Telling Lines

That’s lines, not “lies.”

A Christian Science Monitor piece on Bernie Sanders’ race “problem” inadvertently hints at why left libertarianism’s hoped-for inroads with the black community – and with the ascendent progressives more broadly – will face obstacles:

“This [Black Lives Matter movement] is fueled in large measure by young people and it is a particular development in the civil rights movement that deserves our support,” Clinton said. “By that I mean, there are some who say, ‘Well racism is a result of economic inequality.’ I don’t believe that.”

Mainstream leftism is so far from orthodox Marxism at this point, it’s not even funny. (Do kids still say that, “it’s not even funny”?) Race issues have completely replaced class concerns, at least as a gut-level motivating factor in politics. It’s a shame too, because the former is an inherently uglier and more intractable issue.

Anyway, this doesn’t bode well for libertarians because like the class-oriented left, they want to reduce everything to economics, or more specifically the government getting in the way of it. But ala Clinton and the youthful progressives, if the root of black impoverishment can’t be found in the government stifling entrepreneurship or something, what does that leave for libertarians to kvetch about?

Like the (old) left, libertarians are fundamentally oriented around class war, albeit of the dated, John Locke-ean sort. Sure, that’s kind of a strawman, but it’s all relative in politics; and relative to race-conscious progressives, libertarians have a “transactional anthropology” that believes green trumps black, brown, or white. (I heard James Poulos use that term on HuffPo live once. Can’t find a link.)

Gay Pride March Through Muslim Stockholm Denounced as Racist

The 2015 gay pride parade in Istanbul was busted up by police.

Remember when your fuddy-duddy uncool aunt from flyover country would say things like, “OK fine, these gays are having a parade, but why do they have to be so in-your-face about it? You don’t see me flaunting my heterosexuality…” and you’d just roll your eyes? Well guess what, that’s now a valid argument! If you’re in Sweden, anyway, and the people being offended are brown.

A gay pride parade scheduled to take place in a Muslim neighborhood of Stockholm is being denounced as racist because it will offend Muslims. (Yes, true, religion isn’t race, but nobody cares.) But, here’s the thing: it’s being organized by a “far right” party to cynically draw attention to immigrants. This is enough to apparently render it reactionary (as opposed to revolutionary), so the parade is being denounced by the mainstream of the country’s leftists.

But aren’t they curious to see what happens? And isn’t this a totally would-be teachable moment? A parade isn’t hostile, after all, so it should be no sweat to simply kick back and let it take place. Did anybody care about the motivations of e.g. Zvika Klein, the Jewish journalist who walked around Paris recording negative reactions to his yarmulke (from mostly Muslims, incidentally)? Not that I can see from a casual Google search.

Of course it’s likely the parade won’t go over well, giving the opportunity to place Muslim immigrants in a bad light – and on the leftists’ own terms (tolerance for the LGBT community) – to conservatives. The left I suspect knows this, and so it’s denouncing a gay march through a neighborhood full of sexually traditionalist believers in an eternal deity before it happens.

Score one for the theory, and practice, of the near/far enemy distinction.

I’m curious though, will the Swedish Democrats – the conservative party planning the parade – recruit a bunch of fake gays to participate? Seems a tall order. Then again, authentic members of the LGBT community ought not be too difficult to find when you consider that what passes for “conservative” in Europe can easily consist of mere old-fashioned liberals (sometimes described in terms of “identity liberalism“). For example, the gays who support Marine Le Pen.

Yes, Even Polyamorous Drug Users are Conservative

Let me explain.

I’m inspired to write after reading libertarian David Friedman’s comment at Slate Star Codex, the blog run by a rationalist, polyamorous defender of hedonism who is nonetheless critical of today’s leftism. Friedman writes:

Scott [Alexander] clearly isn’t a conservative. He’s not too far from the position of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians, but hasn’t identified as part of that group. He has a leftish feel but clearly doesn’t identify with the organized left.

I’m afraid this still isn’t enough to spare Scott the “conservative” tag, even if wildly off the mark given the meaning of the term historically. That’s because right now, in 2015, everything hinges on identity politics. Scott gets minus points for being white, and into women, and his efforts at rationalism are becoming synonymous with insensitive male-ism. You might’ve noticed there’s a revolt underway against the practitioners of abstraction and thinking for its own sake, due to their inherent disregard for the race and gender of those participating. For the largely white and male rationalist crowd, the conversation is more important than who’s doing the conversing. But progressives disagree.

They’ll see your deconstruction of Gödel and raise you a “but, you’re a dude.”

(As you can see from this map, the rationalists are included among the “neo-reactionary” movement, though dubbed techno-commericalists/futurists. That’s no coincidence, but it says more about the unity of the left than the coherency of the NRx ideological eco-system. There’s nothing inherently reactionary about tech boosters.)

The staff of trendy, lefty site Upworthy.

But beyond the identity politics uber alles at work, there’s been a gradual pushback against hedonism among the young and educated, something I’ve noticed here in the Bay Area (and of course “as California goes, so goes….”). If not a revolt, it’s at least a kind of jaded indifference bordering on mild hostility of the familiarity-breeds-contempt variety. Lifestyle liberalism is so standard ’round these parts that you may as well consider it the status quo. Do-what-you-want expressive individualism is the establishment. Channeling Slavoj Zizek, there’s a recognition that sex and drugs and rock n’ roll is practically an imperative of every American at this point. The left is beginning to strike out at that – and its essentially libertarian core.

So with me-first fun so standardized, one gains no points anymore for what in the 80s would have been a righteous “Fuck You” to the Moral Majority. One gets points now for political leftism, not lifestyle leftism. Partly because the latter doesn’t allow leftism to distinguish itself from mere libertarianism, which is synonymous with consumerism, corporate propaganda, and the modal (read: fuddy-duddy) American.

In the same way that Burning Man is now considered an almost literal parade of douchery, polyamorous white guys who smoke weed invoke meh.

Perusing OKCupid, I’ve seen enough backlash against Burning Man and poly types to be certain that fans of these things are increasingly unfashionable. In fact they often look 90s, come to think of it, i.e. passé. Fishnet stockings, platform shoes, hot pink hair, the whole cyber-goth look – it’s out of date. (And that super tall Dr.Suess-style top hat? How Marilyn Manson!) The millennials writing for Salon are buttoned-down, educated – they kissed a lot of teachers’ ass on their way to getting that degree – and perfectly yuppie. But it’s the pierced weirdos who are often to their “right,”* even when the assignment of the “right-wing” label to such individuals is demonstrably wrongheaded. At least by most people’s standards. So why the tag? Because, well, these people aren’t lefty. Or not exactly. Above all, they’re not modern progressives. Their ideology is often very idiosyncratic, scattershot, individualist…and contrarian.

No, he's not a broke hippie. He's no Hare Krishna either. He's a rich tech entrepreneur.
No, he’s not a broke hippie. He’s a rich tech entrepreneur.

As Corey Robin, a currently in-vogue Marxist/progressive thinker explains it, the “beyond left and right” descriptor – a label perhaps appropriate for these ideologically lonely libertarians, e.g. – has always been code for some kind of reactionary. Because you see, anyone not on board with grown-up Marxism – or in this case, the Salon crowd – is “objectively capitalist,” because they sap energy from what should be a united lefty movement. It doesn’t matter if such people are more convincingly against the status quo. Indeed, it’s communists today who come to the defense of teachers unions, while the right wants to burn the whole educational-industrial complex to the ground.

The raucous and heterodox New Left is now most at home, at least in its political economy form, on the libertarian “right.”

Progressives of course don’t like creationists and bible-thumpers. But Rick Santorum and his ilk aren’t really the relevant enemy for them. Not anymore. It’s the generally liberal – but insufficiently progressive – libertarian in the office who represents the biggest threat. And to a lesser extent any wayward, off-script lefty or old-fashioned liberal. And they’ve only just begun taking them on. The narcissism of minor differences may one day explode into a genuine chasm.

*Note the industrial/goth aesthetics at Trigger Warning, a site whose core mission is demolishing the pop-progressive zeitgeist

UPDATE: Though Mr. Alexander in the comments here was upset to be described as one among a broadly de facto group of conservative writers who share in common a disdain for the modern left, he immediately went on, the very next day, to launch a long criticism of SJW discourse on his blog. Yes, his post is balanced by criticism of mirror-image style discourse on the right, but my point (see original post) is that this above-it-all rationalist take is exactly what’s being jettisoned by a new kind of partisan and (at least rhetorically) militant left. They consider it just so much Enlightenment-style BS that only white dudes enjoy.