Saturday, January 31, 2015

Who's winning the left's civil war?

Jonathan Chait has started a civil war among modern progressives by calling out call-out culture in his recent piece on political correctness cannibalism. Once, only conservatives were the targets of the social justice warrior standing order to search for chances to call someone a bigot.

In Chait's piece, he goes into endless details about how members of the left are being victimized by the endless crusade to find tiny traces of prejudice. He criticizes real-life trigger warnings, white male privilege checking, isolated liberal communities where most conversations focus on calling each other bigots for alleged sins against sensitivity and attacks on free speech.

Surprise surprise, Chait's piece wasn't well liked by the far left. Fredrik deBoer, a writer I was not previously familiar with, said he didn't like it either, but reading his response shows he clearly agrees with Chait's intention.

In fact, I say deBoer wrote the piece Chait wanted to write. He tells the same tale, but in a much more self-examining and powerful voice. He also doesn't waste the readers time the way long-winded Chait did.

DeBoer's entire piece is worth reading, but this section was the most gripping for me. It's hard not to cut and paste the entire thing.

I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 19 year old white woman — smart, well-meaning, passionate — literally run crying from a classroom because she was so ruthlessly brow-beaten for using the word “disabled.” Not repeatedly. Not with malice. Not because of privilege. She used the word once and was excoriated for it. She never came back. I watched that happen. 
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 20 year old black man, a track athlete who tried to fit organizing meetings around classes and his ridiculous practice schedule (for which he received a scholarship worth a quarter of tuition), be told not to return to those meetings because he said he thought there were such a thing as innate gender differences. He wasn’t a homophobe, or transphobic, or a misogynist. It turns out that 20 year olds from rural South Carolina aren’t born with an innate understanding of the intersectionality playbook. But those were the terms deployed against him, those and worse. So that was it; he was gone. 
I have seen, with my own two eyes, a 33 year old Hispanic man, an Iraq war veteran who had served three tours and had become an outspoken critic of our presence there, be lectured about patriarchy by an affluent 22 year old white liberal arts college student, because he had said that other vets have to “man up” and speak out about the war. Because apparently we have to pretend that we don’t know how metaphorical language works or else we’re bad people. I watched his eyes glaze over as this woman with $300 shoes berated him. I saw that. Myself. 
These things aren’t hypothetical. This isn’t some thought experiment. This is where I live, where I have lived. These and many, many more depressing stories of good people pushed out and marginalized in left-wing circles because they didn’t use the proper set of social and class signals to satisfy the world of intersectional politics. So you’ll forgive me when I roll my eyes at the army of media liberals, stuffed into their narrow enclaves, responding to Chait by insisting that there is no problem here and that anyone who says there is should be considered the enemy.

While deBoer feels that people like him are losing, I wonder if this pecking party approach will ultimately doom the far left to lose the progressive civil war. Every time they destroy someone, they create a new enemy. All the moderate left needs is a way to unite those victims of far-left beak wounds, someone like deBoer could do it.

Every time the shrill voices screech about privilege, their own numbers get smaller and the other side gets a little bigger. And brother, screech is all they do all day.


  1. I think it’s time to turn in my liberal membership card. Not because I don’t believe in equality under the law or the need for some welfare for children at risk and people with disabilities, as well as some economic regulation (e.g. externalities, though I do concede that economic outcomes can’t be micromanaged).

    But anti-free speech on college campuses, when in the ‘60s it was the left that led the free speech movement, is an Orwellian pigs-on-two-legs moment. Atheism+ is another example: their bullying of anyone who dissents even on small issues also reflects a growing authoritarianism on the left. Interestingly, right wing authoritarianism also is mainly among the social issues crowd, in this case the Christian Right.

    I’m not sure what political label I’d choose at the moment.

  2. I offer Libertarianism as the answer to your quandry, Mr. DuBay. Anti-authoritarianism, through social AND economic freedom can be found here. And, there are moderate versions that allow for some regulation in order to decrease externalities. Come on in! The water's fine!