Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Notes from a Slow Learner

With Prof. Afaa M. Weaver, 2006.

Fifty now, for most of my adult life I've been an active supporter of the progressive wing of the American left. Educated as I was in university, tolerance and open-mindedness, as well as a careful respect for dialogue, have always been crucial to me. I’ve had close Muslim and Buddhist friends, atheist friends, feminist friends, gay and lesbian friends, black and Asian friends, Jewish friends. Needless to say, I’ve learned things from all of them.

But that was then, back in the early days. I’d like to say--back in the last century, because this new century is becoming something quite different.

I'm thinking the atmosphere shifted decisively around 2010, a dark spark of some sort shot through the ether wind. Actually I’m ashamed I didn’t notice it when it happened. But now I get it. Because myself, now in 2017--white, male, Catholic--my progressive friends and acquaintances have more or less made it clear: My presence isn't really welcome.

Sorry I didn’t realize it sooner, in 2012 say. It would have saved everybody a lot of trouble. I’m a slow learner.

For the feminists around me, our 21st-century feminists, maleness itself is the root of all evil. So although I’ve long believed women and men are equal (that quaint old 20th-century notion!) it makes no difference now. I’m guilty as charged. And always will be.

For our SJWs, Europe and Western cultural traditions are to be denigrated and fought at every turn. Though I recognize the West is also guilty of some of history's most systematic abuses, I study and cherish European culture, and the American culture that stems from it. But the important thing about Europe now is no longer its humanistic learning, its concepts of rights and law, its philosophy and literature--no, it’s this abstract evil called “whiteness”. Again: I’m guilty as charged.

For the “new atheists” and the many secularist keeners who get their soundbites from them, progress means openly and loudly mocking people of faith because, well, religions are silly, outdated, and oppressive--especially, of course, Western religions. This crowd has been setting the tone for more and more of our young people. Well, here you find me again: Being Catholic, I'm guilty as charged.

I've always valued dialogue, almost to an obsessive degree, especially dialogue with people who disagree with me. Such a thing can hardly exist now. If I’m in a group with American women present, and attempt to clarify or discuss some point, I’m “mansplaining”. Online, if I point out how Barack Obama’s pro-Wall Street, pro-corporate policies undermined his legacy, I’m “supporting white supremacists” (as I just learned today, from a friend of many years, a prominent black poet and professor, who informed me of this, then summarily unfriended and blocked me on Facebook!). Never mind that I voted for Obama twice, as my friend well knows, never mind that I blogged for years in Obama's favor--no, being white, I’m “racist” for daring to criticize Obama’s actual policies.

I should add: Never mind that I've heard this professor friend himself criticize Obama: "He's doing nothing for us, but we'll still vote for him." Words spoken in a kind of resigned sigh.

This friend, or ex-friend, would he unfriend black Obama critic Cornel West? I don’t know. Maybe he already has. You know: Cornel West--self-hating black man.

Then there’s the LGBT crowd, which has really changed in recent years. I was an ally in the late 1980s and 90s, even heading into this new century. I treat gays and lesbians with respect, have gay friends I openly admire, gay and lesbian writers I recognize as geniuses, but this matters nothing. If I disagree with one point on their ever-growing list of rainbow dogmas, I’m a “bigot” who must be run out of polite society, a hater who deserves to lose his career.

And that's not idle talk. I know very well that if I were still living and teaching in the States rather than overseas, the zealots in this movement likely both would and could destroy my career because of my position on various aspects of the trans movement. Which fact is, at the very least, a sad commentary on what has become of our civil liberties.

What all these so-called progressives now praise as “diversity” is not diversity at all. It’s a dogmatic new groupthink. It’s a creeping (and really not-so-creeping) authoritarianism. What they mean when they say this word, in this new climate, is something like: “Agree with us on everything, or you’re not diverse enough. And if you're not diverse, we will ruin you.”

Well, here I am. Officially Out. Guilty as charged. Bring it on, bitches.

I believe in pluralism, the deeper pluralism that recognizes possible intellectual or cultural disagreements at the most fundamental levels--but that still insists on reasoned dialogue and the right to free speech. I believe in cultural and intellectual pluralism, not this ersatz replacement concept called "diversity", a word that now virtually sickens me whenever I hear it.

Diversity, the way the SJW left has weaponized it, is the most transparently hypocritical social concept framed in our culture in decades. And although the tendency to abuse was already there as early as the 1980s, the new climate is markedly worse. Again, I pick 2010 as the year critical mass was reached.

After years now of this hard-edged double standard on full display, the faith in tolerance and pluralism that many people like myself have long held to is starting to appear, well, naive. Can you blame us? Civil discourse with this angry new identity politics"left" is impossible. Because the only game they play is identity politics, and they play it as a zero sum game. Bizarrely, this has become their whole idea of the left. For every one article in the progressive press about economic justice or the depredations of corporate-sponsored imperialism, there are now nine or ten about some lame identity spat. This new left has almost zero connection to the bread-and-butter politics of the 20th century American left. And besides, it's clear their identity obsessions are only making things worse for everyone, themselves included. To judge from what I've seen in recent months, they haven’t learned a thing from Donald Trump’s election: why it happened; how they are implicated in it; how they are in no small part responsible for the counter-reaction their behavior has provoked.

Who’s going to tell them what they’re bringing about?

Here’s what I’d tell them, if I had any hopes they’d listen:

If it’s hardball identity politics you want, then hardball identity politics you’ll get.

Do you hear that? Do you understand?

I know you, and even those of you capable of grasping my point, you won’t heed the warning; you won't desist from your systematic demonization of the identity groups you suppose are oppressing you: whether it's white people, Christians, or daft abstractions like "heteronormativity" or "the Patriarchy". You won't desist in railing against these largely imaginary oppressors because you've constructed an imaginary self that depends on their existence. And so this new century, perversely, may very likely end up delivering just the demons you're conjuring up. Funny how that works, isn't? I think Hegel would have something to say on it.

Myself I'm saddened to the core to see dialogue die, over and over, and to be forced to write off so many friends because they can't accept actual diversity when they encounter it. And I'm saddened also to have to leave the left, but leave it I will, because it is an utterly fake left, finally rotten to the core. Your identity politics has nothing to offer America but polarization and speech codes, thought police and inter-racial hate--whereas me, I'm still interested in possible communities.