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Saturday, April 26, 2014

#CancelColbert and the Return of the Anti-Liberal Left

#CancelColbert and the Return of the Anti-Liberal Left

"Perhaps every political generation is fated to be appalled by the one that succeeds it. In the 1960s, longtime socialist intellectuals were horrified by the anarchic energies of the new left. Then some of those new leftists reached middle age and watched, aghast, as new speech codes proliferated on college campuses during the first iteration of political correctness. I was in college then and am now in my thirties, which means it’s my turn to be dismayed by a growing left-wing tendency towards censoriousness and hair-trigger offense.

It’s increasingly clear that we are entering a new era of political correctness. Recently, we’ve seen the calls to #CancelColbert because of something outrageous said by Stephen Colbert’s blowhard alter ego, who has been saying outrageous things regularly for nine years. Then there’s the sudden demand for “trigger warnings” on college syllabi, meant to protect students from encountering ideas or images that may traumatize them; an Oberlin faculty document even suggests jettisoning “triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.” At Wellesley, students have petitioned to have an outdoor statue of a lifelike sleepwalking man removed because it was causing them “undue stress.” As I wrote in The Nation, there’s pressure in some circles not to use the word “vagina” in connection with reproductive rights, lest it offend trans people...

Call it left-wing anti-liberalism: the idea, captured by Herbert Marcuse in his 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance,” that social justice demands curbs on freedom of expression...

Note here both the belief that correct opinions can be dispassionately identified, and the blithe confidence in the wisdom of those empowered to do the suppressing. This kind of thinking is only possible at certain moments: when liberalism seems to have failed but the right is not yet in charge. At such times, old-fashioned liberal values like free speech and robust, open debate seem like tainted adjuncts of an oppressive system, and it’s still possible for radicals to believe that the ideas suppressed as hateful won’t be their own.

“One of the most striking characteristics of ‘60s radicalism was its aversion to liberalism,” wrote Alice Echols in Daring to Be Bad, her history of radical feminism. “Radicals’ repudiation of liberalism was not immediate; rather, it developed in response to liberalism’s defaults—specifically, its timidity regarding black civil rights and its escalation of the Vietnam War.” Something similar, albeit on a much smaller scale, happened after Bill Clinton ended welfare as we know it, and it’s happening now, as economic misery persists under Barack Obama. There’s disenchantment not just with electoral politics, but with liberal values as a whole. “White liberal” has, once again, emerged as a favorite left-wing epithet.

At times like this, politics contract. On the surface, the rhetoric appears more ambitious and utopian than ever—witness, for example, the apparently sincere claim by Suey Park, creator of the #CancelColbert hashtag, that Twitter activists intend to “dismantle the state.” But at the same time, activism becomes less about winning converts and changing the world and more about creating protected enclaves and policing speech. As the radical cultural critic Ellen Willis wrote in 1997, at another moment of widespread left-wing illiberalism, “It’s the general repressiveness of the social climate that encourages moves to ban offensive speech or define any form of sexual oppression in the workplace as sexual harassment. The main effect of these maneuvers is to foment confusion, cynicism and sexual witch-hunts, trivialize sexual violence, and legitimize conservative demands for censorship—while at the same time ceding the moral high ground of free expression to the right.”

There’s a cure for this sort of thing, though it’s worse than the disease. When the right takes power, the left usually discovers the importance of unfettered speech. In the 1980s, with conservatives leading a crusade against the National Endowment for the Arts for funding projects deemed anti-Christian and pornographic, tolerance no longer seemed quite so repressively bourgeois. The same was true during the Bush administration, when opposition to the Iraq War got Phil Donahue fired from MSNBC and the Dixie Chicks pulled off radio playlists nationwide. That’s why the Colbert Report was so cathartic when it first appeared—his relentless mockery cut through the bombastic jingoism, the right wing political correctness, that was stifling us...

Some day president Paul Ryan or Ted Cruz or Rand Paul is going to be sworn in, and an ascendant, empowered conservatism will once again try to curtail dissent in pop culture and academia, just as it always does. Public art won’t be taken down because it’s considered triggering—it will be taken down (or covered up) because it’s considered indecent. There might be another #CancelColbert campaign, but it won’t come from the left. Maybe people will be ashamed, then, that this one did."


"One of their prominent members (@red3blog) is currently ranting about camera technology is racist. Yes, really. This is the debates they are having, with no clue fucking clue about how long it has taken to getting it this far and the limitations it currently faces.
Its nonsense and drivel by an uneducated class that memorize a few buzzwords (mostly privilege, gaslighting, etc) and repeat them over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over."

"These social justice ideologies effectively become closed belief systems. Even whatever dissent is permitted within them is produced and approved by movement leadership ("one thing I do think feminism can be criticized for is its over-emphasis on white, middle class heterosexual women" being the best example). Questioning them on anything is simply not tolerated, anything short of cult like adherence to "3rd wave sex positive feminism" or "Critical race theory" or whatever else is construed and dismissed as "privilege" and an act of oppression against "marginalized" peoples."

"The word white gets used as if every white person shares the same class, culture, experience.
The experience of the Irish in America, fleeing starvation and ethnic cleansing is different from the swarthy sicilians which is different from the Russians freed at the same time from serfdom as African-American's from slavery which is different from the Jews who seem to be white or non-white depending on which gets them the most blame which is different from the (usually fake) Cavaliers of Virginia who became slave owners which is different from the non-slaveholding whites which were termed Cracker and Redneck which is different from the Acadians driven down to pockets of New England and Louisiana which is different from Lutefisk eating swedes of the mid-West which is different from the Puritans which is once again different.
You simply can't speak about these various terms without extreme nuance and historical understandings. Not and have them mean anything."

"it was horrible in most of the trans rights groups I ran into. People were redefining words to say that trans people of color are incapable of supporting the gender binary as it's entirely the fault of colonization by white people, and that white non-binary people were just using it as an excuse to oppress trans women of color. Oh, and then there was one thing about how only trans women of color should be getting representation, because that apparently is the only way to be intersectional."

""privilege" is a valid concept that has been thoroughly exploited in an extraordinarily ethically corrupt way. We now have the victim's privilege -- the ad hominem that whoever can claim victimhood first or most deeply is *correct* in any dispute with someone "privileged". It's particularly tragic to me that the "skeptical" and "freethinker" communities have become rife with this sort of thing and tar anyone who doesn't toe the line as "an MRA" ("male rights activist")."

"Instead of using "anti-liberal" leftists, let's call these people what they really are - totalitarian leftists.
Point by point they make it clear that they hold the fundamental democratic rights in contempt, everything from free speech to innocent until found guilty and the right to a fair trial is to them annoyances that they, if they could, would do away with. In their black-and-white world, evil people should not be allowed those kind of rights, and since everyone who doesn't agree with them is an evil person..."

"When the left gets dogmatic it gets dangerous. McCarthy was a liberal and Leftists in the US were apologists for Stalin for too way long (as I understand it) Pragmatism seems to be about justifying evil or destructive means in hopes of good ends. It doesn't turn out that way, because the end never comes. The means are how we live."
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