Monday, June 15, 2015

Race & the Left, part 2

Now "Political Correctness" is a term that, quite rightfully in most cases where it is used, has come to be mocked. Essentially an extremely vague and useful signifier for those on the right to throw out when they are losing an argument badly, a signifier that invokes our latent resentment of the "Ivory Tower" and those who inhabit it. Our resentment both of their detachment from reality and their ambition to dictate the terms in which we understand it.

I say "our resentment" because I am by no means immune, as is probably obvious. But just because irrational, inarticulate people resent something, we cannot conclude that there is nothing there to resent. There is (or at least was) cause to resent academia. The irrational part of this scenario is that that resentment can so easily be used to shut off thinking on a whole range of issues.

That's not what I'm about.

The term "political correctness" actually emerged in the writing of a person who was generally sympathetic to the causes usually thought to be advanced by the Politically Correct. In New Left circles and publications, the term was used as an offhand way to acknowledge that no one wanted things to go the way of factional orthodoxy. But it was also a tacit recognition that this tendency--the tendency toward an enforced orthodoxy that bore no doubt and no discussion--did, in fact, exist.

As it does in many organizations. But as the market position of the left (poor performance in elections--fewer positions in the state apparatus to occupy) and the leftist intellectual (fewer and fewer ways to make a living as a leftist thinker/writer) declined steeply in the 1980s, the venue for leftist thinking became increasingly dominated by academia. In academia leftist intellectuals spoke mostly to an audience that they had less need to convince and more power to compel (students).

And those students consisted largely of late adolescents who were indifferent to their suasions, anyhow . . . except for the few who longed for some officially sanctioned way to express their Oedipal angst. For these folks, it was easy to make them feel guilty for being like their parents, easy to get them to reject those values, easy to get them to adopt news ones, and easy to get them to strictly enforce the new orthodoxy (or attempt to) amongst their peers. What wasn't easy was to actually get them to think, but that was really superfluous. If not undesirable.

As union grassroots-group influence sank and as academy-trained leftists started becoming the leading new activist lights anyhow, the left more and more reflected the didactic origins of its activists. Important issues were no longer to be discussed. Orthodoxies were to be absorbed. Litanies to be repeated. Heretics to be condemned.

Twenty or so years on from the darkest days of academic exile for the left, where the public sphere and even public policy actually can be influenced by leftist thinking . . . the lack of real thinking in some parts of the leftist agenda and orthodoxy becomes painfully obvious. That's what we see now with the response to Rachel Dolezal.

Race is both a 100% social construction AND something essential to particular people, depending on the exigencies of the day. The same goes for sex and gender. There are plenty of other unresolved contradictions within the regurgitated orthodoxy which almost no one cared about when the left was essentially a political non-entity, but which now look . . . well, embarrassing.

When you need serious thinking about race and all you have on hand is people for whom mouthing the right things about black people is a vehicle for both expiating the guilt for and enjoying being white upper-middle-class people, like a modern-day papal indulgence . . . well, I'm afraid I'm just going to have to be embarrassed.

And when I wonder are black folk going to catch up to the fact that their so-compliant-with-the-line white friends are just condescending to them . . .

Unless they already know and just aren't telling me. Which is OK. Who can say which side I'm on?