What Freddie de Boer has to say on the uniquely leftist brand of lunacy known as “call out” culture is, as is often the case, well worth reading, though those blessed by not having experienced it will need a one sentence primer to fully understand what his target is. Suffice to say that the subject matter (initially broached in a typically cynical and snide column by Jonathan Chait) involves a rather bizarre form of ritualized shaming and blaming based on an individual’s privileged status in relation to others. (An iconically toxic expression can be found here.)
Of course, there are always some grounds on which a leftist X can rationalize “calling out” another leftist Y. And X can even be, as Freddie observes, a white upper middle class woman with Y a working class anti-war hispanic veteran insufficiently au courant with the approved lexicon designating traditionally oppressed groups or marginalized communities.
I won’t cite any examples from my own experience though it occurs to me that pretty much all of us have ones of our own, albeit not quite as vile, and / or dramatic.
Where I would take minor issue with Freddie is in his view of those promoting “political correctness/ social justice politics/ social media activism/ language policing/” versus those opposing them. This he takes as merely a “tactical difference . . . frequently misrepresented as ideological and demographic.”
What he tiptoes around is that in many cases the differences aren’t tactical at all but rather deeply ideological. As Freddie suggests, the Social Justice Warriors most willing to make the most extreme slanders often have “no skin in the game” in that, whatever their demographic profile, they are middle class at least and educated at elite schools. For this reason, they stand to benefit from the technocratic multiculturalism which has become the unmistakably dominant form of capitalism in our time.
Given this fact, it stands to reason that these budding elites are not just unconcerned with the kinds of political mobilization which might challenge entrenched wealth and privilege, they are hostile to it. Rather than restricting elites’ acquisition of wealth and political power, they are fundamentally invested in continuing it, provided that the spoils are divided up by an appropriately diverse corps of technocrats.
That this is not just an abstract theory but real world reality has been demonstrated by the Obama administration’s routine silencing of its critics using tactics very similar to those of the SJWs, as I have noted elsewhere. These have included dark suggestions that left criticisms of Obama’s objectively reactionary policies were motivated by racism. The first of these was circulated by noted anti-racist activist Tim Wise who denounced those showing insufficient enthusiasm for the investiture of the first African American president as likely candidates for “immolation” which according to Wise, they will “richly deserve.”
Wise’s mission was then carried on by Melissa Harris-Perry, who took up Wise’s smear of Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden as “not heros” while claiming that Obama’s violations of civil liberties could be dismissed since “black people didn’t care”. Other reliable pitbulls were Al Sharpton, Joy Ann Reid and others at MSNBC who passed on other smears of those in the Occupy Movement criticizing Obama administration back bailouts as suffering from “white privilege.”
These are a few examples among many demonstrating how meritocratic multiculturalism, anathema to a previous generation of elites, has since become a powerful weapon in the hands of neoliberalism. Rather than rejecting diversity, neoliberal elites have long since recognized that accepting its premises powerfully legitimates their claims on institutional power and provides a useful bludgeon by which they can put critics on the defensive.
The extravagant exercises in political correctness undertaken by campus leftists should be seen not as tactics to advance the left but as active contributions to the assertion of neoliberal dominance.
It’s worked very well for them for a couple of generations. It’s time that we wised up to it.
John Halle blogs at Outrages and Interludes.