Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A universalist socialist's response to "Ten Reasons Why I Am No Longer a Leftist"

A couple of posts ago, I shared Ten Reasons Why I Am No Longer a Leftist by Danusha V. Goska "partly for what's objectively true, partly for what people on the right believe is true". But I didn't go into what I thought was true and what I thought wasn't, and I didn't offer any context. So:

Goska abandoned the left in the 1980s when identitarianism was first being promoted by theorists at Ivy League schools. The followers of Derrick Bell's Critical Race Theory and Dworkin-MacKinnon feminism accepted ideas like these:
"Under patriarchy, every woman's son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman." —Andrea Dworkin,  Our Blood, 1976

"Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those Herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than ‘temporary peaks of progress,’ short lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance ... white self-interest will prevail over black rights." —Derrick Bell
Their defenders argue that those beliefs have been unfairly summarized as "all white people are racist" and "all men are rapists"—but their followers make the same arguments more bluntly. Kate Elliott has written that her father taught her "if you grow up in a racist society, you are a racist". A self-identified radical feminist called Witchwind wrote, "Just to recall a basic fact: Intercourse/PIV [penis in vagina] is always rape, plain and simple."

Goska believes the entire left is like the identitarian left she knew. Which is understandable, because she hears similar ideas from today's identitarians, who have lightly modified the beliefs of Bell, Dworkin, and MacKinnon to cope with inconvenient developments like implicit association tests refuting the notion that everyone's racist. So she became a Republican.

Goska listed ten reasons:

10. Huffiness.

She's right; identitarians are huffy. With notable exceptions, conservatives don't get as huffy because they think they're doing what they're supposed to. Identitarians get very huffy because they think they're being better than everyone else. They get furious at names like "latté liberals" because they hate being reminded that they profit from a system that they criticize in ineffective ways—perhaps because they don't want to lose their place above the people they talk about helping.

9. Selective outrage.

On the one hand, "selective outrage" is natural in humans; we tend to focus on what our group focuses on. But she's entirely right that people who were furious with Bush the Younger's war in Iraq were remarkably indifferent when Obama kept to Bush's plan, and did not protest when Obama tried to extend the war beyond Bush's deadline.

8. It's the thought that counts.

There are plenty of conservatives who deserve the criticism that their words and deeds are at odds—there's a long list of conservative chickenhawks. But she's very right about identitarians. They talk constantly about social privilege, but none of them are interested in ending their own economic privilege.

7. Leftists hate my people.

Identitarians ignore class when possible and treat it as a social identity rather than an economic one when they have to talk about it. But even then, they're often dismissive of the white working class. Terms like "trailer trash", "flyover country", and "rednecks" make their disdain obvious, but it can come out in their obliviousness to the white working class. Poverty offends them because it's disproportionate in terms of race and gender, not because it exists.

Now, this section of Goska's post reveals that she knows less about Marx than she pretends, and if someone was to compare conservative insults of Hillary Clinton with liberal insults of Sarah Palin, both sides would lose. But Goska's broader point is true: the children of the Ivy League have always felt superior to their servants, regardless of their hue. The ideology of identitarianism makes that superiority worse in the case of the poor whites, because once you accept the idea that whiteness is a privilege, poor whites are privileged people who are too incompetent to properly exploit their privilege, and therefore deserve to be thought of as hicks living in flyover country when they're thought of at all.

6. I believe in God.

Goska's completely wrong here: The notion that religious people are on the right and atheists are on the left is just silly. Yes, Marx was an atheist, but there are many kinds of communists, including Christian communists. I could as easily say that if you hang out with Christians, you'll find would-be patriarchs and slavers. Goska's doing what most humans do, characterizing her opponents by the worst people who claim to be part of their group.

5 & 4) Straw men and “In order to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.”

See my previous comment. As for Goska's description of the treatment of Saba Ahmed, I recommend I am Muslim and Republican – and was attacked by people in my party | Saba Ahmed.

2 & 3) It doesn’t work. Other approaches work better.

She's right that liberal capitalism in general and identitarianism in particular don't work. That's why I'm a universalist socialist.

1. Hate.

Would that I could visit her world where there are no conservative haters. Having been to many leftist protests in my life, from marching for integration to protesting the invasion of Iraq, I can say many leftists believe devoutly in the politics of love.

But I've lived through a sea change in leftist rhetoric. In the 'sixties, we defined ourselves by what we were for: racial integration, women's equality, gay rights, and world peace. Identitarians define themselves by what they oppose: they're anti-war and anti-racism and though they still talk about feminism instead of anti-sexism, they've changed feminism's meaning to the point that some identitarian feminists insist a man cannot be a feminist, but at best a feminist ally. (I do wish I could ask one of them what they make of the fact that "feminism" was coined by a man, Charles Fourier.)

I haven't shared Goska's article because I agree with her solutions. I've shared it because conservatives and universalist socialists agree on one thing: the greatest problem is economic inequality. And I share it because if you hope to win more people from the right, you have to understand why they are turning away from you.

ETA: For an early critique of identitarian feminism, see Barbara Ehrenreich. What is Socialist Feminism? She notes, "The trouble with radical feminism, from a socialist feminist point of view, is that it ... remains transfixed with the universality of male supremacy – things have never really changed; all social systems are patriarchies; imperialism, militarism, and capitalism are all simply expressions of innate male aggressiveness. And so on. The problem with this, from a socialist feminist point of view, is not only that it leaves out men (and the possibility of reconciliation with them on a truly human and egalitarian basis) but that it leaves out an awful lot about women."

As for an early rejection of an identitarian approach to race, Martin Luther King said, referring to statistics that are still true today, "In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike."

ETA 2: Identitarianism and the Working Class | MattBruenig