Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Cultural Radicalism Beyond Political Correctness

I’ve written rather critically of the cultural Left in the past. I do this for two primary reasons: 1) my view that left-wing concerns about matters like oppression of racial minorities, women, homosexuals, et al, while rooted in legitimate concerns and historical realities, have metamorphed into a new kind of authoritarianism, intolerance, and dogmatic fanaticism that is only now starting to become prevalent and will likely become more predatory in the future; and 2) my view that the contemporary emphasis on cultural politics from the Left has proven to be extremely destructive to the broader struggles against the forces of State, Capital and Empire.

I have had many brickbats thrown at me because I hold these positions. Some of the criticism on these matters I have received is rooted in simple disagreement or honest misunderstanding. Yet, much of the more vociferous hostility I have encountered seems to be rooted in dishonesty, mendacity, and hysteria, thereby proving my point.  I’m going to outline what I consider to be  the “proper” positions on cultural politics for libertarian radicals in the contemporary era. I say “proper,” in the sense of conformity to actual, tangible facts, relevance to the types of societies we find ourselves in, and the relationship of such questions to broader issues.

In looking around for examples of how the cultural Left typically thinks, an excellent example is a pamphlet in my possession published by a left-wing anarchist “collective” in my local community in 2002. I’m going to quote extensively from this pamphlet, and offer my own thoughts in response. The folks associated with this collective are very good people, some of whom I’ve known for over ten years, who have supported various projects of my own, whom I’ve appeared on television with, and who do very good work on many issues. In no way is any criticism I offer meant to convey hostility or personal attacks.  The first point of this left-wing anarchist manifesto calls “For An End to White Supremacy”:

We live in a culture that was founded upon the slavery of Africans, the genocide of indigenous people, and the brutal exploitation of people of color.

No disagreement so far, though there was plenty of “brutal exploitation” of white labor during early American history as well.

Since our culture has not come to terms with its white supremacist past we continue to live in a white supremacist present based upon the unrelenting economic exploitation of people of color, the mass imprisonment of black and Latino youth, and the privileging of white people and their value systems. Behind the creation and perpetuation of this white Euro-centric status quo is the drive to create profitable capitalist empire.

I thoroughly disagree that we are in a “white supremacist present” in the contemporary United States, at least as far as historic American “white supremacy” is concerned. If that were the case, a black man could not be elected President, people would not lose their jobs or public figures would not be subject to relentless opprobrium for perceived racist utterances. Nor would features such as affirmative action or sensitivity training be the institutional norms that they have become. Are people of color really subject to “unrelenting economic exploitation”? The urban underclass, which is mostly black and Hispanic, falls into this category, but so does the rural white lumenproletariat. What about the black middle class? What about the black professional class or wealthy, upper class blacks?

White people need to know that allowing people of color marginal participation in the dominant white culture is not true freedom.

The problem with a statement like this is that it ignores demographic realities. Blacks are only 12.5% of the U.S. population, so it is unlikely that blacks are ever going to be dominant or a numerical majority in institutions or social organizations. The exception would be those geographical areas where blacks are a demographic majority, and in large American cities where that is the case, black dominated local governments are quite frequently found.

People of color in North America have historically resisted their oppression and colonization by any and all means necessary. From slave revolts to riots against the police to union organizing to movements for control of their own destinies they have resisted their oppressors. The white status quo has historically conceded only what was necessary  to preserve their power and prevent the emergence of a revolutionary mass movement against white domination.

There’s no mention of what a “revolutionary mass movement against white domination” would actually involve.  So long as whites are a demographic majority, there’s only three possible ways to avoid “white domination.” One would simply be to import large numbers of non-white immigrants to such a degree that whites would no longer be a majority. Indeed, this seems to be one of the reason why the Left is rather enthusiastic about mass immigration. Yet, the consequences of such an action are likely to be quite severe. Historically, genuinely multicultural/multiethnic societies tend to be rather unstable and prone to outbursts of intercommunal violence. Oppression of minorities by majorities becomes less of an issue than persistent strife and even bloodshed between contending racial/ethnic power groups attempting to get the political upperhand. Another method might be to grant minorities political and economic privileges and power beyond that of their actual numbers. This has been done through such measures as antidiscrimination laws, affirmative action, electoral redistricting so as to guarantee a certain number of minority legislators, quotas and set asides, school “busing” policies, and many other such measures that are too numerous to mention. Yet, in spite of all of this, minority and/or left-wing claims of inequality still persist.

The third alternative may well prove to be the most satisfactory one. Towards the end of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was apparently moving towards the idea of an independent black nation in North America, for the sake of achieving economic parity with the wider white society. Indeed, the level of wealth in the black community is already such that if black Americans were an independent nation, they would be one of the world’s more prosperous nations, comparable to many European or the more advanced Asian nations. Perhaps black sovereignty, and reparations for that purpose, will be the next phase of the movement for civil rights. The relative prosperity of black Americans may well be an obstacle to white embracement of reparations, as no living Americans ever owned slaves, and many were not even born when Jim Crow when still in effect. Still, there’s no denying that such past policies have prevented black prosperity of today from being what it otherwise would have been. If reparations were combined with elimination of statist social engineering policies concerning race relations, perhaps whites would not be as resistant.

We wholeheartedly support the needs and desires of people of color to organize in their own communities and workplaces free from the intrusion of the guilt-ridden consciences of white radicals. We recognize the ability of people of color to self determine their course in the world. People within the — — Collective who have white skin privileges will stand as allies and work in coalitions with people of color, when and only if, the people of color involved so desire.

Absolutely. I think the key phrase here is “when and only if, the people of color involved so desire.” Most radical groups in North American are predominately white, often exclusively so. The more rhetorically “anti-racist” they are the more all-white they seem to be. Racial minorities in North America who are politically motivated typically tend to prefer their own, separate political organizations. Some of these are obviously more about getting a bigger piece of the System, rather than overthrowing the System. But others aren’t, and it would seem the proper course of action would be to simply recognize and, when feasible, collaborate with black nationalists and related tendencies when mutually beneficial, with everyone otherwise going their own way. The emergence of groups such as Anarchist People of Color, the Lakota Republic, or the Pan-African International Movement would seem to be a positive development along these lines.

Another plank in my anarchist friends’ manifesto reads “For An End to All the Tentacles of the Patriarchy”:

We aim to shape a society based on equality, mutual respect, celebration of difference, and freedom from dominant patriarchal values and behaviors. Our society places value on labor, politics, and culture that benefits men, heterosexuals, and people who don’t bend the gender they were assigned at birth. Women, transgendered people…transvestites…transexuals…butch women…and feminine males..intersexed people… and sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, etc. are in different ways oppressed by a patriarchal system that privilges the masculine, the “normative” heterosexual, and the “appropriately” gendered.

I think some qualification is in order here. As Justin Raimondo points out, certain sectors of the homosexual population are quite successful and prosperous. It’s also true that some within the “gay rights” movement have an authoritarian and destructive agenda of their own. Still, if freedom or liberty or anarchy means anything, it ought to mean the right to be different or to be a non-conformist, and there are some people who would not give a “sexual minority” a fair shake no matter what. While there’s always going to be a certain price attached to being “different,” as that’s the way human nature and human societies actually work, it is true that oppressions of this type have long been overlooked. There are religious non-conformists that have been persecuted in American history to various degrees-Quakers, Antinomians, Mormons, “witches,” Jehovah’s Witnesses, Moonies, Branch Davidians. There exists such groups today on the cultural level (drug users, for instance).  No reason exists why the oppression of sexual /gender outgroups cannot be opposed with the same vigor with which one might oppose religious persecution.

The patriarchy manifests itself in many visible ways; from the disparity of earning power between women and men…

There are reasons for this besides rank misogyny but there’s no identifiable reason why there cannot be a meritocracy whereby individual recognition is based on personal achievement and ability rather than group characteristics like gender. One of my favorite examples of such are the resistance movements in Latin America. Twenty percent of the FMLN of El Salvador’s fighting forces in the 1980s were females, and there were even all-female military units. At times, one third of the FARC of Colombia’s forces have been teenaged girls, and when it comes to leadership roles, there’s no denying the place of leaders like Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman or Voltairine de Cleyre in the anarchist pantheon. Some of the most ferocious fighters in China’s Tai Ping rebellion in the 19th century were female warriors.

…to brutal hate crimes against queer and trans people…

Certainly, such crimes are despicable, yet they are only a very small portion of all the violent crime that occurs in America. The people who perpetrate such actions are not honored by society. Such actions often become national scandals and the perpetrators subject to arrest and lengthy terms of imprisonment. However, just as some people commit other acts of murder, robbery or rape inspite of laws, arrests and prosecutions ostensibly designed to prevent such behavior, “sexual minorities” continue to be victimized in such ways at times as well. Perhaps the Pink Pistols are the solution?

…to the inaccessibility of hormones and surgery for transsexual people…

Very few people today realize that the polio vaccine was developed without state funding. Instead, it was developed through a private foundation founded by FDR, with funds provided by the March of Dimes. Perhaps there could also be a “March of Dollars” to generate funding for gender reassignment surgery for trans people?

…to the constant fear of violence that many women feel on the streets…

The obvious solution here is more women who are skilled and trained in the use of weapons, including firearms, for self-defense, and the repeal of laws restricting self-defense. This should be an issue where anti-rape and anti-sex crime feminists and conservative gun rights activists can find common ground.

Simultaneously, the patriarchy operates in many “invisible” ways; from the way that we speak and interact intimately…

Sorry, but “intimate” relationships are a matter of interpersonal relations, whatever the issues that arise, not political matters.

…to the self loathing that many queer, intersexed people, transgendered people and women feel…

Psychological peace has to come from within. If you look to others or to society to provide it, you’ll be waiting a long time. It’s as simple as that.

…to eating disorders caused by sexist beauty standards…

Again, self-acceptance comes from within, not from without. All societies have “beauty standards” of some sort. An acquaintance of mine who is a specialist in Latin American history tells me the Mayans thought crossed-eyes were attractive. In some cultures, “plump” women are considered attractive. Such variations we will always have with us.

…to the feeling of entitlement that people socialized as male often feel…

And not just “people socialized as male.” The assholes ye shall always have with you.

As a first order of business, cultural radicals need to get past their tendency to act with reflexive hysteria whenever “conservative” social views or opinions not in line with left-wing orthodoxy are presented or expressed. The dichotomy between “change” and “tradition” or “reactionary” and “progressive” will always exist on some level. Any genuine libertarian philosophy must have freedom of thought, opinion, speech and honest and open debate as a foremost principle. Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance describes the intellectual atmosphere of Hans Hoppe’s annual gathering of the Property and Freedom Society in Bodrum, Turkey:

These conferences provide a time and a place where nothing is off limits. There are no forbidden subjects, no polite suggestions that whatever is being loudly debated over dinner by the swimming pool might be “inappropriate”. The only rule is the obvious one—that you listen to the other side before making reply.

These are conferences where social conservatives sit down with anarcho-libertarians, where Czechs and Chinese discuss where history went wrong, where English is the preferred language, but a knowledge of half a dozen other languages will frequently come in handy.

They are also conferences useful for what everyone nowadays describes blandly as networking, but what the old Marxists, with a more sinister and accurate turn of phrase, called “cadre building”. It is in Bodrum, every May, that the connections and ideas that will be the future of the libertarian movement are first to be perceived.

And so it should be.

2 replies »

  1. Yup – that’s pretty much what I want to see. I also notice your position does not demand the left anarchists change their positions that much. All they need do is extend their analyses beyond their arbitrarily preferred groups.

    I think it really is cultural, and that’s unfortunate, because we really need the kind of intercultural solidarity that they advocate, but right here at home. I went out to Food Not Bombs today, and these people are genuinely kind, caring, hardworking, and sincere. They welcomed me with open arms and I couldn’t have asked for more decent friends. However, had I not been determined to work with them and get over the awkwardness of first impressions, I could easily have felt like the odd guy out.

    They all tend to dress alike, have similar mannerisms, and generally have the same backgrounds. Now, there’s not a goddamn thing wrong with that – please don’t get me wrong, I’m writing a glowing blog post on my experiences right now – but I wonder if they’ve considered the idea that these stylistic trappings and social insularity might wall them off from broader problems that, through no fault of their own, they simply haven’t been exposed to. They definitely walk the walk, there’s no doubt about it, but I’d love to see what they could do if they could expand beyond some of their cliquishness and build an authentically populist anarchism.

    I must reiterate that they made me feel very welcome; I just wonder how much more they could do if they focused more on the problems and less on the “lifestyle”. But then again, they’re the ones who have been helping people for fifteen years, so I shouldn’t lecture them.

  2. The incessant ranting against the patriarchy as the embodiment of all things evil is ample evidence that we live in a matriarchal society. The matriarchal mentality has triumphed to the point that it can not even be blemished by being blamed for its own faults, which have to be placed upon this nonexistent patriarchy.

    Materialism as in atheism, consumerism, and bio-based identity and all forms of collectivism from Marxism to Fascism are aspects of the matriarchal systems. Christianity and secular humanism are both matriarchal systems. All three Abrahamic religions are matriarchal, their deity is male depicted as male but has the nature and qualities of the arcane, possessive, jealous, neurotic mother Goddess.

    We may live in a world dominated by evil-men who exploit, oppress and slaughter but they are effeminate men devoid of any characteristics that could possibly be qualified as manly or even male.

    A patriarchal society is reflective of the father, authority being liassez-faire almost to the point of negligence if not all together absent.

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