Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What Stewart and Obama have Wrought

It should tell you exactly how far discourse has shifted in five short years when Jon Stewart and Barack Obama are both sounding profoundly old-fashioned and un-woke. Stewart is putting all his credibility on the line to defend Dave Chappelle and Obama is going around the campaign trail railing against the politics of division.
The truth is that both Stewart and Obama are not different than they ever were, what's different is the country they left behind, the country that they've arguably done more to shape than any two Americans of the 21st century. The problem is that neither they nor uncritical acolytes thought much about the unintended consequences of their particular progressivism, and we're only beginning to reap its whirlwind.
When, as Stewart did, you spend fifteen years going after the bullshit of the right, the only way to not have any bad consequences is to make sure on every one of your 2500 episodes that you're focusing on the greed of the leaders rather than the idiocy of their followers. But Stewart couldn't help it. Stupidity is really, really funny, and some of the followers of Bush and McConnell are really, really stupid. Stewart is not a politician, he's a comedian, and it's really hard to find good comic material for 160 episodes a year. He couldn't help that there was so much good material on the Right, and he couldn't help that the Democrats of 20 years ago were so much less ridiculous than today. He was a victim of his cosmic success. He never asked to be the voice of a generation, but by 2000, the Republican party had gone so far off the rails that there was room for a cultural voice who drew blood and spoke up with a megaphone for urban, progressive values, particularly because the left wing of the country had no leader. Howard Dean briefly was that, but he was neither a good politician nor strategist. Barack Obama semi-became that leader, but he was too large to be contained by any one movement, and Elizabeth Warren arrived to Presidential politics four years too late to assume that mantle.
Instead, one year after Jon Stewart, that mantle was assumed by Bernie Sanders, who pulled Stewart's generation much further left than Stewart ever intended to guide them.
Economically, both Stewart and Sanders are fundamentally socialists who believed in the importance of economics far more than they ever believed in any cultural arguments, but the reason both of them were successful had very little to do with economics. Culture was what made them successful. What made them successful was that they inflamed people's contempt for the 'other side', they didn't just give voice to rage, they were the rage.
Jon Stewart is not Bernie Sanders. For all the red meat he threw the left wing base, he never said 'we need a revolution in this country' or 'the business model of Wall Street is fraud' as Bernie Sanders did. And for all the economic worries of the current left-wing, their economic worries are still only cultural worries in disguise as economics. People are worried about their debts and lack of opportunities, but they're not worried about famine, and if they're worried about getting killed, it's usually not a gunman from rural areas they need to worry about. What they're worried about is not economic problems, they're worried about problems of dignity, and these are cultural worries from an educated urban class promised more opportunities than we ever got.
And then there's Obama, who had exactly the opposite problem. Obama was not rageful, he was naive. After five years, it becomes more clear than ever that Obama's belief that people are reasonable at heart was colossally naive. He really did believe that people can be convinced to pursue their rational self-interests, so if he spent eight years trying to make an irrational party listen to reason, the other side would eventually be reasonable.
Obama wanted to change the tone of America's conversation. Speech after speech after speech that explained the plight of one side of America to the other. Everybody wiped a tear, and nobody applied Obama's lessons to their own lives. Right-wingers simply got angrier than ever, more convinced with every overture that Obama had contempt for them - and why did they believe that? Because they had contempt for him. And because they treated Obama and his supporters with such hatred, the Left's answered their hatred with hatred.
Part of Obama hatred was racism, but part of it was also classism: they couldn't believe that any urban liberal who believed in government solutions could solve their problems. And part of it was simply a poisonous ideology, an ideology even more basic and tribal than racism - the ideological sickness of complete individualism which states that with enough hard work, individual Americans can build anything they wish, communities only get in the way and are the way that weak people leech themselves off great individuals. And from that philosophy which glorifies a delusion worthy of being called a mental illness, gut hatreds get strengthened like racism, sexism, and sexual phobias, because, of course, these people already believe that only white men are strong and smart enough to achieve great things. The evidence? Only white men seem to have achieved great things in the past. Why did that happen? Not because white men were more evolved than the rest of humanity, but because humanity itself was less evolved and it took a million years for human beings to achieve any historic accomplishment at all.
Obama refused to indulge rage at all, Stewart indulged rage too much. We had no leadership that best exemplified what it really means to get angry in good faith, because both of them operated under idealistic delusions about human character.
The best example we've had in 21st century America of a person who understood how to put rage in its proper proportion was Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is the world as it really is, where getting your hands dirty is just part of living; so course Hillary got that equation right, and America didn't want to hear it from that source.
And now we're living in an entirely different world shaped by children of Obama and Stewart who've rebelled against them both. On the one hand the woke generation expanded Obama's idealism to the nth degree - believing that a world can be enacted that is even remotely free of structural problems and takes into account all the various nuances of identity and class and maltreatment. On the other hand, they believe that social justice can be enacted that reveals the truth about people's private behavior that doesn't result in a colossal wave of retribution by powerful people who want revenge for their humiliations and still have billions of dollars to make it happen.
And all the while, they've raised an authoritarian demon who holds one-third of the country in a death grip, and they wondered how it happened.
The children of Stewart and Obama believe we can change the beliefs of the country, they believe you can change everything from the conversation to the power balances to the realities, and you can do it free of colossal bloodshed. But that is not possible. You were never going to change the conversation, or the beliefs. And you're never going to change the power balances without killing millions.
You are never going to change the minds of racists, sexists, or homophobes. Period. These are people whose ignorance is going nowhere, and even if we disabuse some people of their ignorance along the way, the other side will eventually recoup their losses - every generation has their neoconservatives culled from the ranks of disillusioned progressives. But you can put better laws in place, you can increase the efficacy of social programs from raised taxes, you can build civil organizations that better organize community life.
Even ten years ago, memories of the Soviet Union were still vivid enough that it would be considered sinister to believe that proclaiming one's allegiance to feminism, antiracism and LGBT allyship is the bare minimum of human decency. It's one thing to demand people's tax money and laws to put people's inalienable rights into place, it's another to demand our convictions be adapted into the souls of people who disagree. That's Orwellian - it's the same tyranny we claim to revile.
So now Obama is talking about ending the politics of division and Jon Stewart is defending Dave Chappelle from accusations of transphobia. It's as though Obama's become Susan Collins and Jon Stewart's become Bill Maher.
But they haven't, the world has just changed that much in five years. Obama has spoken at length on prejudice and bigotry so many times that his credentials on the subject ought to be impeachable. But not once has Obama ever spoken in sympathy with the ideas of structural racism or critical race theory or intersectionality or any equivalent identitarian ideology. He has never even given a hint of sympathy with the wider aims of 'social justice' movements.
The reason is pretty simple. The chilling contemporary parlance for all things which are considered anathema is 'problematic', an ingeniously Orwellian term whose true meaning is 'unacceptable', but sounds so mild.
Well, if indifference to bigotry is problematic, then Structural Racism and Critical Race Theory and all the like are well beyond merely 'problematic.' They're militant ideologies going to get lots of people killed, millions of whom could be the very people it means to benefit.
I shouldn't have to put in that last proviso about whom it might kill, but I inevitably have to qualify it; because the point of social justice has never been justice, the point has always been retribution. The point of utilizing terms like 'microaggressions' 'safe spaces' and 'trigger warnings' is not to make the world free of the micro-oppressions that seem to necessitate terms like these, because that sort of world will never, ever happen, and I have to believe that even most people of the intersectionalist left aren't that naive... To make spaces truly safe and eliminate microaggressions you would have to pre-script the entire world's interactions in ways that only a totalitarian dictator can.
The reason such terms exist is not for the sake of justice. The reason is that minority identitarians feel that they have been on the losing side of structural interactions and are sick of it. The point is not to equalize the playing field, the point is beat the playing field. The point is to finally make victims of the 'other side.' Perhaps they're right to feel that way, but all one has to do, as ever, is to gaze five minutes into the piggy eyes of twitter to see that in social justice movements, the far greater emphasis has always been on means of justice rather than their ends.
The problem with structural racism is not the belief that racism is everywhere, the problem is believing that societal structures can ever be equalized. The problem with Critical Race Theory is not the Race, it's the Critical Theory. The problem with intersectionality is not with the "inter" but the "section." The problem is the belief that there is a hidden, invisible, quantifiable system of disfavor baked into every part of our discourse, from our language to our art to our history and philosophy. All these movements are predicated on the belief that civilization itself is irredeemably corrupt at its foundation, and rather than evolve to include new concepts, they have to be destroyed and rebuilt at their roots.
To believe that culture, not law, is the basis of society is not reality, that's religion, and an extremely fundamentalist one at that, and fundamentalist religions are never truly happy unless they have an enemy to declare war on. And what wins wars is the opposite of ideals, what wins wars is will to power - killing people, and killing more of them than your enemy does. That's the end game of what you're proposing, and don't be naive about the price tag.
So allow me to propose what now seems an extremely subversive, radical solution... Perhaps the way to solve all this is not yet another in an infinite series of conversations or wars about culture, the way to solve this is laws and money so that the bigots in every generation can be prevented from all the damage they could do forever after.
That's pretty much everything I have to say on all of this so I don't really have a conclusion. ...except that there is only one thing Chappelle's been right about in his recent diatribes.
Hannah Gadsby is not funny.

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