October 15, 2015 § Leave a comment
I think Sargon has progressivism wrong. Unless I’ve misundestood him, he seems to be conflating progressive views on economic policy with identity politics. It is possible to be culturally libertarian and as radically anticapitalist as you can imagine once you drop what are basically silly right wing paradigms which imagine the world as being shaped by some epic Manichean struggle between collectivism and individualism.
What most progressives themselves usually mean when they call themselves “progressive” is that they are liberals who have broken with the previous pro-corporate free trade cultist Clinton-era liberalism, which was itself really an attempt to move the left to the right after Reagan. It’s liberalism that no longer accepts the magic of the invisible hand and no longer assumes that “free markets” are actually free for anyone except those who can afford to buy the legislature and turn it into an arm of private industry at everyone else’s expense.
It’s a critique of the baby boom left’s economic policy and worldview, not an expression of gender identity politics cultism. Feminist cultists have essentially attempted to hijack the general repudiation of neoliberalism and the pro-corporate Democrats of the 90s that has spread throughout much of the left and use it to preach the gospel of patriarchy. It’s really a new economic populism which they are seeking to replace with their hysterical illiberal safe space persecution politics.
Obama will probably be the last of those pro-corporate democrats to win the presidency, at least for a while, since they’re basically discredited and that’s why somebody like Sanders actually has mainstream currency now, not because he pays fealty to feminism or because of his identity politics. All democrats have been paying the same fealty to feminism going clear back to the 1970s, so that’s nothing new anyway. Sanders gets support because he is repudiating an economic worldview, not because he’s reading Andrea Dworkin. Progressivism for most progressives themselves really has a lot less to do with culture wars bullshit than Sargon seems to imagine.
This confusion of progressive economic thinking and identity politics is really just another example of feminists poisoning this and every other political well. It’s important to separate progressive criticisms of trickle down Reaganomics and Clinton-era corporatist “free trade” apologia from feminist stupidity because the left’s critics will be all too happy to artificially conflate the two and use feminist identity politics lunacy to discredit legitimate criticisms of a failed set of economic theories and policy prescriptions. In reality the two have very little to do with one another, but you can count on the right to obscure or fail to recognize this fact.
This feminist well-poisoning should be recognizable enough. Feminists are always co-opting every movement they are a part of, from Occupy, to gay liberation, to Marxism, and the movement they co-opt is always confused with feminist bigotry and discredited by it as a result by its opponents. As ever, everything immediately becomes about women’s safety, well being, and notions of “justice” when feminists appear on the scene. They are forever the princesses waiting for political Marios to dodge fireballs and brave level after level of antagonistic goombas in order to save them from whatever Bowser menaces them. There is little room, energy, or resources for anything other than protecting the damsels, so if feminists have taken a shine to your cause or movement, you can expect to lose it to them in short order. The right, of course, is all too happy to fail to connect the dots and erroneously interpret any legitimate criticism the left might make as either the cause or effect of medieval, blubbering feminist gender bigotry. Look at the libertarian folklore and conspiracy theory surrounding the “cultural Marxism” chimera and observe.
I agree with progressives on their views regarding the state and economic policy (for the most part), and since this is a far more important issue for me, I tolerate somebody like Sanders throwing the token bone to the feminists in speech after speech by railing against the imaginary wage gap. There really isn’t much of a choice since progressives are the only ones who have criticisms of capitalism right and correctly recognize that very often those blubbering about free trade and small government in practice really mean free shit for themselves while everybody else picks up the tab. As tired of feminism as I am, it’s just a matter of priorities because it’s not as if any of us are going to be arguing about Amanda Marcottte’s latest diatribe or manspreading if you have a casino economy that is in full on collapse because it is being run by a kleptocracy on the order of Mobutu’s Zaire. People facing financial ruin, debt peonage, or eviction probably aren’t terribly worried about gay marriage or minority representation in television shows. In the final analysis, the culture wars are a luxury that a functioning economic system provides.
And if there is any doubt about the small government brigade’s duplicity, take a look at the astronomical U.S. defense budget and consider that most of the companies lobbying for it are also supporting “small government” conservative politicians or pouring money into libertarian think tanks and advocacy. It’s always been this way. Newt Gingrich was heading up one of the single most expensive states, so far as the federal government was concerned, while he showboated and led his little congressional revolt for small government in the 1990s. Nobody lobbied harder for the tax payer’s defense spending dollars than the architect of the “contract with America.” It’s the same shit all around. The Koch brothers are not just left wing whipping boys or boogeymen, they really are shameless government pork whores who bilk taxpayers for freebies and who then turn around, blow tons of money on libertarian think tanks, and rhapsodize about small government and how they owe the tax payer nothing for his largess.
It’s a joke. In fact, it’s been the same joke since Reagan, over and over again, while the reactionary working class falls for it every time. They still believe Reagan was all about small government when in reality he raised taxes in seven out of the 8 years he was in office and ran up a deficit in peacetime that approached World War II levels while his patrons at former employers like General Electric cashed on the avalanche of defense spending dollars. They still believe that Reagan went after the “welfare queens” and reduced their tax burden when in reality Reagan reduced taxes on the wealthiest Americans, increased the working class rubes’ payroll taxes, cut their benefits, and ensured that their kids would have to go broke over college educations that were practically free before the “Reagan Revolution.” They still haven’t caught on.
The personally responsible set who whines about big government, either in their conservative or libertarian guise, is almost always bankrolled by the biggest corporate welfare whores around because they count on being able to appeal to people whose only engagement with politics is (from their perspective) meaningless culture war bullshit like gay marriage and feminism. And it works because they can appeal to the aspirations of poorly educated people who believe that if they just work hard enough, they’ll be Bill Gates one day. The con is old as the hills, old enough for Steinbeck to refer to them as the “temporarily embarrassed millionaries” at any rate.
“Small government” for those with enough money to turn the government into an arm of private industry means lower taxes and freedom from regulation which would hold them accountable to the public. It also means tax payers footing the bill for their policy prerogatives as well as insulating them from market competition, both foreign and domestic. They don’t care about race, gender, social justice, or any of the rest of this bullshit. What they care about is profit.
By contrast, “small government” for their rank and file supporters means “feminists can’t tell me what to do” if they are libertarians or “we can have prayer in school cuz states rights!” if they’re dopey religious and social conservatives. The corporate right wing understands politics pragmatically as a means to a financial end, while their populist rank and file supporters understand politics in terms of morality, race, and religion.
So the challenge is to cleave a progressive critique of economic policy from the identity politics baggage that feminists and other lunatics and simpletons saddle it with.
I don’t think it’s terribly difficult to square that progressive view of the state and economic policy with cultural libertarianism or something like antifeminism. I have no trouble doing it anyway. It isn’t difficult to recognize that feigned concern for “small government” is an excuse to remove the ability of the public to rein in corporations while simultaneously recognizing that feminists are religious totalitarians. There’s no fundamental incompatibility between the idea that education should be affordable or free and that feminists and other PC crusaders shouldn’t be able to dictate what acceptable academic inquiry and debate is. It’s simple enough to conclude that the “freedom” of a corporation to turn the government into an arm of private industry at tax payer expense has little relationship to the freedom of somebody to criticize feminism or tell Anita Sarkeesian to suck a dick on Twitter without having a SWAT team dispatched to his house and his account suspended.
In short, the cultural and social freedom of speech and other forms of expression are unrelated to the “economic freedom” of those with the greatest access to capital to turn the West into a neo-feudal land manor. Freedom of expression is truly freedom for everyone, both to express themselves and to have access to the expression of others. Economic liberty, on the other hand, very often is freedom at the expense of another in real world practice because if our economic interests are opposing, then the absolute economic freedom of one man would be the absolute tyranny of every other. As Cornel West asks, “freedom for who?”
All of this is pretty obvious the moment you drop the false individualism-vs.-collectivism paradigm. It becomes instantly apparent that, in real-world practice, what libertarian and conservative “small government” bullshit amounts to is control of your economic life for those with the most access to financial capital, while feminist PC crusading “safe space” hysteria amounts to control of your cultural and personal life for those with the most access to social capital.
In the end, as I’ve pointed out before, a man’s life happens within the parameters set by the twin demands of employers and women. The way to make the wife happy or to get one in the first place is to make the employer happy. The feminists, who like women generally enjoy greater social capital, are busy breaking the contract between wives and husbands while the free trade cultists, whose leadership enjoys greater financial capital, are busy breaking the contract between employees and their employers, so if there is a political leaning or label for the guy who recognizes this, it should be something like the “culturally libertarian socialist.” If I had to locate myself on an ideological map, that’s most definitely where I am. Unfortunately, as things stand currently, it’s a pretty lonely place to be.