Leftist Concepts: Trust (x) vs. Agency (y)
March 27, 2015 8:16 PM   Subscribe

Je ne suis pas liberal: Entering the quagmire of online leftism "Classifying leftist ideology in a framework of agency and trust, I find a buried contradiction at the heart of anti-oppressive activism, one in which practitioners pathologically self-position themselves in a space of chronic moral jeopardy."
posted by lalochezia (115 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not yet sure what I think about the claims and conclusions here, but it's a very clear, thoughtful, and well-written piece that seems to try to take on issues that have been bandied about less directly and far, far less comprehensively with some frequency lately.

Nice link. Thanks!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:42 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Pro-ISIS magazine in Istanbul bombed

You can condemn the content of a publication and an attack on them at the same time. Maybe this story will make it easier for you. Or possibly, it just makes everything more difficult. Maybe THIS magazine...
posted by Drinky Die at 8:45 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yup. Privilege examination, as applied to the middle class, will haunt actual affecting-people politics for decades to come. It's a sweeter gift than "political correctness" to the revanchist right wing by far.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:45 PM on March 27, 2015


(Digging down further into TFA though, I'm finding it incomprehensible. Either because it's gibberish or just over my head. I'm interested to see what kind of conversation flows out from people who can grok it.)
posted by Drinky Die at 8:50 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


(the endnotes--esp. the ones about Foucault--are helpful in understanding TFA's author's assumptions and investments.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:53 PM on March 27, 2015


I find myself somewhat aporetic.
posted by topynate at 8:53 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can I just be Neutral Good?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:55 PM on March 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


I feel predisposed to mistrust 2-axis political alignment charts (of which I've seen many, including this one and the famous one for US party politics), but they seem to explain everything so well and I can't actually articulate anything wrong with them.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:04 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am not here to say one faction was right and one was wrong

I'll let Crow, Joel, and Servo handle this one.

But honestly the fact that he seems to see discord between capitalist liberals who want what we have but better and leftists who want the system radically changed and/or replaced as needing explanation is weird and dumb. The effort to make a system which classifies political tendencies according to their positions on silly and arbitrary axes is as foolish and ill-advised an endeavor as ever.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:06 PM on March 27, 2015 [12 favorites]


I feel predisposed to mistrust 2-axis political alignment charts (of which I've seen many, including this one and the famous one for US party politics), but they seem to explain everything so well and I can't actually articulate anything wrong with them.

My main objection is that four categories are too few to scratch my classificatory itch. With two more axes we could have a left-wing Myers-Briggs typology.
posted by topynate at 9:09 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


But honestly the fact that he seems to see discord between capitalist liberals who want what we have but better and leftists who want the system radically changed and/or replaced as needing explanation is weird and dumb. The effort to make a system which classifies political tendencies according to their positions on silly and arbitrary axes is as foolish and ill-advised an endeavor as ever.

I guess I'll have to wait for an actual thoughtful critique.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:10 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


What's social welfare whiggism? This is an honest question.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:12 PM on March 27, 2015


Whoa, looks like this is the Waggish guy.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:13 PM on March 27, 2015


Whiggism = optimism that things are/will be improving (toward classical enlightenment ideals). So social welfare whiggism, I assume, is optimism that the current social-welfare system can be improved (or, is already on the path to being improved?) without being overthrown/dismantled.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:17 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


What's social welfare whiggism? This is an honest question.

A sorta teleological optimism that social welfare conditions are getting better and better.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:19 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


(jinx, LobsterMitten)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:19 PM on March 27, 2015


This is a fascinating article.

The callout is intrinsically an ad hominem. The reasons for this are somewhat obfuscated. A callout is indeed based on personal attributes of the target such as race and gender, not just the particulars of the target’s behavior, but this sort of ad hominem is hardly specific to the callout. (Consider the term “mansplaining.”) Where the Moralist departs from standard ad hominem practice, rather, is in the insistence on false consciousness.

In declaring that the stated, conscious intentions behind a target’s behavior are subordinate to the social forces causing the target to promote oppression unknowingly, the Moralist makes an argument about the target’s character, namely that she is the victim of false consciousness. False consciousness is not a costume one dons and discards at will; it is something that the target carries with her, and so an individual callout, while focused on a single bad act, is in fact an indictment of a person’s entire character—a character that is founded upon, and must forever reckon with, the original sin of false consciousness. This is why the callout can never truly be answered in a single instance; the most one can do is promise to try to do better in fighting the system, knowing that eyes will be watching from that point on.

Should the target deny the callout, the target will then lose the ability to claim ignorance as an excuse for her faulty behavior from that point on. Those who deploy callouts put themselves in the position of an anointed Moral elect, diagnosing false consciousness as a character flaw—though this does not exempt them from being targeted by other members of the elect.

posted by Sebmojo at 9:25 PM on March 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


But honestly the fact that he seems to see discord between capitalist liberals who want what we have but better and leftists who want the system radically changed and/or replaced as needing explanation is weird and dumb.

Yeah, I agree. A big chunk of this piece is down to Auerbach either having some extremely nonstandard ideas about what "left" and "liberal" mean, especially relative to each other, or just wanting to let every online denouncer's self-identification as one or the other stand unchallenged even when incoherent; I honestly couldn't tell which, but either way it's kind of a terminological hot mess. It also very much doesn't help that he seems to want "liberal" to mean both the standard political-theory meaning and the American/Rush Limbaugh meaning at the same time.

The effort to make a system which classifies political tendencies according to their positions on silly and arbitrary axes is as foolish and ill-advised an endeavor as ever.

This part I don't agree with in the abstract, though I agree that the article kind of makes a hash of its attempt. Structural critique and solidarity in action vs. individualism and moralizing about choice are important dimensions of difference between left and liberal positions, just not comprehensibly so in the way Auerbach arrays them.
posted by RogerB at 9:27 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


but they seem to explain everything so well

This is why you should mistrust them.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:28 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


I find the suspicion-solidarity axis really interesting and useful - but it's also such a complex thing. I know many activists of color, for instance, who are really committed to solidarity, but have felt let down time and time again by "white" organizations. It's a really hard thing to have trust in situations like that - when it does happen, though, it's incredibly powerful and often the result of a lot of hard work on both sides.
posted by lunasol at 9:29 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is why you should mistrust them.
...he writes, confidently striding into the Suspicion quadrant.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:31 PM on March 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


I guess I'll have to wait for an actual thoughtful critique.

Well I'm sorry for not writing several paragraphs on somebody who thinks anarchists and communists aren't interested in privilege discourse (those are several very odd, very cherry-picked paragraphs) and talks like his concepts of ethical agency vs structural determination and credulous solidarity vs skeptical suspicion are classifications of different kinds of people rather than modes which people use in different ways at different times. Which, of course explains why he has to pretend that anarchists and communists aren't interested in moralism- he's already decided that both are heavy structuralists, so he ignores the huge focus on privilege and intersectionality present within the actual anarchist subculture and discourse. Of course anarchists in particular are obsessed with this stuff- anarchism takes as one of its central questions the issue of power, who's got it, and who it's over, and privilege discourse is at its core about the power in society, who's got it, and who it's over. But that doesn't fit Auerbach's categorization, so it must be ignored and that aspect of the discourse must be excised from reality.

And hey, that's what happens with these two-axis categorizations- libertarian socialism, for example, cannot be graphed on the Nolan Chart, because the Nolan Chart assumes that "economic liberty" and "anarcho-capitalism" are identical- leaving stateless socialism out in the cold. Two-axis charts to categorize ideologies and beliefs are much more useful for reframing a discourse in a way that an individual situated within that discourse will find politically useful than they are for promoting understanding.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:34 PM on March 27, 2015 [40 favorites]


Well I'm sorry for not writing several paragraphs on somebody who thinks anarchists and communists aren't interested in privilege discourse (those are several very odd, very cherry-picked paragraphs) and talks like his concepts of ethical agency vs structural determination and credulous solidarity vs skeptical suspicion are classifications of different kinds of people rather than modes which people use in different ways at different times. Which, of course explains why he has to pretend that anarchists and communists aren't interested in moralism- he's already decided that both are heavy structuralists, so he ignores the huge focus on privilege and intersectionality present within the actual anarchist subculture and discourse. Of course anarchists in particular are obsessed with this stuff- anarchism takes as one of its central questions the issue of power, who's got it, and who it's over, and privilege discourse is at its core about the power in society, who's got it, and who it's over. But that doesn't fit Auerbach's categorization, so it must be ignored and that aspect of the discourse must be excised from reality.

No need to fauxpologize, yr holiness :)

But wait a minute. Did you miss this?
There are Moralist concepts and practices without much in the way of deterministic Structural precepts, including (1) individualist forms of anarchism; (2) performative subversion of countercultural movements like the Beatniks, the Merry Pranksters, the Yippies, etc; and (3) the primarily critical contrarianism of writers like Randolph Bourne, George Orwell, Gore Vidal, Leszek Kołakowski, Noam Chomsky, and perhaps Gilles Deleuze. None have held hold particular political force in America recently, however, so here “Moralist practice” is synonymous with the anti-oppression politics of today.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:37 PM on March 27, 2015


As best I can tell this part pretty well reveals that Auerbach totally misunderstands a good chunk of the stuff he's trying so pithily to sum up:
The problem is that Fisher and Rectenwald beg the question against the Moralist (and Liberal, for that matter) charge of ethical fallibility. Even if identity groups are products of capitalism, membership in a vanguard group does little to inoculate one against such prejudices. The best a Radical ideology can promise, in keeping with its Structural bent, is that after the revolution, all such prejudices will be swept away
This is somewhere around the freshman-seminar level of "I still haven't done the reading assignment but obviously all of Marx and post-Marxist theory makes no sense" as far as I can see; he just sounds totally out of his depth. Like, yeah, if you just assert your liberal-individualist ethics as an unquestionable premise, then people who hold different premises are gonna seem to you like they're begging the question. This should not come as a surprise.
posted by RogerB at 9:38 PM on March 27, 2015 [14 favorites]


One of the interesting parts of my job is the creation of taxonomies to organize and make sense of large amounts of information. Among other things, it's left me with a deep, reflexive skepticism of arguments about politics, morality, or any other human phenomenon that boil down to describing and then discussing categories of things. It's not bad in and of itself; in fact, it can be quite interesting and sometimes enlightening.

But this kind of categorization is not a neutral act, documenting objective reality and then reflecting on it. Taxonomy is an act of assertion, and like many other rhetorical framing technique it is useful because it is effective—not because it has anything to do with the truth.
posted by verb at 9:43 PM on March 27, 2015 [25 favorites]


The idea that "liberalism", in the political sense, has anything whatever to do with "the left" is a category error of the first degree. American "liberalism" has never been "leftist". It's been Whiggish (in the sense of "slow and incremental Progress with a capital-P"), but not leftist; it's co-opted the left, to some extent (principally the labour movement), mostly in the interests of stifling it and making the world safe for capitalism. This whole thing really reads like an incoherent mishmash of half-baked and partially-digested ideas from someone who's really resentful of activist politics for some reason (possibly because he found himself on the receiving end of some vitriol over his remarkably stupid Gamergate article).
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 9:49 PM on March 27, 2015 [23 favorites]


It's an impressive display of tendentious mendacity, willful ignorance, and systematic miscomprehension.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:53 PM on March 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


There are Moralist concepts and practices without much in the way of deterministic Structural precepts, including (1) individualist forms of anarchism;

Individualist anarchism is in most cases only vaguely left if at all and tends toward propertarianism. His inclusion of it is IMO a further example of how Auerbach doesn't know what the fuck he's on about.

(2) performative subversion of countercultural movements like the Beatniks, the Merry Pranksters, the Yippies, etc;

These are short-lived countercultures that the then-contemporary left viewed as possibly useful or just frivolous and which the modern left doesn't really interact with at all, so I don't know how they're relevant.

(3) the primarily critical contrarianism of writers like Randolph Bourne, George Orwell, Gore Vidal, Leszek Kołakowski, Noam Chomsky, and perhaps Gilles Deleuze.

I'm not familiar with Bourne or Kolakowski, and not very familiar with Deleuze, but I can say that talking like Orwell (the author of "Politics and the English Language", for crying out loud!) and Chomsky wouldn't be on the structural side of his agency-vs-structure dichotomy is tremendously silly...

I think the tail (theory) is wagging the dog (facts) in this article.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:00 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's an impressive display of tendentious mendacity, willful ignorance, and systematic miscomprehension.

Care to elaborate?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:17 PM on March 27, 2015


I won't speak for Ivan, but I will say this: practice of categorizing ideologies systematically in long and verbose ways almost always masks a desire to dismiss at least some of those ideologies in a way that seems rather witty. And this seems to be no exception. As such, the author's initial protestations of neutrality are, as Pope Guilty pointed out above, rather questionable. Everybody's got an opinion and an axe to grind; may as well admit it and engage directly with the ideas, rather than pretending to be on some higher plane with fancy charts.
posted by koeselitz at 10:23 PM on March 27, 2015 [10 favorites]


This whole thing really reads like an incoherent mishmash of half-baked and partially-digested ideas from someone who's really resentful of activist politics for some reason (possibly because he found himself on the receiving end of some vitriol over his remarkably stupid Gamergate article).

Yeah, I have to say on reflection that this seems to sum it up. Auerbach is sometimes a pretty sharp guy, and I've enjoyed reading his writing in the past, but he's always had more than a touch of Engineer's Syndrome and he's started to give off a pretty strong stench of fedora recently. I don't really know if he's drifted far to the right recently or if I just never noticed because I mostly used to read his writing about relatively apolitical topics — but as a casual observer I'll still hazard the guess that he's looking more and more like a case in point of just how effectively GamerGate (maybe along with a few other Reddit-politics style issues) has actually worked as a wedge issue, converting mildly antifeminist-on-the-personal-level guys into full-bore axe-grinding conservatives.
posted by RogerB at 10:29 PM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


I will add – dismantling the "framework" the author lays out would probably begin with asking some questions like: is solidarity really counter to suspicion, and vice versa? Are these things really in tension? Is the ethical really in tension with the structural? And in finer grain, are the individual points on the chart really in tension in the way that he claims they are? I'm not so sure, and I'm not sure a chart helps us conceptualize what really is, after all, just a lot of ideas that people believe some of but not all of in general. The world is messy, and ideas don't exist on continuums and gradients. Turns out, people just believe different things, sometimes because they misunderstand each other, often because they misunderstand the world, and those beliefs aren't really an independent object that can be bandied about.

What would make more sense would be to say something like: "we, as liberals / leftists, whatever those things mean, haven't entirely decided whether we can agree that a kind of capitalist democracy would be a just form of regime. Some of us say X, while others of us say Y, and still others say Z. Which is correct?" And this article is at its best when Mr Auerbach approaches that kind of inquiry. But it's often drawn back down by the urge to find systems that are binary.

On preview, I think I agree with RogerB's critique here.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 PM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


RogerB: " but as a casual observer I'll still hazard the guess that he's looking more and more like a case in point of just how effectively GamerGate (maybe along with a few other Reddit-politics style issues) has actually worked as a wedge issue, converting mildly antifeminist-on-the-personal-level guys into full-bore axe-grinding conservatives."

For what it's worth, he doesn't seem overly enamored with GamerGate in this article (though he also criticizes anti-GG people for doxing and harrassment, and I have no idea if what he's saying is true or not).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:32 PM on March 27, 2015


Suspicion, Solidarity, Structural, Ethical

Dude, nobody knows what the FUCK you mean by these terms. These words don't mean what you think they mean.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:36 PM on March 27, 2015


I'm not opposed to talking Gamergate, but if we're gonna do that I think a GG thread would be better rather than this mostly unrelated one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:36 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think Auerbach's kind of bizarre history there (here's another one) is relevant to this piece; I think it's probably largely inspired by criticism he received there. It kind of provides the background explanation for where this particular incoherent "The Left is Tearing Itself Apart!" essay came from, and where he's probably standing here. The piece itself is incredibly opaque and content-free, so that extra context is useful to have and discuss.
posted by byanyothername at 10:42 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh lordy. How many hand-wringing articles about callouts have there been lately? (Almost all of them referencing each other.) It's practically a cottage industry itself now. I'm just waiting for the thinkpieces about how Twitter bullied those poor OU frat guys.

(And Auerbach isn't even smart enough to be a mid-level blowhard like Chait or deBoer.)

Meanwhile, TERFs are still a huge part of establishment feminism around the world and making life shitty for transfolk every day, black women have a wage chasm instead of just a wage gap with white men, and "liberal" Hollywood continues to be racist as shit. But I guess we should just all sing kumbaya in solidarity.
posted by kmz at 10:48 PM on March 27, 2015 [6 favorites]


If Auerbach had gone rogue he wouldn't be writing in such an obscure style. The content is there but deliberately phrased in as untweetable a way as possible. If you want clear criticism of the Left, I'm afraid you may have to read the Right.
posted by topynate at 10:48 PM on March 27, 2015


Suspicion, Solidarity, Structural, Ethical

Dude, nobody knows what the FUCK you mean by these terms. These words don't mean what you think they mean.


He explains what he means in the fifth paragraph.

That is to say: on the Axis of Trust, people who subscribe to labels closer to Solidarity will tend to extol the virtues of like-mindedness and shared interests among citizens, while people subscribing to labels closer to Suspicion will tend to stress the virtues of searching out damaging people and ideas and analyzing differences within citizen movements. On the Axis of Agency, people who subscribe to more Ethical labels will tend to privilege individual agency and the autonomous struggle toward virtuous, productive action; while those who subscribe to more Structural labels will tend to downplay the consequences of individual behavior in favor of large-scale historical forces, which many will unknowingly bring about.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:27 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I have to say on reflection that this seems to sum it up. Auerbach is sometimes a pretty sharp guy, and I've enjoyed reading his writing in the past, but he's always had more than a touch of Engineer's Syndrome and he's started to give off a pretty strong stench of fedora recently. I don't really know if he's drifted far to the right recently or if I just never noticed because I mostly used to read his writing about relatively apolitical topics — but as a casual observer I'll still hazard the guess that he's looking more and more like a case in point of just how effectively GamerGate (maybe along with a few other Reddit-politics style issues) has actually worked as a wedge issue, converting mildly antifeminist-on-the-personal-level guys into full-bore axe-grinding conservatives.

Okay, this is helping. I know nothing of GamerGate (other than references to it here) and don't play computer games, use twitter, or edit Wikipedia. So I'm definitely willing to consider that there are contexts to this piece that I'm missing and that might help me "take a side" on its validity or use-value.

I used to read Auerbach's Waggish, like a decade ago (I remember when it first popped up...I think wood s lot linked it?) and thought he was smart, thoughtful, and informed, mostly on lit and critical theory, iirc. Perhaps because I haven't had any reason to be suspicious of Auerbach's motives, I have a hard time understanding (or accepting? agreeing with?) stuff like "a touch of Engineer's Syndrome" and "strong stench of fedora," (I mean, I know what you mean by those terms but have no way of connecting them to what I've read from him over the years), but more importantly, I have a hard time reading TFA as "far to the right."

My interest in the piece is that, as I see it, "The Left" is clearly divided these days, and, while we might disagree with his taxonomies, I appreciated a detailed, well-researched attempt at examining that (increasingly vehement and resentful, imo) division.

Most of the critiques here seem to be facile or outright dismissive. That's fine--nobody has to critique at length and not wanting to do so doesn't mean one can't disagree with or reject TFA's conclusions or reasoning--but I'm drawn to the article because it's not facile. It does make reductive moves, of course (taxonomy, unavoidable, etc.), but it tries pretty hard to explain and provide examples.

Auerbach may be dead wrong about this stuff (like I said in my first post, I don't know how I feel about his claims and conclusions!), but this is the most thoughtful, well-researched piece I've seen on a phenomenon I've perceived. I'd be very, very pleased to see better ones, though, so link away if you've got 'em!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:28 PM on March 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Leftism and the Banausic Thinker: From Plato to Verso, David Auerbach
This is an essay about defining one’s self as better than the world, as purer than the world. The urge to take your marbles and go home is a very old one, yet its role in art and politics is paradoxical, since taking your marbles and going home would seem to suggest that you will be ineffectual and unremembered. In fact, I think that is what happens most of the time. But the purist’s ability to survive latently in society owes to a peculiar form of elitism. Sometimes the elitism is obvious; other times it hides under a mask of ideology.
Auerbach writes for Slate, so I'm probably going wrong by even reading these.

...he writes, confidently striding into the Suspicion quadrant.

No striding needed - I live here. One of the most useful heuristics I've developed for thinking about thinking is to be relentlessly skeptical of indulging in models or systems of behavior that flatter me. Auerbach's total lack of examination of the "liberal" quarter of his graph tells me he thinks it self-evidently correct.

Auerbach's continual use of "masks" and "underlies" points out the flaws in his thinking. He indulges in the "mask" or "layer" model of human motivation. It's appropriate for him to do so at first, since he is analyzing how other people think, and it is a common flaw. But he goes on to maintain the search for the 'true' motivations, the face beneath the mask, committing the same flaw.

I guess I really should write that piece kicking around in my head.

Finally, he falls into the categorizer's trap. A good example is in Esquire Magazine/NBC's political polling from 2013, in which they 'found' eight distinct groups of Americans. Auerbach makes a similar mistake: two axes, four quadrants makes four clusters. Except there's no attempt to determine if these categories exist as coherent, stable units (and not modes of thinking that people slip into and out of) and what, if any, are the relationships between them. It may be that, for example, the areas labelled "situationism" and "protest" have useful cross-correlations, but since they are in opposed quadrants, his analysis permits none.

It might be an interesting exercise to turn his graph into a semiotic square, which I would do if I felt more confident about this slatewriter's use of words (and poorly written html, and inability to link to critiques that he said were better).
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:32 PM on March 27, 2015 [8 favorites]


Schemas are fun, and useful if they succeed in predicting behavior. I think this one kind of dissolves the more you look at it, though. As Pope Guilty points out, neither people nor movements stay in their quadrants as the theory demands. Nor should they.

I do think Auerbach identifies a problem with what he calls Moralists and Theorists... namely, that they don't have a clear path to achieving their goals. He doesn't seem to realize, though, that neither does anyone else on his chart. Some of them think they do, but they also tend to be the people who've spent a hundred years not getting there. (Liberals of course have some power, but anyone who thinks they get their way in the world has been asleep for the last forty years.)

But, eh, all this was explored much more clearly by George Orwell in his essay on Dickens. There's a tension between moral reform and revolution, but neither is entirely wrong. Which is to say, even if Auerbach's analysis of the "moralists" were correct, it's not as damning as he seems to think. It's not a requirement for political action that it include a program for achieving one's version of utopia.
posted by zompist at 11:42 PM on March 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel predisposed to mistrust 2-axis political alignment charts (of which I've seen many, including this one and the famous one for US party politics), but they seem to explain everything so well

It's cargo cult sciencism, that's why, something that looks vaguely sciencey and neutral but is of course easily manipulated and as in this case, mostly based on the author's gut instincts and prejudices.

These things are almost always issue or value based, assigned haphazardly to various political positions, without taking into account any broader ideology.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:46 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do think Auerbach identifies a problem with what he calls Moralists and Theorists... namely, that they don't have a clear path to achieving their goals. He doesn't seem to realize, though, that neither does anyone else on his chart. Some of them think they do, but they also tend to be the people who've spent a hundred years not getting there.

Marx laid out a pretty detailed path, imo. I highly recommend a close reading of Capital.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:47 PM on March 27, 2015


Oh jesus. That graphic looks like a petulant, political version of the "Me vs Other Girls" tumblr meme. Liberal Cluster: social welfare, tolerance, ideal speech situation. Moralist Cluster: callouts, privilege, 'allies', intersectionality, ANTITOLERANCE, scary new internet culture, meanies!
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:48 PM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


Most of the critiques here seem to be facile or outright dismissive. That's fine--nobody has to critique at length and not wanting to do so doesn't mean one can't disagree with or reject TFA's conclusions or reasoning--but I'm drawn to the article because it's not facile. It does make reductive moves, of course (taxonomy, unavoidable, etc.), but it tries pretty hard to explain and provide examples.

What it does well is to provide a coherent answer for why the left is prone to circular firing squads. One might disagree with his reasoning, but it would be polite to at least make a stab at a better answer.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:57 PM on March 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


Interestingly,the American Right is starting to wander into this territory as well, as the establishment Republicans and Tea Party/Evangelical/Loons now face the consequences of their deal-with-the-devil marriage of convenience.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:00 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Liberal Cluster: social welfare, tolerance, ideal speech situation. Moralist Cluster: callouts, privilege, 'allies', intersectionality, ANTITOLERANCE, scary new internet culture, meanies!

Callouts, privilege, allies and intersectionality are all things, though? And the progress/creative self-destruction of the left is as a result of the interaction of all four quadrants.

I think it's always worth reminding oneself that the US having a black president, vaguely socialised-if-you-squint medicine, over 50% legal gay marriage by state and legalised cannabis all over the place would have been so hilariously fucking implausible back in the (say) 80s that it would barely have warranted a snort.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:01 AM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


we were supposed to be wearing studded leather and riding spike covered gaswagons through the nuclear wasteland by now, it's very disappointing
posted by Sebmojo at 12:06 AM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


I just want tangible results towards equality/justice/tolerance and better lives for more people, even if they are incremental, and I don't fully understand how leftists beating up on each other endlessly accomplishes that.

I don't see how it wins elections or leads to better policy or better lives for anyone (save Republicans who kill in every non presidential election.) I don't see how it gets anyone anywhere.

Can someone help me understand how privilege checking and what the author here calls callout culture is going to lead to result? Maybe it's a hearts and minds thing and I'm wrong? Are the goals of the people involved simply different from mine (which are mainly winning elections and moving the country towards progressiveness?)

There's a lot to unpack from this article, but it touches on many things that I have been thinking about lately, so thank you for posting.
posted by imabanana at 12:09 AM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Joseph Gurl: “Okay, this is helping. I know nothing of GamerGate (other than references to it here) and don't play computer games, use twitter, or edit Wikipedia. So I'm definitely willing to consider that there are contexts to this piece that I'm missing and that might help me 'take a side' on its validity or use-value.”

Then pay attention to that context: as it appears, Auerbach is a person who recently got a ton of criticism from leftists because he chose to write an article in support of what was pretty clearly the wrong side of the GamerGate debacle. The fact that he is suddenly found writing an article about how the left is fractious and mean is therefore obviously disingenuous; he has a motive here that he's not stating, and that is to cast doubt on his critics by bemoaning their purported cruelty and crudity.

“Most of the critiques here seem to be facile or outright dismissive. That's fine--nobody has to critique at length and not wanting to do so doesn't mean one can't disagree with or reject TFA's conclusions or reasoning--but I'm drawn to the article because it's not facile. It does make reductive moves, of course (taxonomy, unavoidable, etc.), but it tries pretty hard to explain and provide examples... Auerbach may be dead wrong about this stuff (like I said in my first post, I don't know how I feel about his claims and conclusions!), but this is the most thoughtful, well-researched piece I've seen on a phenomenon I've perceived.”

You are confusing big words and fancy taxonomies with thoughtfulness, good faith, and honesty. They are not identical. The fact that David Auerbach is writing long, cogent paragraphs about this does not mean that he's arguing fairly, that he's not being crassly dismissive, that he's not bringing an opinion to the table, as much as he may protest otherwise. You read the critiques here as facile because you like the linked article and agree with it; meanwhile, people here have given plenty of very good reasons why they believe the article itself is "dismissive and facile" – you just seem to want to ignore them.

“My interest in the piece is that, as I see it, 'The Left' is clearly divided these days, and, while we might disagree with his taxonomies, I appreciated a detailed, well-researched attempt at examining that (increasingly vehement and resentful, imo) division.”

Here's the rub. You like the article because it confirms your perceptions. Other people here seem to dislike the article because they disagree with specifically this point. In my perspective, the Left is not peculiarly or particularly divided, is not in any outstanding way fractious or angry. I think this is a perception people sometimes have because they themselves have gotten burned in argument, or have seen it happen to someone else, and they therefore conclude that this isn't how it's always been. But it really has always been this way. People have always disagreed with each other, and have never been united in debate. At this point in history, people don't generally kill each other over it, which means we're actually doing pretty good comparatively.

But – I understand you disagree with this. That's fine. We can talk about it. Let's just drop the pretense that this is a discussion about the article and whether or not it's "facile," when what we really want to talk about is our perception of the world and the left / liberal political landscape.

“I'd be very, very pleased to see better ones, though, so link away if you've got 'em!”

Heh. So you're asking people, instead of commenting, to write essays for your perusal? I don't think it works that way. Plenty of people have written intelligent responses to the article. It's not really fair to ask people responding to produce links as admission to the conversation. It may seem right to say "if you don't like it, show me something better" – but they have done that, specifically by giving clear arguments against it.
posted by koeselitz at 12:10 AM on March 28, 2015 [16 favorites]


Sebmojo, exactly; callouts, allies, and intersectionality are all things, but they're also being grouped together as uniformly toxic, uniformly responsible for this latest bout of panic that The Left Is Eating Itself. They're all concepts that have gone mainstream within the past decade, mostly via the work of women and POC activists, and it looks to me like a lot of Auerbach's dislike of intersectionality has to do with not understanding, and fearing, new ideologies, which are disseminated via new technology, from voices he didn't use to have to take seriously.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:16 AM on March 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


Joseph Gurl: “I have a hard time reading TFA as ‘far to the right’”

Not to speak for RogerB, but – Auerbach's criticisms of the Left in this article are accurately described as "to the right" if only because they are exactly the criticisms that the right makes all the time of liberalism. Sincerely, reading this is like reading every single argument I've ever had with my conservative friends. They say the same things that Auerbach is saying: that "privilege-checking" and "callouts" and "allies" and "intersectionality" are all anti-liberty insanity, that the whole left wing of liberalism has gone off the rails with meanness, that unless liberalism returns to its "roots" (which happen, of course, to be conservative-libertarian) it will drag itself down into calumny and hatred. These are the arguments conservatives have been giving us for decades now. So it really makes a lot of sense to characterize them as "rightist" arguments.
posted by koeselitz at 12:18 AM on March 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


Also, oh my god, watching this man attempt to co-opt Audre Lorde to smear the intersectionality movement by cherrypicking "The Uses of Anger" is repulsive.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:23 AM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


I used to read Auerbach's Waggish, like a decade ago (I remember when it first popped up...I think wood s lot linked it?) and thought he was smart, thoughtful, and informed,

Me too! Though even there he always had more than a touch of the autodidact/outsider/whatever you want to call it about him, that's what I was calling Engineer's Syndrome.

I have a hard time reading TFA as "far to the right."

I meant that he appears to me to have drifted far to the right from (what I may have misperceived as) his previous position, not that I'd call his a "far-right" position in absolute terms. To the less than complete extent that it makes sense to me at all I'd call the article's position right-liberal or liberal-individualist. Someone like Jonathan Chait is a pretty decent analogue to this essay in some ways (though Chait far, far outdoes Auerbach in douchey grandstanding, don't get me wrong) in that he likes to portray what he's doing as offering an intra-left critique to his comrades, while he's actually hippie-punching/opinion-policing a left whose fundamental tenets and goals he's never shared or perhaps even understood.

My interest in the piece is that, as I see it, "The Left" is clearly divided these days, and, while we might disagree with his taxonomies, I appreciated a detailed, well-researched attempt at examining that (increasingly vehement and resentful, imo) division.

An important part of this is realizing that not every online left-identified posture actually is part of the same politics at all. And division in that case isn't necessarily a bad thing: vehement online divisions in the "left" might be useful, if they help to divide politics that work (or critiques with substance) from poses that just make people feel righteous, or superficial remedies that don't really fix structural problems. From my perspective Auerbach's muddle doesn't help with this problem because he's so confused about what might differentiate liberal moralism from left structural critique, not because differentiating between them isn't vitally important.
posted by RogerB at 12:26 AM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Then pay attention to that context: as it appears, Auerbach is a person who recently got a ton of criticism from leftists because he chose to write an article in support of what was pretty clearly the wrong side of the GamerGate debacle. The fact that he is suddenly found writing an article about how the left is fractious and mean is therefore obviously disingenuous; he has a motive here that he's not stating, and that is to cast doubt on his critics by bemoaning their purported cruelty and crudity.

Thanks, that's helpful. I'm not sure I agree that the facts as you've stated them render this essay "obviously disingenuous," but I don't think yours is an unreasonable interpretation.

You are confusing big words and fancy taxonomies with thoughtfulness, good faith, and honesty. They are not identical.

No, I'm not, and it's pretty insulting that you'd think I'd believe that. I've always known you to be a compassionate and kind-hearted interlocutor here. I'm not aiming for a fight and I hope we can avoid treating each other unkindly.

You read the critiques here as facile because you like the linked article and agree with it;

I've clearly said--at least twice here!--that I don't agree with it (nor do I disagree; I'm thinking it through and trying to use this discussion to help me do so, as one does). I do agree with its premise that the Left is fraught with internecine squabbles, though, and I am somewhat disappointed in the move towards identity politics, although I'm not really opposed to that, either--I'm just not sure it coincides with any of my more macro political goals or preferences.

meanwhile, people here have given plenty of very good reasons why they believe the article itself is "dismissive and facile" – you just seem to want to ignore them.

I don't want to ignore them. I'm mostly seeing responses that reject it out of hand because it has a graph (!) or because of some drama the author was previously embroiled in, though.

So you're asking people, instead of commenting, to write essays for your perusal? I don't think it works that way. Plenty of people have written intelligent responses to the article. It's not really fair to ask people responding to produce links as admission to the conversation. It may seem right to say "if you don't like it, show me something better" – but they have done that, specifically by giving clear arguments against it.

No, I'm not asking anyone to write anything. I'm asking for better reading material. It's not a demand; it's a request. And I'm definitely not asking for any kind of "admission to the conversation." I'm not sure where you got that idea, but I'll assume it was my inelegant prose that produced some ambiguity. My apologies--please believe me when I say I'm just looking for stuff to help me understand the rift I perceive (or to change my perception and come to the conclusion that no such rift exists!). I don't at all expect anyone to help me find that stuff; if someone wants to, though, I'll be grateful.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:27 AM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Joseph Gurl: "I'm mostly seeing responses that reject it out of hand because it has a graph (!) or because of some drama the author was previously embroiled in, though."

Which comments exactly seem to you to be rejecting the article out of hand because it has a graph or because the author was involved in an unconnected drama? As far as I can see, nobody did either of these things. Each person gave an argument for why they felt the way they felt; they didn't just reject things in a facile way. I guess maybe you had some particular comments in mind. If that's the case, it's generally a good idea to respond directly to people and tell them that you think they are wrong about a particular thing they said.

Sorry that I got a bit prickly about this, but it kind of bugs me when I'm not even sure whether someone is actually saying I've been dismissive or facile. Vagueness about who you mean is rarely a nice, polite cover for these things. I understand you probably just didn't want to appear to be calling people out, and because of that I wish I'd been less confrontation in my response.
posted by koeselitz at 12:42 AM on March 28, 2015


Joseph, I'm not objecting to the article because it has a graph, but because the graph shows a shallow understanding of the ideas he's using it to illustrate. Positioning "structural injustice" as a concept in opposition to "intersectionality" tells me that Auerbach has a poor working definition of both terms.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:45 AM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


They're in the same quadrant, so unless you mean that "structural injustice" is literally the same thing as "intersectionality" I don't see how you could infer that.
posted by topynate at 12:53 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted. Hey, sorry, but a list of links to comments in this thread that you find don't measure up to your personal satisfaction is not really a great way to go here (despite the request), and is getting pretty darn Meta. Probably better to just add your own point of view rather than a sort of running critique of other commenters. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:28 AM on March 28, 2015


(yeah, thought that was a bad idea. Sorry, taz, and thanks.)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:46 AM on March 28, 2015


It's [classification schemes like the one here] cargo cult sciencism

I really think it is something different, possibly descended from Kant and his beloved table of 12 categories.
I already believe, though, that the intellectual apparatus of "theory" that accompanies revolutionary or even social change political movements is rooted in German Idealism, although usually by way of Hegel. Also, there's no speculation about the neurobiology behind the four quadrants, which would be irresistible to scientist thinking.
posted by thelonius at 2:14 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just want tangible results towards equality/justice/tolerance and better lives for more people, even if they are incremental, and I don't fully understand how leftists beating up on each other endlessly accomplishes that.

The problem is that too often, that argument has been used to push the concerns of marginal groups like women of color, transgender individuals, the poor, etc. down in favor of the interests of middle class activists, which has lead to a good deal of bad blood between them. Take for example the ire that was directed at Patricia Arquette's comments at the Oscars this year - it had to do with how ignorant she came off for saying that groups who had been marginalized for years and had only been finally getting some traction on their issues needed to once again subordinate their needs to her campaign. And when you had a bunch of people arguing that the people pointing that history out needed to be quiet in the name of comity, well...that didn't end well.

It's not about "beating up on each other", ultimately - it's about remembering that what we call "leftism" is really a coalition of likeminded but not identical interests, and that when one of those interests gets told regularly to be quiet, that's not going to predispose them to helping the others.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:20 AM on March 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I thought this piece showed work, particularly the latter half. It is clear that his model paints the "anti-oppression" people as rather impotent and incoherent, but I'm not sure why it is wrong to have that opinion, even if (or, stronger: especially since) Auerbach has been in conflict with them.
posted by dmh at 3:15 AM on March 28, 2015


It is clear that his model paints the "anti-oppression" people as rather impotent and incoherent, but I'm not sure why it is wrong to have that opinion, even if (or, stronger: especially since) Auerbach has been in conflict with them.

Because neither is true, and the proof of that is that this piece exists - he wouldn't feel the need to attack them if their criticisms didn't actually have an effect on him. The "incoherent" argument is the one that I find the most infuriating, because the argument they put out is not incoherent, it's just inconvenient to people who want to pretend that those problems are mostly over.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:12 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I need a break from trying to separate the signal from the noise in this article, but one thing that isn't clear to me: aside from the criticisms of the Moralist and Theorist clusters, which position does the article itself actually advocate? This necessary reflection seems absent, unless I've a missed a key paragraph or section.

A second point. I am beginning to think the author would have benefitted from attempting a simple 45º change of orthogonal basis in bullshitting up a kind of "framework" like this. (It would improve the intellectual rigor somewhat.) Totally serious.
posted by polymodus at 5:00 AM on March 28, 2015


Here's how it works: a thoughtful liberal is what I am when I protest racism. A divisive and destructive social justice warrior is what you are when the racism you protest is something that I said.

This is because I know that I'm a reasonable, good person and therefore your criticism is unhinged. And, clearly, the real enemies are people who chant racist songs on fraternity bus trips and so every minute we waste arguing about that speech I gave last week on the dysfunction in black culture is one we could have spent working together to eliminate racist chants on fraternity bus trips.

Women are always saying to me "stop telling me about your erotic dreams every morning at work" and "yes, I know what a dangling reference is, my degree is in CS", as if they think I'm somehow being sexist, but I explain to them that I'm a nice guy who respects women, I'm probably going to vote for Hilary Clinton, and that I'm certainly not the enemy, fraternity members are the enemy, and criticizing me just makes those guys even more powerful.

There's really no stronger evidence that a big portion of the left has gone down a dark path than when it starts pointing its fingers at someone like me as if I'm the bad guy. It's self-evidently absurd, I'm a good guy. I'm wearing a white hat.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:32 AM on March 28, 2015 [32 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, I thought it was an interesting article. Where it's strong is I think the way it points out different groups of the left, and how there are some genuine differences in their ideas. For instance:
...Moralist types conduct internet-based rhetorical warfare (conflicts like 2009’s RaceFail and 2014’s GamerGate reveal the inordinate extent to which Moralist activists will spend time online repeatedly calling out their opponents one by one), more Radically associated websites like Lenin’s Tomb, The North Star, or K-Punk tend not to engage with their ideological opponents, or even reach out to the unconverted. Consequently, they critique Moralist ideas in much the same way as they attack Liberal ideas, decrying Ethical action as a false panacea using the traditional rhetoric of class conflict. (Moralist rhetoric, in turn, pretty much ignores the Radical cluster.)
I read Lenin's Tomb and a couple of anarchist forums, and when he points it out, it does seem noticeable that they inhabit an almost separate sphere to Metafilter, despite being both theoretically on the left.

I think he exaggerates the differences between the groupings somewhat though. He mentions the sexual assault coverup in the Socialist Workers Party without bothering to mention that it led to an exodus from the SWP, with people like China Mieville and (Lenin's Tomb author) Richard Seymour setting up a new group precisely in order to set up a "Radical" grouping that takes what he calls "Moralist" ideas seriously. I think the idea that feminism can wait till "after the revolution" is now only held by the real dinosaurs of the "Radical" grouping. Even the anarchist forums constantly talk about these issues and most members seem to accept them.

The political compass style graph though: that's just embarrassing. Things are more complicated than a couple of axes.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:04 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


After reading the article and then reading this comments thread, I feel like I just pointed a microphone directly at an amplifier.
posted by helpthebear at 7:50 AM on March 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think that we're seeing a shift within "the Left" parallel to one in the broader culture, where the white male demographic is slowly and painfully being reduced from a position of dominance to just being one cluster of faces in the crowd. And this is driving a certain degree of angst. And a few people are losing their minds over it. I think this guy might be one of them.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:31 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


The essay is worth noting for its background treatment of false consciousness (as both a confounding and confusing doctrine).
posted by Brian B. at 8:35 AM on March 28, 2015


I thought that was an excellent essay—not, obviously, that it is a perfect representation of reality (whatever that might be) or that its arguments are all brilliant, but that it makes a far more coherent and interesting attempt to untangle some very tangled issues than I normally see (including, I'm afraid, here on MetaFilter, despite the obvious intelligence and thoughtfulness of many MeFites who discuss such things—pretty much everybody has such strong theoretical commitments to one position or another they're unable to take competing views seriously enough to discuss them intelligently). I am highly amused by the (entirely predictable, of course) visceral reactions of some of the commenters in this thread.

Here's a nice pithy bit that made me nod my head (one of many):
What’s most crucial here is how these struggles occur not from a debate about praxis, but from underlying conceptual motifs. Even though leftists may broadly agree on their eventual goals (equality, liberty, justice), their disagreements do not stem from different tactical approaches, but from fundamental differences about how the world works. Moreover, these differences may not just occur between leftist factions, but even within them.
I love this quote:
“I was freed not by propagandists but by composers, novelists, and poets who spoke to me of more interesting and freer ways of life.”
—Ralph Ellison
You tell 'em, Ralph! And this applies to both Marx and the more radical elements of MetaFilter:
The critical suspicion of #JeNeSuisPasCharlie is a core tactic of a burgeoning leftist movement that explicitly defines itself in opposition to liberalism, and indeed prefers liberalism as a target over, say, the right wing.
That's exactly why Stalin spent much of the 1930s viciously attacking the German Socialists while ignoring the Nazis.

The one thing I didn't like was that diagonal blue stripe that made it hard for me to read without constantly moving the page. Knock that shit off, designers!
posted by languagehat at 9:07 AM on March 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


That's exactly why Stalin spent much of the 1930s viciously attacking the German Socialists while ignoring the Nazis.

I'd say maybe he learned his lesson after the spectacular failure of Soviet-backed Spanish communists' purges of anarchists and non-Soviet communists during the fucking war.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:19 AM on March 28, 2015


The Spanish Civil War began around the same time as the purge in Russia. Lesson learned, I guess.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:27 AM on March 28, 2015


Bah, I misread languagehat and thought it said 1940s.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:33 AM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hasn't there always been a certain sort of Leftist for whom liberalism is a more legitimate target because the latter represents a sort of "third column" constantly trying to sell out the Revolution under the aegis of reform or moderation? This doesn't seem to be a new idea. And its fairly easy to move from "liberals are closet fascists" to "this other faction of Leftists are closet liberals."

That's exactly why Stalin spent much of the 1930s viciously attacking the German Socialists while ignoring the Nazis.

I'm not so sure. One could just as soon say that Stalin spent so much time and energy attacking non-Communist Leftists during this period for the same reason he spent the same pursuing Trotsky, or later (in the early postwar period) fighting to discredit Tito and Mao. Stalin did not like competition, personal or institutional. He wanted Moscow to be the sole and absolute center, not one option among many.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2015


In other words, Stalin might have been driven less by concern for ideological purity than for discipline and unity. He was perfectly willing to switch to "Popular Front" tactics at various times before the Molatov-Ribbontrop pact and after Barbarossa kicked off, after all.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:42 AM on March 28, 2015


The obscurity of the article isn't bothering me as much as the outright incompetence of the style. Practically every sentence in the first paragraph makes me want to rewrite it.

The discussion here on Metafilter that thinks he's gone "right" is interesting, especially, because in the context of the Charlie Hebdo issue he's critiquing there was also criticism of the Je Suis Charlie meme from the right as well.
posted by Jahaza at 10:43 AM on March 28, 2015


anyway the funny thing to me here is that the people auerbach seems to think are terrible anti-liberal leftists, the social-justice, anti-racist types, are usually mocked as fake radicals and liberals in disguise by the anti-liberal leftists i know
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:52 AM on March 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Narodniks!
posted by clavdivs at 11:11 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


After reading the article and then reading this comments thread, I feel like I just pointed a microphone directly at an amplifier.

We call that the Dialectic.
posted by polymodus at 11:37 AM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is probably just one factor, but I wonder how much of the whole "left eating their own kind" panic that you constantly see in articles like the FPP article boils down to a generational disconnect in how activism and political culture is shifting among young people? I've seen very good, compassionate, and well-worded call-outs before, but these never get any attention compared to the more clumsy attempts; furthermore, I feel like there's almost an engrained expectation that people are going to take call-outs as a personal attack - see the comparisons to ad hominen - that isn't universal. Especially in the social groups I'm in, when we directly discuss people's behavior with them, we very much focus on the behavior and not the person.

Overall, I'm not very much convinced by the idea that pointing out when people are behaving badly and asking them not to behave badly - even if it's sometimes clumsy - is somehow destabilizing an entire political side. Especially when most of the clumsier attempts cited are by teenagers on tumblr with no institutional power who have yet to figure out how to modulate their tone. I'm actually very much glad that younger generations are shifting towards being able to make call-outs, and being receptive to call-outs as an expectation - it feels like an attempt to move forward from social dynamics where everyone sits around and watches someone behave in ways that are clearly wrong, yet don't point out it. How many times have we seen a guy leave with a clearly too-intoxicated woman at a bar, yet not say a word? How many times have we heard someone make a homophobic joke in a group, in front of the one queer person in our circle, and just uncomfortably laughed along with everyone else? Giving power to people to speak out in circles rather than insisting that they preserve a status quo of politeness seems like a step in the right direction.
posted by Conspire at 11:40 AM on March 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


What’s most crucial here is how these struggles occur not from a debate about praxis, but from underlying conceptual motifs. Even though leftists may broadly agree on their eventual goals (equality, liberty, justice), their disagreements do not stem from different tactical approaches, but from fundamental differences about how the world works. Moreover, these differences may not just occur between leftist factions, but even within them.

Except that I also nodded my head upon reading it, then upon pasting the entire essay into TextEdit (to strip the formatting—this is a great trick/exercise, by the way, for analyzing dense texts on your computer) saw how utterly trivially bullshit (i.e., doesn't show care about what's true and what's false even on its own terms) his paragraph is. Yes, there are differences beyond the tactics. But to say they are "fundamental" is committing a scientific error in attribution. Just look at what we do know about Theory of Mind: actions are backed by underlying mental states. And it took a pseudointellectual paragraph to assert this to make his essay flow. I can't believe this guy is a software engineer. Oh wait.

And on and on. I read the whole thing almost 3 times. The entire section on Callouts is just WRONG. The "Framework" section? Appalling. If you're going to even attempt to write about frameworks it helps to have some actual training beyond the sophomore level analysis that I saw going on here.
posted by polymodus at 11:47 AM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to hear this discussion. I actually felt he treated the callout culture better than most. (At least he didn't call it a "pit of despair.")
posted by salvia at 11:47 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


(At least he didn't call it a "pit of despair.")

Or a vampire castle.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Note: I worked in the same office as the author for over five years - though I didn't have huge contact with him, he's a good guy who likes interesting music and whom I like...]

> What it does well is to provide a coherent answer for why the left is prone to circular firing squads.

It might provide an answer, but my attempt to summarize it in a sentence failed, so I'm not sure it's "coherent".

I read the whole picture very differently, from a longer baseline.

I think that a fairly small number of rich, powerful individuals saw the liberalization of the 60s and, more or less independently, decided to make sure that this wasn't going to happen again.

Over the next couple of decades, they bought up most of the media and started to rebrand a lot of fundamental American virtues as weaknesses. "Mercy and justice" were rebranded as "soft on crime"; "openness and flexibility" were rebranded as "flip-flopping"; "charity and reducing inequity" were rebranded as "fiscal irresponsibility".

(I have always suspected that the sudden new definition of the word "gay" to mean "weak, inferior, substandard" was part of that. The 90s and early 00s were full of earnest young people condescendingly explaining to me that this new word "gay" was a brand-new word that had nothing to do with homosexuality and it's an astonishment to me that I managed to keep my cool...)

As new technology brought a wave of prosperity to the upper-middle class, there was a disincentive to fight back - even though the vast majority of Americans lost ground, they were shown these shining examples of internet billionaires and led to believe that the demographic shift that was and is destroying the working classes, a shift far beyond any individual's control, was due entirely to their own "lack of personal responsibility" and "poor choices".

One of the key strategies of the American Right in the last three decades has been that the rationality and factual correctness of its platform is irrelevant - what's important is uniformity of message, of being a team, of closing ranks and supporting each other, regardless of ethics, morals, facts or science - just like a criminal gang, or modern-day police forces.

The left on the other hand has always valued "giving everyone a voice" and "rational debate" as central ethics. Take this idea, throw in the disarray caused by progressives taking a massive loss, stir through the right-wing rebranding machine, and voilà! "Circular firing squad."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:22 PM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is probably just one factor, but I wonder how much of the whole "left eating their own kind" panic that you constantly see in articles like the FPP article boils down to a generational disconnect in how activism and political culture is shifting among young people?

And I wonder how much this had really evolved (meaning, we just repeat the youth/establishment fight every generation). There's a theoretical argument to be made about platforms and access to media that make call out culture on Twitter and Tumblr seem like perhaps an advance from what the Gen X era leftists/progressives/etc had in the 80s (or perhaps just seem more meaningful because we had the stories of what seemed like momentous changes in the 60s and all we got was MTV and $5 punk shows) so these challenges do mark some sort of revolutionary break, but I doubt it.

It makes me think about the Kundera line (I think from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting) about people being condemned to playact (it was in the context of the Prague Spring). That's what a lot of the online culture feels like to me. It is powerlessness, for all intents and purposes, and I probably look like yuppie revanchist to most people in their twenties, even though I live in one of the most progressive cities in the countries, only voted for one democrat in 20 years (Obama), spill money on every progressive cause I can find, every time I was in a position to hire someone consciously set preferences for women and POC etc., etc.

That anger that impels the circular firing squad may come from the same place it did for me -- no matter how much revolutionary fervor I felt, I was most angry that even if I got really lucky, I would do no better than my well to do but incredibly well meaning mentor (and his husband went to divinity school when he was 70 so he could be ordained and have their wedding recognized by a southern state church, but was still routinely ridiculed by a local alternative gay newspaper because they were rich). And really, I haven't, but I could put together a CV that would get me vilified on Fox News every day. And I'm enough of a progressive that I wouldn't abandon my values because I feel unwelcome as much in younger progressive circles as I do in MSM, but it certainly affects my activism.

And I wonder about the connection between the idea of 'media' and what 'online' means. Having traveled in NY media circles enough I would hazard a broad generalization that people who pursue journalism careers are likely to have a stronger streak of self-aggrandizement than activist fervor. Being clever about an issue is not the same as change (personal or structural). 'Winning' a Twitter fight is likely as hollow as arguing about who deserves credit for a scoop. But if we are setting up online activism as this generation's Voting Rights Amendment, then I guess my generation has failed worse than I feared.
posted by 99_ at 12:39 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


What this kept making me think of was Susan Sontag meets Donny Darko.

One of Sontags great gifts was being wrong in ways that were provocative, hyperbolic and interesting, and this essay finds those moments sometimes; at its worst, this essay is asking us to mark the life line between love and fear.

One of the first, big fundamental flaws is Auerbach's commitment to a schema in which tension is equated with incoherence and incompatibility; his second is that his axes don't actually map very well to historical examples of political or identity groupings. To understand that first objection, an example that might help is thinking about the tension between egalitarianism and liberalism — in political situations, there's almost always a discussion between the two competing goods, generally with an appeal to an underlying ethical schema e.g. utilitarianism or natural law. The second objection becomes clear when you think about the historic behavior of self-identified communists — their internal solidarity does not predict trust-based praxis, e.g. the communist intentional infiltration of American labor movements, which was based on a broader appeal to class solidarity but not the idea that people would do the right thing if given adequate education (otherwise, it wouldn't have had to be undercover). Likewise, his repeated appeals to false consciousness are based on a dubious, overly concrete conception of a historically poorly-defined term.

He's also lacking any real appreciation for post-modern theory and practice, something that radically reshapes his square into a non-Euclidean space — the distance on his axes is not predictive without remapping that distance in a way that the form can't sustain. At the very least, tying so strictly to an orthodox structuralist model without acknowledging the critiques of post-structuralism makes him seem like he's a good 50 years late on his theory. Or even further — his working definitions for "liberal" don't comport with any coherent position and he conflates leftism, progressivism and liberalism wildly. (In response to Languagehat, when I get a little more time I may go back and point out the exact quotes, but for now I'm going to keep this more at a comment length than a Fisking essay.)

Something I do think is a close-to-home refutation of his basic thesis: The MeTa Great Sexism Debates have a lot of explicit callouts, a lot of elbows-out harsh rhetoric that made people feel attacked… and they've also made MeFi a lot better space for women. I think that's a fairly good example of how callout culture can be part of the collapse of structuralist and liberal distinctions between individual action and systemic forces — no one can rationally deny that people as a population do have fairly predictable biases and blindspots, and also that individual choices matter (so much as we're not being hard determinist about everything). While the modernist assumptions he makes find those positions incompatible, the post-modernist and post-structuralist norms that have emerged over the last 50 to 100 years embrace the ambiguity, tension and interrelation of those categories. People are inevitably shaped by larger, impersonal forces and yet they still make choices within that framework; the larger, impersonal forces are almost always both the default and corrupt, but individual choices and even broader lives don't have to be. The fatalistic nihilism that he posits isn't inherent, and it's weird to treat Foucault as if he's an unquestionable authority despite everyone pretty much recognizing that he was just a smart guy who was full of shit on the regular.

So, rather than having an inherent incoherence between the assumed wordviews underlying callout culture, and rather than recognizing identity politics as it functions (I'd argue understanding it in terms of a post-modern nationalism would get him closer to understanding both the strengths and flaws) he invents a position for it and then shows all the ways his invented position is insufficient.

It's interesting, and I'm glad I read it and that it was posted, but it's also the type of deeply flawed critical piece that would have benefited from a peer review or a much better editor. So many blanket assertions are made where if you examine them for a second, you'll realize that the inferences are far from necessary given the structure that he posits, and an editor should have caught those and sent this back to him.
posted by klangklangston at 12:49 PM on March 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


The critical suspicion of #JeNeSuisPasCharlie is a core tactic of a burgeoning leftist movement that explicitly defines itself in opposition to liberalism, and indeed prefers liberalism as a target over, say, the right wing.

That's exactly why Stalin spent much of the 1930s viciously attacking the German Socialists while ignoring the Nazis.

Same category error Auerbach made: Liberalism is not leftist. The categories of American mainstream politics seem to make a lot of people fundamentally incapable of discussing "the left" in any meaningful fashion, because they conflate it with liberalism, and self-identified liberals don't seem capable of understanding why actual leftists might not agree that they're on the same side. For some concrete examples of this, see Jonathan Chait failing to understand why Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't share his view of the glorious forward march of American liberalism:

Jonathan Chait is not a politician. He needs neither to assemble a 60-vote majority nor worry about his words affecting the midterms. I'm happy that Chait decided to engage me here on a subject that he, himself, confesses is hard to quantify. I wish I'd had his input over the past few months when I was poring over redlining maps and grappling with the racism implicit in the New Deal. I wish I'd had his input when I was attempting to understand what it meant that in 1860 this country's most valuable asset was enslaved human beings. I think had we engaged each other then, he might well not have written something like this:

It is hard to explain how the United States has progressed from chattel slavery to emancipation to the end of lynching to the end of legal segregation to electing an African-American president if America has “rarely” been the ally of African-Americans and “often” its nemesis. It is one thing to notice the persistence of racism, quite another to interpret the history of black America as mainly one of continuity rather than mainly one of progress.

This certainly is a specimen of progress—much like the ill-tempered man might "progress" from shooting at his neighbors to clubbing them and then finally settle on simply robbing them. His victims, bloodied, beaten, and pilfered, might view his "progress" differently. Effectively Chait's rendition of history amounts to, "How can you say I have a history of violence given that I've repeatedly stopped pummeling you?"

Chait's jaunty and uplifting narrative flattens out the chaos of history under the cheerful rubric of American progress. The actual events are more complicated. It's true, for instance, that slavery was legal in the United States in 1860 and five years later it was not. That is because a clique of slaveholders greatly overestimated its own power and decided to go to war with its country. Had the Union soundly and quickly defeated the Confederacy, it's very likely that slavery would have remained. Instead the war dragged on, and the Union was forced to employ blacks in its ranks. The end result—total emancipation—was more a matter of military necessity than moral progress.


This is the essence of the conflict between liberalism and the left, essentially; liberals say "look, we've made progress! We'll make more, I promise, but first we have to XYZ! Now sit down at the back of the bus and don't make trouble!" while the radical/activist left looks at that "progress" and concludes that it's still not enough. NB that the above was in the context of Chait commenting on "black cultural pathology"; that is to say, blaming black poverty/incarceration rates/et cetera on black people, as representative of, one could say, a species of individual moral failure rather than the result of structural and systemic oppression and racism. The USA's history of Calvinism, where poverty is seen as a moral failing that's the result of one's own wicked sinfulness, probably plays into the ideas of individual agency vs systemic/structural factors Auerbach talks about in a way he may not even be aware of.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 2:35 PM on March 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


And Auerbach isn't even smart enough to be a mid-level blowhard like Chait or deBoer.

David's close to the most intelligent person I've ever met, for whatever that might be worth. (He's also Metafilter's own, btw.) I tend to trust his moral/political compass; but I have not yet read this article and have even been passively avoiding doing so as I fear I might dislike it. I'll stick with the pieces about grim Hungarian authors for now...
posted by jokeefe at 2:49 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Something I do think is a close-to-home refutation of his basic thesis: The MeTa Great Sexism Debates have a lot of explicit callouts, a lot of elbows-out harsh rhetoric that made people feel attacked… and they've also made MeFi a lot better space for women. I think that's a fairly good example of how callout culture can be part of the collapse of structuralist and liberal distinctions between individual action and systemic forces

Thanks for explaining this so well. I noted it but decided to go outside instead of trying to articulate it clearly. Agreed.
posted by salvia at 2:59 PM on March 28, 2015


> That's exactly why Stalin spent much of the 1930s viciously attacking the German Socialists while ignoring the Nazis.

Same category error Auerbach made: Liberalism is not leftist.


Dude, the German Socialists were not "liberals," unless you (like Lenin and Stalin) consider anyone not under the discipline of the Bolshevik Party to be a namby-pamby liberal, actually when you think about it more of a conservative, in fact so reactionary they must be fought tooth and nail (which is exactly why Stalin spent much of the 1930s viciously attacking the German Socialists while ignoring the Nazis, to quote myself).
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on March 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Social fascism was a theory supported by the Communist International (Comintern) during the early 1930s, which held that social democracy was a variant of fascism because, in addition to a shared corporatist economic model, it stood in the way of a complete and final transition to communism.
posted by languagehat at 3:19 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is the essence of the conflict between liberalism and the left, essentially; liberals say "look, we've made progress! We'll make more, I promise, but first we have to XYZ! Now sit down at the back of the bus and don't make trouble!"

Right, because Leftist organizations haven't been perfectly willing to tell minorities to shut up and sit down until the class struggle is won or whatever. A lot of these dust-ups within the Left are being driven by precisely this fact: more and more minority voices are refusing to sit down and shut up, and the old self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the Left (predominantly white and male) are freaking out about it.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:20 PM on March 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'd really like to believe that when a guy I respect and like as much as languagehat compares #JeNeSuisPasCharlie and various mefites to Stalin and his purges, it's something that after a few hours he'd recognize as both colossally foolish and insulting and apologize for it rather than elaborate it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:37 PM on March 28, 2015


Pseudonymous, I'm a liberal and I love Ta-nehisi Coates. I like Chait, too, mostly because he's absolutely hilarious when he writes (as he does 90% of the time) about the Right. As a rule of thumb when Chait tries to engage leftward, he's an embarrassment.

Your description of "liberals" is probably ha-ha funny if you're not a liberal, but you know, also a depressing slander. If I wanted to similarly satirize "the left", I'd say that they vehemently reject The System but have no interest in any actual ways to change it. Like, say, voting in midterm elections.

"Oh, but voting doesn't change anything." But it does of course. If you had a 60% radical socialist majority, you could implement radical socialism. Why don't we have more social progress, something liberals and radicals both want? Because of Jonathan Chait? No, because the Right controls both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, and most state governorships.

The social justice movement is great, by the way. It's one reason I have hopes that the right's current dominance won't last. (Also, for every liberal who's depressingly regressive on social justice, there's a radical who's the same. Radicalism has been dominated by white males too, and has often put off social justice into the far future.)

On circular firing squads, FWIW, the Right has them too. They're plenty scary as they are, but they'd be scarier if they could get their act together.
posted by zompist at 3:48 PM on March 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


the German Socialists were not "liberals"

I never said they were liberals; you're the one who compared the left vs "liberals" in the context of American politics to Stalin vs socialists. What I said was that liberals are not leftists (which they aren't). The main difference between the socialists and Bolsheviks of the 1930's is that the socialists sought democratic revolution within the system (but revolution nonetheless, in terms of a fundamental redistribution of wealth through collective ownership of the means of production); the main difference between American "liberals" and the actual left is that leftists seek to fundamentally change existing social power structures, and liberals seek to preserve them while making incremental change. (See the American radical left of the 1930's vs the Rooseveltian New Deal, for a better example of this in the relevant timeframe.)
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 3:54 PM on March 28, 2015


> I'd really like to believe that when a guy I respect and like as much as languagehat compares #JeNeSuisPasCharlie and various mefites to Stalin and his purges

Oh, please, you're better than that. Calm down and try again. (Hint: I never said a word about purges.)

> I never said they were liberals; you're the one who compared the left vs "liberals" in the context of American politics to Stalin vs socialists. What I said was that liberals are not leftists (which they aren't).

OK, fair enough; I didn't get that from what you wrote, so I'm glad you clarified. Now that I understand what you mean, I agree with you.
posted by languagehat at 5:14 PM on March 28, 2015


Speaking of purges, I don't think the Callout is a particularly leftist concept. Having a propensity for tactically calling people out on behaviour that superficially appears to be indicative of ideologically impure thoughts is a more widespread instinct. Joseph Stalin, Guy Debord, Jerry Falwell, Joseph McCarthy, Rush Limbaugh; they're all famous for it. Now that we have the Internet, everyone can do it. It's basically all that Gamergate and anti-Gamergate spend their time doing. It pervades and transcends these four quadrants of leftism. Maybe it belongs off there in the corner of the map, and its frequent use by adherents to concepts from distant parts of the framework suggests that drawing from different quadrants is not so uncommon or self-contradictory as seems to be implied.

the areas labelled "situationism" and "protest" have useful cross-correlations, but since they are in opposed quadrants, his analysis permits none.'

Situationism, among those on the chart that I have at least heard of, is very poorly characterized by these axes. I guess that's why it's near the middle, not far at all from "protest". Anarchism, too.
posted by sfenders at 6:10 PM on March 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


This discussion got way good when I was asleep.

Thanks to all of you who have helped me understand and evaluate TFA!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:10 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Oh, please, you're better than that. Calm down and try again."

I'm not angry or upset, I just think that comparing Pseudonymous Cognomen and #JeNeSuisPasCharlie to Lenin and Stalin is pretty crazy. If you're reaching for that sort of comparison, you're in trouble and I'm surprised that you don't recognize this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:15 PM on March 28, 2015


The radical left’s best-known contemporary thinker, Slavoj Žižek, is treated as more of a clown than an ally by what should be his ideological homebase. (“His strategic notions,” writes Ben Kunkel in the leftist New Statesman, “are various and incompatible,” while Marxist critic Terry Eagleton deems Žižek “outrageously irresponsible.”)

Stopped reading there. Too many badly embedded stupid assumptions. I see some of you were not so cautious. God bless impetuous youth!
posted by PsychoTherapist at 7:39 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hegemony, callouts, social media, biopolitics, critical theory-- these are tools. The question is, are they used as part of a strategy to achieve political power? Or as an end in themselves? If the later, then of course it's a fail. If used as part of an overall strategy, hegemony, biopolitics, critical theory-- these are powerful analytical lenses that can guide action and build internal solidarity/common outlook. Social media is just another communications medium, and of course, just like the telephone, if that's all there is to someone's politics then that's a problem.

Callouts-- my experience has been that within movements they are better handled in person or privately, vice online. But there's a place for that too when behavior is truly toxic and there is no other way to address it.
posted by wuwei at 12:22 AM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


> I'm not angry or upset, I just think that comparing Pseudonymous Cognomen and #JeNeSuisPasCharlie to Lenin and Stalin is pretty crazy. If you're reaching for that sort of comparison, you're in trouble and I'm surprised that you don't recognize this.

You're experiencing a classic knee-jerk reaction. As it happens, Stalin's attack on the German Socialists is an excellent example of a "leftist movement that explicitly defines itself in opposition to liberalism, and indeed prefers liberalism as a target over, say, the right wing"; what, I'm supposed to dig up some obscure episode in a campus leftist movement because I should know that IF gets very upset... oh, sorry, I mean reacts badly... to anybody mentioning Stalin? And you of all people, with your classics-oriented education, should know better than to equate using A as a further example of phenomenon X, which has been exemplified by B and C, with "comparing B and C to A" in the invidious sense ("you're saying Pseudonymous Cognomen is just like Stalin!!").

Did you even read my "Social fascism" link up there? That's one of the most fascinating episodes in left-wing history, and I'm sorry if the name Stalin bothers you so much you can't take it in.
posted by languagehat at 12:54 PM on March 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's one thing to understand Social Facism as a theory (valid or not), it's another to attribute such a world view as a historical instance of a "critically Suspicious" personality or character or social in-group defect, which is what the author does by sticking these terms on his graph. I don't feel like it's necessary to point out how intellectually juvenile (and borderline propagandistic) this feels to some of us (including some leftists as well as some liberals) who are a little more Thoughtful.
posted by polymodus at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just went back to read that line "burgeoning leftist movement that explicitly defines itself in opposition to liberalism, and indeed prefers liberalism as a target" in its context. The whole paragraph is a problematic mess. The preceding paragraph, in a worse way: it describes an actual event then in the last 6 lines goes off the walls of logic and clarity in its analysis. That kind of rhetoric makes me hate the internet.
posted by polymodus at 5:54 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the phrase "a burgeoning leftist movement that explicitly defines itself in opposition to liberalism, and indeed prefers liberalism as a target over, say, the right wing" is pretty silly.

First silliness: the notion that leftism needs to define itself in opposition to something, rather than being for something. The idea that modern liberals (in his sense) have clear positive ideals, but the left have to search out things to be against in a quest for identity, is kind of the wrong way round.

Second silliness: the whole story of the last twenty years of mainstream politics is that the "liberals" have been adopting right-wing policies piece by piece, while the "right wing" move ever further to the right. So yes, the left do criticise "liberal" policies a lot nowadays: especially liberal workfare, liberal drone strikes, liberal privatizations, liberal detention without trial. That's not really because the left have drifted into far left positions, Stalinist or non-Stalinist.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:44 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]




The one thing I didn't like was that diagonal blue stripe that made it hard for me to read without constantly moving the page. Knock that shit off, designers!

Whenever something on any web page annoys you, right click on the offending element and select "Inspect element". IE, Chrome, and Firefox will all bring up a display of the DOM tree at the bottom of the window, with the offending element highlighted. Right-click on the highlighted DOM element and select "Delete". Voila! Ne vois-la pas!
posted by Jpfed at 9:16 AM on March 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


If only, Jpfed — the LA Weekly has a terrible fucking menu that moves in stutters around the page, but turning off that element removes the content below it.
posted by klangklangston at 1:10 PM on March 31, 2015


Metafilter: who are a little more Thoughtful
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:02 PM on March 31, 2015


Metafilter: who are a little more Thoughtful

Um… Something tells me you didn't mean this as a compliment, but aside from that you are simply quoting what I wrote out of context. I think that is a little unfair.

I picked the word Thoughtful and capitalized it as a contrast against the author's choice of Suspicious. There are two ideas. First (looking at a concept asserted in the article) is that maybe it's not that a whole bunch of people are Suspicous but that certain people under particular situations tend to take a more analytical, sensitive, and thoughtful approach. I think it is normal for readers to suggest alternative models of what's going on, especially given that the article sets out asserting a framework of some sort. Second (looking at the quality of the article itself) is that this article lacks intellectual rigor and care. I've alluded to this in my prior comments, and others have given many examples already. That's the responsibility of the author, not the readers. Knowing names of philosophers and the latest juicy political fights does not make up for clear and careful analysis.

And finally, it is an incorrect reading to criticize me for insinuating or implying anything about the quality of Mefi in particular. Where I parenthesized "(including some leftists as well as some liberals)" I explicitly use it make an inclusive statement, that people of all political flavors might have insights more thoughtful than the effort I saw in the article.

A simple test case is Tim Cook's op-ed in the Washington Post today. It contains sentences that would simulatenously place him in at least 3 quadrants of the chart (there are three paragraphs near the end in particular). A scientific skeptic would reasonable wonder if such a framework has much connection to reality.
posted by polymodus at 3:19 AM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I found this to be a pretty good article. The saddest thing about what seems to me to be ineptitude of the current left is how badly we may need a coherent, effective left capable of gaining critical mass.

SPIEGEL Interview with Slavoj Zizek
'The Greatest Threat to Europe Is Its Inertia'
The rise of the so-called capitalism with Asian values in the past 10 years at the very least raises doubts and questions: What if authoritarian capitalism on the Chinese model is an indication that liberal democracy as we understand it is no longer a condition for, and driving force of, economic development and instead stands in its way?

[...]

It has become fashionable in leftist circles to criticize eurocentrism in the name of multiculturalism. But I am convinced that we need Europe more than ever. Just imagine a world without Europe. You would only have two poles left -- the USA, with its brutal neoliberalism, and so-called Asian capitalism, with its authoritarian political structures. Between them you would have Putin's Russia, with its expansionist aspirations.

[...]

The more globalized markets become, the stronger the forces of social apartheid will become.

[...]

The only thing that can save liberal democracy is a renewal of the Left. If Leftists miss this chance, the danger of fascism or at least a new authoritarianism will grow.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:10 AM on April 2, 2015


Sorry, polymodus. It was just a quip, and I definitely didn't mean anything by it. Just liked the capital T.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:09 PM on April 2, 2015


The New Republic - A leading political thinker floats a theory of justice
As much as libertarians and liberals may now be at odds, they endorse the same foundational value. It’s right there in their names: Both political philosophies share the Latin root liber, or “free.” Liberty is a special sort of good that the two poles of American politics, and pretty much every position in between, embrace as fundamental.

What, then, to do about the many conflicts and contradictions that have flowed, with increasing rancor on all sides, from this core commitment to freedom? In Philip Pettit’s judgment, we should rehabilitate a neglected vital tributary of political philosophy: the civic republican ideal.
this reminds me of Colin Woodard's American Nations, in which he contrasts libertas with freiheit.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:32 AM on April 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


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