You ask what real change might look like
March 15, 2017 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Adam Curtis on realizing real social change. From an episode of the Chapo Trap House podcast.

WILL MENAKER: What would it look like to imagine a different world? Do you have a vision of it How would we know if we were beginning to imagine a different world? Even within this hyper-real one?

ADAM CURTIS: You ask what real change might look like, and I think that’s a really interesting question for liberals and radicals, because there is a hunger for change, out there - millions of people who feel sort of insecure, uncertain about the future who DO want something to change. I think that change only comes though a big imaginative idea. A sort of picture of another kind of future which gives people - which connects with that fearfulness in the back of people’s minds. And offers them a release from it. That's the key thing. But I think the question for liberals and radicals is - they are always suspicious of big ideas. That's what lurks underneath the liberal mindset. And the reason is - and they are quite right in a way - is look what happened last time when millions of people got swept up in a big idea! Look up the last hundred years - what happened in Russia, and then in Germany. The point is , Is that Political change is frightening. It's scary — it's thrilling because it is dynamic and is doing something to change the world but it is scary because it can change things in ways where nothing to secure. Its like being in an earthquake. Even the solid ground beneath you begins to move. And things dissolve that you think are solid and real. And I think the question liberals are left have to face at the moment is a really sort of difficult question which is: “do you really want change? do you really want it?” Because if you do many of them might find themselves in a very uncertain world where they might lose all sorts of things. What we were talking about, in many cases, is people who are at the center of society at the moment, they are not out in the margins. They would have a lot to lose from real political change because it really would change things in the structure of power.

Or - and this is the brutal question: Do you just want things to change a little bit? Do you just want the banks to be a little bit nicer, or for people to be a little more respectful of each other's identities - All of which is good - but basically you carry on living in a nice world where you tinker with it.

That’s the key question. But you can't just sit there forever worrying about big ideas because there are millions of people out there who do you want Change. And the key thing is: they feel they’ve got nothing to lose. You might have lots to lose, but they feel they’ve got absolute nothing to lose. But at the moment they're being led by the Right. So things won't remain the same. But society may go off in ways you really don’t want.

SO in answer to your question, what you need is a powerful vision of the future. With all its dangers. But it is also quite thrilling. It will be an escape from the staticness of the world we have today. And to do that, you’ve got to engage with the giant forces of power that now run the world, at the moment. And the key thing is that in confronting those powers, and trying to transform the world you might lose a lot. This is a sort of forgotten idea. Is that actually you surrender yourself up to a big idea and in the the process you might lose something but you’d actually gain a bigger sense, because you change the world for the better. I know it sounds soppy, But this is the forgotten thing about politics. Is that you give up some of your individualism to something bigger than yourself. You surrender yourself - and it’s a lost idea. And I think really in answer to your question: You can spot real change happening when you see people from the liberal middle classes, beginning to give themselves up to something. Surrender themselves for something bigger. And at the moment, there is nothing like that in the liberal imagination.
posted by Foci for Analysis (68 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Scary seems an odd word for world events that have killed millions of people. And it's a pretty sad false dichotomy that says well, we're going to have one of these world changing events that involve a whole lot of dead people, might as well be on the right side of the guns.

I will agree that when middle class people start putting their bodies on the line real change is coming. But only because when things are so precarious that they feel their entire way of life is in danger. You really want to let the world get to that point? Are you really so sure you make the guns point the right way?
posted by zabuni at 6:40 PM on March 15 [9 favorites]


I just like an hour ago read Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism (on recommendation from Amber Frost on an episode of Chapo Trap House from like a month or two back, actually), which hits a lot of the same beats and is overall an excellent read. (Its also short and readily available online)
posted by The Horse You Rode In On at 6:48 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


The funny thing is, I don't think this is a particularly good way to conceptualize social change - "have a big idea, risk that you might lose everything, it's exciting and self-actualizing! And besides, the desperate underclass is coming for you!" I think it's a way of conceptualizing social change that is appealing when you're young and fairly privileged, because you don't know the limits of your own health and safety or the limits of solidarity yet, so you think that it's selfish and bourgeois to want to avoid losing what you have. It's easy to think that it's bourgeois to be afraid to lose stable employment and a place to live until you start to see friends struggle to stay housed; it's easy to assume that things will be better "after the revolution" when you're pretty sure that you won't be a despised minority in the new world.

But let's consider actual social change for a minute! Some moments of change that I admire: the German Revolution of 1918, the Mexican Revolution of 1910ish-1920ish, the Zapatista uprising, the long struggle to organize workers in the UK before WWII. For the most part, these were times when organizing and solidarity were extremely important, and one of the big goals was actually to minimize the risk of losing the struggle, losing life, losing security. With the exception of the Mexican Revolution, there really wasn't much loss of life in any of these, and there wasn't that much "oh god society is collapsing but perhaps a new world will emerge".

I mean, when someone says to me "take the risk of losing everything! Surrender yourself!", I am reminded of all the times that I have been encouraged to "surrender" myself to bigger causes as an AFAB person, because after all my own concerns for my security and comfort are just garbage selfishness; and I'm reminded of just how little the mainstream left actually cares for LGBTQ people, disabled people, old people, etc., and I start to wonder if I'll really be that much better off after I lose all the things of this world and cast my lot in with the next.
posted by Frowner at 6:57 PM on March 15 [34 favorites]


I guess I feel like the more I read up on...well, let's say social change somewhat less intense than the Russian Revolution but somewhat more intense than the election of FDR...the more I feel like times of intense social change are really much more of a patchwork of goals and conflicting forces than a mass surrender to a big idea. And I think that in general, people have an eye on the main chance - the people who are truly in the grip of "I don't care if I lose it all" tend either to be the extraordinary ideologues, usually from educated backgrounds (Luxemburg, Subcommandante Marcos, etc) or working class people who get chewed up by the movement because they do not have enough social power to gain a good situation in the new society. Middle class people usually have their eye on the main chance - an awful lot of careers got made in the thirties and sixties in the US, for instance.
posted by Frowner at 7:31 PM on March 15 [8 favorites]


I mean, not for nothing but I've come out of meetings with activists and progressive caucus members thinking "now would be a really good time to be an ambitious political type who wants to be on the right side of history" esp. if you're say an underemployed type with a lot of politics in your head who has the zeal of the recently convert...
posted by The Whelk at 7:41 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


I totally agree with pretty much all of the above. We often conceptualize radicals as people who literally have nothing to lose, but having nothing to lose is its own form of privilege. As someone who relies upon medication, I can't afford to be "swept up in an earthquake," because an earthquake means I die.

Also (and I have been harping on this forever recently), this:

And I think the question liberals are left have to face at the moment is a really sort of difficult question which is: “do you really want change? do you really want it?” Because if you do many of them might find themselves in a very uncertain world where they might lose all sorts of things. What we were talking about, in many cases, is people who are at the center of society at the moment, they are not out in the margins.

is the sort of intersectional nihilistic nonsense that's exploited by radicals who *do* have privilege. "Do you want to protect yourself? Then you don't actually care about (insert marginal identity)!"

Incrementalist change may be slow and frustrating, but revolutions almost always fail. The odds that we're going to find ourselves with a fantastic government, rather than a scattered landscape largely run by right-wing militias who probably don't give a shit about LGBTQ people or women or POC, are pretty freaking low.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:45 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


Seems like an important ingredient in sweeping political change is for things to be unpleasant for a lot of people. It's easier to buy into the risk of making everything you know different if everything you know is currently pretty terrible. As it stands, there's a lot that's wrong with America, but we're not yet to the point where this kind of change makes sense. If we keep headed the way we're headed, though, this becomes less and less true.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:47 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Also, I'd like to point to _The True Believer_, which does a pretty good job of discussing this kind of radical mentality. Because "giving yourself up for something greater" usually isn't a good thing. It may be heady, but so is cocaine.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:49 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


(I recently got to see what my ...true believer fervor looks like to someone who is totally apolitical and never reads the news and he apparently thought I was on cocaine at first)
posted by The Whelk at 7:54 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


I wish I could get into Chapo. I've had friends suggest episodes, but, with the exception of one or two segments across the four episodes I've taken in, they totally trip my AM Radio filter, and I can't stop bristling at the smug echo chamber vibe.

One of the bits I enjoyed was their interview with Adam Curtis though.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 9:09 PM on March 15


There seems to be a pattern around here with the MeFi faithful (I know MeFi is not a singular entity, but when the same sentiments keep getting repeated and keep attracting lots of favorites, a consensus emerges) attributing an attack on the moneyed liberal elite as an attack on themselves.

When these leftist radicals criticize the mainstream, bougie left, they are almost never talking about anyone who would ever post on this website. They are referring to the media class, the political class, and the big liberal donors/hollywood types who advocate for socially liberal ideals but won't give themselves over to radicalism.

If you are a person, with a job and a house and a car (more and more of a rarity these days), you are not part of the bourgeoisie. You are a lower middle class person who has been lucky/hard-working. These attacks are not aimed at you. They are aimed at people who make a living by peddling incremental social change while profiting off the fruits of liberal capitalism. And, make no mistake, conservative bullshit aside, there is a small but influential liberal elite (since Trump, they are less influential than previously supposed), and they have a lot invested in the maintenance of capitalism.

My point is that these attacks are not aimed to get the person who makes 50k a year to sell their house and join the militia. They are aimed at getting the liberal political class to embrace radical socialism and to endure the risks that that entails. They are asking for rich liberals to be like FDR or Bill Gates and not Warren Buffet/Michael Bloomberg. They are asking for Vox to not write inveterate horseshit like this It's not an attack on you.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 9:36 PM on March 15 [15 favorites]


And then the Strangest Thing Happened - "What is Adam Curtis doing?"

also btw...
  • What comes next for humanity - "All large-scale collaboration is based on fictions, from mythologies and religions to nationalism to human rights."
  • You tell me it's the institution - "The way I like to think of 'institutions' is this: Institutions are to groups what habits are to individuals."
  • Artisanal energy trading. - "This story about the 'Brooklyn Microgrid', a local solar-energy trading collective, has all the things: twee Brooklyn small-batch-ness, solar power, modern 'smart grid' energy, 'peer-to-peer' trading, the blockchain. Most of all, though, it is about whether and how modern computer and financial technologies can replace trust in institutions... institutions are actually useful, and that trust in institutions -- not just in direct transactions with your neighbors -- is valuable."
  • Scott Pruitt denies basic climate science. But most of the outrage is missing the point. - "The reason GOP beliefs on climate are so difficult to pin down is that the beliefs are not the point. The party's institutional opposition to action is the point."
  • That time when Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld ran a universal basic income experiment for Nixon - "It does tell us that there was no left-right distinction for thinking about universal income."
  • Public Capital, Private Capital - "On one hand we have the steady rise in public debt and, on the other, the prosperity of privately owned wealth... But this does not mean that rich countries have become poor: it is their governments which have become poor, which is very different... The fact remains that private capital grew much faster than the decline in public capital... Why be so pessimistic in the face of such prosperity? Simply because the ideological and political balance of power is such that public authorities are not able to make the main beneficiaries of globalisation contribute their fair share. The perception of this impossibility of a fair tax sustains the flight towards the debt."
  • Historically, major changes in the structure of property ownership often come together with profound political changes. We see this with the French Revolution, the American Civil War, the Euro-World Wars in the 20th century and the Libération in France. The nationalist forces at work today could lead to a return to national currencies and inflation, which would promote a chaotic redistribution of resources, at the expense of severe social stress and an ethnicisation of political conflicts. In the face of this fatal risk to which the present status quo could lead, there is only one solution. We must chart a democratic pathway out of the impasse and organise the necessary redistribution of resources within the framework of the rule of law.
  • Why 20th century tools cannot be used to address 21st century income inequality? - "The remarkable period of reduced income and wealth inequality in the rich countries, roughly from the end of the Second World War to the early 1980s, relied on four pillars: strong trade unions, mass education, high taxes, large government transfers. Since the increase of inequality twenty or more years ago, the failed attempts to stem its further rise have relied on trying, or at least advocating, the expansion of all or some of the four pillars. But neither of them will do the job in the 21st century."
  • How can endowments be equalized? As far as capital is concerned, by deconcentration of ownership of assets. As far as labor is concerned, mostly through equalization of returns to the approximately same skill levels... The methods to reduce capital concentration are not new or unknown. They were just never used seriously and consistently. We can divide them into three groups. First, favorable tax policies (including a guaranteed minimum rate of return) to make equity ownership more attractive to small and medium shareholders (and less attractive to big shareholders, that is, a policy exactly the opposite of what exists today in the United States). Second, increased worker ownership through Employee Stock Ownership Plans or other company-level incentives. Third, use of inheritance or wealth tax as a means to even out access to capital by using the tax proceeds to give every young adult a capital grant (as recently proposed by Tony Atkinson).

    What to do with labor? There, in a rich and well-educated society, the issue is not just to make education more accessible to those who did not have a chance to study (although that too is obviously important) but to equalize the returns to education between equally educated people... The way to reduce this inequality is to equalize the quality of schools.
posted by kliuless at 9:41 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


These attacks are not aimed at you.

Neither was the Russian Revolution. And the petty bourgeoisie still had their backs against the wall then the revolution came. The Rich? They left! Academics and shop owners were killed. You say you're not targeting us. History says we're going to fucking die.
posted by zabuni at 10:40 PM on March 15 [14 favorites]


Because the radical leftists fighting for Democratic socialism are going to murder the lower middle class?

Literally wat?
posted by R.F.Simpson at 10:49 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


That Owen Hatherley article was great. I too went on a recent Adam Curtis binge, (I posted All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace to FanFare if anyone wants to talk about it) and I also ended up feeling really ambivalent about Curtis. As the article says, Curtis seems to increasingly embrace a diffuse, intentionally disorienting approach that replicates the bafflement that Curtis argues is deliberately created by those in power.

In the quote from the FPP, I'm still left confused about what specifically would make meaningful change. Sure I agree we must risk more and we must have bold visions, but that's rather open ended.

Perhaps all that Curtis has read and researched and watched has left him hopeless and without his own vision of what we should do.
posted by latkes at 11:11 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Yeah a big part of my work is advocating too my own class, whose language I speak well, and You, The People Who Make 150k A Year In Your Tech Job Have More In Common Eith Someone Making 26k A Year athen Someone Making 400k a Day.

I have no idea what Revolution looks like! But I think part of it looks like a packed church on Harlem full of people seriously considering joing boring ass political caucuses cause there a lot of empty seats and you could move the dissproporate amount of power they weld in your favor later on.

Or maybe it's signing up people to your organization during a happy hour and only one old guy confuses you with Nazis? I was very proud of all the literature I handed out.
posted by The Whelk at 11:41 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


I think Century Of The Self is his strongest work. It's focused, it has forward drive, and it expounds clearly in an art house sort of way without being tedious. I liked All Watched Over, but have only watched it a couple of times, while I watch Century regularly for some reason. I've tried watching some of his most recent work but was turned off by the pace and the selected images and didn't finish whatever it was I started. I haven't gone into newest. It's been recommended to me, but I haven't blocked out the time. Perhaps at some point.
posted by hippybear at 1:54 AM on March 16


Saying "it's not about you" sounds great if a political revolution could somehow be carried out in a vacuum. It can't. It's about us for the same reason every other revolution is about the people who live there -- because we're the victims when (not if) it inevitably goes off the rails.

Privilege means you have a better chance of surviving change. The rich have less to lose than those of us with less wealth and privilege, not more. The wealthy can flee when things go wrong. We can't. The wealthy can go buy an air-conditioned fallout shelter-turned-bunker with a putt-putt golf course and swimming pool. The rest of us can't.

If the majority of people on a site you usually respect object to a school of thought, it's possible we're objecting for valid reasons.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 2:55 AM on March 16 [8 favorites]


The history of revolution is that an awful lot of people who aren't wealthy and powerful inevitably die. I am extremely skeptical of people who agitate for "revolution", even moreso when they've paired a totally nebulous concept of what "revolution" looks like with pledges to lay down their lives and bodies to The Cause. It's really easy to pledge your life and talk grandly about the sacrifices you'll make for The Revolution when you've no idea what The Revolution looks like or have any plans for getting there. Listening to Chapo Trap House is like listening to a meeting of the He-Man Neoliberal Haters Club, where they sit around and talk about how they're going to grow up to be Superhero Revolutionaries.
posted by schroedinger at 4:32 AM on March 16 [15 favorites]


Here is why I suggest that we all turn to history! I think people tend to hear "revolution" and think of communist China and the USSR, or maybe the failed revolutions of 1848 or the Paris Commune and then they get understandably hinky. Or they think of the partition of India, or post-colonial fighting in the ex-British colonies generally. I mean, noble attempts that ended badly, for the most part.

But there are a lot of revolutionary events that went fairly well - at least, where you can say that more was gained than lost, or that, as with Allende's Chile, just, like not having the US murder the government would have brought about really positive change.

A thought: a revolution goes according to the conditions that precede it, up to a point. While it's difficult to look at the Russian Revolution, etc, and think "hey, all that about murdering your enemies and having show trials and personally killing the high level political opposition in the basement was actually quite good", you do have to admit that Russia had a lot of really hard problems in terms of lack of infrastructure, poverty, history of suppressing political organizing, being on the periphery of Europe, etc. The harder the problems, the more likely that bad stuff will happen - and up to a point, the lower the bar for success. "We've mitigated many of these social problems and avoided killing people except in actual street fighting" would be a pretty reasonable bar.

But consider the Bolivarian revolutions or the German revolution..

Okay, wait I have to go to work, so the GR will have to wait.

But I was thinking about this all morning, and one thing I considered was the American civil war - a horrible, monstrous conflict! I mean, read your Ambrose Bierce, right? But how else would slavery be ended? And even if there'd been a gradualist approach that would have worked, how could you look someone in the face and say "we who are not slaves have decided that in a couple of generations, slavery will mostly be abolished, so don't be upset"? Or, if you could see the future, how could you really say "because we know Reconstruction will be short and ineffective and Jim Crow will come in, and things will still be pretty terrible, we have decided that the civil war shouldn't be fought"?

So on one end of the "social change" continuum, you have situations where, no matter the cost, things can't go on. And you have to admit, there are things that should not go on right now - if you read about modern slavery, which is actually pretty pervasive.

I mean, basically it's a really hard set of problems and you have to balance a sober look at how social change has happened through history against "what about things that are so bad that they can't be allowed to go on, come what may".
posted by Frowner at 5:28 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]


The South started the Civil War, not the North. From the people who started the war in the South's perspective, the Civil War was an unmitigated disaster.

Is a war today in the US going to end slavery in the Third World? Are conditions so horrific-- and our ability to change them so little-- that revolution is somehow necessary?

And, even if they are, how are you planning to guarantee that the people will flock to your banner?

Saying that some revolutions end up in a better spot isn't much of a comfort.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:33 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Well Adam Curtis in particular expresses enormous skepticism about revolutions, both velvet and violent, both big and little 'R' style. It's part of what I find confounding about him: critiquing revolutions is pretty easy, but if you're also a fierce critic of the status quo, which he is, it would be nice to share your observations about what components are present in successful change, instead of projecting a message of hopelessness and the uselessness of trying to enact social transformation, as described in his own Oh Dearism. His shtick is super disappointing for me because so much of his analysis is incredibly insightful and fresh, it's like he raises up these really exciting ideas inside me, only to stomp on them with a kind of sophomore know-it-all negativity. I don't have a problem with critique, which he does so well, but critique is frankly easier than generating new ideas or solutions.

In many respects, the world improves over time. I'm not saying the arc of history bends toward justice, because it seems to be a pretty wavy line, but we have had huge victories and improvements on scales large and small, so clearly there are strategies that work to do this stuff. I'd love to see Curtis turn his eye toward that question, which he is sort of doing in the above quote, but in this super vague way.
posted by latkes at 7:08 AM on March 16


I have no idea where the presumption that CTH and affiliates are somehow advocating violent revolution comes from. There not like tankies or whatever, they're pretty much all some flavor or democratic socialist who in practice mostly want to aim for socdem-style policies.
posted by The Horse You Rode In On at 8:09 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


I can't see CTH any more without recalling the comment in one of the political threads defending them along the lines of "sure, there's a little light misogyny..."

Yeah, sure, shooting the messenger. But there are non-shitty messengers that could be used to deliver this message. I assure you they exist. Go find them.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:23 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


Or, to put it another way: your socialist revolution will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:25 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


I have no idea where the presumption that CTH and affiliates are somehow advocating violent revolution comes from. There not like tankies or whatever, they're pretty much all some flavor or democratic socialist who in practice mostly want to aim for socdem-style policies.

For me, it's the whole part about "listen, liberal, if you want social change you have to prepare to lose things that are dear to you" in the OP and the part where it's "like being in an earthquake" and the part that implies that the immiserated will become a violent right-wing movement unless a radical left-wing movement activates them. This does not match any of my experience of political activism or social change - I don't go to, like, solidarity pickets with my union thinking "I could lose everything". About the worst I've ever thought is "can I afford to be arrested right now, and will there be gains from being arrested".

I mean, IME, the people who really do risk major loss in social movements are working class people, because they really can get fired, lose their housing, etc, pretty easily if they get arrested or get in the news. The middle class doesn't risk anything like that much, and in fact, the middle class tends to lead radical movements and assume secure, high-profile positions in the new society. (This is not a new thought; Doris Lessing says the same thing about sixties movements as in part a response by young middle class people to the feeling that conventional career paths were blocked.)

So I think that, first off, telling people that they're doing politics wrong if they're not willing to risk the underpinnings of their lives in the process is actually broadly inaccurate in non-revolutionary situations; second, not very enticing to working people; and third, not an accurate reflection of how middle class people actually experience revolutions anyway.

Once again consider the German Revolution. For the most part, people did not die, and the relatively few people who died were working class, communist soldiers and sailors for the most part. And that was an "everyone in the streets" revolution. Also a revolution where the middle class center left SPD promptly quashed the radicals. The baseline experience of the German Revolution was not "up against the wall, motherfucker", it was "some chaos and upheaval, followed by real social change that still did not live up to what could have been and did not purge the rightist elements".

Also, I've just got to say that I'd assumed that discomfort with CTH was mostly veiled anti-socialist sentiment, but when I look at the list of guests on their show, holy crap they do not invite women.
posted by Frowner at 8:54 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]


just jumping in to be the id to frowner's superego about that comment but it's fucking hysterical that the CTH kids bust out the whole U GOTTA BE PREPARED 2, LOSE THINGS U CARE ABOUT vibe. like, will menaker's dad was a senior editor for random house and an editor at the new yorker! there's also a funky something awful pedigree to these guys that um anyway they are our "morning zoo" guys and therefore i celebrate any opportunity to pivot academic discussions away from assuming these guys know what they're talking about

God Bless
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 9:07 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


lol frowner CTH are fucking dickholes on like twenty levels that's just your trash detector pinging
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 9:08 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Well, that escalated quickly.
posted by hippybear at 9:22 AM on March 16


it's fucking hysterical that the CTH kids bust out the whole U GOTTA BE PREPARED 2, LOSE THINGS U CARE ABOUT vibe. like, will menaker's dad was a senior editor for random house and an editor at the new yorker!

Like, I guess we're imagining some world where literary editors are the Masters of the Universe?

"And while young Will cavorts on Chapo Trap House, his father pulls the levers of the world from his seat in the Editorial Board Room at Goldman Sachs."
posted by grobstein at 10:10 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


The war's not over, we still have a cultural elite.
posted by fraxil at 10:37 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I may have just talked myself into running for political office so watch this space I guess?

The city council has empty uncontested seats? And that's where the whole apocrapyical "get started in school boards" thing comes from
posted by The Whelk at 10:38 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


Why 20th century tools cannot be used to address 21st century income inequality?
To be twenty-first century scientists on Mars, in fact, but at the same time living within nineteenth century social systems, based on seventeenth century ideologies. It’s absurd, it’s crazy, it’s—it’s—” he seized his head in his hands, tugged at his hair, roared “It’s unscientific!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:44 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Also, I've just got to say that I'd assumed that discomfort with CTH was mostly veiled anti-socialist sentiment, but when I look at the list of guests on their show, holy crap they do not invite women.

Yeah, my issue with CTH is not the socialism--I like socialism!--it's the fact they're the living incarnation of the BernieBros. The're the kind of socialists who existed in the 20s--all about that populism, but shove the particular needs of minority groups to the back. Entitled, privileged white guys with no actual experience in politics or community organizing or policy making or literally anything in the real world who sit around pontificating about how Those People Are Doing Progressivism Wrong and the real problem is that nobody's willing to make the real sacrifices for The Revolution. And somehow, often those sacrifices are the policies that ensure the safety and equality of marginalized groups.

Like, I guess we're imagining some world where literary editors are the Masters of the Universe?

Man, what are you trying to argue here? That one's networking and financial opportunities are not influenced by the career and income of one's parents?
posted by schroedinger at 10:57 AM on March 16 [10 favorites]



I may have just talked myself into running for political office so watch this space I guess?


Will you run as "The Whelk"? Because that would be neat! You could have a whelk as your campaign logo!

And imagine when you win! Your rule will be known as the Reign of the Whelk, not something boring like the Trump administration.
posted by Frowner at 11:07 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


white guys with no actual experience in politics or community organizing or policy making or literally anything in the real world who sit around pontificating about how Those People Are Doing Progressivism Wrong and the real problem is that nobody's willing to make the real sacrifices for The Revolution. And somehow, often those sacrifices are the policies that ensure the safety and equality of marginalized groups.

Virgil is not white, Amber is not a guy, they often speak about their experiences with local community politics, "pontificating" is the job of the media, they never talk about making sacrifices or revolution, they are consistently pro-feminist, pro-blm, and pro-lgbt.

But yeah, BernieBro bad, performative wokeness and feckless liberalism good.

No one seems to acknowledge that the fight for "incremental change" is loaded with privilege. Who cares if mainstream liberalism was pro-mass incarceration and anti-gay marriage until political convenience forced them otherwise? The real problem is those unrealistic BernieBros.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 12:50 PM on March 16 [8 favorites]


Adam Curtis' statements are being strongly attributed to CTH, extrapolated out, then those extrapolations are being used to judge the people who hosted the interview. I trust that everyone here is well meaning, but this thread is crazy making.

i celebrate any opportunity to pivot academic discussions away from assuming these guys know what they're talking about

Nothing about this discussion is academic. And appeal and value of CTH is of regular people doing their best to figure out what to do, politically, to make the world a less shitty place. The things they talk about are terrible right wing pundits, the confusion and absurdity of current politics, and the vague consensus forming around the DSA platform. Why elevate them to a status that they don't pretend to, then shit on them for not being what they never tried or wanted to be? It's a comedy podcast recorded in an apartment for god's sake.

They're the kind of socialists who existed in the 20s--all about that populism, but shove the particular needs of minority groups to the back. Entitled, privileged white guys with no actual experience in politics or community organizing or policy making or literally anything in the real world who sit around pontificating about how Those People Are Doing Progressivism Wrong

Sure, CTH makes fun of democrats. And the democrats certainly aren't doing progressivism *right*. Unless the combination of ignoring leftist policy & consistently losing is right. Do CTH ever punch left? I've listened to most episodes (podcasts are how I survive my horribly boring job) and don't recall any of that.

> and the real problem is that nobody's willing to make the real sacrifices for The Revolution. And somehow, often those sacrifices are the policies that ensure the safety and equality of marginalized groups.

I feel like I'm at the end of a game of telephone watching everyone getting riled up about purple monkey dishwasher. Because that's not something they say or imply. At all. They consistently support voting in local elections for candidates with the best policies. Viva la revolution? Mostly, though, they use comedy to cope with the terror that many of us are feeling these days. Maybe being free to laugh at impending doom is a privilege. Or maybe being able to laugh is one of those freedoms that can't be taken away. I dunno. I wonder what Adam Curtis thinks of the political value of laughter?

also 1st post, hi there
posted by nwwn at 1:20 PM on March 16 [9 favorites]


Honestly, if there's a The Revolution that sacrifices are going to need to be made for (and should have been made 20 years ago) it's changing away from a carbon-based economy on a drastic, economy-destroying scale to something that isn't going to kill the children and grandchildren of those reading MetaFilter right now.

But that didn't happen. And, honestly, all the rest of the "revolutions" that might happen are not going to matter one whit in about 50 years because of the shit the climate is going to wreak upon us all. Who cares if you're right-leaning or left-leaning when all your pollinators have died? And what little you can get to grow won't because of drought / climate zone change / whatever?
posted by hippybear at 1:25 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I only read the [more inside] part which appears to be a transcription of the 4 minute YouTube clip in the first link. Does the full episode have more discussion? I'm not a listener to Chapo Trap House so maybe I'm missing some context that's taken for granted because I'm finding Curtis's commentary somewhat... unsatisfying. He appears to be advocating for these great big ideas and grand visions (but what are they? does it even matter? or is it simply enough to be grand?) even though there might be dangers (what kind of dangers? are we talking like loss of white/male/cis/class privilege or more like vigilante death squads in the street? maybe a return to agrarian, pre-industrial society?). He talks about engaging with the giant forces of power but he neither explains who/what these giant forces of power are nor how people should be engaging with them. Is this something I should already know? Or is he and relying on me to fill in the blanks with my own conceptions of these things (which may or may not align with anyone else's)?

Also, the two invocations of "thrilling" with respect to political change -- with apparently a positive connotation -- is not super-reassuring to me.
posted by mhum at 3:20 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


The full discussion is about an hour long, and though I recommend listening to the whole thing, it's likely you'll come out the other end still unsatisfied. Curtis' world view is deeply unsatisfying. It's probably accurate to say that he questions the validity of any worldview that is satisfying, because that satisfaction would be trick.

Also, the two invocations of "thrilling" with respect to political change -- with apparently a positive connotation -- is not super-reassuring to me.

A large swath of hopeless youth are beginning to realize their potential for political power. Will they be compassionate and empirical? Will they follow the leader? What will they hate? There is nothing to be assured of - everything is up for grabs.
posted by nwwn at 4:17 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


nwwn: "It's probably accurate to say that he questions the validity of any worldview that is satisfying, because that satisfaction would be trick."

Hmm. Ok, but I think I may have been somewhat unclear there. My un-satisfaction was less with the worldview itself than with the presentation of the worldview. He says a lot of vast- and grand-sounding stuff without any specifics, leaving the listener to fill in the blanks. But this can be used as a rhetorical trick because if the speaker sets up the framework well, then the listener will fill in the blanks to their own satisfaction and find themselves in agreement with the speaker even when the speaker actually hasn't said anything specific to agree with. To go in a completely different direction of speaker, it seems to me that Trump's rambling, nonsense-speak that bounces around from subject to subject without ever really saying anything is exactly why a large section of the population listens to him and thinks "he's saying exactly what I'm thinking" -- the listeners' own mind fills in the missing parts with what it wants to hear but attributes it all to Trump.

nwwn: "A large swath of hopeless youth are beginning to realize their potential for political power. Will they be compassionate and empirical? Will they follow the leader? What will they hate? There is nothing to be assured of - everything is up for grabs."

Of all the ways to describe that, why did he choose "thrilling"? Could this be a British vs. (North) American connotation mismatch? I mean, if you described a movie or a video game or a sporting event as "thrilling", I'd be like, "yeah that sounds good." But if you described a cab ride or a visit to the DMV as "thrilling", I'd be more like "what the heck? what's gone wrong?" I'd like entertainment to be thrilling and the stuff that we need to function as a society to be not so thrilling. Is it just that I've inferred some level of enjoyment when something is described as "thrilling" that isn't actually there?
posted by mhum at 5:19 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Or, put differently: Hunger Games, the book and movie series, should be thrilling. Hunger Games, the socio-political system, should not be thrilling. (At least, in my understanding.)
posted by mhum at 6:09 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


The're the kind of socialists who existed in the 20s--all about that populism, but shove the particular needs of minority groups to the back. Entitled, privileged white guys with no actual experience in politics or community organizing

All demonstrably false.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:22 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


For a Feminist Socialism

The "Bernie Bro" slur is getting old and isn't particularly reflective of reality if it ever was.

Amber Frost (a host of Chapo Trap House) has been a member of the DSA for almost a decade, fwiw. The DSA and CTH are decidely not marginalizing or ignoring feminism, and one of their earliest interviews was with Liza Featherstone, editor of the awesome False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:26 PM on March 16 [7 favorites]


Didn't Frost only join the podcast in the past few months? And throwing a white woman on their podcast because she happens to be one of the host's roommates is, like, the saddest stab at intersectionality ever.
posted by schroedinger at 6:40 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


schroedinger: "Entitled, privileged white guys with no actual experience in politics or community organizing"

Joseph Gurl: "All demonstrably false."

I thought one of the appeals of these guys was that they came from completely outside of the normal political systems and advocacy groups. What were their experiences in politics and/or community organizing? I tried googling around for this I wasn't able to find the answer myself. The closest to a group bio I could find was in Jia Tolentino's article for the New Yorker which describes Christman as "unemployed for years, moving around the country with his wife, an academic librarian", Biederman as "a freelance writer and mixed-martial-arts hobbyist", and Menaker as "an assistant editor at Liveright".
posted by mhum at 6:48 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


The DSA and CTH are decidely not marginalizing or ignoring feminism, and one of their earliest interviews was with Liza Featherstone, editor of the awesome False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton

"Awesome." Hahahahaha.

I know anti-choice groups that claim to be feminist, too. And they write "awesome" books, too.

And, like those people, they too think that a man who admitted to repeated sexual assault was an acceptable alternative to someone who wasn't "pure" enough for their taste.

Faux-intersectional nihilism is a trait that a lot of white men cling to, to claim that the ways that everyone else prioritizes things is *wrong* and must be destroyed. And look where that's gotten us.

Or, put differently: Hunger Games, the book and movie series, should be thrilling. Hunger Games, the socio-political system, should not be thrilling.

There's a Livejournal post from ages ago, "Designing for Jedi", that makes a bit of the same point -- exciting and livable are generally two entirely different things.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:50 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is I have yet to derive much insight listening to a podcast by three rich white guys with no experience in politics, organizing, or activism whose main goal appears to be shitting on Leftists they don't like and whose guests have mostly consisted of other white dudes. They're a great circlejerk if you're the sort of liberal who lives in Park Slope, thinks composing a witty tweet counts as "activism", and doesn't actually know anyone who's not well-off, educated, and white but likes to think they'd have friends outside those categories if they only ever met them.
posted by schroedinger at 6:53 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


My un-satisfaction was less with the worldview itself than with the presentation of the worldview.

I don't think I can separate my understanding of his worldview from his presentation style. His films dive into the conflicting, tangled complexities of the worldviews of other people in an ever-complexifying outward spiral. Communicating the impossible complexity of the world might be the core of his view (at least to the degree to which I understand it). My viewings of his films are too far in the past to go into any kind of real detail, though I wish I could go deeper. I came out of his most recent 2 feeling like I understood the world even less than before, while also totally distrusting the film's narrative voice, and I'm not sure that that wasn't the whole point.

So yea, your take on it is on point IMO. The Century of the Self is still totally worth checking out.

Of all the ways to describe that, why did he choose "thrilling"?

I've been around a few people who have, in some sense, given themselves up to something greater than themselves. They have all seemed quite thrilled at the prospect. At least temporarily. War, ecstatic religion, gambling, (consensual) sexual submission. These all do something to one's sense of self that I think qualifies as thrilling, and it seems Curtis thinks a similar kind of greater force calls from the future.

I don't think that viewpoint necessarily includes thinking this is a good thing. If politics to reach the level of reason and transparency that I'd demand it would be the most boring thing to ever exist.

whose main goal appears to be shitting on Leftists

can you show me when this happened? I can get my (suppressed in-office) chuckles elsewhere if true
posted by nwwn at 8:08 PM on March 16


Metafilter: I trust that everyone here is well meaning, but this thread is crazy making
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:16 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Didn't Frost only join the podcast in the past few months? And throwing a white woman on their podcast because she happens to be one of the host's roommates is, like, the saddest stab at intersectionality ever.

She wasn't a host at first but was a frequent guest and fellow traveler, and she became a host before the show was even a year old. And how patronizing to suggest that she's a host because of her living situation? She's a long-term activist and author with a byline resume to die for, not to mention hilarious on the show.

If you actually want to criticize CHT from the left, someone named Benny has written a decent blueprint.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:01 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


three rich white guys

Pretty sure only Menaker comes from a background that could reasonably be characterized as "rich."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:03 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


"Awesome." Hahahahaha.

Did you read it, steady-state strawberry? It's very good.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:43 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


With a title like that, I don't have to.

Just because a group claims to be feminist doesn't mean it is. And when a group chooses to attack mainstream Democratic female politicians for their feminist credentials (like the aforementioned "pro-life feminist" groups), rather than targeting a serial sexual assaulter, that's already one strike against them.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:48 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


These writers (not a group--it's an anthology) are feminist, though, and why on earth would it be impossible to be critical of Clinton and Trump? I mean, most of the leftists I know held their noses and voted for Hillary in the tried-and-true lesser of two evils approach, but does that mean they can't criticize her?

Or are you arguing that it's not possible to critique Hillary from a feminist perspective? (I'm sure you don't think that, right?)

Anyway, the Verso page for the book has this choice tidbit:
Aren’t you helping the Republicans?
Only if you think that even one person will read a book by a coven of leftwing feminists, find it convincing, and conclude that she should vote for one of those misogynistic reactionaries.
Here are some of the contributors:

Liza Featherstone, Laura Flanders, Medea Benjamin, Frances Fox Piven, Donna Murch, Kathleen Geier, Yasmin Nair, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Catherine Liu, Zillah Eisenstein

Convince me that they're not feminists.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:07 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Only if you think that even one person will read a book by a coven of leftwing feminists, find it convincing, and conclude that she should vote for one of those misogynistic reactionaries.

Or read it and decide to vote for Stein or some other throw-away candidate instead. How many people do you think read that book? 80K, say?

When a podcast's "feminist" episode involves a self-identified leftist feminist attacking other feminists (rather than attacking, say, the right-wing politicians everyone should have been concerned about), I feel comfortable saying that it's using feminism as wallpaper rather than caring about it. Those women you talk about may be feminists (and "convince me they're not feminists" is a bad-faith argument), but they're being used by a podcast -- and a movement -- that (as others have pointed out) has very real questions about its commitment to intersectionality.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:35 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Or read it and decide to vote for Stein or some other throw-away candidate instead. How many people do you think read that book? 80K, say?

Nowhere near 80k. But it doesn't matter--Stein voters didn't sway the election (or any individual swing states).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:43 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Those questions are based on false assumptions and ignorance (like your assumptions about this book that you haven't read).


Is it an erroneous assumption that, save Amber, CTH consists of a bunch of cis heterosexual white men, and the sole woman they only recently added is a cis white woman? Is it an erroneous assumption that the vast majority of their guests also fall into the category of "straight white cis dude"? Do you not get why that is a giant red flag, especially when paired with their exceptionally self-righteous, more-liberal-than-thou brand of punditry?

Exactly how intersectional do you think they are if they can't be bothered to incorporate any perspectives outside their terribly narrow range? And worse, how aware of their own biases can they really be if they're simultaneously claiming to be intersectional while in their actions they are decidedly not?
posted by schroedinger at 10:49 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Now you're conflating the book (which has nothing to do with the podcast except that its editor was interviewed on the show) and the podcast.

CTH has women on very frequently, and if you think they claim to be "more-liberal-than-thou" then you haven't listened: they are explicitly not liberals.

The CTH hosts are also not claiming to be intersectional at all; they're claiming to be entertainment.

The Featherstone-edited book, on the other hand, is clearly and explicitly intersectional and its authors are admirably diverse, as I attempted to show you above--check out those author links, they point to fascinating and diverse folks.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:55 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I'm don't give a shit about the book. I am talking about how CTH's homogenaeity is a symptom of the narrowmindedness and hypocrisy that exists behind their cloak of "I am the most pure/liberal/leftist/progressive/whatever-the-fresh-hell-they're-calling-it-this-week".

Look--privilege tends to form a bubble around the privileged. It is something you have to actually work to bust out of. For example, I don't think 75% of white people intend to not have any white friends--but the way that the power and social structures within our society have formed result in white people who spend their whole lives around other white people and never break out of that. You have to recognize you're in the bubble and try to get out.

The privilege bubble results in intellectual stagnation and a resistance to new ideas and opinions and alternative perspectives. Which pairs very well with a judgemental attitude and an intolerance for those you've decided don't fit your definition of ideological purity.

The fact that these guys have such a huge podcast but operate in such a homogenous space does not reflect well on their ability to challenge themselves or seek out new ideas. It does not reflect well on their understanding of people from different backgrounds and walks of life. And the fact that they operate in this homogeneous space but deign themselves the arbiter of who is the real racist or the real sexist doesn't reflect well on their self-awareness.

Also, come on now, these guys don't get to be the fresh-faced, vibrant, political voices when it's convenient and "entertainment" when it's not.
posted by schroedinger at 11:12 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


And the fact that they operate in this homogeneous space but deign themselves the arbiter of who is the real racist or the real sexist doesn't reflect well on their self-awareness.

Wait--since when do they claim to be arbiters of who's "the real racist or the real sexist"?

Look--privilege tends to form a bubble around the privileged. It is something you have to actually work to bust out of.

Totally--which is why I'm surprised to see some people here criticizing them for adding Frost and Texas to their team.

The fact that these guys have such a huge podcast

I think they were as surprised as I was that their podcast blew up--it certainly didn't start with any fanfare or expectation of this sort of growth and popularity. It started organically, and since it's gotten bigger, it's grown more diverse. Obviously it's not maximally diverse (or even as diverse as you or I might like?) but it's hardly fair to accuse the show of failing to strive for greater diversity of voices.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:20 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Possibly relevant:
Liberals and Diversity
The argument, offered by this text and some nice graphics in the piece, is that diversity leads to racism, which leads to lower support for the welfare state, and thus creates widespread economic immiseration at the bottom of society. Beauchamp does not explain why exactly he thinks this is, but other liberal commentators, such as Ned Resnikoff, have attributed it to the “ancient, tribal section of the human brain.”

What follows from this particular argument is pretty clear: you can have diversity or you can have economic justice, but you can’t have both.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:27 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Is it an erroneous assumption that, save Amber, CTH consists of a bunch of cis heterosexual white men, and the sole woman they only recently added is a cis white woman?

Virgil is not white, and joined as a full-time host after making many guest appearaces -- and I think Felix, who's been there from the beginning, is only white-passing...?
posted by EmGeeJay at 6:23 PM on March 18


In terms of women on the show - unless the Wikipedia guest list is inaccurate (perhaps there are multiple guests per show and they're not all listed?) it looks like there have been approximately 53 appearances by men (with some people as guests twice and with some shows having two listed guests) versus twelve by women (with some people as guests twice). It might be that a couple of the people with "skews male but maybe not" names are women, and it may be possible that some people are NB, but that wikipedia article does not show the presence of a lot of women.

That's an 80/20 ratio. IIRC, 80-20 majority-minority is where the majority starts to perceive a group or space as being equal, with 70-30 being the tipping point for the majority seeing it as minority-dominated.

I'm open to hearing that the Wikipedia list is just wrong, and that there's actually a lot of women who call in or who are recurring guests rather than special guests and therefore they're not on the Wikipedia list. But if the Wikipedia list is correct, that's not a particularly good ratio, gender-wise. The more so because, honestly, I know about a gazillion women socialists in leadership positions in unions, local orgs, etc - far more women than men, actually, so I have trouble believing that it's just sheer lack of availability.
posted by Frowner at 6:38 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I think that's a fair point, Frowner, and I hope the guest list gets better over time in terms of representation. I'm not sure that's enough to say that the left movement has a problem with women right now, though it may be enough for at least some to say the podcast has a problem with women (and that's a reasonable conclusion to draw).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:18 PM on March 18


Salar Mohandesi looks at identity politics from a left socialist perspective. (Google cache in case the page is borked as it was a few minutes ago) Starting with some historical context (including the Combahee River Collective--previously!), Viewpoint Magazine examines the changing role and definition of identity in leftist/socialist politics.
Over the next few decades, these insights were codified into what we now understand as “identity politics.” But in the process, what began as a promise to push beyond some of socialism’s limitations to build a richer, more diverse and inclusive socialist politics, made possible something very different. Rooting political action in the identity of subjects offered a promising response to the most pressing political problem of the time, but it left an opening that would soon be exploited by those with politics diametrically opposed to those of the CRC.

This strategy was recently on display when Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s former communication director, attempted to explain the burst of anti-Trump protest following the inauguration. “You are wrong to look at these crowds and think that means everyone wants $15 an hour,” she said in an appearance on MSNBC in February. “Don’t assume that the answer to big crowds is moving policy to the left … It’s all about identity on our side now.”
Later in the piece:
This idea that one could draw such a direct line between identity and politics would become the basis of identity politics in its contemporary form, the core around which all these other elements – guilt, lifestylism, or the homogenization of groups – came to gravitate around over the next decade. Although this kind of thinking remained marginal at first, over the 1970s and 1980s, a vicious conservative backlash, the destruction of radical movements, the migration of political critique into the universities, the proliferation of single-issue campaigns, and the restructuring of capitalist relations all worked in unexpected ways to create the historical conditions that allowed identity politics to eventually achieve a kind of hegemony on the left.

But its limitations were clear from the outset. Most importantly, identity politics tended to flatten important distinctions within otherwise heterogeneous identities. It was in this context that the idea of “intersectionality” emerged. Although now regarded as synonymous with identity politics, the concept actually originated as a critique of its flaws.
Just to be clear: This is not posted in response to Frowner's point about representation on CTH. I was told by taz that this was a better place for it than the front page, so I'm moving it here--I think it's an interesting, thoughtful piece, but I need to think about it a lot more (and discuss it! Here!) before I can say how much of it I agree with.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:36 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


The Viewpoint article is excellent, although I don't know if I would categorize Viewpoint as "left socialist." They're more of a unspecified-socialist intellectual journal; they don't take positions on issues of strategy or program, etc. In any event, the article does an great job of providing the historical context for identity politics and intersectionality, and revealing the limits of those things as political ideologies. Unfortunate that it couldn't get on the front page; I think a lot of people on MF would benefit from reading it.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:19 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Unfortunate that it couldn't get on the front page; I think a lot of people on MF would benefit from reading it.

I agree, but I also see taz's point, so I'm okay with it here. I just hope people are still coming to this thread (though the evidence suggests otherwise).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:53 PM on March 19


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