual (dare I say white and male?) resistance to social justice arguments and theory, just trumped up in our own language.
posted by Corinth at 2:13 AM on November 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


Seriously, I just have to reiterate the absurdity of his outrage machine assessment. A niche segment of bloggers (or even more terrifying, microbloggers) vs. the worldwide Murdoch apparatus? Fundamentalist Christian churches? The Tea Party? Untold -isms and -phobias? For all he's mad at people for working too narrowly - physician, heal thyself.
posted by Corinth at 2:20 AM on November 26, 2013


Corinth, are you saying his stated experience is false?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:14 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the rhetoric in the article is a little overblown, but I think there is a point there. I follow a group of feminists on twitter who I think are right about a lot of things, but are incredibly adversarial in their methods and language towards people they should really be working with. In particular, Helen Lewis and Caitlin Moran are targets of their ire, despite both being pretty cool feminist leftists. Both have their failings and are wrong about things, but the bile reserved for them... its a bit astonishing really.

I think its easy to see someone has done something bad and then write them off entirely, but I don't think its helpful. I think most people can do really stupid things, but still be right about other things. Brand has done and said some completely stupid things, but that doesn't negate what he is saying now. Its not un-useful to point out that he has done problematic things (although in many cases the accusers ignore that those people have often apologised for those things!) but that doesn't necessarily negate what they're saying now.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:14 AM on November 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Oooh, this is an interesting sentence:

(Many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity.)

Much truth in that, I think, and something I'll bear in mind.
posted by alasdair at 3:24 AM on November 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


his sounds exactly like the usual (dare I say white and male?) resistance to social justice arguments and theory

Serious question, not snark: Which arguments and which theories in particular?

I mean, I majored in Pol Sci and minored in Sociology, with a lot of anthro thrown in there. Admittedly, I didn't specially study latter-day social justice practice, but I did study just about everything else, including a metric shit-tonne of 20th C political and social theory and history, and I really didn't see a lot of theory in that first essay - bar a bit of crude marxism - at all, really. And the same goes for the subsequent two links (which are quite interesting; worth a read).
posted by smoke at 4:20 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I do think you're right vis the hyperbole - hardly helpful to the case as argued, at all - and I hardly think the essay was bulletproof. But I thought there was a quite a bit to chew over in there, and it's not exactly outre to say that the left has a history of eating itself and fracturing that the right, largely, if not avoids, at least does so in a less destructive way.

I don't want to be all "why can't we get along" or tone argumenty, but I do think your really strong reaction to the piece - when you probably agree with this dude about like 80-90% of where politics as practiced should be headed - is kind of what he was talking about. This holds equally true to the piece itself, and the neoanarchists he derides.
posted by smoke at 4:26 AM on November 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


Helen Lewis and Caitlin Moran are targets of their ire, despite both being pretty cool feminist leftists.

Don't know Lewis, but Moran is a media luvy more than she's a feminist, completely unthreatening, holding some retrograde opinions and quick to mistake criticism for attacks. She's not necessarily somebody you want on your side.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:28 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I also resent the implication that I can't be pissed off when people say transphobic things without apology.

Was that implied in the piece? I didn't see that at all. He seemed to draw a distinction between the proper response ("should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses") and the ineffective, fragmenting witch-hunt.

Being pissed off is valuable, people need to be free to confront the speech and speakers that are putting them down. But institutionalizing that into a sort of high-level gossip-driven (or Twitter-driven, I guess) behavior policing he describes is icky, and takes away your power as an individual to be pissed off on your own terms. (And by "individual" I mean "person in a group who can count on some safety and solidarity," because oh my how it sucks to be an individual confronting this stuff if you have nobody on your side.)
posted by mittens at 4:34 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


holding some retrograde opinions and quick to mistake criticism for attacks. She's not necessarily somebody you want on your side.


But this is sort of my point. A lot of what Moran says is pretty yay-feminism, even if it isn't the sharpest commentary out there. She's open for critisism, sure, but she is not on a different side, as much as sides even exist here. She has also apologised for some of the stupid crap she has said in the past (although I imagine she'll go on to say some new stupid things in place). Re: the whole criticism/attack thing, I think it becomes hard to tell the difference when you deal with the volume of comments that Moran does.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:56 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


This essay succinctly sums up my reasons for not engaging in contentious discussions on Metafilter or other places where 'liberal' discussions happen. The left in the US (and apparently the UK) effectively made itself irrelevant when it became obsessed with identity politics to the exclusion of a larger class consciousness. Conversations that should lead to something constructive instead become some kind of sick Olympics where everyone competes to be the most ideologically pure. That's how you get so many people who are just spitting mad with Righteous Indignation who nonetheless achieve very little : they win no converts, effect no change, and help no one in need. They sure do know how to rack up the 'favorites', though....
posted by evil otto at 5:08 AM on November 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


Oh boy, I'm having fun flashbacks to when certain people would barge into every racism and sexism discussion and cry what about classism.
posted by kmz at 5:47 AM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a gay person so to cite a well-known example, the "closet homophobe" is an example of internalization. The point is that there is no inconsistency; this common complaint about "social-theoretic" critique is in fact addressed.

Right, but even in this telling, identitarianism has gone off the rails. You, a presumably non-black person, just told my hypothetical (but actually-existing) black conservative that her conservatism isn't the considered product of her life experiences and reasoning, but rather a product of her own self-loathing. A framework devoted to disclaiming and rooting out ontological uncertainty has now made affirmative, positive statements about what's in the recesses of someone's mind, based on little more than the fact that she holds a minority view.
posted by downing street memo at 5:55 AM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


The left in the US (and apparently the UK) effectively made itself irrelevant when it became obsessed with identity politics to the exclusion of a larger class consciousness.

If you think this, you're not actually on the left, but may have swallowed a lot of rightist tripe.

The problem the socialist left has had the most difficulty dealing with, both because of an inability or unwillingness to deal with it as just because it is a hard problem, is integrating race and gender as theoretical structures worthy of the same attention as class in analysing capitalist society and constructing the roadmap to a true revolution. Traditionally, race and gender are seen as subsidary to class at best in marxist analysis, divisions that would be meaningless in the classless utopia we're building.

So socialism is always vulnerable to ignoring or rejecting racial or gender based concerns when they don't fit a narrow class based analysis and the great challenge is always to avoid that trap. This is not easy but it is necessary and can't just be rejected by moaning over "identity politics" or "a larger class consciousness": how can it be larger if it doesn't involve women and/or people of colour?
posted by MartinWisse at 6:01 AM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


A close cousin of the neo-anarchism mentioned in this article is what I refer to as Environmental Nihilism. You know, the thing where people say, "Humans are a cancer to this world. We're going to destroy ourselves, and we totally deserve it." Notice how that line of thinking absolves oneself of having to actually do something to save the planet.
posted by evil otto at 6:11 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


(also, MartinWisse, notice my use of the words to the exclusion of. I'm not saying minority rights are unimportant. I'm saying that the left has focused on one issue while neglecting the other)
posted by evil otto at 6:14 AM on November 26, 2013


I loved this article for quite a few reasons, not least of which is because I behave in many of the ways that it's calling out. I also agree with all the MeFites who are saying "this is why MetaFilter's political discussions are so frustrating", though I simultaneously agree with everybody saying "yeah, well, this is what happens when a lot of people are allowed to voice their opinions at the same time: it turns out that things you said which felt very harmless are in fact somewhat offensive". It's a central dynamic to a lot of these discussions, particularly between certain kinds of people, particularly online, and I feel like understanding it isn't a matter of saying "these people are behaving right/these people are behaving wrong". You have to be aware of it, and consider where you exist within it/how you relate to it, and also try to be aware of where other people are within it as well.

I'm one of those non-activist lefty types that gets fighty and neurotic about stuff like this. I dunno if that shows up on MetaFilter so much because I am a lot more milquetoast about these things than many of the commenters here, but in some of my circles of friends I have definitely become That Person who is constantly harping about terms and telling white people that they should stop saying the n-word because they think it's funny. I am also a cisgendered mainly-straight white male from a middle-class family who has next-to-no ties to being personally affected by just about anything — maybe some fundamentalists of various religions want me to burn in hell, but they don't usually get in my face about it. But thanks to my participation in various online fora and my friendships with some people who really do deal with awful shit every goddamn day of their lives (I mean, holy shit, it baffles me that I didn't know some of this), I've become aware that a lot of this stuff affects a whoooole ton of people that I know, and that it's basically my choice or not to become involved with giving a shit about any of this.

I think that a lot of the Social Justice Warrior stuff and a lot of the general loud fury on the Internet is amplified by people who are perhaps not directly affected by the various issues they want to talk about, but who nonetheless feel the need to talk about these things at length as much for themselves as for whomever it is that they're calling out. I know that when I become aware of something crappy in my own behavior, I become super-aware of when other people are doing that same thing, and I tend to want to call them out right then and there and suffer a little indignation or irritation for saying "Hey, that's sort of not okay." The more of these things I notice, the more aware I am of the flaws in a whole bunch of different perspectives, including a bunch in the assumptions and attitudes of the guy who wrote this piece. Then I feel the need to bring it up, in part for the sake of the person speaking, but also in part to make other people feel more comfortable with speaking what's on their mind, and in feeling like maybe they've got an ally or a supporter if they want to be bothered by something themselves.

The result of this is that you have a ton of people attempting to articulate the issues they have with pretty much everything they encounter — it's not the same people articulating the same issues with every single thing, but it feels like there's always somebody. And this creates, in part, an atmosphere in which people who are genuinely pissed off about something can feel much more comfortable with getting angry and righteous and determined to explain to whoever said whatever that a line has been crossed, and that people now find this unacceptable. The problem with that, in part, is that being angry about something does not immediately make you wiser or more articulate or more informed about the thing you are suddenly furious about. So you get a lot of anger directed towards some people who are trying to articulate how they feel about a thing, and whether or not those opinions are right or wrong or offensive or harmless, there's suddenly a barrage of criticism and assessment that makes the juries in a music program seem tame by comparison. You can be a teenager writing a blog post about how you see the world or the panelist at a major national conference — it doesn't matter, because the responses to you will be the same. And the anger of those responses will have nothing to do with whether or not you're a reasonable or infuriating human being.

I mean, it happened with Rebecca Watson over at Skepchick. Richard Dawkins tweeted about how terrible a person she was, and Richard Dawkins has said some non-shitty things in his lifetime but he was way off the mark IMHO in that case. Doesn't matter. Suddenly a hundred thousand people are tweeting death and rape threats Watson's way. Are we including that as "part of the left"? Are we counting the hate mail that people receive for appearing on Hannity or O'Reilly's shows to argue with them? I know an awful lot of right-wingers who'll get into just as furious a fight with other people, provided they think they have an audience of people who will agree with him. That sort of discussion is stifled only when a person thinks they're not going to be supported in whatever they say. Then they get cautious.

In discussions like the ones this article was about, this tendency can be problematic because a lot of people have a problem broadening their perspectives without taking at least some time to articulate their own thoughts, and if they're getting jumped on every time they speak then they're going to stop speaking altogether. When I was in high school I hit a couple years where I had a nasty outlook towards progressive and radical politics altogether, because when I attempted to talk about what I was thinking I'd get shat on from half a dozen directions at once. The people shitting on me weren't always wrong in their take on my problematic thinking — though they were not unfailingly right — but I was okay with the notion that my thinking was somehow limited; I was not okay with how much people were writing me to tell me that I was an awful person and should shut the fuck up and keep out of conversations altogether. Especially when those responses were to things I'd post on Facebook or on my blog, which theoretically are conversations which revolve entirely around my own thoughts to begin with. So I spent a while thinking that radicals were just nuts shouting in order to stop anybody from thinking for any amount of time, which was pretty much my mindset as I joined MetaFilter — and the fact that I no longer feel that way is in large part because MetaFilter is head-and-shoulders above most other forums on the Internet that aren't entirely dedicated to that sort of discussion. I jump in on discussions at Reddit and Hacker News and MetaFilter at its worst doesn't begin to touch those sites on an average day.

I can't say that the problem lies either with the people trying to speak their minds or with the commenters who are critical once those people have spoken. Both parts are necessary for any kind of continued discussion; is it possible that the reason actual activists don't get into this sort of kerfuffle (if that indeed is the case) is because they are more focused on execution than they are on idea? I know that I don't talk about things online necessarily because I want to get things done: I usually just want to understand, for my own sake, what other people think about these things and whether or not they take fault with my own perspective on the issues. Without the chance of criticism, I am far less interested in the discussion. The trick is figuring out how to build a certain amount of tension that doesn't feel unfair to any of the participants, and usually that requires both parties to understand that they are not the only important part of whatever discussion is going on.

The switch to social networks that are user-centric rather than conversation-centric exacerbates this somewhat, because if you're tweeting about something that pisses you off it's maybe not your responsibility to give a shit about the person or thing that you're discussing. But your voice becomes a part of that discussion nonetheless, hashtag or no. Maybe the solution is to keep private thoughts private, but that negates a lot of the value about having an ambient public discussion, so it's just a tricky grey area in general. In any event, I have generally shifted over to trying hard not to be too angry at anything while I'm online, or if I'm angry I try to make it very obvious that what I'm saying comes from a place of emotion rather than a place of reason, and that my mood should be somewhat discounted for everybody's convenience. I'm not sure how effective that is, but I've been less pissed off at the Internet recently than I have been since I was 13 and first joined a forum, so maybe things are working out okay after all.

The counterpoint to what I'm saying, of course, is: "It's not my place to tell somebody else everything about why their line of thinking is flawed!" Which is true! But if that's the case, then you pretty much have to disregard whatever that person is saying, or at least make it clear that you're not looking for a direct conversation with them about their opinions. People talking past each other isn't always the worst thing; sometimes MetaFilter has threads where people say things that are blatantly wrong, or that are passionate and inflamed, but those individual comments are left behind as new people say what they think, rather than used as the tentpoles for a nasty right-and-wrong invective. With a couple of exceptions that I pretty much entirely regret, I've stopped responding to direct people unless I'm willing to do a little back-and-forth with them about why I disagree with what they're saying, and in a manner that I feel won't completely piss them off in the process. If I think that somebody's wrong and I want to argue with them, I want to make sure that argument will be pleasant-ish for the both of us, and not just for me and my attitudes. I also try and ignore people who are trying to argue with me, unless I'm in a mood to receive them in a decent-ish way.

Existing in the same space as other people is hard, and regardless of who's right and who's wrong, I think there is some need for people to behave courteously, at least when mutual discussion is concerned. That doesn't mean I think you should shut up if you don't have anything nice to say; it means that if you want to be critical, you have to at least consider who you're criticizing, and whether what you're saying could be said without targeting them directly. There's a difference between "Michael is wrong" and "You're wrong, Michael," even though both of those are bluntly stated and offer no ambivalence whatsoever ("I think Michael is wrong" is even softer, but sometimes you don't just think that he's wrong, do you). Things addressed to people personally will get their attention more, they will seemingly require more of them, they will leave more of an impact, and sometimes that's not a good thing. Just as people who've got opinions to express shouldn't always target those opinions at the people they're opining about, sometimes you can criticize a person without making it directly about them.

I also think that snark is generally a shitty and hurtful thing, and feel that a lot of the most-feted MetaFilter one-liner-ers tend to shut out people who are totally decent and awesome users but whose opinions don't perfectly line up with their own. I'm getting more uncomfortable with even favoriting snarky comments that I completely agree with, because I've disagreed with them often enough to know that it sort of sucks when people are making the very possibility of your having an alternate opinion into a joke. It's possible to be to-the-point and even humorous without the scorn and dripping disapproval, and it means a whole lot to the people who disagree with what you're saying, but are open to thinking about things further. Short and cutting is fun and all, but like other cutting things, maybe we shouldn't always be waving them at each other when it's not proven that they're necessary quite yet.

(If anybody is interested, here's what I wrote when I shared this with my Facebook friends.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:03 AM on November 26, 2013 [16 favorites]


This is something I've seen happen all over the web, and Metafilter is definitely home to some of these behaviours. It also seems to be powered by iconoclasm at times, where if you disagree with a point-of-view from a person who seems popular or well-known, it becomes more important to expose why they're wrong and you're right not to like them.

It especially seems to go hand-in-hand with not properly reading what has been written. Time and again online blowups I've seen have been started not due to any real disagreement, but because one or two people have misread, or taken the worst possible reading, of something, and then usually become entrenched in their position rather than admit any mistake on their part.

There's a whole lot more I'd have to add to this topic, because it is something that I struggle to deal with when it happens online without just washing my hands entirely, but instead of an essay I thought some relevant humour from Key and Peele (warning: low sound) and Big Girl's Blouse (go to 1:35 for the relevant part) might be better.
posted by gadge emeritus at 7:22 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


He seemed to draw a distinction between the proper response ("should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses") and the ineffective, fragmenting witch-hunt.

One of the (many) reasons why people are so annoyed about this essay is it amounts to a white man with various class and other status privileges telling people who are below him on the current sociopolitical influence hierarchy ladder what the proper resposnse to discriminatory behavior. E.g., from the essay, he needs to tell women what the appropriate response to Russell Brand's pattern of sexist behavior.

You can see why women, POC, LGBTI, etc. folks might find a privileged dude telling them how to correctly respond to offenses by another privileged fellow a bit offputting.
posted by immlass at 7:38 AM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I mean, it happened with Rebecca Watson over at Skepchick. Richard Dawkins tweeted about how terrible a person she was, and Richard Dawkins has said some non-shitty things in his lifetime but he was way off the mark IMHO in that case. Doesn't matter. Suddenly a hundred thousand people are tweeting death and rape threats Watson's way. Are we including that as "part of the left"?

Actually I would guess that the blowback Dawkins and his ilk received in the wake of Elevatorgate is what Mr. Fisher would find objectionable.
posted by kmz at 7:46 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seen on twitter, and relevant to this discussion: "Late I know, but just realised that Twitter is often Orwell's 2 minute hate, winging its way around the world in a continuous loop."

(Also, geez, self, "this sentence no verb" much? Edit windows only help if you consume caffeine and use them.)
posted by immlass at 8:14 AM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seriously, I just have to reiterate the absurdity of his outrage machine assessment. A niche segment of bloggers (or even more terrifying, microbloggers) vs. the worldwide Murdoch apparatus? Fundamentalist Christian churches? The Tea Party? Untold -isms and -phobias? For all he's mad at people for working too narrowly - physician, heal thyself.

I'm not totally onboard with this, because when you're an activist* you are in a series of specific communities.

When people make the argument that because [relatively privileged people] are privileged nationally they have nothing to complain about, or because radical circles don't have the outrage-machine of the Tea Party there's nothing wrong, it occludes the way radical and activist communities actually work - to wit, they're really small and footy and they all have their own dynamics, some of which are not that great.

And in a small radical circle, the social dynamics are not the same as they are in the larger world, even though they aren't independent of those dynamics. I've definitely seen situations where, for example, an enormously financially privileged trans guy was basically a real asshole to a working class cis woman and used a lot of classist jerkery to do it, all the while insisting that the cis woman was the real oppressor. (This wasn't about trans issues, which would have made things totally different; it was about a shared non-gender-related project.) Basically, I've seen people who were each marginalized in different, real, serious ways attack each other using bigoted weapons; I've seen a situation where someone with a marginalized identity who had a junior-high-jerk personality picked on nerdy weirdos; I've seen all kinds of fucked up interpersonal dynamics in radical circles, and these interpersonal dynamics were entwined with various kinds of personal suffering, mental illness and marginalization.

(And of course, these exist outside radical circles too; if anything, the difference is that in these situations, at least half the time the situation was taken fairly seriously.)

I think these situations are really hard to unpick. If it was easy, I guess, everyone would act perfectly all the time.

It's also really difficult to talk about fucked up dynamics in activist culture, because the conversation immediately goes to "clearly you are just mad because people are calling you out for your privilege or your unacceptable ideas and it just goes to show that you are a bad person for complaining" or else it goes to "aha, see what hypocritical monsters radicals really are, your identity politics are preventing the revolution, I guess I will just misgender people because it is totalitarian to call me a transphobe"

Mostly, on balance, I think that people who are depressed and anxious need to balance radical activism with not getting tipped into a depressive episode. That's something that only we can do for ourselves, and only we can really decide that a particular climate is too triggering for us, and only we can try to push ourselves to keep growing and learning instead of just staying in anodyne spaces and ways of thinking. I'd say that yes, people probably are being assholes in Mark Fisher's portion of the internet, because people are assholes in all portions of the internet; that it's possible for people with marginalized identities to also be assholes at the same time; but that ultimately, Mark Fisher needs to decide whether he can handle the Twitters or if they are too upsetting and if his politics need to take place somewhere else.

*This dude has been, if memory serves, minorly involved in a lot of the socialist marches and causes and so on in England in the past few years. He's also connected with the Zero Books crowd, and they do some really excellent low-theory publishing. I don't think he's just an internet ranter.
posted by Frowner at 8:36 AM on November 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


I recently had the pleasure of one of the more strident social justice warriors in my social group asking someone in my social group if, seeing at I was arguing with him without agreeing, if I was 'retarded'. The gormless chap he asked shared that no, Phalene is not retarded, but she does have Aspergers.

Thus followed some of the most condescending efforts to communicate with me I've seen someone go through- picture the text version of someone trying to talk to a foreign language speaker by talking really slowly and loudly. Honestly I was embarrassed for them- they are all up in class/race, but meet someone non-neurotypical and suddenly all that identity inclusion politics is all for naught.

I once participated in a conversation in which I was told I should confirm the authenticity of the yakuta rental booth staff and find out if they are Real Japanese People by asking before daring to appropriate the cultural heritage that is being a "white girl" wearing a kimono. Granted this was also a conversation where it was made clear that the only way to wear things were if you acquired them via word travel from wizened artisan types of the locality, which reeks of it's own kind of privilege.

I find that the guilt-o-matic aspect of lefty identification also has a component of unconscious ingrouping involved. For example in my well regarded university, the shame party about being (upper) middle class was something I could never comfortably join into. And that doesn't really give you much to talk about- especially when you view is "Middle class? Fuck, I'd *kill* to be comfortably middle class!" when the topic du jour is "How can we dismantle our inability to consider the views of others as middle class persons!"

I ind there's a tendency to assume that the people who are not of the privileged group are some sort of separate species of human that is made purer by suffering.
posted by Phalene at 8:38 AM on November 26, 2013 [17 favorites]


(I add that if you're in radical activist circles, you don't care the same way if the Tea Party hates you as you do if your radical peers decide that you're a shitty person. The state (and its Tea Party members) has enormous and dangerous power over our lives, especially the lives of marginalized people. That exists alongside the fact that when you live in a small community, the opinions and good regard of your radical peers are also enormously important and powerful, and the fear of losing them (especially over a misunderstanding or a mistake) can be a really big deal*.)


*I have this recurring nightmare about being denounced by activist friends, actually. Sometimes I am being denounced for something I actually did, and I'm sorry for doing it but no one will listen; sometimes it's for something I didn't do that was falsely attributed to me. These are incredibly powerful and scary dreams, and I have on more than one occasion had to turn on the light and go through my email to reassure myself that it didn't really happen. Now, these dreams are because I have an anxiety disorder, but they also reflect the power and importance of personal relationships in radical communities.
posted by Frowner at 8:42 AM on November 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


That's how you get so many people who are just spitting mad with Righteous Indignation who nonetheless achieve very little : they win no converts, effect no change, and help no one in need. They sure do know how to rack up the 'favorites', though....
posted by evil otto at 5:08 AM on November 26 [8 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]



just sayin ...
posted by philip-random at 9:09 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem the socialist left has had the most difficulty dealing with, both because of an inability or unwillingness to deal with it as just because it is a hard problem, is integrating race and gender as theoretical structures worthy of the same attention as class in analysing capitalist society and constructing the roadmap to a true revolution.

Sorry, if this comes as glib, but I'd argue that "the problem the socialist left has had most difficulty dealing with" is that the whole notion of "a true revolution" is antiquated, and has been since halfway through the last century (at best).

Or as it was so eloquently put in a graffiti scrawl seen in the background in the 1973 movie O LUCKY MAN --

Revolution is the Opiate of the Intellectuals

But what do I know? I'm just the eighteen year old kid who graduated high school and landed in a famously leftist university in 1977 right at the point that the whole 60s revolution well and truly swallowed itself. It wasn't pretty.
posted by philip-random at 9:21 AM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Phalene: there's a tendency to assume that the people who are not of the privileged group are some sort of separate species of human that is made purer by suffering.
Absolutely: it's a form of othering. An "identity" is manufactured/ascribed/diagnosed, identified as marginal, and then spoken on behalf of by someone who's still a member of the privileged elite, but feels Really Bad About It.

I'm not totally on board with this piece—it reads a bit like an old Maoist tract of the sort probably being placed in an evidence bag somewhere in Lambeth even as we speak—but what it talks about is real, and really a problem. There's an extent to which "identitarians" (if we want to call them that) are as emotionally invested in othering identity groups and ascribing them essential (and often disabling) characteristics as those on the right who like to attack said identity-based groups. You see this in the kind of anti-racist who ends up assuring us all that the stereotypes enacted in a certain kind of rap video actually are the essential characteristics of "black" people everywhere and that teenage girl from New Zealand should just shut up about it, b*tch. In a way, s/he is as invested in the continuation of racist stereotyping as your average straightforward racist, because this kind of anti-racism relies on there being a stark binary between "black" and "white" for its very existence. It, like all "identitarian" positions, reinscribes the boundaries it pretends to erase.

So each "identity" ends up being a walled garden, a ghetto, a mental and physical prison that determines every possible thought and action and what's more, it's indivisible. We can never escape. It's not only that this kind of essentializing move misses the point that identity categories are arbitrary and often, indeed, prefabricated by the very global system of capital the Left wants to critique. It's that those of us boxed in in this way might not want to think of ourselves as being defined and determined by our various minority statuses as though the colour of our skin, or accent, or sexuality or whatever were some kind of concrete, impassable boundary between minds and subjectivities, rather than an abstract category imposed upon us by power. And this basic reproduction of centuries of racism and classism is all in the name of a "Left" critique.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:27 AM on November 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


Granted this was also a conversation where it was made clear that the only way to wear things were if you acquired them via word travel from wizened artisan types of the locality, which reeks of it's own kind of privilege.

That's not even enough for some people. I came across a tumblr where a white woman had gone to India for a while, stayed with a family there, and they had given her a sari. She posted a picture of herself in the sari, with the story of how she got it, and of course she got called out for cultural appropriation.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:54 AM on November 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip.

This is something I actually disagree with pretty dramatically.

I think that, when you're a twenty year old sophomore in college heavily immersed in this stuff (say, majoring in poli sci or taking a bunch of "diversity"* courses, involved in on-the-ground organizing, AND doing the tumblr circle jerk), it can seem overwhelming. Like one misstep makes you an EVIL BIGOT for life and you'll be drummed out of the movement and fail forever.

But with a little time, you get perspective.

I have been a dumbass so many times, in my decade or so of doing this stuff.

Looking back, I'm 100% sure that people in all my college classes about this stuff thought I was an asshole.

I was that upper middle class white girl crying when we talked about that Toni Morrison novel.

There was a long period of time that I was openly pretty shitty about trans stuff.

Among many, MANY other things I've fucked up and ways I've managed to put my foot in my mouth.

I've had so many arguments online that I lost, and where I felt "drummed out", and needed to step away.

And, you know, I'm still here. There's no permanent record. There's no Allies Leaderboard. Time passes, and you grow, and you realize you were being a dick and don't make the same mistake again. Or maybe you quietly disagree and just learn not to engage on certain things. But you come back to the table.

We all make mistakes. Sometimes very visible and painful ones. Very few people actually ever get drummed out of anything, and when they do, it's for reasons that are much bigger than just "YOU SAID CALL A SPADE A SPADE AND THATS RACIST".

I think a lot of this stuff can be easily ramped down by getting some perspective. Which comes with time.

*My university had special "Diversity Requirements" in addition to the "General Education" requirements, so I tend to think of "LGBTQ Lit" and "African-American History" that way; not sure how they're referred to at other schools or if they are lumped together in any way at other schools.
posted by Sara C. at 10:05 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like this needs to go here. Everyone's A Little Bit Racist.
posted by dnash at 10:29 AM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like one misstep makes you an EVIL BIGOT for life and you'll be drummed out of the movement and fail forever.

But with a little time, you get perspective.


too true. Indeed, a turning point in my "political consciousness" came at about age thirty when I was traveling in Europe and rediscovered one of the great loves of my childhood -- Formula One motorsport. I'd sort of lost track in my mid-teens (at a time when it generally didn't get front page coverage in the local sports section so it was an easy thing to do), and as I "matured" politically, I saw no reason to go back.

Internal combustion engines polluting the atmosphere, filthy rich people flaunting it, vicious levels of competition, the morbid curiosity inherent in the crazy danger of it all -- what was to love?

Except I caught a race on TV and I did love it. It brought a pile of passion back that I'd forgotten about. Was I to now deny this "love" it in the interests of ideology? No, I decided. So I embraced it, realizing full well that I was advertising to any and all who'd care to judge that guess what, I wasn't perfect.

Talk about taking a load off.

But that was just outward looking part. Internally, I realized that my re-found love was forcing me to embrace paradox (ie: how could something that was so easy to dismiss as bad-bad-bad also be, in its way, good?). And if this was true for me, what of others I found so easy to judge, and their passions?

And in re-committing to my childhood fandom, I also re-connected with some old friends who maybe weren't as politically pure as me, but I quickly realized they were still good, generous, compassionate, fun people. And now, about twenty-five years later, let's just say that some of those relationships have grown in fascinating and "progressive" ways. Because, in the end, Formula One can be a little dull sometimes, so you end up talking about more than just the event ...

So yeah. To hell with perfection and "correctness". It isn't just boring and dispassionate, it's divisive. Which, now that I think of it, is my real issue with self-identifying as "Left" (which I still can't help but do). It's inherently divisive. It presupposes an Us and Them. And if I've learned one thing about politics over the years, it's regardless of what they may say to justify it, beware of those who seek to exploit divisions.
posted by philip-random at 10:37 AM on November 26, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is like the old saw about successful marriages versus unsuccessful marriages: It's not that you argue, it's how you argue.

Privilege and identity discussions coming of age on the Internet is troublesome in that "the medium is the message," kind of way. I was introduced to the idea of privilege in facilitated, face-to-face discussions where great pains were taken to create a safe space with ground rules and shared language. Even then, it was hard to wrap my very open mind around. Sometimes you have to test your ideas against a real, live person who you have a personal relationship with. Ideas don't make change. Relationships make change.

If you want to see discussing privilege done right, there's a facilitated discussion video called "The Color of Fear." It's available for paid download here: here.

I don't know what diversity trainers will do now that the word "privilege" comes with all this tumblr, twitter, reddit baggage. Honest to goodness, there was a Fox News segment a while back where O'Reilly and Geraldo discussed white guilt and privilege checking and how evil liberals want to take your self-pride away.

If you're using privilege as a weapon, you're doing it wrong. Even the most well off person has a trauma that is deeply personal to them. It's not a pissing contest, it's a listening contest where everyone can win.
posted by Skwirl at 10:43 AM on November 26, 2013 [13 favorites]


X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip.

I interpreted this the other way, i.e., the people who are protesting X come to see X as a nothing but a bigot despite whatever else they've done. For example, Alec Baldwin. Dude results to gay slurs when he is angry, but he supports gay marriage. In one point of view, that means that he in his soul is a homophobe and clearly his support of gay marriage is a smokescreen or whatever. Now, I'm not a sexist, but I use bitch all the damn time and if someone called me a sexist because I called a woman or a man a bitch, I'd laugh in their face. (But I do agree that calling someone a bitch promotes sexist attitudes.)
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:53 AM on November 26, 2013


I can’t help but notice how often guilt comes up in these conversations, and I think that’s part of the driving force behind a lot of the bullshit on both ends; feeling guilty, trying to make others fell guilty, and/or both. Spread the shame.

I don’t engage in guilt much, so it’s not really part of the equation for me and I forget how much it is for others until I keep reading it over and over.

I think obnoxious Liberals are like a lot of recent converts to any religion; proselytizing, trying to make up for their past and/or what they feel is a deep dark flaw, letting you know that you’re doing it wrong and they’ve found the answer. Just nod and smile. I don’t let other people define things for me.
posted by bongo_x at 11:15 AM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Was I to now deny this "love" it in the interests of ideology? No, I decided. So I embraced it, realizing full well that I was advertising to any and all who'd care to judge that guess what, I wasn't perfect.

See also Internet porn.
posted by moorooka at 12:32 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


until you admit you're part of the problem, there can be no solution
posted by philip-random at 12:41 PM on November 26, 2013


Well, guilt keeps coming up despite gay people, people of color, women, transgender people, all saying that guilt is stupid and completely counterproductive. So there is a motive force keeping the concept of guilt in the conversation past many, many attempts to excise it. Because guilt is an informal social control of punishment and placement, it reinforces hierarchies, which serves everyone invested in the command and control structure to the detriment of everyone who is inevitably oppressed by that structure. Sometimes these are literally the same people.

Put another way, some people use their rejection of guilt as evidence of superiority; others use their embrace of it as the same exact thing; that no one else introduced the concept of guilt is beside the point of their presumption. But the presence of guilt necessarily creates the presence of absolution, which by its nature can never be self-actualized but only bestowed from without. So people become priests exalting themselves through the capacity for forgiveness or Protestants exalting themselves through rejection of a clearly repressive and corrupt structure.

My current theory is that this kind of social guilt stems from class consciousness and economic inequalities. Of all the "intersections" that commonly make up the kyriarchical concept, wealth and class are really the only largely mutable ones. Because wealth is transferable, disparities are in some sense genuinely "your fault", in that you could totally even out your own wealth if you wanted to, but mostly people don't do that (and with good reason, and it's not actually your fault, to be clear, and structural problems require structural solutions). I think this kind of transactional apparatus gets applied to the other intersections. But those things aren't transferable in the same way, so now there's an economic language being applied to inelastic properties. We experience racial and gender and sexual disparities also, with a similar-looking set of hierarchical principles and practices, but there's no obvious prescription for those disparities because there's no obvious transfer of equity. Hence, aimless guilt, reconfigured as a kind of resource which reinforces hierarchy even as it disclaims it.

This, by the way, is why I get annoyed with the "it's not race, it's class" people. Sometimes it isn't predominantly race but class, to be sure; actually, I'd probably say that's true a lot of the time. But classical Marxism has absolutely no remedy for nontransactional social disparities, other than a vague idea that economic comradeship will inspire global comradeship. The solutions proposed by Marxism, or any other theory of economy for that matter, simply do not apply to the problems of social inequality. So it's hard to read articles like this one, for example, which treat class and classification as though they were the same evil to be escaped in the same way, and not come away with the thought, "well, that's all very good for you, I suppose". His goal is, in his own words, to "treat any articulation as provisional and plastic". Once identity is reified into a mutable assertion, the properties of identity can be subject to Marxist redistribution. His argument is that the problem of racism is that I have been convinced by an exploitative capitalist apparatus to think of myself as nonwhite.

I disagree with him, but I also understand why he thinks that. For "whiteness" is the only part of the racial dialogue that is, indeed, completely mutable and elastic. People are white when power says that they are, and not otherwise. The Irish, Sicilians, Spaniards were not white, until they were. George Zimmerman was not white, until the power dialectic required him to be. Black people are not white, unless they "act white", and usually not very white then either. So when your entire experience of race is that it is a) plastic, and b) entirely imposed by external power, of course you might think that racism is solely a diversionary structure meant to obscure real class concerns, and that race isn't "real". Of course you will think that race has no internal configuration, because for you, it doesn't and never has; the only white people who think of whiteness as internally located are white supremacists. Your experience with social inequality is that a power elite arbitrarily says that one identity is better and another is worse, so of course you will think that dismantling the power elite inherently dismantles the other structures and that the division of identity itself is to blame. But the experience of immutable othering is very different. The experience of nontransferable inequality is very different. One of the reasons it is very different is that the solution proferred by those nominally trying to help is to stop thinking of yourself as an other, as though it is only your lack of revolutionary consciousness that enslaves you to an arbitrary oppression. For him, I think that's genuinely true, so I get why he thinks that. But the experience is asymmetric, and the solutions are also, I think, asymmetric, and Marxism doesn't do asymmetry very well at all.
posted by Errant at 12:49 PM on November 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think it's a really shitty reading of even really shitty Twitter flareups that "guilt" is the intended result of the supposed "bullying." Acknowledgment of and addressing internalized cultural biases is almost universally the goal. The guilt only comes in when people intentionally misunderstand the language of social justice. I'm white. I don't feel guilty about being white - the burden of whiteness isn't guilt, it's an obligation to seriously reflect on what that means in our culture and to attempt to interpret my interactions with this culture through a lens other than the one it came with in the box. It's a duty to acknowledge that whiteness is not actually the default state of being - it's one of many different states along a racial axis - and that, from there, I must consider other states of being as being just as valid and challenge society (and myself) where it (and I) fails to recognize this. "Check your privilege" (which I honestly hear more from moaning conservative strawman liberals than actual people) isn't an insult - it's a request to try to understand the system rather than exist in it unquestioningly.

The "guilt" part only comes in from people who don't understand this. From people who have decided they don't want to question anything, that the world is a level playing field for everyone or that because of X hardship they've endured they haven't ever benefited from any kind of privilege. I don't ask cis people to feel guilty, I only ask them to consider the things their cisness allows them to take for granted and to understand the ways my transness doesn't afford me those same benefits, so that hopefully they'll be less likely to kneejerk-oppose legislation that allows me to use a bathroom and more likely to explain why they aren't laughing at a friend's transphobic joke. These small things matter. I've received MeMails and PMs on other forums that my participation in online discussions has given some people a better perspective on some aspects of the trans experience and the insidious cultural biases trans people face. Are online discussions of how to dismantle rape culture ever sabotaged from the progressive left as this person is trying to do to discussions of other cultural prejudices? Is challenging bigotry seriously a bigger problem than, you know, bigotry?

I think not. I've read this a million times in plainer language - usually using conservative terms rather than progressive terms. "Identitarianism" even strikes me as a something similar to the right's rallying cries against "cultural Marxism," and they're the ones you'll find railing against "identity politics," usually implying that it's unfair to talk about progressive social justice because more and more they lose when the topic comes up: Don't talk about marriage equality, that's divisive identity politics! Well, too bad! It's working and demonstrably improving the lots of millions of marginalized people.

And hey, if you feel guilty because of things you've done once your eyes have been opened, that's completely natural and okay - but it's a completely separate kind of guilt from this wholly imagined supposedly doctrinaire guilt about who you are.
posted by Corinth at 3:55 PM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


Okay, I'll just lay this out: I feel guilty right now. I feel shame. I have been thinking about and worrying about this thread all day, wondering why the hell I participated when I knew that it would cause me a huge anxiety flare-up.

I say this to illustrate my experience, not to imply in any way that anyone in this thread should have been quiet in order not to cause me anxiety.

Why do I feel this way?

Well, I feel anxious because I am some-kinda-trans*-person and I feel like I'm letting trans people down, particularly people here, by disagreeing. I feel guilty because I am masculine-spectrum and I know that trans women are harassed and marginalized more than me, so I feel worried about that.

I feel guilty because I know that discourse like Mark Fisher's is problematic just as often as it is describing real experience.

I also feel shitty because my experience in radical circles has been really hard for me and very much about witnessing and experiencing power struggles and cruelty, to the point of self-harm, and I feel like the standard narrative is "that's your problem, radical circles are awesome and obviously if you have felt shamed or fucked with that's because you have the wrong political ideas".

So in these conversations I end up feeling really weird, because I feel like either my understanding of my experience is totally, totally wrong or I am clinging to some kind of awful, privilege-y position, and I feel this tremendous intellectual pressure to just...renounce how I feel about my experience, describe it verbally as I know it "should" have happened and just try to kill my feelings about it.

This is exactly how I tried to cope with being emotionally abused when I was younger - re-narrate events so that they happened as they "should" and try to deny what I felt and thought about them.

This is also directly because there is an assumption in these conversations that there are only two positions - "there is no guilt or fucked-upness ever in radical circles and your relationships with people should track exactly with how privileged you are in relation to them and if they don't it's because you are denying your own privilege and refusing to work on yourself" or "radical circles are terrible sites of hypocrisy and violence and just prove that we can't have social change ever".

I add that something that has been really hard for me in radical activist situations has been witnessing the social violence that takes place, regardless of who it's directed against. And that the problems are very much problems of "two people who are marginalized in different ways being horrible to each other" rather than "one person who is privileged and is clearly wrong being horrible to someone who is marginalized and clearly right".

So yeah, I feel a lot of guilt, and it's mostly because my experience in radical spaces rarely matches what I know I am supposed to feel and think, and I can't decide if this is because I am such a terrible person that my whole understanding of the world is fucked up right down to the roots or not, and I frankly am very skeptical of my ability (or anyone's ability) to see outside of their own upbringing/conditioning, so I think it's quite possible that my perspective is fucked up right down to the roots, but then at the same time, you can't just say "your perspective is fucked up so when you feel sad or ashamed or horrified or distressed that's just because you're thinking about it wrong" and have those feelings go away.
posted by Frowner at 6:14 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Or maybe you quietly disagree and just learn not to engage on certain things.

See, I think this happens a lot, and it's definitely not great. There's topics where this happens to me too, and I see it all the time: a conversation where certain participants make it that if you don't 100% accept their orthodoxy and correctness, it becomes not worth your while to even take part in the conversation.

It's because these are people that one regularly agrees with on so much that this is more galling than, say, dealing with people much further away on the political spectrum. There, you expect to have disagreements, possibly also incivility, depending on who you're dealing with. But when a positive, supportive conversation becomes a yelling match, it's painful. And when it comes to conversation, it's usually far more useful to just walk away from something like that. And it's definitely counter-productive to have a bunch of people who are on your side so much shut up and/or walk away rather than productively engage, because it has been made not worthwhile to take part.

"Check your privilege" ... isn't an insult

If you've never seen 'check your privilege' used to mean 'shut the fuck up', you've either been extremely lucky or have not seen nearly enough of these conversations.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:41 PM on November 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


so I think it's quite possible that my perspective is fucked up right down to the roots

I don't think so at all. People, even in groups that should in theory promote the common good, are nasty to one another. They jockey for power. They do utilize guilt in manipulative ways, and this is so obviously true that I was surprised to see Corinth's statement about guilt derived from intentional misunderstanding of language (of course there are plenty of sobbing martyrs, but that "only" in the sentence really carried far too much moral weight), and began to question my own observations and feelings (and gave up writing a response after like an hour of thinking about it because I feared being either too language-policey or too confessional-weepy, neither of which I have any right to). I was really glad to see you respond, Frowner.

The hypervigilance towards language that is required to navigate the people who act this way (or out of fear of some hypothetical person who may act this way), is not substantially different than the hypervigilance that anxiety demands. Additive, not different. Exhausting, and guilt-inducing.

That push to negate your own experience--and who cares whether it comes from inside your head, or from clear signals given by a group, because even when it's inside one's head it is learned from somewhere--is, like, the ur-marginalization.

Worse, it's a positive force to push one back into the comfort and safety of what privileges one has, or to pass, or whatever will at least stop the stress of constantly being on guard.

So...um. Yeah. That was actually extremely helpful to read.
posted by mittens at 6:52 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


My current theory is that this kind of social guilt stems from class consciousness and economic inequalities.

This is interesting considering how often I see these guilt-flinging internet gotchas being about class.

I could link to probably a dozen threads here that have devolved into questioning people's class bonafides on a super individualistic level. But I can't think of a single time I've ever seen someone accuse somebody else of not really counting as female, trans, queer, or non-white for the purposes of social justice talk.

Maybe it's as you say, just the mutability factor. Class is complicated. And in a world where "privilege" framing works best with more permanent forms of status, it's very easy to find the exceptions in class privilege.

But it's interesting to me that these gotcha arguments happen so much more often around class, especially under the rubric of guilt and the notion of "fault".
posted by Sara C. at 7:18 PM on November 26, 2013


See, I think this [agreeing to disagree*] happens a lot, and it's definitely not great.

Why's that?

I think it's actually a good thing to get silenced, sometimes, if you're coming from a position of privilege. It's good to understand that sometimes your opinions are unpopular, and that doesn't mean they're wrong and you need re-education, it just is.

I also think it's a potentially shitty thing to wander the internet looking for fights, arguing until you're stressed out and need to take a walk. I don't think that changes anyone's mind, or is fruitful for any reason.

*bracket text mine in order to make this all make sense.
posted by Sara C. at 7:33 PM on November 26, 2013


Why's that?

Because the way I took it, the way I mean it, isn't 'I was unaware of my privilege and have now been told,' or even 'I hold an unpopular opinion', it is much more 'I do not match the declared orthodoxy', or 'I disagree on interpretation but am being shouted down'.

Take downing street memo's comment above, where someone is being attacked for a dissenting point of view. This is not a lone incident by any means, but someone with a point of view and perspective either having to deal with a heap of aggression or acceding to 'agree to disagree'.

Sure, every incident has to be taken on its merits, has its own context, and has to be judged individually. This is something I think is useful whenever the next internet outrage storm breaks. But much as it's usually not considered a victory if someone disables their Metafilter account, it's also not a victory if it just becomes prudent to shut up and not deal with certain issues because a few people are looking to excoriate you for not 100% agreeing with what they believe.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:20 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


And this so neatly shows that identitarianism, for leftists, is an argumentative tactic and not really a coherent set of beliefs.

Is it just me or does this (and the rest of downing street memo's comment above, nothing personal but this is what bothered me about the OP as well) kind of highlight the real problem with the discourse here-- we are talking about "issues of the Left" as they emanate from a middle-class, bourgeois, passive-aggressive majority, and highlighting that population as constitutive and so compromised that it's worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, the issue of the Left is that it's comprised of a vocal majority of white middle-class people who try to tear down other white middle-class people through cleverly deploying guilt, and "identitarian" rhetorical gambits. This means the Left is poisonous and intolerable and a "vampire castle"-- meanwhile, the struggles of the actual working class are just ignored both by strident, ignorant, petty obnoxious Leftists and people like Mark Fisher who think those strident, ignorant, petty and obnoxious Leftists are worth the most attention because they're mean on Twitter.

Aren't there other things to worry about? Class, race and gender as they actually intersect in reality (not in hypothetical rhetorical Twitter grudge matches)? Blog posts and Twitter pontificating by people who have lived these experiences and speak intelligently about them, and who are to exhausted to always be on the front lines of "nyah nyah your invisible knapsack is bigger than mine"?

Maybe I'm blessed because I mostly stay off Twitter but basically the only political or politically-oriented blogs I bother to read on the internet are written by people from a background of poverty or working class life. Because I am also that. And they cut through the bullshit quite well, and they speak to my life and who I am.

I tried to understand the Bruener/Kendzior thing but it was too difficult to track down the whole story for me. However, this:

"Check your privilege and go speak to some X", whether X is black people, gay people, whatever, is a means of shutting down debate. It's a means of winning, of social positioning, especially given that the person using it is almost never X, themselves.

... is not only false in the activist and online circles that I run in, it's actually really dismaying to me, because it just underscores the fact that when a poor person or a black person or a trans person says, "you don't know what the fuck you're talking about, check your privilege and get to know the people you're trying to discuss," it just means no one's listening... apparently because everyone's too busy listening to someone white/privileged/middle-class whatever, because they get more air time or they're more famous or they're famous on Twitter and the really important thing (for both them and the person complaining about it) is winning. Win the argument! Aggravating and gross. Why listen to these people? Why not listen to people who actually know what they're talking about? They exist, even online. Is it really true that you have to be one to know one? You have to be poor to enjoy Roseanne too, I guess.

To me the idea of the Left as majority middle-class, white, whatever is perhaps true in some kind of demographic sense, but it's utterly avoidable. You can be class-conscious and identity-conscious and interested in discussing these things, even on the internet, and avoid that bullshit bourgeois honey trap of oneupsmanship with ease. What if a poor woman has a Twitter account and wants to tweet @ some motherfucker saying stupid racist sexist classist shit on Twitter? What if that man fancies himself a leftist, and gets angry? Does it make sense to say "well, that woman is just vengeful and part of the vampire castle if she's middle-class, but if she's not, then... uhhh... ?" Where do working class women with political orientation who can use a smartphone and get pissed off at the same assholes as everybody else fit in?

This, to me, is laughably stupid:

Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/ latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy.

What are you trying to prove, if you're letting middle class dipshits tell you how you can and cannot speak? Is it just when it's those uppity middle class women telling you something's wrong with you? What if a working class woman says the same damn thing?

In other words, I agree with Mark Fisher that the problem is class, but not in the way he is fixated on. People want to make this all about a stupid petty in-fight between a bunch of middle-class internet famemongers, and claim they're doing it for the sake of the working class-- they're not.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:42 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


Anyway, I feel that I am talking around the issue myself-- here's my main problem with this. In the Kendzior/Bruener thing, a man is angry because a middle class woman told a working class man to check his privilege, when she was ignorant of his actual background. Clearly obnoxious!

However, to then draw the conclusion that the left is a seething backwater and therefore feminism and identity politics are bullshit just seems like some fundamentally ignorant failure to think-- what about working class women? That's the only question that needs to be asked. "Women" are not a monolith; we are not a bloc. Why target the femaleness/feminism of the offender when class is the real issue? Why make it about how "identity politics" are demolishing the white working class male, when "identity politics" (as such) have great relevance and importance to the working class that is not white and the working class white woman? Why take that tool away from them and use it to hit the middle class (woman) over the head? Why not be careful? Why not make a distinction, out of respect and solidarity for the rest of the non-white, non-male working class? Why be so myopic out of respect for Russell Brand and a desire to protect one's white, male ass?
posted by stoneandstar at 9:02 PM on November 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I mean to say, ask yourself those questions if you think class is important: why ignore vast swaths of the working class? Why ignore their voice, why pretend they aren't saying anything? It seems that people, here on Metafilter too, forget that those people exist, and they're so angry at smarmy middle class people for making arguments of superiority over them that they choose to rage at those "fakes" instead of caring about the real underlying issues.

Not that you can't specifically target the annoying smarmy middle-class guilt olympics, but if you fail to mention at all that there is another side to the issue as it plays out among real working class people, that seems somewhat hollow and trivial then. Go ahead, discuss how annoyed you are when (middle class) idiots say idiotic (middle class) things, but don't pretend like that should be some pivotal, centerpiece issue when discussing the merits of feminism or identity or any other issues which touch people from various class backgrounds.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:06 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is similar to any "intersectional" conundrum: black women have to choose feminism or their families, white working class women have to choose labor/Marxism or feminism, &c. It is complicated and messy and there will be arguing but I fail to see an easy way around this that doesn't involve just telling people to shut up about half their identity when that half is inconvenient.

OK, sorry for the serial posts, I'm out.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:09 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


> "If you've never seen 'check your privilege' used to mean 'shut the fuck up', you've either been extremely lucky or have not seen nearly enough of these conversations."

As I said, I've seen anti-social justice types use the phrase in a frothy circlejerk more than I've ever seen it used sincerely. It's quite possible that the balance is different in the communities you frequent.

> "Because the way I took it, the way I mean it, isn't 'I was unaware of my privilege and have now been told,' or even 'I hold an unpopular opinion', it is much more 'I do not match the declared orthodoxy', or 'I disagree on interpretation but am being shouted down'. "

I hate to keep using trans issues as my examples, but the OP mentioned them and they're something I'm very familiar with. The way that plays out in trans discussions is someone disagreeing that I'm real, but telling me I should be okay with that because they still support my rights (if I'm lucky). A couple of months ago, a trans MeFite friend of mine MeMailed a cis MeFite offering to offer to clear up some of the things she was constantly disagreeing about and dancing around in a FPP. The responses my friend received upset her so much that my friend told me she was glad that this person (apparently a TERF) hadn't felt like those views would be welcome in the thread. Is that the chilling silencing effect he's talking about? Is that vampire castling? Honestly, judging by this screed, I suspect that all the conversations this (again, dare I say cis and white and male?) person felt uncomfortable interrupting were better off without him.

If he wants to focus on class, by all means let him focus on class. But modern intersectional feminism demands that we mustn't focus on one axis of oppression to the exclusion of others, and anyone writing about social justice should be open to learning on all fronts.

Also, yes - I'd echo stoneandstar's sentiments about not seeing the forest for complaining that a few of the trees are looking at you funny.
posted by Corinth at 9:14 PM on November 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Why be so myopic out of respect for Russell Brand and a desire to protect one's white, male ass?"

Because it's about protecting one's white, male ass.

I don't think that's (most) of these folks' conscious intent. But the essential element of this whole thing is that white men are not used to being a marked group; they're not used to having their identity circumscribed in this way and they're not used to encountering limits on their participation. Because of this, such things are experienced as an affront, an injustice, and, like everything else, they make it all about them.

You say "stop doing that" and they respond "you're trying to make me feel guilty". You say "stop doing that" and they respond "you're a divisive element". You say "stop doing that" and they respond "you're trying to silence me only because I'm a man".

What they don't do is ask themselves why they've always thought it was okay to do that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:49 PM on November 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


In the Kendzior/Bruener thing, a man is angry because a middle class woman told a working class man to check his privilege, when she was ignorant of his actual background. Clearly obnoxious!

No. This is an important point: I don't think the problem is that someone was told to check their privilege when they have none, obnoxious though that may be. The problem, rather, is that Bruenig's analysis would've been just as valid if he had never met a poor person in his life. If he were literally the richest man on earth, his analysis of the cost of college still would have been valid.

And it's important because the identitarian framework, as utilized by the online left, tells us that "experience is everything." We trust the judgements of black people with respect to the black community, for instance, because they've experienced being a part of that community. This is fine so far as it goes, but then we're also told that we must only, and unconditionally trust those judgments. In practice this is untenable - as the "black conservative problem" or equivalently the "pro-life woman problem" shows - and so it's thrown out the door the second the member of an oppressed group has an opinion that isn't suitably left-wing.

However, to then draw the conclusion that the left is a seething backwater and therefore feminism and identity politics are bullshit just seems like some fundamentally ignorant failure to think

To be clear, this is not at all the conclusion that I drew. My conclusion, rather, is that that example - the Bruenig/Kendzior one - is a textbook example of identitarian arguments in practice. "You cannot make conclusions about what certain groups feel or want, without being a member, or at least speaking to them at length" is a standard that's thrown out the window when the conclusions being reached are the "wrong" ones.

Bruenig himself makes this point. He says he's written dozens of posts about poverty and class and no one's said a damn thing about his right to write those posts. Why? Because they come to bog-standard left conclusions that flatter everyone's priors in the first place. But the second he attacks the academy as maybe not being the solution to everyone's problems - the second he denigrates it as being relatively unimportant to the lives of poor people - he's told to check his privilege, by, interestingly enough, academics.

If you don't see that this sort of dynamic is literally everywhere in left discussion spaces - if you haven't experienced the nastiness that inevitably comes your way when you have the slightest dissent from lazy online leftism - then I'm not sure what I can do to prove it to you.

Do I think "the left" is a seething backwater? I think the "online left" is pretty bad, yes, full of sloppy thinking and bad faith. I can't speak to broader lefts because, well, I'm not an activist (and I am not precisely a leftist, either.) Do I think feminism and similar movements have value? Of course I do - immeasurable value. Just not when their rhetoric and ideas are repurposed to silence dissenting opinion.
posted by downing street memo at 9:59 PM on November 26, 2013 [17 favorites]


"...but then we're also told that we must only, and unconditionally trust those judgments."

No we're not told that. I mean, maybe you are if you live on some other planet or something. Here on Earth, that's nuts.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:03 PM on November 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fear of a Straw Planet.
posted by kmz at 6:41 AM on November 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hi. I am a white, middle class man. You don't understand where I am. About to be shoved beneath the bootheel of other white men.

I don't give a shit about your experiences as a member of a class not my own. All I care about is me and mine. Can I keep my house? Can I retire in comfort? Will my kid do better than I did in life?

Privilege checking is reactionary bullshit. It doesn't ask how I want to do better today. It doesn't ask how I want to demand my fair share. It doesn't demand my wife make more than her lesser performing peers so I have money to blow on a motorboat rather than the mortgage. It doesn't eliminate the threat of a jobless underclass taking my career away, or do more to put their productivity into my economy, making me even better off as both I =and= my bosses have more competitors, and I fucking stone cold know I'm a better worker than my boss is a boss. It does not demand justice for the aggrieved, knowing full well that I will as likely as not be or know and love the aggrieved, as a white cis male who's merely middle class, subject to richer and more entrenched interests.

I am the most liberal liberal who ever liberaled... because of what it can do for me. Anyone who claims to be an ally for any other reason is lying. Reactionary tools. Deal.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:46 PM on November 27, 2013


I don't give a shit about your experiences as a member of a class not my own. All I care about is me and mine.

I can't tell if you think that this is supposed to be novel information.
posted by Errant at 10:48 AM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slap*Happy, it sounds like you're responding to someone who said, "Ow. You stepped on my toe!" with a tirade about how it's The Man's fault that we're all stuck crowded together on top of each other on this subway car. That may be true, but I still hope you'd have the decency to remove your foot from my toe, if not apologize for stepping on it.
posted by straight at 11:49 AM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, that comment wasn't satire?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:07 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It clearly is.
posted by jaduncan at 7:26 AM on November 30, 2013


It's been a bizarre kind of self fulfilling prophecy. Mark Fisher called out the leftish commentariat for their barely restrained petit bourgeois moralism, and for his troubles has been hit by a wave of – petit bourgeois moralism.
McKenzie Wark, A Working Class Hero(ine) is Something to Be
posted by RogerB at 1:18 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


That may be true, but I still hope you'd have the decency to remove your foot from my toe, if not apologize for stepping on it.

OK, so you're straight up admitting this bullshit is simply manners pageantry. Good to know. Not having a damn thing to do with it. Moving on...
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:09 PM on November 30, 2013


Simply manners pageantry? Maybe if you only bumped someone's foot, but I hope you wouldn't call it that if you crushed their toes. Are you one of those people who insists loudly at length that you only bumped someone so get over it already when they try to explain that, no actually, you broke a bone or two?
posted by straight at 8:25 PM on November 30, 2013


WOW those goalposts are moving fast. So, what elaborate, formal ritualized situation would you discern "slightly stepped on" to "pulverised to fine bone powder" and how shall the prescribed-by-tumblr response differ?
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:08 PM on November 30, 2013


So not satire, then.

Well, I couldn't give two shits about white, middle-class men. Alas, my disinterest doesn't mean I am able to avoid their incessant whining.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:38 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, Poe's law right there.
posted by jaduncan at 5:29 AM on December 1, 2013


You are correct, Slap*Happy. There is a hipster ritual for telling the difference called "listening" and it's fairly elitist in that if you don't already know how listening works, you will probably never hear about it.
posted by straight at 11:36 PM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem, rather, is that Bruenig's analysis would've been just as valid if he had never met a poor person in his life. If he were literally the richest man on earth, his analysis of the cost of college still would have been valid.

That is part of the point-- not the entire point.

I think you are really proposing a system of "identitarian" absolutes that I am completely unfamiliar with, as a working class person (who is also white and privileged in many ways) who messes around with SJ stuff on the internet. I think this identitarian mindset is only relevant in a dynamic that is shaped by an aura of privilege-- i.e., the middle-class attacking each other for not sympathizing with the poor enough. It just doesn't make sense from the POV of an actual poor person-- maybe because if a real poor person had been the one to object, no one would have cared enough to give them the "identitarian" epithet, because they're just another (probably undereducated) person opining on the internet.

There just is not this kind of absolutism in people who actually care and are personally affected by these things in my experience, if I may speak from experience. Once again, it seems the reason for outrage is that this middle-class, privileged woman called out the working class man. To me it is difficult to even make sense of the idea that it has any relevance outside of "middle-class person running their mouth about issues they don't understand." Sure, "the point" is that the research is no more or less valid based on who performed it-- but if the research was correct, wouldn't poor people be more inclined to recognize the seed of truth in it? Wouldn't they be more inclined to raise objections that actually created fruitful discussion or constructive criticism? Wouldn't they have actual life experience to speak from, instead of a carefully constructed architecture of politically correct abstractions? If a poor person says, "this research doesn't apply to me, because this and this happened in my life," isn't that a comment on the data itself, rather than a comment from outside the data? (The poor person may be misinformed or incorrect about the procedures in the research, but isn't their reaction inherently more relevant-- it's the very substance of the research, their psychology, behavior, life and actions are the subject of the research itself.)



I am capable of seeing this from the other perspective-- that the issue is that the value of the research does not change according to the background of the person who performs it-- but on the other hand, it is natural to be suspicious of someone's knowledge of a social stratum if they have not spent much time in that stratum. I actually work with some economists and social scientists who have a very sensitive, fine-tuned, econometric and also intuitive understanding of the working class, and their research is brilliant-- and they are not from the working class-- but there are many in the field who they are often at odds with who think about these issues in a rather different way, which is not quite so sensitive and often betrays a great deal of political and class bias and leaping to assumptions. (From our perspective.)
posted by stoneandstar at 12:17 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


As for privilege-checking, it is really not an ethos. It is a way to make people who are completely insensitive to the realities of ingrained sexism and racism and homophobia, cis-normativity, &c. aware of how much they take for granted. It is not something good liberals do every morning while they brush their teeth or every evening during their bedside prayers. I don't know why people take it to this absurd extreme, but it's just about awareness and a helpful way of thinking about an unfair society, understanding others better, and hopefully that allowing you to make constructive change in your interactions with others.

It really is not just about inducing guilt. It is literally just about understanding other people. If understanding the difficulties/hardship of other people makes you feel guilty, it's up to you to be a responsible person and process that emotion in a way you can deal with it. Avoiding it is a childish way to deal with it. Nearly everyone has some relative degree of "privilege" and it's not about keeping track of points, it's just about understanding the society you live in, and hopefully seeking to make it less bullying, to make things better for your or someone else's progeny, to simply feel as though you take moral responsibility for your actions, or make meaningful choices, lead a contemplative life, &c., however you think about your own compass.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:23 AM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


As for privilege-checking, it is really not an ethos. It is a way to make people who are completely insensitive to the realities of ingrained sexism and racism and homophobia, cis-normativity, &c. aware of how much they take for granted. It is not something good liberals do every morning while they brush their teeth or every evening during their bedside prayers. I don't know why people take it to this absurd extreme, but it's just about awareness and a helpful way of thinking about an unfair society, understanding others better, and hopefully that allowing you to make constructive change in your interactions with others.

See, I don't agree with this. I think that if "privilege-checking" means anything, it means upending the whole way you see your life, understanding the depth to which your every action and assumption is contoured by your social situation. If I'm going to think "hey, only because I grew up with lots of access to books do I assume that the students in my [community ed] class are going to be able to borrow, print out or buy the course materials so I don't have to provide copies, and actually I need to provide copies", then why don't I also think "hey, my whiteness means that I feel very confident in taking up space in the world, so I need to be really aware of how I behave when I'm in line at the store/library/doctor even when I think I am being polite and following norms" or "because I grew up with race privilege and [a certain kind of] class privilege, I make a whole set of largely unconscious assumptions about check-out clerks, receptionists and people in similar roles, which comes out in my tone of voice and conversation even when I am being polite and pleasant, so I need to try to modulate my tone and the content of my conversation".

It's the tiny stuff - the microagression stuff - that pulls out all my anxiety disorder tendencies. But I know microaggressions are real, because I also experience them. I think that if you're aware that microaggressions exist, you need to try to stop committing them as much as possible, and that's really difficult and tiring. (And for me, it's hard to balance with anxiety disorder stuff.)

Note that I'm not talking about "Frowner charges to the front of the line and barks rudely at the clerk, they need to knock that off" - I'm talking about "Frowner is socialized in ways that they don't even recognize and that are largely unconscious to use certain tones of voice and attitudes of privilege that are not generally read as rude but that reinforce status stuff and make people feel kind of shitty and unequal in everyday interactions, and that is really hard to unpack and stop".

I say this, too, because I see other middle class people and other white people doing it to working class people and people of color. I hear these tones in their voices, and these are not conservative or consciously class-biased people. So I assume that I do this stuff too, and I see it making people feel bad and fucking up all kinds of social situations.

My point is, I have a lot of trouble with the statement that privilege-checking is so easy and trivial that complaining about it or finding it difficult is a sign of bad faith or bad character. I think we're all so completely contoured by our class/race/body history/gender experience/etc that everything we do reveals where we stand, if we look at it carefully.

I have what I've come to realize is a pretty serious anxiety disorder; I am also really good at reading tiny social cues, which is one reason that I get so anxious (I'm always hyper-responding). When I get into a "privilege-checking" headspace, it's not something that I can snap out of or stop thinking about, or that I can apply just to big situations, and it absolutely is something that I think about when I brush my teeth, when I ride my bike, when I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep. One of the things I work on pretty hard in therapy (which I am, in fact, very privileged to be able to access) is how to be true to my beliefs about how to act (including the existence of microaggressions and the need to identify when I commit them) and still function in the world without paralysis and crippling overthinking.

I don't believe this is because I think "too much" about microaggressions and my complicity in them. I believe this is because the world is terrible, actually, and humans are pretty fucking useless. But better to die on your feet, etc, so there's no reason not to try.
posted by Frowner at 7:26 AM on December 4, 2013


As for privilege-checking, it is really not an ethos. It is a way to make people who are completely insensitive to the realities of ingrained sexism and racism and homophobia, cis-normativity, &c. aware of how much they take for granted.

I agree, and thank you. I bet that if you put that statement in front of 90-odd percent of folks who have issues with privilege-checking, they'd agree.

One of the things I work on pretty hard in therapy (which I am, in fact, very privileged to be able to access) is how to be true to my beliefs about how to act (including the existence of microaggressions and the need to identify when I commit them) and still function in the world without paralysis and crippling overthinking.

I don't believe this is because I think "too much" about microaggressions and my complicity in them. I believe this is because the world is terrible, actually, and humans are pretty fucking useless. But better to die on your feet, etc, so there's no reason not to try.


Frowner, this is so loaded, and clearly honest. But contrary to your conclusion that you don't think "too much" about .... stuff, but rather, it's just a terrible world, I would counter with, "I don't know. Call me privileged but I don't see the world as terrible. That is, I choose not to let the terrible I see in the world overwhelm me, because there's way more going on than just that, there really is. And so to let the terrible determine my course is to let it win ... and one way I've let it win in the past is precisely by letting it dominate my inner monologue. Because that's exactly how it works. You spend so much time inner-focused on the terrible that it becomes an immovable filter. It colors everything."

Or as the old Italian guy said in Catch-22 to Nately (who had just used the Better To Die On Your Feet line and would die soon in combat). "No, no, no, young man, you have it wrong. It is better to live on your feet than die on your knees."
posted by philip-random at 9:09 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]




My point is, I have a lot of trouble with the statement that privilege-checking is so easy and trivial that complaining about it or finding it difficult is a sign of bad faith or bad character. I think we're all so completely contoured by our class/race/body history/gender experience/etc that everything we do reveals where we stand, if we look at it carefully.

I don't think it's necessarily easy, and I think it takes a lot of hard work and critical thought to make meaningful change, especially if you are in a place with the power to do so-- but I also think that living with it as an ethos is like trying to find the bottom of a fractal. You just never will. There are always new depths, new ideas to explore and ways to relate to people, but we are always growing and changing, and spending 99% of our day privilege-unpacking is a waste of time IMO. We will never be perfect. Even if all of our left-wing equality dreams came true, people would still do hurtful shit on a micro level.

I do not think the world is a terrible place. I love life. I am also sometimes overwhelmed with the horrors of it. But to be alive is an amazing thing even to a certain degree of suffering. (It is beyond that degree of suffering that I think serious change needs to be wrought.)
posted by stoneandstar at 12:07 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's necessarily easy, and I think it takes a lot of hard work and critical thought to make meaningful change, especially if you are in a place with the power to do so-- but I also think that living with it as an ethos is like trying to find the bottom of a fractal.

I've said this before here; "privilege theory" remind me a bit of Marxist historical analysis. Quite a useful tool for understanding the way the world is. A much less useful tool for achieving change in the future.
posted by Jimbob at 2:27 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


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