Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sympathy For The Devil (Cross posted at No More Mr. Nice Blog)

Sympathy For The Devil

This is why I've never been able to stand Kevin Drum.

Look: its basically the case that a well informed person can not understand the structure of modern American politics and the struggle between political factions in this country as other than a class war disguised and obscured by a race and gender war.  That's it in a nutshell. Ever since the founding of the country there has been a struggle between the workers--slave and free--for full rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and all the things that are granted to full citizens.  Sometimes that struggle has been among the dispossessed themselves.  Women have struggled for the rights assigned to propertied white men. African descended and Native Americans and Chinese (and in some cases South Asians) have struggled for the same rights.  And now LGBTQ are struggling for the rights permitted to heteronormative people. What is standing in the way of the full extension of--oh, lets call them humanrights?--to all citizens of the United States?  A retrograde, neo-confederate, authoritarian, christianist, obsession with keeping non whites, women, and sexually or socially ambiguous LGBTQ people in the place assigned to them prior to the Civil War. That's it. That's all she wrote.  And Kevin knows this as well as anyone else:

 It's obvious that race infuses a tremendous amount of American discourse. It affects our politics, our culture, and our history. Racial resentment is at the core of many common attitudes toward social welfare programs; our levels of taxation; and the current occupant of the White House. There's no way to write honestly about politics in America without acknowledging all this on a regular basis.
So what's the problem? Why can't we

 "write about, say, the racial obsessions displayed by Fox News (or Drudge or Rush Limbaugh), it's little more than a plain recitation of obvious facts, and liberals applaud. Ditto for posts about the self-described racial attitudes of tea partiers.?"  

Oh, we can't because its "counterproductive" because Kevin thinks that when he "[says] that these outlets are engaged in various levels of race-mongering," he is also "and by implication" always and necessarily also saying "that anyone who listens to them is condoning racism."

Well, he may be, but I'm not.  When I talk about race and American politics I'm not calling "anyone who listens" to Hate Radio, Limbaugh, or Fox News someone who is "condoning racism." Condoning is both too strong and too weak.  Maybe they are just bi-curious. Or maybe they are actively promoting the policies and interests that those media communities foster-- Maybe they are straight up racists and interested in creating and maintaining a racist society? If they are--if that's what they are there for like "I came for the tax cuts and stayed for the racism" what's wrong with calling a spade a spade? Kevin says its "counterproductive"--not that its not true, or not that its not historically relevant, but that its "counterproductive."

I'd challenge that--not that I don't agree with the first observation of the study he cites which is that:
“The experience of being perceived as racist loomed large in the mind of conservative fans (we interviewed),” they report.Every single conservative respondent raised the issue of being called racist, and did so without even being asked. (emphasis at the link).
“What makes accusations of racism so upsetting for respondents is that racism is socially stigmatized, but also that they feel powerless to defend themselves once the specter is raised,” the researchers add.

So: finding out that you might hold opinions that other people in your society don't hold makes people feel all squooky and sometimes, even, sad and upset.  Ok, sure, with the passage of time and the growth of a more egalitarian and non racist society it may well be that it is no longer socially acceptable to throw around the "N word" or pine publicly for the return of the Confederacy.  It may well be that people now have, or think they will have, the experience of being called out on the implications of their statements by people who are not white or by liberal white people.  But so what? I'm so very sorry that your retrograde racism causes you to be caused a retrograde racist.

 Kevin's point, of course, isn't that the Tea Party and Conservatives have a right to their undoubted racism--its that fear of being called out as racists, which they see as the "terrible word" of the modern age--is so staining, so stifling, that they would rather seek out situations, people, and news groups where they feel safe from the charge. So the researchers theorize that fear of a black planet and some accompanying ridicule leads to epistemic closure:
“We suspect that this heightened social risk increases the appeal of the safe political environs provided by outrage-based programs, and may partially explain the overwhelming conservative dominance of outrage-based political talk media.”
Kevin doesn't like this--this is the "counterproductive" part of his argument. He thinks that we could gently reduce the dominance of "outraged based political talk media" by making liberal and non white spaces "safe spaces" for conservatives to express their thoughts without fear of being accused of being racist. "We" with our indiscriminate use of the R word are driving innocent people into the harms of hate radio.  I think this is entirely backwards--they go where they are comfortable because people always go where they are comfortable. We aren't doing it to them. Moreover: there is nothing we can do about it. If we didn't exist as an existential threat with our leering and fleering and our low slung pants and our careless refusal to get jobs or whatever else they tell themselves over at Fox News they would have to invent us. Accusing "liberals" in general of forcing conservatives to congregate around the warm fire of Fox News's burning books is like accusing the Jews of being responsible for Germans buying Mein Kampf.

 I get Kevin's point--I understand that for some people it can be very, very, scary to find out that "common sense" viewpoints that they share with their neighbors and (they think) they share with their ancestors and other authority figures can be hurtful to other people and even result in social stigma.  But its absurd to think that people say racist, hurtful, things or enact racist/classist/corporatist policies because they are merely misunderstood and defensive because somewhere, someone, might disagree with them vehemently.

They say what they say because they believe it--and they pursue the policies they pursue at the local and national level politically because they affirmatively want those policies. If they prefer to preserve plausible deniability by, for example, remaining ignorant of the history of those policies or ignorant of the results of those policies as the conservatives who cut off food stamps and who closed the government are demonstrating right now it can't be our place to make that easier. And, in any event, it won't affect things. Water seeks its own level and vultures seek carrion. You can't prevent people from lying to themselves or engaging in magical thinking.

The whole discussion over at Kevin's reminds me of his ineradicable inability to get outside his own skin as a tall, lantern jawed, heterosexual white male. For example he swallows without choking the biggest absurdity in the study he cites: that what conservatives get from liberals (sarcasm? accusations of racism) is orders of magnitude worse than what "liberals" get from conservatives.  According to the study that Kevin cites the worst that liberals have to fear in this world is a little teasing or insulting, while conservatives experience some kind of social soul fright at being called a racist.  Yes, the researchers say "In conversation with conservatives, liberals risk being called naive or willfully blind to potential threats—not very pleasant labels, but not especially damaging ones, either."  Liberal here must be a gloss merely for white male upper class heterosexual person because I can assure the researchers that Hispanic, female, gay, black, native American and other non conforming non conservative people's come in for a hell of a lot worse than "not very pleasant labels" in their discussions with conservatives or in seeing themselves represented on conservative media.  How did that reality vanish from the discussion? 

We can no more make the world a safe place for people to express hatespeech or historical ignorance than we can make a non-smoking ward in the hospital a safe place for smokers. The right of the smoker to kill himself does not extend to the pollution of the space around him or the invasion of other people's lungs with second hand smoke.  The conservatives that Kevin is worrying about are on the wrong side of history and they suspect it but they aren't willing to do the honest work of getting on the right side. So fuck 'em. They have left themselves prey to talk radio because its comfortable for them. Its not something liberals can fix even if we tiptoe around their feelings and don't call them out on their actions and their political party's destructive behavior.


  1. Oy! He's just going from weakness to weakness this week, isn't he?

    Nice takedown.