Another voice crying in the wilderness


Very nice item from John Halle:

Of course, there would be nothing wrong and a great deal right in achieving the gender negationist utopia Frase describes. However, there would be nothing socialist-or even necessarily just or decent about it; to see why, all we need to do is imagine Mr. Burns in a skirt. Frase along with an alarming number of others on the left completely miss this obvious point: exploitation without discrimination is still exploitation. As a result of their conflation of opposition to discrimination with opposition to exploitation, the essence of their proposals amounts to a multiculturalist restatement of the underpants/gnome theory which here take the form 1) elimination of gender binary 2) ???? 3) expropriation of the expropriators.

9 thoughts on “Another voice crying in the wilderness

  1. Eh, I dunno; I know what he’s trying to say, but he’s not making the argument well. It’s like laughing at a Christian after the moon landing occurs: “See, no firmament!”

    But the Christian has other explanations, such as, “The firmament was taken away as part of the Second Sky Covenant,” or “The firmament is a way of referring to deep space,” or “The firmament is a metaphor.” The moon landing, and the spanning of the space between Moon and Earth, doesn’t make the Bible irrelevant.

    Similarly, neoliberal feminists genuinely believe they’re pursuing that total equality Halle wants, because their doctrine says that the source of all exploitation is surface/genetic bias. Of course they’re fighting for total equality, because once the patriarchy’s influence has been away, the marketplace will balance all those other injustices out. After all, it has to–it’s the friggin’ marketplace.

    I like Halle, but so much of what we’re all doing on the internet now is retreating into our little groups to agree with one another, rather than going through the painful process of trying to engage the bands of people who actually disagree with us.

    • I had the interesting experience recently of discussing some of these matters with an amiable and intelligent undergraduate at a fairly elite college — not an Ivy, but well-respected. My native informant was very up-to-date on the discourse of ‘privilege’, which he had been imbibing the previous semester in some kind of whatever-studies honors seminar. He was completely convinced that it was the right idiom in which to discuss race, gender, sexuality, etc.

      I made the Halle argument — to wit, that the best thing that could possibly happen for the various subaltern categories is a diminution of inequality in general, since that would have a disproportionately beneficial effect on them. Might as well have been talking to the wall. My man was very wedded to the notion that the problem was his ‘privilege’ and the solution was for him, and people like him, to ‘check’ it.

      I think, curiously enough, this way of looking at the matter gave him an exaggerated sense of his own importance and agency, not to mention his moral grandeur.

      Then too he had learned all this stuff at a *very* expensive college, so it must be right, right?

      • Hey, good for you. There are all sorts of clever ways of twisting that around; you discuss and agree with the privilege, a little flattery and understanding, then suggest that the privilege not be allowed to dominate the discussion, and suggest that privilege-based techniques have created the privilege-checking paradigm that reduces dialogue to the level of whose privilege is biggest. Somewhere in there occurs cognitive dissonance and an angry attack, with only a very small chance of reaching anyone.

        That’s why channeling other verses into prose is the only way to win arguments with lots of people. Luring them into a different society’s mores, and watching how people there deal with things, distracts readers/viewers enough with the details to allow themselves to be slyly altered by the theme. Ergo the real battles in our society are played out innocuously on network television, the bigscreen, and via amazon.

        Maybe you should become a first-of-a-kind: a radical movie reviewer. Newspapers thrive on the Chinese walls they put between their ad sales and their impartial, chosen-at-random movie and book reviews, but they choose what to give national attention to because of publisher kickbacks. Why don’t you, Mr. Smith, dedicate yourself to movie/book reviews, analyzing everything through the lens of the 2 party charade, financial elite, and warfare state? We already all know that the politicians are corrupt, yet many are still of the opinion that (aside from Superbowl commercials and truck ads) libraries and TV shows are an innocent, innocuous attempt to merely sell copies of a detached product.

        Let’s Make A Movie. Doing the latest Batman reboot was fun, but I’m not going to do that full-time. The world needs you.

      • What’s more discouraging is how much of the hard-boiled left believes it. The marxist lecturers at the essentially free (for most student’s) Scottish university I went to taught a similar mantra. I’ve even heard it from militant anarchists. Carving out niches for comity-approved identities trumps all but token discussion of fundamental class inequality.*

        There is also a sanctimonious, Superior Virtue of the Oppressed quality to it (sorry to invoke Russell!). An effort to atone for what on some level is recognized as an undeserved advantage while perpetuating the injustice.

        *Saying that, the left is stuck in holding pattern until there is a mass mobilization. Confronting people with what they don’t want to hear leads to fast burn-out. So maybe identity politics and intractable LBO-Talk debates about what a hipster is are sort of necessary, a way of keeping agile in the mean time.

  2. I agree with High Arka. Halle’s paragraph could be a lot better. The article by Peter Frase was so self-referential that I couldn’t finish it. But I don’t think he was saying exactly what Halle suggests. Who can say, though? Clear writing isn’t at a premium among the students and teachers at elite schools, or pretty much anywhere else. One Fredrik deBoer wrote something criticizing Frase, but his essay was full of its own problems, mainly stupid exaggerations. Leftists, according to deBoer, don’t think much of poor white people. A problem here is that “leftist” seems to be a term applied to writers at the Nation, Jacobin, etc., plus all those youngsters such as the one Michael Smith was talking to. Many if not most of these are what we might call “sheep in wolves’ clothing,” babbling on and on about all and sundry, usually full of righteous anger and not shy about the regular use of abusive language (An NYU luminary, who apparently teaches writing, called me an “asshole” the other day for, or so he thinks, criticizing him for not being able to write very well and pontificating about subjects about which he knew little. Both are true, by the way, though I wasn’t speaking of him in particular. He went so far as to mock me for having a job–in the past he said–at Monthly Review, a worthless Marxist rag! Lord knows what he would have said had I egged him on). Talking to one another, those in their mutual admiration societies, oblivious to the fact that nothing they say (or I say) matters in the slightest, but truly hateful if you dare take issue with what they say.

  3. I really thought you were kidding here, making fun of the verbose Latinations, passive voice, etc. The left has been wasting its time on this since I was a snot-nosed Nuclear Freeze kid. WWII, bitches: It was when the state took command to solve pressing problems, and inequality, racism, and sexism suffered their worst blows. How anybody who cares about any of those problems can miss that is a sign of how bad we lefties are, with our shitty little writings like Halle’s.

  4. You folks like to revel occasionally in extravagant exegeses regarding abstract questions of “the left”, “progressivism”, etc. As for me, I just slurp down the stew, do not hunt down the beefy chunks at the bottom of the bowl. If this goofy student really wanted to “check hirs privilege”, xhe obviously should have just stood up and announced that xhe was quitting that “fancy” school forthwith! Eh? (I am NOT “of the left (behind)” nor a “progressive (progressing to whatever)”); I am an equalitarian (people should be approximately equal) (“egalitarians” are merely people who “checked their privilege”).

    About six months ago I issued my “outrageous” opinion here (“Katniss, Enemy Of The People”) about what needs to happen:

    The Rich Have Way Too Much

    “In real life, tyrants do not laugh about starving and murdering children. Instead, they somberly address the nation about “regrettable necessities” and “shared sacrifices,” then launch more drones and cut school lunch programs yet again.”

    Hmm. Maybe I used to agree with that. But lately in the course of my continuing project of developing my «Theory of Everything That Other People Prefer to Not Think About», I have come to entertain darker possibilities…

    It’s not like tyrants actually “laugh about starving and murdering children.” However. The Theory of Everything That Other People Prefer to Not Think About has come to incorporate the notion that «the concept of rich people (and even of modestly affluent people) would be bleached into meaninglessness if the poor ones ceased to exist». That is, the rich need the poor and oppressed for the sake of their own self-definition. So therefor they “launch more drones and cut school lunch programs yet again.” (Really only a neocon subset of the rich and powerful actively promote these pogroms; others just jet-set and so on.)

    No one should be allowed to own more that 20 times what they need to make a living and live comfortably. People should be required to register their substantial holdings, and if they exceed the 20 times limit, a random jury should force them to sell off the excess, and reduce their holdings to 15 times what they need. The proceeds should go to the commonwealth. Anything they fail to register should be confiscated, and those who willfully avoid registering assets should be punished. That is the only way to control economic royalism and protect freedom and human rights.

    Most of our industry has been sold by the rich for profit and shipped down the river to other nations, and there is perhaps only one way to rebuild it. All large industry should be owned and completely controlled by democratic communities and towns. Each community would own an industry, which could only be sold to another community. Some communities would have to be larger than others. For example, an ironmaking operation would require a large community, or consortium of communities. There could be government sponsored research and development communities too. Employees would have to live in the communities, and thus there would be a powerful incentive to minimize pollution. Small businesses would be operated by ordinary companies.

    There will be no more rich political parties. No more rich to be protected by vicious policing. No more rich capitalists selling our industrial facilities down the river to China. There must be some regulation, unless we want to be utterly ruled by ultra-rich tyrants. Wealth control would bring freedom and prosperity at last!

    I have known about half a dozen billionaire’s kids, due to my unusual background. About 2/3rds of them seem like nice people; they seemed friendly and decent. About 1/3rd seemed like exploitative creeps. Most of their family names appear on products that may be found in an average person’s home. They were already rich. To me, rich today is having about $250,000,000.00 of relatively expendable money.

    I think maybe 30% just live on trust funds and party. Maybe 60% have jobs of some sort, such as sitting in boardrooms from perhaps 10 to 50 hours a week. And maybe about 10% participate in fascistic political “foundations” which do vast harm to our nation and its people. So all in all, the rich screw us over, and thus bestow toxic negative benefits.

    Average people do not envy these rich ones. “Envy” is universally defined as “resentful desire of something possessed by another or others.” Ordinary folks, and activists also, do not possess energy to waste contemplating resentful desires — they are too preoccupied with dealing the latest toxic negative benefits being foisted on them by the fascistic elements among the rich.

    We would all be happier and safer if the rich went away. For example, if no one was allowed to own more than 20 times what they need to live comfortably and to have a good income.

    Not so subtle huh?

    • off topic:
      “As Israel Hits Mosque and Clinic, Air Campaign’s Risks Come Home” This is how an in depth NYT piece is headlined according to the google news page.

      Could someone explain the nature of these ‘risks’.

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