Leftism: Intellectual Aviators?

A True Leftist?

A True Leftist?

 

I came across a really interesting post a while back in the neoreactionary blogosphere that I thought was well worth sharing.

It’s called “Right Is The New Left,” and it’s by Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex.

The basic thesis of the post? That being leftist today makes you the intellectual equivalent of a guy who’s clothes are five years out of style.

That might not sound like an especially ambitious or interesting point, but the way author frames it makes it a thesis worth examining.

Scott starts with a preliminary description of how trends take shape:

“Consider a group of people separated by some ranked attribute. Let’s call it “class”. There are four classes: the upper class, the middle class, the lower class, and, uh, the underclass.

Everyone wants to look like they are a member of a higher class than they actually are. But everyone also wants to avoid getting mistaken for a member of a poorer class. So for example, the middle-class wants to look upper-class, but also wants to make sure no one accidentally mistakes them for lower-class… In other words, new trends carry social risk, and only people sufficiently clued-in and trendy can be sure the benefits outweigh the risks. But as the trend catches on, it becomes less risky, until eventually you see your Aunt Gladys wearing it because she saw something about it in a supermarket tabloid, and then all the hip people have to find a new trend.”

Again, not something many people would object to… Seems logical enough.

But, says Scott, a similar phenomenon can be observed with what people believe. While Scott stops short of suggesting that peoples’ beliefs are as trivial as their style of clothing, he suggests that there are some similarities:

– Beliefs tend to be used to distinguish groups from one another.

– Some beliefs are associated with those most “in touch,” the “opinion elite” if you will.

– Those less “in touch” will try to ape the opinions of opinion leaders the same way that the middle class try to emulate the fashions of the rich.

And so on and so forth. A classic example of this phenomenon would be the countercultural movements of the 1960s. As if out of nowhere, kids started growing their hair long and listening to music about dropping acid… This just 10 years after the notoriously straight laced 50s, where gyrating your hips was thought of as risque. The kids’ parents tried beating them over the head with the idea that this behavior was immoral or wrong, but to no avail: dudes like Timothy Leary are cooler than your parents.

Paul Graham touched on a similar point in his article “What You Can’t Say,” which in its own way is a piece very worth reading if you’re interested in the topic of political correctness and how it shapes our lives today.

But anyway, Scott’s point is that PC leftism these days has become what straight-laced suspender wearing conservatism was in the ’50s: something now so incedibly popular with the grandmas and Wal Mart shoppers of the world, the hipster classes are starting to shy away from it:

“And I think the best explanation is that all my hip friends who I want to be like are starting to be conservative or weird-libertarian or some variety of non-leftist, and Mrs. Grundy is starting to become very obviously leftist and getting grundier by the day, and so the fashion-conscious part of my brain, the much-abused and rarely-heeded part that tells me “No, you can’t go to work in sweatpants, even though it would be much more comfortable”, is telling me “QUICK, DISENGAGE FROM UNCOOL PEOPLE AND START ACTING LIKE COOL PEOPLE RIGHT NOW.”

Alexander’s thesis seems to have some empirical support. Gavin McInnes, for instance, the famed “Godfather of Hipsterdom,” is now writing articles for Taki Magazine advocating traditional gender roles. And, a cursory glance at virtually any left-leaning magazine will show you that the topic of “political correctness” (in its distinctively recent, left wing variety) has become a concern even for those well entrenched in the leftist movement. It’s food for thought, if nothing else.

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Posting PC Shit On Facebook Doesn’t Make You Better Than Other People

I can remember a time in my life when I agreed, politically, with most people around me.

This was around 2005 or 2006, when I was just starting to get interested in politics. I never grew up in a household where politics or religion was a major subject of discussion, so for me, learning about current events was like learning to play a new instrument… There was an awkward initial phase where I lacked the experience and context to understand what I was trying to do.

Like anybody else just orienting themselves in a new subject for the first time, I took cues from the people around me… My teachers, my friends, the news media. This was in the height of the George Bush administration, and I didn’t grow up in some hardcore religious community, so virtually everyone agreed: George Bush was evil, the worst president the U.S. had ever seen, and probably a rapist child molester on top of that.

It was easy to feel you were right about things back then. Virtually everyone seemingly intelligent agreed on everything. “Liberalism,” whatever that meant, stood for everything good and right and pure… To say otherwise was akin saying the earth is flat, a flawed statement if not a testament to a flawed personality.

Flash Forward To September 2011

By this point I was in my last year of college and had begun to question the political “consensus” I’d grown up with quite a bit.

I’d been exposed to blogs and internet forums that questioned the political ideals I was raised on.

Was society really as racist as I’d been led to believe? Were women really lagging behind men so far socially? Was redistribution really necessary to right wrongs between the white male “majority” and allegedly “oppressed” groups, or was all of this just a cover for something disingenuous?

In September of 2011, these questions forced a wedge between me and the people around me for the first time. This was during the “occupy Wall Street” movement, a social movement allegedly aimed at countering Wall Street greed and growing oligarchy in the United States. I agreed with the movement’s “spirit.” But I kept asking: what are these people trying to accomplish? Why can’t they state a specific platform or a set of policies that will help them achieve their objectives? Why does this all feel like such a gigantic circle jerk designed not to solve problems, but to make the participants feel warm and fuzzy inside?

Problem was, most people around me did not feel this way. Most of them actually thought that Occupy Wall Street was the best thing ever. I knew because of how often they posted about it on Facebook. I’ll never forget the time a close friend of mine posted the iconic “What Is Our One Aim?” image (the one with the dancer on top of the bull). I responded with something like “well… what IS their one aim? As far as I can tell the movement completely lacks any direction or purpose.” 

The hounds descended on me almost instantly. I was denounced as a cynic, as historically ignorant, as a “right winger.” One guy even suggested I was historically illiterate; he suggested that a basic review of the facts would show that successful revolutions (i.e. the French revolution) didn’t start with “specific aims” but rather with “anger,” and that this anger would eventually (presumably) turn into something constructive.

Well, it didn’t.

My prediction was completely correct and on-point: occupy didn’t result in any kind of socialist revolution, and furthermore, the period since that “movement” has only seen greater gains by the infamous 1%.

Which Brings Us To Today

Occupy Wall Street is long over.

But something of its spirit survives.

It seems that the Occupy Movement, more than anything else, helped to usher in the trend of sanctimonius feel-good hugbox leftist meme posting on Facebook and other social media sites.

Unless you’re one of the people who participates in this particular trend, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The feel good Upworthy.com links. The “shocking” statistics showing how bad gender or racial inequality has truly become.  The viral videos of people staging public demonstrations of various sorts, all aimed at confirming the viewers’ presupposition that we live in a sick society that needs a cure.  These phenomena may appear disparate, but really they are the same thing: a hive mind made up of people who engage with current events not from the perspective of trying to solve problems or correct injustices, but with the aim of trying to appear as much of a “good guy” as possible.

The leftist blogosphere thrives on severe judgments about peoples’ personalities. In the view of this hive mind, disagreeing with them makes you a “bad person.” To quote Manboobz.com’s tagline,

The point of this blog is to expose misogynists and other terrible people by quoting the hateful things they say. It’s not a safe space.”

The implication is obvious: the author is a good guy… People who critique his worldview are bad guys. And apparently, his exposing those he disagrees with is some serious work too: This is not a safe place guys! Stand back unless you’re ready to tackle the forces of darkness head on with me and the the rest of my gallant knights!

Yeeaaaaaaaah…

Manboobz may be an extreme example, but his essential mindset (this good guy crusader complex) is really central to everything we’re seeing in the “PC-osphere” these days. It’s not about criticism. It’s not about ideas. It’s not even about helping people. It’s all about displaying your “good guy badge” as prominently as possible to show everyone around you that you are loyal to the right team.

Newsflash: Posting some bullshit meme on your Facebook page (or in the case of the especially ambitious, your blog) doesn’t make you better than anyone else. The tenets of modern liberalism were not handed down on stone tablets on Mount Sinai. They’re as up for debate as anything else in the world, and merely agreeing with them doesn’t make you one of God’s chosen.

In sum… Get over yourself.