Category Archives: identity politics

Political Correctness Is Getting Out of Hand

On June 28, the New York Times published an article by Bari Weiss that wasn’t moronic.

Titled “San Francisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History,” it was about the school board’s unanimous decision to destroy a New Deal-era mural by the famous Communist painter Victor Arnautoff that’s painted on the walls of a local high school. Called “Life of Washington,” the mural depicts Washington’s slaves picking cotton at Mount Vernon as a group of colonizers walks past a dead Native American. The painting is clearly meant to oppose the sanitized versions of American history that are taught in most schools.

So you’d think “progressives” would support it. Instead, some of them, at least, find it so offensive they want it gone. “A grave mistake was made 80 years ago to paint a mural at a school without Native American or African-American input,” the school board’s vice president told Weiss. “For impressionable young people who attend school to have any representation that diminishes people, specifically students from communities that have already been diminished, it’s an aggressive thing. It’s hurtful and I don’t think our students need to bear that burden.”

It seems that most students object to the mural’s removal, though a number of community members support the board’s decision. “We know our history already,” a recent high school graduate and member of the Tohono O’odham tribe said. “Our students don’t need to see it every single time they walk into a public school.”

Predictably, Weiss’s article confines itself to admonishing liberals and leftists for being “un-American” snowflakes, failing to point out that conservatives are typically far more eager to censor than the left is. Bashing hyper-sensitive leftists seems to be Weiss’s favorite activity, aside from hyper-sensitively complaining about supposed instances of anti-Semitism that are usually nothing more than criticisms of Israel’s horrifying militarism and near-genocidal policies towards Palestinians. (I didn’t see her write a column bewailing what a “snowflake” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was for advocating the destruction of an “anti-Semitic” mural in L.A. that depicts Israel as the Grim Reaper.)

But leaving aside Weiss, who’s nothing but a vulgar propagandist, her column does raise an important issue. Censorship, the destruction of art, and the sanitizing of history are appropriate agendas for reactionaries and establishment-types like Weiss; progressives and radicals should certainly oppose them. And yet, in the age of “political correctness,” there’s a disturbing tendency for those on the left to adopt the repressive tactics of their enemies.

Whether on social media, on university campuses, or in cultural spaces of whatever sort, people are shunned, shamed, and silenced for not adhering wholeheartedly to a party line. A whiff of dissent brings down the wrath of the mob; a statement or an image that someone, somewhere, might find hurtful is enough to end your career or ruin your life. Magazine editors are fired for defending “cultural appropriation,” as in 2017 when an editor in Canada lost his job for the crime of defending the right of white authors to create characters from other backgrounds. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggression reporting systems, call-out culture, and other such devices become ever more ubiquitous, threatening to neuter culture and intimidate even fellow leftists into silence.

In the end, all this excess reaches truly farcical extremes: political correctness eats itself, as a wonderful old mural that tells a people’s history of the United States is destroyed for being “degrading.” A paradigm of identity politics that celebrates and weaponizes victimhood brings forth practitioners who claim they’re being victimized by having to be reminded of their history as victims. In the name of “empowerment,” they want to whitewash a mural whose existence is a blow against whitewashed history, which is the very thing to which identity politics indignantly objects. Political correctness chokes on itself and coughs up self-refuting paradoxes.

In this grotesque autosarcophagy we see the reductio ad absurdum of this whole mode of aggressive liberalism: it becomes a kind of void, a black hole of infinitely dense inhumanity, the postmodern left’s version of cultural totalitarianism. It becomes kitsch, virtually without content except to prevent members of “vulnerable” groups from ever feeling the slightest pang of discomfort. That’s the universal standard, the standard of acceptable art, acceptable speech, acceptable politics, and acceptable thought. And if you stray outside the bounds of acceptable thought, we’ll “cancel” you, hopefully most aspects of your identity: career, social life, public life, especially internet life, since the beautiful anonymity and atomization of the internet are what allow us to besiege you and call out your transgressions against orthodoxy. Ultimately it isn’t permitted—or at least it’s testing our good will—even to state manifest truths, such as that men on average are taller and physically stronger than women, or that, e.g., women tend to be attracted to male dominance (e.g., men taller than they) and the dominant male. No such truths we consider insulting to “marginalized” people can be acknowledged.

Now, as I said, these totalitarian trends are only the reductio ad absurdum of political correctness, and do not invalidate the entire phenomenon known as PC culture. Historically, this multicultural politics that emerged from the radical movements of the 1960s and ’70s has had very constructive effects on society. It has been integrally tied to the collective recognition of real history, the history of Native Americans, African-Americans, immigrants, women, and European colonialism. In educational curricula, it has effectively challenged the supremacy of the Western canon of white male writers, such that students now encounter voices from many different cultures and traditions.

Feminism has raised consciousness to a far more civilized level than in the 1960s, when Betty Friedan could write about “the feminine mystique” that dehumanized women. The MeToo moment is just the latest front in a long war to advance women’s rights. Similarly, we have identity politics to thank for the historic victories of the gay rights movement, which have at long last made homophobia disreputable.

Even the much-derided concept of “microaggressions” denotes a real situation that minorities and women face. Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs gives examples. When a female physician wearing a stethoscope is repeatedly mistaken for a nurse, that surely gets irritating and can be seen as offensive. When a white woman clutches her purse as a black or Hispanic man approaches, that’s a racist microaggression. A particularly egregious example is the time when a black student asked her academic advisor for information about majoring in biology and, “without being asked about her academic record (which was excellent), was casually directed to ‘look up less-challenging courses in African American Studies instead.’” Whatever the Supreme Court thinks, the U.S. is still saturated with racism, and unconscious racism is constantly revealing itself in trivial interactions in every social context.

Identity politics and political correctness are far from being the unmitigated evils Donald Trump and Bill Maher apparently think they are. And it’s true that in popular movements, excess is inevitable. From the French Revolution to the New Left—and now to the new New Left—popular enthusiasm has been apt to get out of control and become absurd and even violent (as with Antifa). But that doesn’t mean the excess shouldn’t be fought when it becomes truly damaging. When a mode of politics starts to ruin the lives of innocent people, discourage independent and honest thinking, and advocate the destruction of valuable works of art, it’s time to rein it in.

One of the most striking features of the extreme fringe of political correctness—a fringe that seems to dominate culture more and more—is one of the least talked about: often, it is just a sublimation of the very conditions of neoliberal capitalism that leftists hate. Interpersonal atomization and alienation, gleeful cruelty, schadenfreude run amok, censorship and suppression of dissent, a universal leveling that valorizes groupthink as the highest virtue, and surveillance of daily life and every interaction: these tendencies of late capitalism are somehow refracted into left-wing forms and concerns. The mechanism, actually, of this ironic ‘refraction’ is probably quite simple: society has become so inhuman and depersonalized, so bureaucratized and anonymized, that people all across the political spectrum—not only leftists—are made pettier, more insecure, sensitive to perceived slights, and mean-spirited (especially online).

We see the “Other” as oppressing us—however each of us defines the Other—and we lash out to punish it or those who we think manifest it at any given moment. This punitive mentality at least gives us little malicious pleasures that partly compensate for the indignities we’re constantly suffering.

But while it might be understandable, it’s hardly appropriate for people on the left to be so corrupted by the anti-humanism of a fragmented and paranoid capitalist society. From Karl Marx to Eugene Debs, from A. J. Muste to Noam Chomsky, the left has devoted itself to far more elevated causes than vindictively shaming people for, e.g., using the word fútbol despite not being Hispanic, or quietly telling a “sexist” joke to a friend within earshot of a woman who doesn’t like such jokes, or in general policing the world so that every space is “safe” and people are never uncomfortable. Some such policing, within reason, can be productive and important: people should be educated, to the extent possible, out of their unconscious biases and prejudices. But those who identify with the left should also identify with the tradition’s compassion and self-critical inclinations. Perhaps a little less puritanism is called for, and a little more understanding that even good people are imperfect and have lapses. And that no one, including the most eager shamer, is perfect.

Indeed, I’m tempted to say that the hyper-moralistic mindset doesn’t belong to the left at all. Its demand for purity is uncomfortably close to the puritan obsessions of the religious right, so vigilantly attuned to the merest indication of atheism, sex, homosexuality, coarse language, and humanism. At best, leftist puritanism represents an attenuated, enervated, decadent left, a strain of the left that has lost its love of people and become thin and narrow as a reed. Brittle, misanthropic, crabbed, ungenerous, ultra-judgmental, whiny, sickly—these are the words that come to mind to describe such a “left.”

How different from the humanism, compassion, and spiritual capaciousness of a Debs or a Chomsky!

The destruction of a left-wing mural for being “hurtful” may seem like a pretty minor affair, and compared to the catastrophes occurring every day all over the world, it is. But if the cultural tendencies that have eventuated in this crime against art are not checked, we’ll continue to see more such crimes, and not only against art. Against people, too, people who don’t deserve to be publicly shamed or ruined. The left should take care lest it lose its humanity and adopt the censorship-fetish of the fascist right.

Sitting Pretty on a Sinking Ship: Neoliberal Feminism

Going down with the ship in style

Orientation:

For a number of years now I’ve been confounded by watching many of the straight upper-middle class women in the United States appearing to slide backwards in time into much more traditional roles. Why do so many women still do the heavy lifting of childcare, grocery shopping, housekeeping and cooking? Why do so many of them put the needs of their male partners and bosses first and their own needs last? Why have so many of them whole-heartedly embraced sports when I doubt that most of them were not sports fanatics before they were in relationships with men who are? These were the roles we struggled to break out of in the 60’s and 70’s. Yet in the seven cases I will present I will describe six women who consider themselves feminists. How can we explain this?

What does it mean to be a feminist in the United States today? Historically we have had liberal feminists and radical socialist feminists, but what do we make of the Pink Pussycats? Granted, they are not radical feminists, but are they liberal? The term “liberal” has become a moth-eaten word used by both sympathizers and demonizers. For now, we will put the word aside. First I will describe experientially what second-wave feminism attempted to do. Then I will describe the lives of seven women I know, six of whom claim to be feminists and certainly see themselves as Pink Pussycats. Finally, I will address the relationship between the Pink Pussycats and liberalism. My claim is that the Pink Pussycats are not liberal in the sense of second-wave feminism and the New-Deal liberalism of Roosevelt. Rather, they are instead “neo-liberal” feminists, who follow the neoliberal trend of the mid 1980’s, started by the Democratic Leadership Council. The reference to the sinking ship refers to the decline in the standard of living under capitalism, in which they are mightily trying to keep their heads above water.

Women in the four ages

In the first age, during the 1950’s, women were classically traditional. These roles included being the perfect wife and mother, always putting their own needs last and usually deferring to their husbands. They dressed in relatively conservative, soft styles and colors and many of them didn’t work outside the home because, though the times were conservative, the economy for the middle class was good. Think of the mothers in Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best (the name of the show says it all). They even dressed like that when they were cleaning the oven! They’d have the messes cleaned up before we, as children, made them.

Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer led second-wave feminism among others. They led the charge to challenge the long-accepted picture of a woman’s role.

During the second age, as our “consciousness” was becoming raised, we began to reject our traditional roles. Many of us started working for the first time. Because the pay for middle class women was higher at that time, some of us could afford to divorce our husbands and work in traditional male jobs such as middle managers. We started wearing more practical clothing, ditching the spike heels that hampered our walking – let alone running away from predators – letting our skin breathe without all the makeup and our hair turn naturally grey.

At the same time other women, less politically aware, embraced being seen as sexual objects, rather than as sexless as in the fifties. We started wearing provocative clothes, lots of makeup, ridiculous high-heeled shoes and laughed off or rationalized the catcalls on the street as well as sexual harassment from our bosses and male co-workers. I know all of this because I was one of those women.

In the third age, for roughly thirty years, from the early 1980s through 2008, the conservatives held power as the economy continued to contract. In reaction to this, the Democratic Party started sliding further to the right to keep up with the times, and those women who continued to see themselves as liberal slid right along with the Democratic Party. (For the Democratic party slide rightward, see Adam Curtis’s disturbing documentary Century of the Self Part IV)

In the fourth age, after 2008, and the election of Barack Obama, many upper-middle-class and middle-class women saw the election of a well-educated black man as a victory for them, too. The glorification of Obama and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton produced the seeds of the Pink Pussycat phenomenon. These women had to work harder than the women of the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s because the economy is now worse. Most middle-class and upper-middle class women can no longer afford to stay at home and take care of the children. They must work to supplement their husband’s earnings or, as single mothers, they are the family’s sole support. Most of them also do the bulk of the childcare and housekeeping. Because no feminist movement has been able to convince men to fully take on the responsibilities of raising children, these responsibilities fell to the women as their “second shift”. Perhaps as compensation for a surprisingly difficult life, women used their appearance to regain some of their lost power. Being sexy and the promise of attention was a bargaining chip.

My experience of second-wave feminism

I got married when I was 19 years old to a conservative Irish Catholic Naval officer. By the late 1960’s we had become friends with a group of officers and their wives, all of whom were vocal in their opposition to the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy in general. These conversations woke me up politically and I started moving further to the left. In the early 1970’s I attended community college where I met Mary, who became one of my longest standing friends. Mary was a strong feminist, and along with two gay men I became friends with, got me to take feminism and gay rights more seriously. I also joined the anti-war groups while at San Francisco State and started facing the growing differences I had with my husband. My marriage did not survive these changes. I did what many women did: dragged their husbands into therapy kicking and screaming, only to be told I was the one who had the problem.

At the same time, we liberal women were being exposed to books like Our Bodies, Ourselves. This book detailed for us information about our own health and sexuality that formerly had been secret, considered too crass to talk about publicly. Consciousness-raising groups sprang up everywhere, which aimed to help us understand the patriarchal system and how it oppresses all women. We were being taught that it wasn’t our job to please and cater to the men in our lives. We felt stronger together as we began making demands for equal pay, greater opportunities in the workplace, better support systems for single mothers and the right to be seen as equals to men, rather than as objects for them.

Women’s Success Teams

In the mid 1980’s I attended a weekend-long seminar entitled “Women’s Success Teams”. I was a single, working mother and could barely afford the seminar but managed to scrape together the money to pay for it. This turned out to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made. The goal of this workshop was to empower women to fulfill their highest potential and learn how to deal with any barriers in their way – and there were many barriers. I, as had many women, been subjected to sexual harassment on the job, lower pay than my male counterparts, the accepted belief that certain occupations and positions were simply not available for women – as well as the belief that a woman’s primary job was the care and feeding of her family and husband. This seminar fit perfectly into the liberal Women’s Movement of the time, which advocated consciousness-raising and self-realization. As a white, middle class, newly divorced single mother I welcomed the support and guidance I hoped it would give me.

At this seminar I was taught how to develop a career and financial plan for myself so I could achieve my goals. I was also taught skills like networking, becoming organized, budgeting and defining a career path. Most importantly, I was taught that I needed to articulate those goals, write them down and monitor them. I still do this on a regular basis. After the hard work of the first weekend workshops, our large group was then broken up into smaller working groups, called teams, of about 5 – 6 women each. These teams met once a week to set goals and objectives, and then assign themselves tasks as homework to reach those goals for the week to come. The following week we would report on any accomplishments or difficulties from homework and to ask for support from the team in a multitude of ways. This could include asking someone to call you for a pep talk before going on an interview, help figuring out transportation or childcare or simply moral support.

The slow slide backwards

It’s been with alarm and great disappointment that I’ve watched the slide backwards, away from the values I learned from Women’s Success Teams. As a university career and academic counselor working with many young women students, I’ve come to realize that many of them know almost nothing about the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. In the workplace I’ve seen so many women of all ages slip back towards wearing provocative clothes, lots of makeup, high heels and coloring their hair. They spend thousands of dollars on weight loss programs, the latest hairstyles and colors, plastic surgery, Botox treatments and even breast implants. I see so many older women dying their hair to cover the grey and spending thousands of dollars on products and procedures to make them look younger. I watch as women celebrities go to extremes to present themselves as eternally young, sexualized creatures. Many of them are in my circle of friends, and, indeed, in my own family. All of this is painful for me to see. I would like to share with you some of their stories.

Pink Pussycats on display

Jasmine

Jasmine is a very smart, naturally beautiful, 70-year-old woman who was a member of the generation of women who were told they could have it all – career, family, relationship – everything. With that propaganda playing in the background and coming from a firmly middle-class background, she went back to college in her 30’s, divorced her husband and moved into her own apartment in San Francisco while her two sons remained with her husband.

She did, in fact, seem to have it all as she completed her degree in political science, her career blossomed and numerous men lined up to be in relationships with her. She was successful in sales and real estate and managed to buy a condominium in San Francisco, not an easy task for a single woman to be able to do in the 70’s.

After leaving a second marriage, she married a professor at UC Berkeley and moved with him into a home in the Berkeley hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. She “retired” when she was 53 and settled into a life of travel with her husband who was sent on all-expenses-paid trips to lecture at institutions all over the world. This has been her upper-middle class life for the last 15 years or so. Any attempt at finding meaningful work or a vocation was forgotten long ago. She has also spent many thousands of dollars on facelifts, Botox injections and all manner of procedures to hang on to her beauty.

Suzy

Suzy is a 48-year-old elementary school teacher with a husband and two children living in southern CA. While she has always made more money than her husband and has provided health care benefits for the family, her husband is firmly in charge of managing their money. He gives her an allowance – in cash – because she has proven she can’t be trusted with a credit card. She has no concept of money management, not even being able to report what their monthly utilities are or mortgage payments. In addition to working full-time, she is the primary caretaker of their children and her identity as a mother is the predominate one. Her husband decides where and when they will go on vacation, if they will buy a new car or pay for improvements for their house.

Politics is beyond her comprehension and she has shown no interest in trying to understand it. She loves wearing costumes and jewelry depicting Wonder Woman, demonstrating the public persona that she can do it all. Paradoxically, in many ways she has become another child in the family, taking direction from her husband.

Maria

Maria is an extremely smart, accomplished woman. She is the operations manager for a branch campus at a university. She is able to come up with solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems and last-minute emergencies without even breaking a sweat. She is kind, beautiful, funny and loyal to her friends.

However, she has convinced herself that she must remain in a marriage to a man who she mostly can’t stand. She defers to him, going to places she loathes like Las Vegas, football games and on cruises. He loves to gamble and buy a new car every year or two. While she shakes her head at these activities, she does nothing to try to dissuade him from them. She cooks meals for him that include all kinds of meat even though she is a vegan. Although she works about 50 to 60 hours a week, she is the one primarily in charge of all the household chores – cleaning, cooking, and shopping.

At the same time, she is a workaholic at the office, always cleaning up everyone else’s messes. She functions as the office wife to her boss, taking calls from him and checking in even while she’s on vacation and often taking on the responsibilities that, according to his job description, belong to him.

Helena

Helena got her MA in counseling psychology and then married. Until their daughter was born she worked at hourly-wage jobs. Since the year before their daughter was born 15 years ago she hasn’t worked full time and her husband has been the sole support of the family and provider of benefits. She worked for a brief time as a therapist with an organization in San Francisco until she got into an argument with the director and left. All the other jobs she’s had have been short-lived like that one, usually with her leaving in a huff after some kind of disagreement with senior management.

Her whole life revolves around her family and she epitomizes the definition of the helicopter parent. Her great love, besides her husband and daughter, is cooking. While she has tried to find jobs that would allow her to use these skills, all of them have not worked out.

Even though she doesn’t work to contribute to the lifestyle, she wants desperately to live the life of the wealthy. She is a devoted social climber, always looking for jobs or opportunities with “influential people”. She longs to live in a much more upper-class neighborhood and larger house in San Francisco than where they currently live. She considers herself a feminist.

Margaret

Next we look at the life of Margaret. After living a traditional life as a wife and mother during the 60’s and 70’s, she was also influenced by the new-wave feminism movement. She found the courage to divorce a husband she had long since fallen out of love with and who shared few of her core beliefs. Relying on his and her father’s financial support after her divorce, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and even though she never worked in the field, she never misses an opportunity to give therapy advice, solicited or not. She met and married a psychotherapist not long after her divorce. She worked for a time as the City Manager for the town of Chevy Chase, MD, a wealthy suburb of Washington DC. She retired early from this job in her early 50’s.

Since then she has spent her time travelling and buying decorative objects for both of her homes – which look like museums. She is a devout follower of the dharma as well as deeply interested in humanistic psychology, the core of which is the belief in the importance of the individual.

Deborah

Deborah is a 65-year-old chiropractor who has her own small practice. She works extremely hard to support her husband who has been an eternal student and whose contribution to the family income was to occasionally help clients with software issues. All the while she paid for the schooling that allowed him to get a PhD in psychology at the age of 65. She also supports two extremely dysfunctional adult children who, in my opinion are the result of her permissive parenting style. She is a classic enabler who puts herself last. Deborah has virtually no friends because she works to support three “children” through their various crises. Unbelievably, Deborah considers herself a child of the 60’s and does everything she can to relive what she thinks were the hippie days, going to hear old 60’s bands, wearing hippie clothes and attending Burning Man.

Natasha

Lastly we have Natasha. She is a 43 year-old woman who married a man 25 years older than she. She works as a substitute teacher and is a very good artist. The problem is, as usual, her husband and two children come first. She does her art “when no one is around”. Her studio is the only room in the house that is not heated or insulated. She can’t seem to get up the nerve to tell her husband, who earned good money as a military engineer, to invest in heating her studio so she could work there year-round. Natasha is very smart, has a degree in art and yet she shies away from stepping into the limelight.

What do these women have in common?

All of these women are, with the exception of one, upper-middle class. Two are in their 40’s and the rest are in their 50’s or older and all have college degrees. Half have master’s degrees. They all play a version of the “good wife”, doing all the holiday shopping, wrapping all the presents, making a huge meal, cleaning the house, and polishing the silver. Most of them go along with their husband’s desires even though they don’t share those desires, and in some cases they actively dislike their husbands. With all of them their husbands pretty much call all the shots. The ones who work – 4 of the 7 – have not been relieved of the primary responsibilities of taking care of the house and raising children. The rest don’t work because their husbands support them so then they have become over-involved with their kids. They also travel or redecorate their homes to give their lives meaning. The sum total of their political involvement is to very occasionally go on a Pink Pussycat march. If they do have a political perspective of any depth, it’s the belief that if they can only get the Democrats back in power, and more importantly, a woman Democrat, all will be well.

In terms of national politics most of them are apolitical. Most of these women blame the mess we’re in on Trump, never bothering to look back at the long slide we’ve been in through numerous administrations, regardless of which party was in power. There is not one of them who follow geopolitical relations, and they pay little attention to the role the U.S. is playing across the world. Over breakfast, lunch or dinner never, in all the years I’ve known them, has the center of a discussion been politics or economics. It is always about children, relationships or health. The macro world is too big for them.

Qualifications

Isn’t this about Euro-American women?

No, it is not. Jasmine is Filipina; Maria is from Argentina; Helena is from Iraq; and Natasha is from Russia. The slide toward putting yourself last can’t be reduced to ethnicity or culture. What is also interesting is these women are not poor women who “don’t know any better”. They are well educated and see themselves as running their own lives and not subject to propaganda. They have internalized their lives of subservience. 

Are you saying it’s against the rules to be pretty?

Some women may be saying – “Aw, c’mon – lighten up! Are you saying that in order to be a real feminist it’s against the rules to be pretty? Do we all have to dress and act like Protestant men? Do we all have to leave our husbands and strike out on our own?” What I am saying is that we need to look at our priorities. How much time and money are we spending on our appearance and why do we need to do that in order to feel good about ourselves and attractive to men? This seems to have taken priority over:

  • Controlling our own money management: Maria has little idea of her monthly expenses. Suzy is in the same boat.
  • Giving up full work lives: Margaret hasn’t worked in 25 years; Helena has never had a full time job for more than a few months; Natasha does part-time substitute teaching; Jasmine is now completely dependent on her husband’s income; Maria works very hard as an operations manager, but her salary alone would not be enough to support her lifestyle.
  • Having time to enjoy yourself without your husband or children: Not one of these women asks their partner to be a househusband while they work.

Are you saying there are no strong women?

No – I’m not saying any of these things. Nor am I saying that I see this slide backwards in all women. There are still plenty of strong, smart, self-sufficient women out there. There are some, but they’re not very visible in the mainstream media. Today, in the midst of the Pink Pussycat craze, women joining “The Resistance” by denouncing Trump while blaming those who didn’t vote for Hillary, we can look to some women as role models. Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Council member is one. María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, a Nahua indigenous healer, The Zapatistas and National Indigenous Congress’ (CNI) selection of as their spokesperson and presidential candidate for the 2018 elections in Mexico, is another. Gloria La Riva, presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is a third. All of these women are, and have been, fighting for social and economic equality, including the rights of women. But their primary focus has always been to see capitalism as the problem and the reason for inequality. In my mind, feminism can’t be separated from socialism. Further, all the women I mention are strong, not because they are liberals, but because they are socialists.

Isn’t the “Blue Wave” of Democrats in the recent elections a sign of women having more power?

My response is that is not new-wave feminism – it is neo-liberal feminism. The Democratic Party hasn’t been liberal since the 60s. Because the DNC is not a liberal party they don’t push for real change. Rather they push for tiny, centrist reforms. What they want is naïve. Women like Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein – considered the “left” in Congress – have done little to nothing to support women’s rights. Women continue to make $0.80 for every dollar men make. The Hyde Amendment, which bans abortion coverage in federal health insurance programs, has been upheld every year since 1976, blocking Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program from funding abortions. Democrats argue that the ban disproportionately impacts low-income women who rely on Medicaid for health care, yet they have been unable to overturn it during many Democratic administrations.

Planned Parenthood is facing threats of being denied federal funds and Roe vs. Wade is in danger of being rolled back. The Pink Pussycats have not managed to achieve any significant change in this area and their platform is vague, primarily focused on upper-middle class women. The women who desperately need this protection seem to be invisible.

The Pink Pussycat movement was vague in its goals and initially focused on expressing outrage at the election of Trump. Other than that, there seemed to be no specific goals or strategies beyond “women’s rights are human rights”. Additionally, there was honest criticism of the use of what are classic feminine symbols; the color pink, knitting, vaginas. The demographics of the marchers were clearly middle and upper-middle class straight, neo-liberal women. It was supported and funded by the DNC, George Soros and other neo-liberals who have their own agendas to push.

Aren’t you romantically pining for the return of second- wave feminism?

No, I am not. I am simply saying that the Democratic Party is not liberal and the values of the Pink Pussycats are not liberal so long as they take the Democratic Party seriously. If women were real second-wave liberal feminists, the National Organization of Women would have formed a women’s party thirty years ago when it was clear that the Democratic Party was not doing anything much for women, even middle and upper-middle class women.

Alexandra Kollontai, an important figure during the Russian Revolution, is a historical alternative to the Pink Pussycats. She fought for real equality for women in practical ways. In particular, she fought for the rights of the working class and poor women to have access to food, medical care and education. In my article, A Historical Alternative to Pink Pussy Cat Hats, this is my answer for feminism, not a return to 2nd wave New Deal liberalism.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Cultural Marxism: The Quixotic Catch-All

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
— H. L. Mencken, In Defense of Women, 1918

Cultural Marxism is a strange catch-all term being thrown around a lot these days. Why is it strange? Because if you scratch below its surface all that seems logical melts into air.The term ‘cultural Marxism’ is used to cover feminism, multiculturalism, identity politics, civil rights, postmodernism and globalism. It has also been used recently to describe multiculturalist curricula in the education system.

Let’s take a look at these concepts in a little more detail:

Feminism

Marxist ideas about women covered ideas of equality and examined the historical and contemporary position and exploitation of women. Marx and Engels wrote about death from overwork, cheap labour, women and children in the mills, etc. They appear to have had a low opinion of feminism. In a letter from Engels to Paul Ernst, Engels writes:

Furthermore, I am not at all acquainted with what you call the feminist movement in Scandinavia; I only know some of Ibsen’s dramas and have not the slightest idea whether or to what extent Ibsen can be considered responsible for the more or less hysterical effusions of bourgeois and petty bourgeois women careerists.

Therefore, the inclusion of feminism into the meaning of cultural Marxism is odd.

Multiculturalism

Marxist ideas are based on the idea of citizenship and the state, that all citizens should be treated equally under the law with the common identity of “citizen”. However, it seems that the deeper the political and financial crises of the state and the subsequent whittling down of the rights of the citizen, the more emphasis is put on multicultural policies, as if to provoke the majority population into negative reactions. Marxist ideology was reflected in Article Two of the constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic of 1918 whereby citizenship was held :

(22) The Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, recognizing the equal rights of all citizens, irrespective of their racial or national connections, proclaims all privileges on this ground, as well as oppression of national minorities, to be contrary to the fundamental laws of the Republic.

One description of multiculturalism in Western countries notes that multiculturalism “was seen to combat racism, to protect minority communities of all types, and to undo policies that had prevented minorities from having full access to the opportunities for freedom and equality promised by the liberalism that has been the hallmark of Western societies since the Age of Enlightenment.”

If it was necessary for minority groups to fight for rights, “to protect minority communities”, “to undo policies that had prevented minorities from having full access” to opportunities then it seems that this too also has very little to do with Marxist ideology. Being involved in the struggle for basic rights does not necessarily mean you are a Marxist.

Identity politics and civil rights

The same can be said for identity politics whereby people of a particular religion or race form exclusive political alliances and move away from traditional broad-based party politics. It is true that minority cultural groups have experienced exclusion in the past and today, and fight for their rights but Marxist ideas focus on the concept of class, not race, religion or ethnic group. Marxist politics is formulated on the basis of class struggle not the political objectives of individuals or minority groups.

Postmodernism

Strangest of all is the inclusion of postmodernism in descriptions of Cultural Marxism. Postmodernism is a movement characterised by an attitude of rejection of meta-narratives such as Marxism. A meta-narrative (or grand narrative) is a theory that tries to give a totalizing, comprehensive account of history, culture, etc. based upon the appeal to universal truth. Postmodernism calls into question various assumptions of Enlightenment rationality, the idea of man free from Church-run society. Yet such Enlightenment ideas form the basis of Marxist philosophy and socialist ideology.

Globalism

Globalism is a word associated with world-systems or other global trends. The term is associated with “post-war debates of the 1940s in the United States. In their position of unprecedented power, US planners formulated policies to shape the kind of postwar world they wanted, which, in economic terms, meant a globe-spanning capitalist order centered exclusively upon the United States.” Again, not very Marxist concepts, cultural or otherwise. You are more likely to find Marxist ideas in anti-globalisation movements.

It can be seen from all of the above that the basic ideas associated with cultural Marxism have more in common with crises of neo-liberalism and international capitalism than with Marxism. It may be true that the origins of ‘cultural Marxism’ lie in the Frankfurt school of the 1930s in the attempts of critics like Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin to mix Marxist ideas with Freud to break down the effects of the church and state on revolutionary consciousness but it seems that later anything not associated with the conservative values of the nationalist “white”  Christian became ascribed to cultural Marxism.

Monolithism

While the neo-nationalist right ascribes many different ideas and movements to cultural Marxism it can be shown that in the main they all actually benefit the political right. This is through monolithism (something having a uniform or inflexible quality or character), an approach that can be used as a sleight of hand to implement other agendas. Below are three different ways monolithism can be used to stifle dissent.

It is in the education system that we can begin to see monolithism being used to appear progressive and concerned with minority issues (multiculturalism) while at the same time implementing a right wing agenda. For example, recent changes in the French education system have been criticised for devoting more time to a 14th century Malian king, Mansa Kankan Mussa, (who was also a great scholar, an economist as well as an art lover!) compared to the study of Napoleon or even replacing French revolution lessons. By treating French history as monolithic (i.e. for the political right the threatening (revolutionary) and non-threatening elements can be treated as one), the baby can be thrown out with the bath water, and the revolutionary tradition of the French people can be safely removed from the education system. Therefore the progressive parts of French history can be removed while appearing to be concerned about minority history. The added bonus is that non-threatening ethnic historical figures can be chosen too.  (A more subtle approach than in Ireland where the study of History is being made optional at junior cycle in the secondary schools)

The second way dissent can be silenced using monolithism is to portray minority groups as being made up of similar people all sharing similar views. As Kenan Malik writes:

Multiculturalists tend to treat minority communities as if each was a distinct, singular, homogenous, authentic whole, each composed of people all speaking with a single voice, each defined primarily by a singular view of culture and faith. In so doing, they all too often ignore conflicts within those communities. All the dissent and diversity gets washed out. As a result, the most progressive voices often gets silenced as not being truly of that community or truly authentic, while the most conservative voices get celebrated as community leaders, the authentic voices of minority groups.

The ‘authentic’ conservative gets privileged over the dissenting critic, once again serving the political right.

A third way monolithism works is in the change from the Marxist idea of class struggle (the proletariat vs the bourgeoisie) to categories of the oppressed vs the oppressor (a postmodern non-class concept). Yet again, we see a non-Marxist idea being ascribed to cultural Marxism. The oppressor is changed from the bourgeoisie to all privileged people. So, for example, white people become the ‘oppressor’ and black people become the ‘oppressed’, the privileged vs the underprivileged, despite the fact that white people can have very varied economic backgrounds from very poor to ultra-rich. This way of grouping people (colour, creed, ethnicity) creates identities which are not class-based and therefore, from the perspective of the political right, also non-threatening.

Moving targets
It is ironic that what the main targets described by the term cultural Marxism all have in common is the removal of the class (or individual) dissenting elements, or simply have no connection with Marxist ideology at all. The overriding concern, then, is that politics will be reduced to competing groups realigned along specific cultural boundaries, all blind to clever elite manipulation. Firing the term cultural Marxism at any divergent social, cultural or political activity will not enlighten people about what is really happening under their noses but will send them off tilting at windmills instead.

Who Doesn’t Love Identity Politics?

If there is one thing that still unites Americans across the ever more intellectually suffocating and bitterly polarized political spectrum our imaginations have been crammed into like rush hour commuters on the Tokyo Metro, it’s our undying love of identity politics.

Who doesn’t love identity politics? Liberals love identity politics. Conservatives love identity politics. Political parties love identity politics. Corporations love identity politics. Advertisers, anarchists, white supremacists, Wall Street bankers, Hollywood producers, Twitter celebrities, the media, academia … everybody loves identity politics.

Why do we love identity politics? We love them for many different reasons.

The ruling classes love identity politics because they keep the working classes focused on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and so on, and not on the fact that they (i.e., the working classes) are, essentially, glorified indentured servants, who will spend the majority of their sentient existences laboring to benefit a ruling elite that would gladly butcher their entire families and sell their livers to hepatitic Saudi princes if they could get away with it. Dividing the working classes up into sub-groups according to race, ethnicity, and so on, and then pitting these sub-groups against each other, is extremely important to the ruling classes, who are, let’s remember, a tiny minority of intelligent but physically vulnerable parasites controlling the lives of the vast majority of human beings on the planet Earth, primarily by keeping them ignorant and confused.

The political parties love identity politics because they allow them to conceal the fact that they are bought and paid for by these ruling classes, which, in our day and age, means corporations and a handful of obscenely wealthy oligarchs who would gut you and your kids like trout and sell your organs to the highest bidder if they thought they could possibly get away with it. The political parties employ identity politics to maintain the simulation of democracy that prevents Americans (many of whom are armed) from coming together, forming a mob, dismantling this simulation of democracy, and then attempting to establish an actual democracy, of, by, and for the people, which is, basically, the ruling classes’ worst nightmare. The best way to avoid this scenario is to keep the working classes ignorant and confused, and at each other’s throats over things like pronouns, white privilege, gender appropriate bathrooms, and the complexion and genitalia of the virtually interchangeable puppets the ruling classes allow them to vote for.

The corporate media, academia, Hollywood, and the other components of the culture industry are similarly invested in keeping the vast majority of people ignorant and confused. The folks who populate this culture industry, in addition to predicating their sense of self-worth on their superiority to the unwashed masses, enjoy spending time with the ruling classes, and reaping the many benefits of serving them … and, while most of them wouldn’t personally disembowel your kids and sell their organs to some dope-addled Saudi trillionaire scion, they would look the other way while the ruling classes did, and then invent some sort of convoluted rationalization of why it was necessary, in order to preserve democracy and freedom (or was some sort of innocent but unfortunate “blunder,” which will never, ever, happen again).

The fake Left loves identity politics because they allow them to pretend to be “revolutionary” and spout all manner of “militant” gibberish while posing absolutely zero threat to the ruling classes they claim to be fighting. Publishing fake Left “samizdats” (your donations to which are tax-deductible), sanctimoniously denouncing racism on Twitter, milking whatever identity politics scandal is making headlines that day, and otherwise sounding like a slightly edgier version of National Public Radio, are all popular elements of the fake Left repertoire.

Marching along permitted parade routes, assembling in designated “free speech areas,” and listening to speeches by fake Left celebrities and assorted Democratic Party luminaries, are also well-loved fake Left activities. For those who feel the need to be even more militant, pressuring universities to cancel events where potentially “violent” and “oppressive” speech acts (or physical gestures) might occur, toppling offensive historical monuments, ratting out people to social media censors, or masking up and beating the crap out of “street Nazis” are among the available options. All of these activities, by herding potential troublemakers into fake Left ghettos and wasting their time, both on- and off-line, help to ensure that the ruling classes, their political puppets, the corporate media, Hollywood, and the rest of the culture industry can keep most people ignorant and confused.

Oh, and racists, hardcore white supremacists, anti-Semites, and other far-Right wing nuts … my God, do they love identity politics! Identity politics are their entire worldview (or Weltanschauung, for you Nazi fetishists). Virtually every social, political, economic, and ontological phenomenon can be explained by reducing it to race, ethnicity, religion, or some other simplistic criterion, according to these “alt-Right” geniuses. And to render everything even more simplistic, each and every one of their simplistic theories can be subsumed into a meta-simplistic theory, which amounts to (did you guess it?) a conspiracy of Jews.

According to this meta-theory, this conspiracy of Jews (which is headquartered in Israel, but maintains offices in Los Angeles and New York, from which it controls the corporate media, Hollywood, and the entire financial sector) is responsible for … well, anything they can think of. September 11 attacks? Conspiracy of Jews. Financial crisis? Jews, naturally. Black on Black crime? Jews again! Immigration? Globalization? Gun control laws? Abortion? Drugs? Media bias? Who else could be behind it all but Jews?!

See, the thing is, there is no essential difference between your identity politics-brainwashed liberal and your Swastika-tattooed white supremacist. Both are looking at the world through the lens of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or some other type of “identity.” They are looking through this “identity” lens (whichever one it happens to be) because either they have been conditioned to do so (most likely from the time they were children) or they have made a conscious choice to do so (after recognizing, and affirming or rejecting, whatever conditioning they received as children).

Quantum physicists, Sufi fakirs, and certain other esoterics understand what most of us don’t, namely, that there is no such thing as “the Truth,” or “Reality,” apart from our perception of it. The world, or “reality,” or whatever you want to call it, is more than happy to transform itself into any imaginable shape and form, based on the lens you are looking at it through. It’s like a trickster in that regard. Look at “reality” through a racist lens, and everything will make sense according to that logic. Look at it through a social justice lens, or a Judeo-Christian lens, or a Muslim lens, or a scientific or a Scientologist lens, or a historical materialist or capitalist lens (it really makes no difference at all) … and abracadabra! A new world is born!

Sadly, most of us never reach the stage in our personal (spiritual?) development where we are able to make a conscious choice about which lens we want to view the world through. Mostly, we stick with the lens we were originally issued by our families and societies. Then we spend the rest of our fleeting lives desperately insisting that our perspective is “the Truth,” and that other perspectives are either “lies” or “errors.” The fact that we do this is unsurprising, as the ruling classes (of whatever society we happened to be born and socialized into) are intensely invested in issuing everyone a “Weltanschauung lens” that corresponds to whatever narrative they are telling themselves about why they deserve to be the ruling classes and we deserve to exist to serve them, fight their wars, pay interest on their loans, not to mention rent to live on the Earth, which they have claimed as their own and divided up amongst themselves to exploit and ruin, which they justify with “laws” they invented, which they enforce with armies, police, and prisons, which they teach us as children to believe is “just the way life is” … but I digress.

So, who doesn’t love identity politics? Well, I don’t love identity politics. But then I tend to view political events in the context of enormous, complex systems operating beyond the level of the individuals and other entities such systems comprise. Thus I’ve kind of been keeping an eye on the restructuring of the planet by global capitalism that started in the early 1990s, following the collapse of the U.S.S.R., when global capitalism (not the U.S.A.) became the first globally hegemonic system in the history of aspiring hegemonic systems.

Now, this system (i.e., capitalism, not the U.S.A), being globally hegemonic, has no external enemies, so what it’s been doing since it became hegemonic is aggressively destabilizing and restructuring the planet according to its systemic needs (most notably in the Middle East, but also throughout the rest of the world), both militarily and ideologically. Along the way, it has encountered some internal resistance, first, from the Islamic “terrorists,” more recently, from the so-called “nationalists” and “populists,” none of whom seem terribly thrilled about being destabilized, restructured, privatized, and debt-enslaved by global capitalism, not to mention relinquishing what remains of their national sovereignty, and their cultures, and so on.

I’ve been writing about this for over two years, so I am not going to rehash it all in detail here (this essay is already rather long). The short version is, what we are currently experiencing (i.e., Brexit, Trump, Italy, Hungary, et cetera, the whole “populist” or “nationalist” phenomenon) is resistance (an insurgency, if you will) to hegemonic global capitalism, which is, essentially, a values-decoding machine, which eliminates “traditional” (i.e., despotic) values (e.g., religious, cultural, familial, societal, aesthetic, and other such non-market values) and replaces them with a single value, exchange value, rendering everything a commodity.

The fact that I happen to be opposed to some of those “traditional” values (i.e., racism, anti-Semitism, oppression of women, homosexuals, and so on) does not change my perception of the historical moment, or the sociopolitical, sociocultural, and economic forces shaping that moment. God help me, I believe it might be more useful to attempt to understand those forces than to go around pointing and shrieking at anyone who doesn’t conform to my personal views like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

But that’s the lens I choose to look through. Maybe I’ve got it all assbackwards. Maybe what is really going on is that Russia “influenced” everyone into voting for Brexit and Donald Trump, and hypnotized them all with those Facebook ads into hating women, people of color, transsexuals, and the Jews, of course, and all that other “populist” stuff, because the Russians hate us for our freedom, and are hell-bent on destroying democracy and establishing some kind of neo-fascist, misogynist, pseudo-Atwoodian dystopia. Or, I don’t know, maybe the other side is right, and it really is all a conspiracy of Jews … transsexual, immigrant Jews of color, who want to force us all to have late-term abortions and circumcise our kids, or something.

I wish I could help you sort all that out, but I’m just a lowly political satirist, and not an expert on identity politics or anything. I’m afraid you’ll have to pick a lens through which to interpret “reality” yourself. But then, you already have, haven’t you … or are you still looking through the one that was issued to you?

Tribalism, Reason, and the Challenges Raised by Global Neoliberal Capitalism

This is not an ordinary review or even rehash of George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism.” Rather, it is a reflection on and attempt to expand and re-contextualize the ideas expressed there with comments directly relevant to 2018. Orwell’s main points—the varied and ubiquitous nature of irrational groupisms (which he calls “nationalism”) and how they distorted judgment in the context of 1945—serve less as a direct focus than as a springboard to related considerations.

First, I do not use “nationalism” in the broad sense Orwell does. In its place I use the less-specific “tribalism”. Merriam-Webster defines this as “strong in-group loyalty”; its negative characteristic, extreme Othering, or strong out-group aversion, deserves emphasis. Of course, disparaging “nationalism,” or using it to stand in for other contemptible groupisms (as Orwell did) in 1945, can hardly be second-guessed.

Nationalism had to that point certainly demonstrated its capacity as a powerful and destructive form of tribalism—often with an attendant strong out-group aversion. It deserved, and deserves, condemnation for its irrationality and monumental crimes. However, it also deserves criticism for its modernist derivation—or, for what it says about modernism, for the lows to which modernism could be taken in the formation of irrationalist elitist-serving, and, in crucial ways, anti-modern political innovations. (This is one sense in which some postmodernists are right: the successes of irrationalism in the modern era, not its overcoming, is a core problem of the current world, despite the often interested, black-and-white simplifications to the contrary by really existing modernists.)

I will address one “nationalism” (or tribalism) discussed by Orwell, “color feeling,” (without prejudice regarding the other forms he mentioned, which other writers might find entirely worthy of comment) because it relates directly to contemporary political tribalisms collectively known as identity politics, which is problematic and contributes to the politics of the moment across the West. Other than that, I will follow the Orwell’s main idea in my own direction. A consideration of Otto Neurath’s (and Ben Franklin’s) take on rationality (always pertinent to tribalism and Othering) follows the comments on “color feeling.” Then, I take up a related look at the origins of black-and-white thinking. And finally, I will turn to the recent revival of nationalism (of a sort Orwell might have given some positive account); how it relates to what are called globalization and neoliberalism; and the seemingly odd alliance of Democrats and neoconservatives against a version of such nationalism in the US.

Mr. Orwell—writing principally, of course, about the English—calls “color feeling” an altered form of “the old-style contemptuous attitude towards ‘natives’,” putting “a belief in the innate superiority of the colored races” in place of a similar, older belief about one’s own group. Orwell said this attitude of “transferred nationalism” (in this case, reversed but fundamentally unchanged tribalism) “probably resulted more from masochism and sexual frustration than from contact with” what Orwell refers to archaically as “Oriental and Negro nationalist movements”—a reasonable judgment about the sometimes romantic portrayals of Third World national liberation movements during the Cold War.

In Frantz Fanon’s 1952 book, Black Skin, White Masks, the Antillean revolutionary echoes Orwell, expressing nothing short of contempt for the line of reasoning Orwell called ‘color feeling’. Rather than tribalism and ‘color feeling’, Fanon said the purpose of the politics he envisioned entailed “nothing less than to liberate the black man from himself.”1 He derided then-novel forms of tribalism taken up by others, purportedly with the needs of Third Worlders foremost in their minds. Using as an example “former governors or missionaries,” Fanon said “an individual who loves Blacks is as ‘sick’ as someone who abhors them.” His focus was on liberation, not veneration. Toward the end of the book, Fanon took another shot at the sort of thinking that goes under the title left-wing identity politics today (leading with a passage from Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire about the uselessness of “poetry from the past”): “The discovery that a black civilization existed in the fifteenth century does not earn me a certificate of humanity.” And Fanon’s liberatory thinking extended to everyone. “There is no white world; there is no white ethic—any more than there is a white intelligence. There are from one end of the world to the other men who are searching.” He wanted, as he invited others to seek for themselves with him, to invent himself into the future, not to seek his identity in the past. He considered this very much part of both individual and collective liberation. The importance of these passages, and of Orwell’s comments, are to be found in consideration of the sort of racialized thinking, tribalist thinking, bubbling up today on both the left and right, one feeding off the other.

What Orwell derided in 1945, and Fanon in 1952, modern left-wing identity politics embraces enthusiastically. I say left-wing identity politics to distinguish it from right-wing identity politics, which are often expressed in terms of traditional forms of nationalism and racism. Left-wing identity politics are often expressed in non-traditional inverted forms of nationalism and racism, or, sometimes, what Orwell called “transferred nationalism.” I also refer to left-wing identity politics as distinct from identity analysis. Determining how different forms of identity seem to intersect, complicating the detrimental impacts of social hierarchies for some compared to others, may serve an analytical goal. Too often, in the hands of real actors, identity analysis is deployed to justify the social and ideological inversion of social hierarchies as a political goal. (Michael Rectenwald, when he was still a left Marxist, discussed this in a helpful manner.) Embracing identities, rather than seeking liberation from them, is probably just as “sick” today as Fanon considered it sixty-six years ago. Today, of course, in a world increasingly saturated with some form of identitarianism, ‘color feeling’ is fully embraced on the liberal-left as cutting-edge progressivism. Fanon’s idea of liberating “the black man from himself” comes off as entirely, if confusingly, Euro-centric, colonialist, and racist precisely because in today’s terms the two options available, the only two options, are to elevate identity, to “respect” it, or to deride it. The idea of being liberated from identity is not just taboo; it is outlandish. In fact, to challenge the notion of celebrating identities is already in the eyes of some a sign that one has moved to the right (which, in some cases, appears true). How can it not be when so countless ideas and conversations today refer at least implicitly to ideological tribes, and that to apparently leave one is, ipso facto, to join the other? This suggests a species of black-and-white thinking, a matter to which I turn more generally.

Original incentives toward tribalism were probably complex and varied. However, one clear encouragement must be black-and-white thinking (as distinct from thinking that arrives at dialectical conclusions). In a 1999 paper published by the American Psychological Association, the writers declare that Chinese ways of dealing with seeming contradictions result in a dialectical or compromise approach—retaining basic elements of opposing perspectives by seeking a ‘middle way.’ On the other hand, European-American ways, deriving from a lay version of Aristotelian logic, result in a differentiation model that polarizes contradictory perspectives in an effort to determine which fact or position is correct.2

The writers essentially claim that Westerners reason until contradictions are eliminated—observing a sort of law of noncontradiction—while the Chinese feel comfortable considering a more complex final picture. These tendencies apparently arose as cultural adaptations millennia ago. More individualistic pastoral life-ways promoted “a strong stance in communication styles, resulting in stronger polarization.” Rice cultivation, on the other hand, “may have encouraged the expression of moderate statements.”3 The inclination toward black-and-white thinking—what might be called mental tribalism—directly relates to a tendency to create polarized groups.

And how do individuals gravitate to one or the other of these camps? By reasoning, of course; and reasoning is our most advanced form of decision-making. But is the reasoning we think about really a departure from pre-modern modes of decision-making? I’d like to think so. Calling this into question implicitly, Ben Franklin joked: “So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

This might be more than a joke. Writing a century later, the Austrian philosopher Otto Neurath looked critically at rationality. Neurath determined4 two basic things in this regard. One, reason is, uncontroversially, one of humanity’s decision-making means. Two, more controversially, reason compares to older forms of decision-making such as religion and magic. Neurath said human beings need to make decisions quickly, often in the moment, and so often rely on limited information, and when faced with gaps in information or reasoning, resort to traditional notions or modes of judgment. He said, echoing Franklin, that many people practice “a pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of their choices.” Neurath claimed it was wishful thinking to believe that we could build a “rational home from scratch while inhabiting a contingent lodging.” He used other metaphors to make his case. He saw that rational-aiming men “were seamen on a ship destined to continuously renovate their leaking vessel at sea, in the middle of storms and tempests, with no hope of ever docking the truth.” In a similar vein, Neurath felt that decisions “would never cease to entail a measure of uncertainty and men would always err in the forest of Descartes, without any hope of ever exiting it.”

But how do black-and-white thinking and the primitive nature of really-existing rationality relate to nationalism (not the general sort discussed by Orwell, but the more specific sort)? I already mentioned nationalism’s modernist pedigree. Nationalism proved a useful compromise with, not a transcendence of, pre-modern forms of in-group devotion and out-group demonization. Nationalism sought a new (or, renewed, newly focused) reason to include and exclude on seemingly rational grounds as a means toward overcoming pre-modern social systems. (Or, today, to some extent towards overcoming liberalism, as a degraded or antiquated answer to liberalism’s perceived and actual failures.) Nationalism meshed with a tendency of (particularly, wealth) power in the Enlightenment to oppose it going ‘too far’. A central focus, or manifestation, of this tendency, was the preservation of the state, the Leviathan, towards wealth-defense via wealth-power’s partial and always tense retreat from direct power and behind the rule of law.5 As we have seen, nationalism meant in-group devotion on a mass scale and in a manner suitable to both modernity and the needs of powerful groups. The social contract has served, particularly after the French Revolution, as a license for elite interests with nationalism as the vehicle. But of late, that arrangement changed as some capitalist interests have begun to transcend and lose interest in both the social contract and the nation-state.

In the wake of this, others have found nationalism in the street and picked it up. And what kind of nationalism is on the rebound? Is it the kind that attracted and inspired people in the developing world a half a century or more ago? Is it the sort which provides a framework for people seeking their own way forward against elite models judged harmful? Or is it an uglier form like that which brought much of the world to ruin in Orwell’s day? The answer is probably not simple. It appears to be all of that at once. We have all seen the images of recent marches of right-wing tribalists in Europe and America. The participants often do not shrink from open and clear emulation of the exact hypernationalists Orwell’s England helped to destroy. But as George Friedman, and others, argue, much of what we have seen is not the return of fascism (though there has been some that, at least symbolically), but of a more defensive nationalism not unlike that which found favor with everyone from the liberals of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as Third Worlders eager to stake out their own path to modernization in the 20th. This sort of nationalism is more like “patriotism” of Orwell’s sort. Patriotism, he said, is a “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.” Friedman refers to this type of nationalism in his description of its recent revival:

The nation-state is reasserting itself as the primary vehicle of political life. Multinational institutions like the European Union and multilateral trade treaties are being challenged because they are seen by some as not being in the national interest.

In other words, people are reacting to the steamroller known as neoliberal capitalism and its demolition of the “Chinese walls”, in this case, European and US national borders and sovereignties, standing in its path. This virulent form of capitalism leverages state power—or, certain sectors do—to institute and guarantee its own power and expansion while at the same time discouraging populations from looking to the state to protect itself from the visibly harmful effects of that expansion and power.

In a recent interview, Harvard economist Dani Rodrik explained that globalization has torn societies apart, as evidenced, he said, by increasing inequality, as well as increased “social distance” within societies (between those few who benefit from globalization and the majority who do not), and the final severing of corporate interests from the well-being of the communities where they once resided but have long since transcended. Rodrik added that the nationalist backlash against this has been mostly of the “right-wing ethnonationalist” variety. The reason for this, he claimed, is the “left has been missing in action and that the center-left and the social democrats [the New Democrats in the US, and New Labour in the UK] have essentially been complicit in many of these changes since the 1990s.” It should be no surprise that many people would react to this in the manner most familiar to them, with Orwell’s patriotism, if of a more right-wing sort for the reason Rodrik stated.

Relatedly, Marine Le Pen’s economic program could have been written by Bernie Sander’s economic advisor, Stephanie Kelton. James Petras writes (on May Day 2017, no less!) that Le Pen supported a “Keynesian demand-driven industrial revitalization,” increased taxes “on banks and financial transactions” and fines for “capital flight”, as well as “direct state intervention to prevent factories from relocating to low wage EU economies and firing French workers”, among other policies. In other words, she intended to do for France what the New Deal did in part for the US (and what many hoped Sanders would do again): help the population and discipline capitalists—as distinct from the neoliberal model in which the population is disciplined and the capitalists are helped.  But, of course, we all know Le Pen was the grubby, far-right throwback while her finely-coiffed and ultimately successful political opponent, Emmanuel Macron, was the champion progressiste facing down dark nostalgias (represented by the likes of Le Pen) on the shining path to a splendid neoliberal future. Except, as it turns out, and as was clear at the time, Macron the non-nationalist/non-fascist is the very champagne-soaked ultra-neoliberal, austerity-enforcing, NATO and EU fanatic Petras claimed him to be. In other words, he is not precisely an alternative to fascism, but is certainly an enemy of French patriotism of the Orwell kind.

Neurath’s view of economics is relevant here. He avoided the Austrian tribe. He considered economics a ‘felicitology’—a study of relative happiness. He said man should be happy, not rational. It is not difficult to infer here that the supposed “rationality” of capitalist economic decisions is often no more than “a pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of [a capitalist’s] choices.” Or, as lexicographer L.A. Rollins once put it, the invisible hand of the market is a “spook to which cowardly capitalists attribute responsibility for their actions.” Religion and magic, indeed.

But there is another angle regarding nationalism today over which Orwell might have bounded into the political breach. In the strange world of Trumpian America (strange both because of Trump and because of his mainstream opponents), the attendant rise of the so-called alt-right (old nationalism in a new bottle), and the threat that American empire might retreat, we find seemingly odd bedfellows aroused: Democratic Party-aligned liberals and progressives snuggling up with neoconservatives for a shared aversion to Trump. We know what bothers the Democrats; their star candidate (an adherent of the globalist neoliberal capitalism causing the widespread dislocation and alienation) lost. As for the neoconservatives, they hate Donald Trump not because he is race-baiting hero of the alt-right, but because, as James Carden put it, they are afraid “they could be frozen out of the corridors of power” for the duration of the Trump Administration.  (Of course, the appointment of John Bolton, also co-author or supporter of various neoconservative campaigns of deceit, as National Security Advisor, demonstrates the risk might be ephemeral.) Consummating this marriage, arguably, MSNBC host Joy Reid referred to neocon hawk Max Boot as one of her new besties; Ellen DeGeneres opened her couch to war criminal and dupe of neocons, George W. Bush; and the aforesaid Max Boot sent a love-letter to identitarian liberals confessing his “white privilege.”

In this Democratic-neoconservative fight against Trump, neoconservative Eliot Cohen, incidentally, and quite exasperatingly, leveraged the very Orwell essay mentioned here. In what he calls a modest plea for patriotic history, he cites Orwell’s idea of patriotism. He focuses on the idea that patriotism is “a devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world.” Cohen seems to like the passage for its apparent utility towards spreading dedication to American Exceptionalism. Cohen fails to note that Orwell called his sort of patriotism “defensive,” not expansive or imperialist, as it can only be in the hands of neoconservatives.

To further encourage an understanding of the disturbing nature of this coalition, a review of neoconservative behavior might help. They are quite a tribe and their resumé cannot but astonish. This group of fanatics engineered the greatest and most dangerous American propaganda operations of the late twentieth-early twenty-first centuries, which led to: the derailment of détente with the Soviet Union in the 1970s, disruption of arms control treaties and the creation of a new arms race in the 80s and 90s, and the war of aggression against Iraq in 2003.6 The neoconservatives have also called for war on behalf of Israel (against Iraq and, arguably, ongoingly against others, like Iran and Syria). They highlighted the supposed need—not too long before 9/11—for a “new Pearl Harbor” to justify ramped-up US war spending and belligerence.7

If these Team B8 narratives—all, essentially, lies—were anything, they were cases of men wielding “pseudo-rationality bent on convincing others of the justice of their choices.” Choices based on untruths and which caused incalculable harm. These are the people with whom the Democrats have found common cause—because of Trump. Of course, beyond surface politics, it is not that strange that Democrats and neoconservatives might find some points of agreement. During the Cold War Democrats, like Republicans, more than once found exaggerated stories of foreign threats useful.

In any event, the anti-Trump alliance of Democrats and neoconservatives really serves to preserve and extend an extremist version of American Exceptionalism and imperial reach in the face of just the merest threat that it might be reined in. And this belligerent and greatly expansive version of tribalism, this Democratic-Neoconservative nationalism, is not being called that. In fact, it is not being called anything at all because it is mostly unrecognized or ignored.

So, what might this hodge-podge of facts and observations tell us about the subject at hand, tribalism, or what we might do about it? First, we might ask, do we construct opposites and categories less to understand than to sort and comfort? Do we know the difference? Have we missed the discontinuities as we gawk through the lens of continuity? For instance, why do new tribes, like the megatribe of Democratic-Neoconservative (trans)nationalism, arise? Why does old-style nationalism come into focus so readily while new formations seem entirely undetectable? Does our tendency to create polarized categories of ideas and people derive from a meaningfully rational process? Or, does it relate more directly to older—what we might consider primitive and irrational—social and intellectual modes?

Evaluating our reasoning processes along the lines of Neurath, we might find their similarity to religion and magic. We might begin to recognize this shortfall and exercise the ability to continually re-orient ourselves toward more genuinely rational modes of thinking. Stepping outside our tribalisms, outside our polarized manners of thinking, we may find that we have not confronted the present, nor much of anything, in a fully clear-eyed manner. Critically evaluating our cultural tendency to observe the law of noncontradiction, allowing instead for dialectical conclusions, might help to break up the mental and social reasoning processes that lead to polarization and tribalism. Instead of alternating between different tribalisms or formulating new ones (in the mistaken belief we have escaped them), we might find a way out of them entirely and know it when we do.

Instead of vacillating between capitalism and Marxism (absolute support for private property vs. absolute opposition to it), for instance, we might find a renewed interest in such nuanced political philosophies as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s Mutualism or anarchism—both much closer than anything else to fulfilling basic Enlightenment ideals. Instead of alternating between internationalism and nationalism in the ongoing confrontation with neoliberal capitalism (and certain other forms of tribalism), perhaps we can find or devise structures suitable to popular power and liberation while retaining the ability to prevent their distortion to the benefit of elite interests.

  1. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2008).
  2. Kaiping Peng and Richard E. Nisbett, “Culture, Dialectics, and Reasoning about Contradiction,” American Psychologist, September 1999.
  3. Michael Minkov, “Nations With More Dialectical Selves Exhibit Lower Polarization in Life Quality Judgments and Social Opinions,” Cross-Cultural Research 43, no. 3 (August 19, 2009).
  4. Neurath mostly wrote in German. These paraphrases come from Monika Poettinger, “The Uses of Rationality: Otto Neurath,” Paper presented at the 21st Annual ESHET Conference, University of Antwerp (Antwerp Belgium), May 18-20, 2017.
  5. See Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  6. Gordon R. Mitchell, “Team B Intelligence Coups,” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 92, no. 2, May 2006, 144-173.
  7. Richard Perle, et al. “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies – Jerusalem, Washington, 1996 and The Project for a New American Century, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” The Project for a New American Century, Washington, DC, September 2000.
  8. Team B refers to secondary intelligence analysis groups first initiated in 1975 during the Ford Administration. Effectively, such groups, controlled by neoconservatives from early on, serve to disrupt the flow of quality intelligence to policymakers (particularly the kind that lead to moderate policies) in favor of distorted, hawkish analyses.

Being and Politics

Gilad Atzmon has a new book just out titled Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto. The title probably is influenced from a book, Being and Time, written by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger.

Atzmon has put forward his manifesto that attempts to synthesize various political, cultural, psychological, linguistic strands to explain why the western world finds itself in its current state of unfettered capitalism, crushed communism, the continuing Jewish occupation of and oppression in Palestine, supremacism, the West fighting Israel’s wars, and the discourse being manipulated (even within purportedly independent media).

In Being in Time, Atzmon pulls on many threads, including sexuality, psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt school, cultural Marxism, cognitive partitioning, political correctness, language, identity politics, leftism, rightism, and more.

Identity Politics

I continue to dissent from how Atzmon characterizes the Left, which he divides into the Old and New Left. Fine, there are divisions in the Left. There are certain core principles that leftists adhere to: pro-human rights for all humans, accepting of diversity, anti-war, pro-worker, anti-exploitation, etc. But what must also be realized is that many persons may pose as Left but are not leftist in orientation. People who do not embrace core leftist principles are not leftist, they are faux-leftists. To criticize the entirety of the Left because a fifth column has undermined a segment of the Left speaks to the level of infiltration, the gullibility of certain leftists, or the fragility of social conviction among some leftists.

The Left is not a monolith, and neither is the Right a monolith. Hence any criticism leveled at the entirety of a political orientation is only valid when the entirety of a political orientation espouses an identical platform.

Atzmon considers that identity politics characterizes liberalism and progressivism. (p 8) He names, for example, LGBTQ, feminists, Latinos, Blacks, and Jews as forming exclusive political alliances. However, a major plank of the Left is solidarity as it is widely understood that to bring about some greater form of socialism the masses must unite. Ergo, strict allegiance to identity politics is contrary to leftist principles. Atzmon further notes that patriotism is secondary among leftists. Jingoistic nationalism is an enemy of the working class, and it is certainly anathema to anarchists. Therefore, insofar as patriotic sentiment prejudices one’s attachment with wider humanity, it serves to divide rather than unite peoples.

Yet rightists also engage in identity politics as Whites, militarists, religious sects, and anti-abortionists attest. In the case of the US politics, Amanda Marcotte of Salon writes, “Democrats are always accused of playing ‘identity politics.’ The reality is that Republicans do it far more.”

Left-Right

I wonder what exactly Atzmon means by post-politics. I assume this refers to the “fatigue” he points to in the Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump, as well as the discarding of Left and Right politics.

He sees Left and Right as “now indistinguishable and irrelevant.” (p 9)

According to Atzmon, the Left is focused on “what could be” and the Right on “what is.” (p 13) Atzmon argues, “The Right does not aim to change human social reality but rather to celebrate, and even to maximize it.” (p 13)

But the Right has engineered this “social reality” through neoliberalism, imperialism, and militaristic violence, and the only ones really benefiting from this so-called maximization are the capitalist class. That the Democratic Party in the US, the Labour Party in the UK, the Liberal Party in Canada are in step with this engineering of “social reality” adduces that they are rightist parties.

“The Left,” continues Atzmon, “yearns for equality, but for the Right, the human condition is diverse and multi-layered, with equality not just tolerated but accepted as part of the human condition, a natural part of our social, spiritual and material world.” (p 13)

The imprecision of what constitutes a chunk of Atzmon’s manifesto is annoying. The Left “yearns”? This might be written in a less biased manner as a “desire.” But it is not simply a desire for an undefined “equality.” The Left calls for an equality of conditions, opportunities, and access to resources. Why not? Should an inequality of conditions, opportunities, and access to resources be accepted? Should one class of people be accorded privileges over the rest of humanity? Is this not supremacism – which Atzmon deplores? And for most of the Left – most (and for anarchists, likeliest all), respect for diversity is a valued principle. Diversity is recognized by the Right, specifically, pecuniary diversity. But American society historically has been considered a melting pot rather than a celebration of diversity.

Atzmon sets up the parameters for discussion,such that the “post-political” author can diss both Left and Right. He does not discuss in the Left-Right context as to what constitutes “the human condition” and whether the rightist perspective is indeed “a natural part of our social, spiritual and material world.” I find such a statement ahistorical. The economist Karl Polanyi presented a compelling historical perspective in his book The Great Transformation that elucidates how communitarian human society was changed.

Atzmon writes, “For the Right ideologue, it is the ‘will to survive’ and even to attain power that makes social interactions exciting.” (p 13) The sentence strikes this reader as platitudinal. There is no example or substantiation provided. Which ideologue from whatever corner of the political continuum does not have a will to survive or seek exciting interactions?

Atzmon sums up the Left-Right schism as “the tension between equality and reality.” (p 13) If one cannot accept the definitions, and if the premises are faulty, then the logical structure collapses.

One flips the page and the Left is described as dreamy, illusory, unreal, phantasmal, utopian; thus, it did not appeal to the working class. Atzmon asserts, “Social justice, equality and even revolution may really be nothing but the addictive rush of effecting change and this is perhaps why hard-core Leftist agitators often find it difficult to wake from their social fantasy. They simply refuse to admit that reality has slipped from their grasp, preferring to remain in their phantasmal universe, shielded by ghetto walls built of archaic terminology and political correctness.” (p 14-15)

Atzmon is also abusive of the Right, seeing the Right ideologue as mired in biological determinism. (p 17)

Atzmon says he wants to push past political ideology. I am unaware of his professing any political leaning, so I guess he is, in a sense, already post-political. This strikes me as illusory since in western “democracies” the corporations still pull the strings of their politicians.

Atzmon applies the noun democracy recklessly. Without defining what is a democracy, through using the word (as so many people do), he inadvertently reifies something that does not exist in any meaningful sense.

Atzmon writes darkly, “Symptomatic of the liberal democratic era was the belief that people could alter their circumstances.” (p 19) Yet contemporary politicians still play on that sentiment, witness Barack Obama in the US and Justin Trudeau in Canada whose political campaigns appealed to such a belief. Does Atzmon think people cannot alter their circumstances?

Atzmon points to how the Labour Party under Blair became a neoliberal, warmongering party. He concludes, “The difference between Left and Right had become meaningless?” (p 24) I would describe this as the Left (to the extent the Labour Party was genuinely Left) being co-opted and disappeared by the Right — a political coup.

Atzmon says the political -isms and free markets are empty. He does not specifically target anarch-ism, however. Besides mentioning anarchist professor Noam Chomsky, one supposes anarchism is too fringe for Atzmon, but also it is beyond much of the criticism he levels at the Left. And as for the notion of a “free market,” there never has been one. Polanyi wrote in The Great Transformation: “The road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled interventionism.” (p 146)

Why has the genuine Left never attained power and brought its vision to fruition? Rampant capitalism has allowed 1% to profit grotesquely relative to the 99%. The 1%-ers have the money and the power that money buys: media, corporations, resources, and government. With the government controlled by the 1%-ers that puts the state security apparatus also under their control – and paid for the 99%-ers (because the rich all too often escape paying tax) to keep them in place. The police and military is, in essence, socialism exploited to protect capitalism. The few countries that have brought about Communism (Cuba, China, USSR, Viet Nam, etc) have found themselves under incessant militaristic and economic threat from capitalists who fear the example of successful socialism. This is missing from Atzmon’s analysis.

Atzmon even proposes that socialism can also be considered greedy because “… it promises that neither you nor anyone else will possess more than I.” (p 25) Really? Where is this stated and by who? Anarchist economics does not propose such a premise.1

Political correctness

Political correctness (PC). What is it? Atzmon calls it “a tyrannical project. The attempted elimination of essentialism, categorization and generalization… in opposition to human nature.” (p 38) Basically, it is the avoidance of language that stigmatizes other groups. Who wants to be stigmatized? Nobody. I can agree that PC has been pushed to extremes. PC also does not distinguish between intention and denotation. Should it? I confess when younger that I, close friends, and colleagues would call each other “gay.” It was actually a term of affection we used for each other. No negative sentiments were felt toward any sexual orientations; in fact, many of us were frequently in the company of LGBTQ. But we were not PC.

Atzmon finds that self-censorship is an outcome of PC: “Initially we don’t say what we think; eventually we learn to say what we don’t think.” (p 39) Perhaps. But sometimes it is better to bite one’s tongue and say nothing. I prefer to think of PC having encouraged a more respectful discourse, but PC should be criticized when it becomes excessive. There are plenty of non-PC examples among those who affiliate with the PC crowd, such as denigrating people who demonstrate for Palestinian human rights as “anti-Semites” – probably the most abused anti-PC term. PC becomes a tool of indoctrination when not practiced with equanimity and sincerity.

Is PC a freedom of speech issue? In some cases, yes. For instance, why is it okay to label someone a “holocaust denier” when questioning the veracity of certain aspects of WWII history? No serious person denies that Jews were among those targeted by Nazis; and no serious person denies that Jews were among those people transported to and having died in concentration camps.

An inordinate focus on PC can be vexing; there are much bigger issues in the world than a focus on whether to call a female “girl” or “woman.” It seems simple enough to raise awareness of inappropriate use of language. Most people will come around to a polite request to avoid words that may offend.

Miscellania

Being in Time finally begins to hit its stride when focusing on manipulations to grab and maintain power. The author is unafraid to point a finger and criticize identitarian groupings that create and exploit divisions.2 The stride is bumpy though, as Atzmon discusses sexuality, LGBTQ, feminism, Left abandonment of the working class, psychoanalysis and the scientific method, Athens and Jerusalem, severe criticism of Marxism, etc. The depth and breadth of the manifesto is beyond a book review.

The scope of Being in Time even looks at a 1970’s sitcom, All in the Family, which Atzmon sees as having “succeeded in pushing the liberal agenda into every American living room.” (p 109) Atzmon calls it a “sophisticated” “cultural manipulation.” (p 110)

Atzmon sees Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign as an institutional failure “embedded in progressive and liberal thought.” (p 120) Describing the ardent neoliberal Clinton or her supporters as liberal or progressive is classic mislabeling.

Atzmon is razor sharp when discussing aspects of Jewishness identity and what the different aspects mean for being a Jew. However, when discussing the political spectrum, political ideology, and society, his definitions too often seem contrived to support his thesis.

In the final pages of Being in Time, Atzmon speaks from deep familiarity with the subject matter: capitalism, Mammonism, and tribalism. With a closing flourish, Atzmon poignantly dares to ask, “And isn’t it correctness, pure and simple, that stops us from mentioning that the protagonist [in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brotherhood leader Emmanuel] Goldstein is, himself, Jewish?” (p 208)

Final Comments

In the typical human perspective, Being proceeds in a linear fashion. But from a cultural, historical, linguistic, ethical, scientific perspective Being is clearly multi-faceted and not confined to linearity. Atzmon is fully aware of this, nonetheless his Being in Time tackles myriad issues in a rather binary fashion.

There are arguments presented in the book that I diverge from, but Being in Time presents points of view that deserve contemplation and a threshing out. Over all, it is a manifesto that I find unrefined; in dire need of definitions that are substantiated, not merely asserted; and (although I believe Atzmon would state this was beyond his remit) it would be fruitful if the book erected a promising structure, rather than simply tear down structures with little left standing. Being in Time comes across as an interesting foray to understanding and twining politics, power, and ontology that deserves deeper development. A dialectical approach might be most illuminating.

Alas, politics is not yet dead.

The Dream of a better world is not yet dead either. But one day the Dream must end because the Dream must be made a Reality. That is my simplistic two-sentence manifesto.

  1. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s parecon posits balanced job complexes, remuneration based on effort and sacrifice, and decision-making empowered for all workers, but people are free — according to individual preferences — to work more or fewer hours to pursue interests or acquire material goods.
  2. He has been much, and unfairly, maligned even in purportedly progressive media for his arguments. Recently, Aztmon tells of being attacked by three antifa. These people are unprincipled and not what I would call Left.