What Happens When Progressives Tacitly Accept Reactionary and Authoritarian Identity Politics

Yves here. Qui tacet consentire videtur, or “he who is silent is understood to agree” can apply in political as well as legal contexts. Here, Peter Dorman contends that progressives gave the Republicans a free shot by failing to oppose ideas like the human affect theory of human rights, that all people have the right to be free of psychic discomfort. Dorman says these notions went largely unchallenged basically because their promoters would have gotten ugly about it. And remember, the Democratic party uses tone enforcement as a way to suppress debate.

By Peter Dorman, Professor of Economics at The Evergreen State College. Originally published at Econospeak

Recent events in Florida—the “Stop WOKE” Act, the rejection of AP African American Studies, the hostile takeover of New College—and the publication of an excellent op-ed about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the Chronicle of Higher Education have me returning to a topic I blogged on several years ago, but in a new light.

It was obvious, and I mean Emperor’s New Clothes obvious, right from the outset that DEI ideology was predicated on the flimsiest of foundations.  The confusion of inequality and privilege, the epistemological mess known as standpoint theory, and the positive affect theory of human rights (all people, or at least people from historically oppressed groups, have a right to be free of psychic discomfort) are individually indefensible and collectively toxic.  Above all, they rest on an individualized, one-consciousness-at-a-time conception of social change that obscures any role for collective action, turning “the personal is political” into “the political is personal”.

My hope was that others who value genuine, on-the-ground egalitarianism would have the courage to face down this intrinsically reactionary and authoritarian—not to mention ignorant—“movement”.

No such luck.  With few exceptions, progressive people who shared my outlook looked away, at most grumbling quietly to each other.  We didn’t like it, but we figured it was not worth the nastiness it would stir up.

Well, it turns out that the culture-warrior Right has no such qualms and is happy to feast on the banquet DEI-ism has served them.  In most instances, the practices and ideologies they denounce are just as absurd and destructive as they say they are, but the attack comes from forces whose goal is to establish conservative political control over higher education, crushing progressive thinking wherever they find it.  Our side took a pass and now it’s not up to us any more.

This is a disaster of our own making.  I’m not saying people like DeSantis aren’t the dishonest opportunists they are, but billionaire donors will always find politicians like that.  (They will run on whatever polls best and then cut the taxes and pad the profits of the rich.)  It’s our fault for making it so easy for them.

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  1. Willow

    I’m a bit confused by this post. Tacit consent goes back at least to Rousseau. What we are seeing is partisan politics where individuals of both sides implicitly consent to unethical behaviour. This is why the left is so f**ked. The Left has lost all basis for integrity, which is why those of the Right are able to ride roughshod. When the Left plays loose with ethics they inevitably end up losing.

    1. hunkerdown

      That “unethical behavior” is actually that which constitutes the state and elite society, and which liberal theories of moral perfection implicitly enable. Grand casuistic pomp aside, “The Left” had as much basis for integrity as any other ideology of class or property, that is, inherently none.

      What “game” are you even claiming exists to be won or lost? The childish cosmos of competitive moral performance and virtue signaling? How about telling left and right liberals to be seen and not heard while they serve the food, or become food.

    2. Hank Linderman

      There’s a hunger for bridging the divide at the grassroots in KY, not that there’s a lot of agreement. I think looking into and understanding identity politics is a critical job at the moment, and I have conversations about it with people from various groups, including different races, genders etc. The way I phrase it is that identity is important in terms of demanding respect and justice, being understood and accepted, but that encouraging identity is also the classic way for those in power to maintain control. In “Corruption in America”, author Sarah Chayes gives 7 examples from 5 continents on how this tactic has been used. (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/585789/on-corruption-in-america-by-sarah-chayes/)

      I witnessed something very powerful in Kentucky. The nonpartisan Fairness group, led by Chris Hartman, has been successful raising money and lobbying for fairness ordinances in various locations across the state. But last year, they helped raise money for those in debt to the Louisville court system, and also helped distribute it. Even though their primary concerns are for the LGBTQ+ community, they actively worked to help others from another marginalized group. https://www.fairness.org

      Which leads to part of an answer to the dangerous side of identity politics: building community across our identities.

      There’s also an important idea in the intro to Wendell Berry’s latest, “The Need to be Whole” (https://slate.com/culture/2022/11/wendell-berry-need-to-be-whole-review.html). In discussing several people who inspired him to write the book, he makes the point that their identities are the least interesting thing about them.

      More about identity politics please.


  2. Darius

    The right uses culture war moral panic and aesthetic campaigns to distract people from their economic plight. The left plays into it with the woke DEI culture war. The left will always lose a culture war because it’s all just a con job anyway. The left can win only with material economic issues that unite working class people across artificial racial and cultural barriers.

    1. bwilli123

      We need to distinguish between the ‘economic’ left and the ‘social’ left.
      In the US the social left is one of the results of a postwar ‘long peace.’ Try to imagine a University lecturer in 1945 describing men who died in their millions in defense of their families in WW1 or WW2 as being inherently ‘toxic’.
      The social left is completely divorced (by design) from materially improving peoples lives.
      It is a good question how far up the Maslow’s pyramid the social left begins, but it certainly does not concern itself with the bottom. That is exclusively the terrain of the economic left.

      1. digi_owl

        Right above safety, as once Maslow’s wander into cognitive and emotional needs they throw endless hissy fits about the details of each “supposed” need. And they take the lower, physical, needs for granted as that has been their lot for the entire lifetime.

        1. ambrit

          Agreed. The so called “Left/Progressive” cohorts are, in the main, from the ‘affluent’ class. Games playing presupposes free time and discretionary wealth. Absent either, one is fated to spend the majority of one’s time and treasure chasing material needs.
          The true ‘bottom line’ here is that ‘from the ground up’ revolutionary movements happen when a class slips back down into poverty. Former status is the organizing principle and impending immiseration is the trigger. Upper echelon factions often supply the organization and ‘leadership,’ but the strength is in the numbers.
          Stay safe all.

    2. digi_owl

      Basically when the left abandoned its material basis back in the 60s, the game was over.

      Trump got voted in because he at least talked about economic issues, and then got voted out when after four years had done zero about it but talk.

      In some sense, USA is doing a repeat of Victorian/Dickens England. A lot of bleeding heart antics from the left that will do nothing to really sort out the issue of food on the table and roof over the head.

      1. p fitzsimon

        Exactly, the Left has given up on any fundamental economic reforms. The end of the cold war and communism also left them high and dry, There was no alternative except neo-liberalism and the market knows best. They have now become bone throwers fixated on identity issues.

      1. Mark Sydney

        Indeed so, you beat me to it! Hedges is less fuzzy and makes the central point: Woke culture, devoid of class consciousness and a commitment to stand with the oppressed, is another tool in the arsenal of the imperial state.

        1. BeliTsari

          Yeah: Left, WHAT left? Were this exceedingly lucky honkey to culturally appropriate any “Black” concept, I’d choose “can’t even BE bothered?” Since, ofay Creative Class™ PMC seem not to have ANY understanding, that it’s INCONCEIVABLE, we’d understand “woke” and constantly micro-aggression to co-opt a remarkably important concept, apropos OUR narcissistic grandiosity, sneering entitlement and specious obliviousness. My caucasoid sisters & brothers don’t NEED to have ANY idea how dismissive, presumptuous or silly we look, TRYING to appropriate our victims’ pretty damn astute vernacular? Thank GOD, we can’t pronounce Native American idiom!

          1. Karl

            “Left, WHAT left?”

            I wonder if the disappearance of the Left can be dated to the 2020 Primaries, when Bernie Sanders, in a show of unity toward his good friend Joe Biden, supported his candidacy. Or maybe even sooner, at the 2016 Democratic Convention, when Bernie ignored the DNC machinations and pledged to support Hillary. In both cases, he gave “unity” away with no concessions whatsoever, and left his “Left” supporters high and dry.

            Ever since, the Left has lost its standard bearer. No one, not AOC or anyone else, has filled the void. When “Build Back Better” failed in favor of the scaled-back Sinema-Manchin alternative (the “Inflation Reduction Act”) the Left’s sun had finally set and gone dark. They even had to retract a de-minimus letter calling for negotiations over Ukraine.

            So, until there’s a new “economic Left” and “anti-war Left” Standard-bearer, it will remain dormant. This dormant Left may, in frustration, veer off into another form of authoritarian politics: the Trumpian Right. If Trump decides to run and go full-throated anti-Ukraine-war I may have to vote for him. I’m ashamed to admit I’m almost to the point of “anyone but Biden.”

            1. BeliTsari

              Or, April of 2015 was the first time I’d got bounced by a blog-aggregator, under the spell of David Brock’s CTR?

              I’d figured, it’d been more like 1824? If the Cherokees’ slaves were free for the pickin? And that’s only Democrats. We white trash “blue collar” proles, kinda inhereted Dixiecrats, CRUSHING Henry Wallace & Ken Galbraith Democrats, I’d aspired to, upon my first toke? A lot of their program, seemed pragmatic and “grown-up” to me, as it’d devolved into white flight suburbanite petit bourgeois feeding frenzy of ignorance as virtue; as white kids culturally mis-appropriated “Groovy, hip, open up a giant can of whup-ass & Negro REMOVAL” while gentrifying neighbors out of hard-earned red-lined homes in rust-belt streetcar suburbs?

            2. Maha

              As the establishment stokes a baseless conflict or war with China, wonder whether vocal antiwar activism might arise.

    3. spud

      correct. only economic rights can secure social rights. the clintonites understand this for sure. its why hillary masterfully played sanders when she said how are you going to end racism by resurrecting glass-steagle.

      bernie froze, stunned. it was a masterful performance of hey look over there!

      when ever you hear a fake lefty say social rights only, i could care less about economic rights, you know you are dealing with a fraud who publicly/privately could care less about the deplorable, and want their destruction.

      1. Karl

        The post that kicked off this thread, and most of the commentary here, seems centered on the “economic vs. social” rights dimension (understandably, given the framing by this economics professor). But I think there are at least three dimensions on the political spectrum. 1) Do you support economic justice and sustainability? 2) Do you support social justice? 2) Do you support war and the MIC as a tool of US hegemony abroad?

        People whose identity is “progressive/Left” seem to have given up on #1 and #3. Maybe Tulsi is the only one I can see on the horizon who firmly believes in all three.

        As for Qui tacet consentire videtur Bernie’s silence on #3 is particularly galling.

        1. digi_owl

          More like it is easier to get someone to agree with 2 and 3 if doing so do not threaten 1. And if 3 can improve 1 at no cost to themselves, get on with it already.

        2. Aumua

          Wait, Tulsi Gabbard is firm believer in social justice? I don’t know about that man. She hasn’t been in the past, and since her little apology while she was running for president, she has gone full tilt reactionary. I’m sorry but aligning yourself with Matt Walsh and the Proud Boys doesn’t fall anywhere on the spectrum of believing in social justice.

          That said I agree that it’s rare to find people who check all three of your boxes there, and it sucks. Much to my chagrin I frequently find myself at odds with almost every affinity group (on my timeline), in some way.

    4. KD

      The left will always lose a culture war because it’s all just a con job anyway.

      I disagree, there has been a huge drop in religiosity since the early 70’s, you have widespread support and acceptance of abortion, sexual harassment, and a lot of other positions pushed by feminists. You have not only the de-criminalization of sodomy, but laws protecting gay marriage–which have even been supported by many GOP legislators. You have widespread online porn influencing the youth’s attitudes on sexuality. While I think we may be in the beginning of a period of backlash, LGBT+ have swept the floor with their opponents politically over the last 50 years. Even the Woke/DEI backlash, you see Woke Diversecrats in positions of influence and power, and the naysayers are people like parents on the outside throwing stones at what is probably foolish over-reach (but the Diversecrats don’t have another setting for their agenda). Hell they even had the FBI on those angry parents in Virginia. I’d say the culture war has been won, except that with all political wars, there is always the need to discover a new enemy and a new menace to keep the struggle moving forward. . . so we have Culture War 2.0, but there is no reason it will necessarily lose, lots of elite support politically and financially.

      1. semper loquitur

        I find myself grudgingly agree with this, with one quibble. I think that identity politics is a new kind of religiosity in that it is founded on moral claims, demands unquestioning allegiance to it’s gospels and ritual acts, castigates and represses the non-believer and apostates, and has a dubious intellectual basis that shifts to accommodate the retention of power over logical or narrative integrity. It is ultimately an ideology of faith over reason.

        As far as the Culture War has been won, the struggle for material gains has been lost, but for a scant few. It is a wonderful thing that sexual expression has been widely liberated. It’s a wonderful thing that racism and sexism are widely decried. But having won new freedoms, those groups are still decidedly repressed economically, along with the newly framed cis-white-mostly male undesirables. Identity politics is blackface, queerface, womanface.

        1. Peter L.

          I agree, roughly. One side plays the role of gaining ground in the “culture war” while losing or distracting from the economic class war. The other side does the opposite, winning the class war while retreating on culture.

          However, I’m very suspicious of the claim that this has come about because left-leaning people have not done enough to resist the highly anti-social and incoherent aspects of DEI/Anti-Racist Anti-Bias, Identitarian ideology. People who would support left politics simply have close to zero organized means to take power. It probably doesn’t help to accept the toxic ideology of “DEI-ism” but without creating the organization to actually control power for the sake of winning the economic war, it hardly seems to me to matter.

          If there was an organization, perhaps political party, that was actually dedicated to doing the necessary work to get into power, it would be important to stop it from imploding due to the infighting caused by various incoherent ideologies, but that’s not where we are at. For reasons other than “DEI-ism” I think we are not going to be getting there any time soon.

  3. JBird4049

    I rather think that while there are real differences, both sides are playing loose with facts and reason. The Republican Party and the current American conservative movement ejected many people over the past few decades for not being fanatical and insisting on reasoning and debate; the Democratic Party and its associated, party approved “leftists” have done much the same.

    It is much like with science inquiry morphing into modern scientism that often rejects the scientific method if contradicts approved science dogma.

    I also think that the push for rejecting reason, logic, debate, even knowledge is because it is a way of creating division and gaining power. Many people who claim to leftists, liberals, conservatives, even Christians, atheists, or skeptics really are putting on the approved ideology clothing while mouthing the approved words, enjoying the peace of true believers without ever thinking through. Being part of the group and getting the benefits of membership is what is important, not the often brain hurting and emotionally difficult process of thinking, even feeling through everything.

    1. digi_owl

      In the end both the parties are well paid circus clown that exist to distract the public with circus while the party of Wall Street ply the blob with back room deals.

      Frankly the US system, being largely a carbon copy of the English but with the fancy titles removed, is designed to deadlock. It is almost like a political non-Newtonian fluid.

  4. DJG, Reality Czar

    The tell here, in an otherwise solid set of observations, is the use of the word “progressive.”

    As writers at this site, especially Lambert Strether, keep reminding us: So-called progressives and liberals ARE NOT THE LEFT. Yes, in caps.

    The brilliant post by Richard Kline, linked to a while back, points out that progressives and liberals are more or less faith-based. One changes one’s opinions to redeem oneself. One at a time, as the post notes. These peeps spend a lot of time “being the change they want to see in the world.” Not much else.

    Yes: The failure and degradation of The Personal (Experience) Is (Can Spark) Political, especially among upper-middle class white feminists has led to tone-policing and sniping over such silliness as “mansplaining” (never over differentials in power relations, which women engage in also).

    Left = Concrete material benefits. A rather materialist view of history. Medical care for all. Free education for all. Pensions for all. Lack of “belief” in the healing powers of the market. Peace as foreign policy.

    Meanwhile, progressives are worried about J.K. Rowling, as if she doesn’t have a right to a considered opinion.

    One cannot build a coalition based on atomized, faith-besotted individuals–which is why liberals are now mainly concerned with means-testing and the security state. The difference is that the right is always more hierarchic, which makes it much better organized to fill vacuums in power.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      In short, this is not about “two sides.”

      Following Lambert Strether’s analysis:

      Left: Concrete material benefits. Democratic organization. No genuflecting to the magic market.

      Progressive / Liberals: Abandonment of the New Deal. Market-based solutions to problems that can’t be solved by the markets = 401k plans, Obamacare. Horror of class analysis.

      Right: Market-based solutions to all problems, including the Defense Department. Identity as tradition. Hierarchy. Horror of class analysis.

      1. JBird4049

        The original Progressives in the original Progressive Movement from the turn of the twentieth century were about concrete material benefits. They would not recognize today’s “progressives.”

        1. hk

          They weren’t (the Populists were, but those who called themselves “Progressives” were a different lot). The Populists were farmers from the Midwest and, up to a point, South who were worried about material concerns first and foremost: monetary policy, railroad and banking monopolies and so forth. The Progressives were holier than thou moralizers from upper classes in big cities like Theodore Roosevelt who wanted to remake societies according to their ideas of what is moral, rational, and modern. The two were fundamentally irreconcilable at their core, although they were able to cooperate tactically to advance certain specific policy goals.

          1. ambrit

            Hmmm…. Snark alert.
            Maybe you can shift your avatar to “Count One/Zero.” (Apologies. I cannot help myself. Somebody stop me before I Snark again! [Snark is really Neo-noir in action.])

        1. Carolinian

          “Keep your hatred pure”?

          Alexander Cockburn supposedly said that to young up and comers but I wonder if it wasn’t more quip than advice. I think we all have to ask ourselves whether, having a billion dollars, we wouldn’t also act like billionaires and whether we are shaped by both nature and nurture and both a “selfish gene” and a social. In other words humans are a binary thing and the religious teachings of “sin” versus forgiveness are just a metaphor for how we really are. If you believe in literal evil then you also believe in the Devil and it’s not coincidence that traditional “left” ideas often came out of religion.

          Personally I think we should restrict our concepts of evil to behavior rather than fellow humans. Truly we live in the age of ad hominem which in the debating world is considered the last resort for argument. Given that some of us do indeed hate Biden and Hillary for their deeds this may sound like hypocrisy but at least there must be some rational end point where even they are admitted to be just following their programming.

          1. semper loquitur

            I think there is a lot of truth to this. I’ve often thought that, when considering the rich, that the wealth is bigger than the humans who ostensibly possess it. It warps their perceptions of themselves and other with it’s provisions of access to luxurious living, control of others, and the ability to enjoy one’s whims being actualized.

            I don’t go for the “selfish gene” idea; for me the bottom line is about mortality. Humans are apes that know they are going to die. We seek comfort from that fact, in many forms. It’s not the total picture of course but it shapes everything we do. Escaping the fear of death is what much of life is about. I’m fortunate in that I pursue a spiritual path that sees life as a journey and death as a transitional stage.

            1. Carolinian

              Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Perhaps the “selfish gene” and the survival instinct (all animals have it) are one and the same. We were put here to live. We can speculate about the rest.

              1. semper loquitur

                It’s easy to be thoughtful about thoughtful comments. I still want to push back on the “selfish gene” idea, though. At one point in human history, being selfish equaled death for the individual and the group. It still does in most situations. The survival instinct demanded that one support the group, which in turned supported you.

                1. Carolinian

                  Of course. What I said upthread was

                  both a “selfish gene” and a social

                  I believe E.O. Wilson was all about altruistic genes in social animals like us and, er, ants. My only point is to weigh in with those who say there is some pre-wiring going on. And it’s in all of us.

      2. hemeantwell

        Another line of decay, this one in critical theory: the concept of reification, which was central to Lukacs’ analysis of capitalism in History and Class Consciousness, (1923)was straightforwardly based on the idea that the institutions of capitalism had come to be taken as a “second nature,” and that superseding them would be impossible. In the book Lukacs did a wonderful, intellectually dazzling job of linking developments in philosophy and economic theory to the brute force efforts of capitalists to maintain their dominion, enshrouded under commodity fetishism. By and large members of the first Frankfurt School cohort – e.g. Adorno, Marcuse, Horkheimer – shared this view.

        The focus on capitalism’s core eroded. I’ll go thin on details, but eventually a student of Habermas, Axel Honneth, in his Reification from 2008, argued that reification involved, more or less, denying someone’s humanity. The focus on capitalist institutions that instrumentalize people, turning them into labor inputs, and which also propel us along a path of unlimited capital accumulation into the ditch of war and climate collapse, evaporated. My sense is that, although justifications in theory for this erosion had to do with criticisms of Marxism’s “labor ontology,” which didn’t give room for the constitution of identity in social spaces outside of the labor process, what really drove it was the disheartening impact of Stalinism and then the degeneration of social democratic politics in Europe.

        As most of us are are aware, the theoretical exclusion of capitalism’s impact creates a kind of vacuum which critical frameworks that talk of other forms of oppression rush in to fill, and in the process grotesquely inflate their importance. On the ground, “identities” that are under steady strain to fit in capitalism’s grid have to be affirmed in existential encounters set off by injuries that reflect the cultivated sensitivity of a thin-skinned narcissist, as the excellent article on the Telluride seminars in today’s links section lays out. To push the pendulum in the other direction, we might wonder if the plausibility of identity sensitivity derives from the intense competitive pressure these kids are under, living in a world where career planning, and the internalization of institutional pressure, starts in middle school. Would’ve driven me nuts.

        1. communistmole

          It could be argued that Lukacs’, Adorno’s et al. inability to achieve a critique of labor ontology as a critique of capitalist social relations is responsible for their understanding of capitalism as an unchangeable second nature …

          p.s. Honneth is a student of Habermas, and he has adopted his teacher’s notion of separating a sphere of labor from that of interaction, thus supplementing the ontology of labor with an ontology of ‘identity’….

      3. Cetra Ess

        Isn’t DEI essentially class analysis but without necessarily understanding Marx? Is it arriving at the same thing by a different route? And isn’t progress toward DEI effectively historical material change? And therefore has a revolution been happening sans guillotine? Capitalism being premised on exploitation, and DEI being decidedly anti-exploitation, are we not a step closer to the material dynamic shifting, has the social construct of capitalism, has the material aspect, changed? And hasn’t this been arrived at precisely by culture and ideological shift?

        1. semper loquitur

          No, I don’t think so. DEI isn’t about class analysis in any sense, it’s about elevating a small subset of formerly exploited and repressed groups to positions of power and influence. In brief, window dressing. It is about historical material change for a fraction of a sliver of those populations.

          DEI is not revolutionary, this is evident when we see things like the Marines presenting recruiting ads with rainbow bullet clips and when celebrities and corporations admonish us to be more inclusive. DEI is decidedly not anti-exploitation, it does nothing to challenge the ownership of the means of production (labor/capital relations) or the material suffering of the vast majority of people. Of any color, sexual orientation, or sex. As I’ve asked here before: how many unhoused have the (profoundly contradictory) establishment progressives housed, how many hungry have they fed, how many ill have they provided medical care to? They have generated a lot of “activists” and NGOs, I’ll give them that.

          Capitalism hasn’t fundamentally changed, it simply put on a “blackface”. This was arrived at by a top-down cultural change; while the ideological roots of DEI were birthed by the real needs of oppressed peoples, that impetus has been co-opted by elites. For example, the linguistic taxidermy of the term “Woke”. Joy Behar is Woke. Hillary Clinton is Woke. General Mathis is Woke. The Army is Woke. Google is Woke.

          Real change, if it’s at all possible, will be violent and ugly. It will be about marches and sit-ins and wildcat strikes. The Powers That Be will then “release the hounds” in the form of the cops and the military. Power concedes nothing without a demand, as Frederick Douglass taught us. And the current Powers That Be intend to concede nothing at all. They would rather rule in Hell.

          1. Karl

            One could go further and say that DEI has fostered a more inclusive kind of exploitation.

            In the incessant corporate DEI trainings I’ve gone through, the emphasis is on how diversity broaden’s perspectives and reduces cultural biases, thereby improving creativity and decision making. It also makes the workplace a happier place for all, therefore fostering better collaboration in decision making. In short, DEI is presented as a tool for making corporations socially more cohesive and efficient at economic exploitation. The inherent social justice of DEI is seldom mentioned. My impression is, given EEO rules, DEI training is the mostly white PMC’s way of promoting conformity to corporate goals, e.g. “OK, we need to have more people of color here, how can we all get along–and make more money in the process?”

            1. digi_owl

              > It also makes the workplace a happier place for all, therefore fostering better collaboration in decision making.

              Only to do nothing of the sort, thanks to now everyone walking on proverbial eggshells or risk HR’s fury.

          2. Cetra Ess

            We agree DEI as a general movement started with the simple recognition that women are paid less for the same work and aren’t promoted into leadership positions and this is deemed unacceptable and wrong because it is exploitation, and this of course comes from the fact of their oppression. This later got extended to other disadvantaged (e.g. exploited) groups.

            Where I think we disagree is I see results, solid actionable steps toward actual shifting the balance of equity. Without saying we have achieved equity, women ARE being paid better, women ARE entering leadership roles in better numbers, organizations ARE measurably identifying systemic biases and working to eliminate them, ARE measuring the effectiveness of the DEI activities, the before and after.

            And to my mind if there was no capitalism this is how we’d still need to go about it, would still be class difference, discrimination, racism, we’d need to quantify and measure and likewise institute strategic actions towards tangible achievable goals. So the fact that capitalism is still there, hasn’t yet been overthrown, is incidental to me, is not defeat – what I see is the foundations of capitalism being dismantled brick by brick, I see victories. When we arrive at non-Capitalism we’ll still need to add and remove bricks per the social construct, there will always be much to do.

            Propaganda of the deed to catalyst change does not mean only one narrow prescribed action, there are many routes. One legitimate way, one of many, is to arrive at non-Capitalism by willing and acting towards changing the thing itself, which is what I see DEI as doing. DEI is diversity of tactics.

            We limit our understanding of revolution if we limit it only to violent overthrow, marches, sit-ins. Our understanding also needs to include how sea change happens, how ideas take shape, become entrenched, grow and transform, have their own inherent logic which convinces. Women voting and being openly gay were both at one time unthinkable. Progress is a real thing that actually happens and it usually starts with ideas, we can’t dismiss their power.

            So I see DEI is a good idea, a revolutionary idea, just as I see feminism as a revolutionary idea (and DEI was arguably born of feminism). Am I right in thinking you see it as a blocker?

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I beg to differ with your claims. The push for women to get equal pay came out of what was then called the women’s liberation movement.

            2. Grebo

              Men paid more than women are exploited slightly less than women. Once all pay is equal so will be exploitation. It will not have been ended.

              The foundation of Capitalism is the power of the Capitalist to appropriate a portion of the wealth created by his workers. Making every boss a brown lesbian will, in itself, have no effect on that whatsoever.

              1. Cetra Ess

                All the usual forms of exploitation and class difference predate capitalism, so having a brown lesbian boss won’t make a difference whether it’s under capitalism or otherwise. The exploitation is more fundamental and I would argue it originates with money and/or religion. Fix that bit and capitalism fades away, whereas if we don’t fix it and overthrow capitalism, it comes back.

                Btw, re: appropriation, that bit needs a rethink since we now know via Piketty that the wealthy need not necessarily exploit workers to generate wealth, can do so entirely through financial instruments.

                1. Grebo

                  I would suggest that exploitation—the foundation of most economies whether it takes the form of Capitalism, feudalism, slavery or theocracy—is the main driver of oppression and discrimination. Merely treating the symptoms is unlikely to cure the disease, and if the disease continues the symptoms will return in some form.

                  Money is not wealth. Financial Capitalism, ipso facto, does not generate wealth. It generates claims on the wealth which is still created by workers. It’s not a victimless crime.

                  1. Cetra Ess

                    I see DEI as essentially a drive to abolish exploitation and more likely to succeed here, within capitalism, than in our first attempts at communism, just because the stars are better aligned and not because of anything inherent to either system. Historically various religions have attempted it but failed, I think, hampered by the existence of money (which creates usury and monopoly) and people claiming god made themselves king.

                    Bottom line, I’m not about to discourage DEI efforts since the main thrust of the idea is exploitation bad, equity good, and eventuallly people will realize that finance capitalism itself leads to both exploitation and inequity, therefore will need to be addressed down the road as well.

                    1. Michael Fiorillo

                      As Adolph Reed has often pointed out, Anti-racism/ DEI is a class project, tightening the hold of the PMC over “progressive” ideas, and creating a credentialed technocratic mask for power. In practice, it is also a way to maintain or extend one’s position in shrinking professions such as academia or journalism.

                      It is a far cry from a libarationist, anti-exploitive ideology.

                2. hunkerdown

                  Those forms are not eternal, however. They arise as contingent responses to specific conditions, namely, capturability, exploitability and tradability of natural resources including labor power. (Graeber 2001, Graeber & Wengrow 2021, Pradhan 2020)

                  Capitalism is a religion, btw.

        2. Grebo

          has the social construct of capitalism, has the material aspect, changed?

          Not that I’ve noticed. My boss still decides how much to pay me. And I’m whiter than he is.

            1. Grebo

              Er… convincing myself I’m black will improve my bargaining position? I can’t see my boss falling for it.

              1. Anon

                Well, my vision goes along the lines of ‘recognizing racial identity (specifically the black/white dichotomy) is an imagined construct devised to divide the working class and hamper collective action… etc etc’, though, perhaps you should try being more assertive, “but sir, I’m white!” lol

                1. synoia

                  It is not just about skin colour. It is tribalism, because there many forms of exclusion.

                  Tribe, language, accent, club, income, country, parish to some some.

                  Can human society eliminate any of these?

                  I think not.

                  1. Anon

                    I’m not saying to ignore our differences, which are many, but to frame them differently. Why is it that Asians are “Asian”, yet two Europeans who share neither language nor culture can come to America and be “white”, why not Europeans? The moniker exists solely for the purpose of excluding people of African descent.

        3. hunkerdown

          Spatialism is a liberal myth of competitive property having no factual value. Capitalist relations, themselves, have not changed due to the property bestowed by DEI, other than the metastasization of the parasitic, inherently exploitative capitalist clerisy we call PMC. That has been a disaster for the commoner, the commons, and anyone who does not care to share in the servile Puritan subjectivity of a Great Chain of Being. As for “change” as a PMC fetish, anything that makes more work and more PMC is an unalloyed good to that class.

        4. digi_owl

          Frankly the term class is a overloaded.

          The traditional English “class” is more akin to the caste system seen in places like India.

          Marx was talking about a very different concept of class, one based on economic/materialist lines.

          As such, it may be more correct to consider DEI to be caste analysis.

          And on a tangent, i think Marx’s one flaw was that he overlooked, to a degree, the managerial class. The people that do not own capital themselves, but manage it on behalf of the owners. There may be some inkling of such a class in his mention of petite bourgeoisie, but then more as a worker hiring other workers.

          Interestingly such a managerial caste/class/strata cropped up in feudal times as well, and similarly to today took on an outsized position in society. This invariably by abusing the power and position granted to them by their absent/distracted superior.

        5. agent ranger smith

          A racially inclusive rainbow oligarchy is still an oligarchy.

          If the oligarchy inclusivises further to inclusivise gay people like Cook at Apple, it is still an oligarchy.

          If every one-out-of-a-millions Black people has the same chance to become an oligarch as every one-out-of-a-million White people has, what problem has been solved?

      1. DJG, Reality Czar

        Acacia: Many thanks. I remember Richard Kline’s name and then misremember the article’s title.

        Noting “Binary thinking is a plague,” Kline separates progressives from liberals from radicals (who I would call the left).

        About progressives, Kline diagnoses why they can’t get much done: “At best, progressives seek to convert. In the main, they name and shame—ineffectively. American ‘progressives’ distrust political power, period, are queasy about anyone having it, and suspicious toward anyone who actively seeks it, including other putative progressives. The contest as progressives conceive it is fundamentally a moral one: they believe they are right, and want their opposition to see the light and reform/conform.”

        About that radical left: Kline discerns the following program.

        Call off the cops (and thugs)
        Eight hour day and work place safety
        Right to organize
        Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
        Unemployment dole
        Public pensions
        Public educational scholarships
        Tax the rich
        Anti-trust and anti-corporate

        And see the paragraph, Liberals are great believers in “the law”… Kline then demolishes liberals and drops them out of his analysis.

        All in all, I highly recommend Kline’s post.

        1. Karl

          Liberals are great believers in “the law”

          I was struck by that, too. The flat denial by the MSM of the Nordstream II story by Sy Hersch suggests that “let’s not rock the boat” takes priority over “the law”, property or perhaps any other principle, at least in foreign affairs.

          It’s interesting to contrast Kline’s list of radical priorities (which you list above) with his list of progressive priorities, as follows:

          Universal, secular education
          End to child labor
          Universal suffrage
          Female legal equality
          Consumer protections
          Civil rights

          What’s interesting is that both rdicals and progressives support anti-militarism, or at least did when Kline wrote this post. If so, I’m struck by the seeming quietism of these groups in the face of U.S. militarism toward Russia and China, covert ops around the world, etc.

          I’ll also note that, according to Kline, environmentalism, consumer protections and female legal equality are apparently not in the radical bucket. The history of radicalism (as mentioned by Kline) as an import from the European proletariat (mostly male and patriarchal) helps explain today’s labor union opposition to EVs (much less labor intensive to make and maintain), oil drilling, and other perceived threats to jobs from environmentalism.

          The anti-militarists and unionists seem to be migrating to the Republican Party. War is also inimical to the kind of cooperation needed for global environmentalism. They may be very receptive to a message about unity with multi-polaritiy, a sort of global e. pluribus unum. With the right candidate, they might leave the Dems.

          Does this give an opening to candidates who don’t align neatly with any Party tribe, e.g. Tulsi?

          1. JBird4049

            Right Thinking Liberals support The Law, because however written, and whatever the purpose of any part of it is, it is selectively enforced on the lower classes as a means of control. The poor, the minority, those of the wrong religion, union members, the wrong political parties, or reformers get hammered by the police with laws that are never enforced on the Good People. For an example, just look at California’s Black Panthers Gun Control Law or at just who are in prison for drug use even though it essentially the same at all levels of society.

            As to being quiet, the security state has subverted much of what little can be called the left and smothered the rest with state supported NGOs. The reformers are enmeshed in the lies, wealth, and laws used by the state with few people having a clue. As to any possible reformers, I would include anyone across the political spectrum because unrestrained corruption and free market capitalism without limits is not remotely a core leftist, liberal, or conservative, idea or value. I seen a few conservatives trying to push back, but if you don’t support Identity Politics or Christian Nationalism, Free Market Capitalism, The War (the Russian-Ukrainian is just the latest campaign), and the Security State of which the military is a part of, you are quickly spied on, subverted, and likely arrested on false charges. It is an amazingly effective program despite the very large majority of Americans being for the honest rule of law, against corruption, pro-national healthcare, pro-reindustrialization, pro-social security, pro-education, and against most of the various wars, but this is all forbidden by both parties.

            “Does this give an opening to candidates who don’t align neatly with any Party tribe, e.g. Tulsi?”

            Unless and until, we can get a political party for all levels, but especially the working class, there will not be an effective national party that will compete successfully against the Duopoly. Just like how the 1960s, Women’s Liberation Movement was taking over by Gloria Steinem and her ilk, who removed the original leadership, then cut away all the issues like childcare that were directly important to the lower middle, working, people, and minority women, but not so much to the upper middle on up; this truncated the movement from a very broad movement across class and race into a white, college educated, upper class one.

            Look at any social, religious, and political movement for the past 150 years, you will seen that the first thing the establishment does is try to use the police, then peel apart the sub-groups, subvert the leadership, and finally offered the most limited reforms targeted at specific groups, not reforms for everyone.

    2. LifelongLib

      What you describe is old-fashioned New Deal/Great Society liberalism. There were plenty on the “left” back in the day who didn’t want those things, because it would delay the revolution or something. That’s one reason I call myself a liberal rather than a leftist. I want a political/economic system that provides everyone with the basics of a full human life, whatever it labels itself.

  5. clarky90

    A recent example of Widdershins….

    Our Pentagon gave many millions of dollars to “The EcoHealth Alliance”

    for weapons research programs!…. at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

    (1) Eco
    (2) Health
    (3) Alliance

    It sounds a very helpful and harmless organization.

    “The EcoHealth Alliance develops science-based solutions to prevent pandemics and promote conservation.” (very very good!)

    Founded under the name Wildlife Preservation Trust International in 1971 by British naturalist,…… it then became The Wildlife Trust in 1999. In the fall of 2010, the organization changed its name to EcoHealth Alliance. The rebrand reflected a change in the organization’s focus…….to modifying bat coronaviri……

    I am using “The EcoHealth Alliance” as an example of logos (words) being stripped of meaning and then weaponized. Hansel and Gretel (us), the trusting innocents, being endlessly welcomed into the latest, innovative, transformative……. Gingerbread House. oh my.

    A black Magik spell-caster, using Widdershins, would turn a “targeted idea” upside down and inside out to destroy it, and then replace it (for instance) with a replica. (Brer Fox’s tar baby?, or AI?)

    Widdershin Spells are everywhere now! I grew up believing 98% of what I was told, read in the local newspaper or saw on TV. I accepted everything as “true” or, “an honest mistake” or otherwise, a different point of view. It was inconceivable, that ANYONE could/would, actually lie, on purpose.

  6. JR

    I find this to be a tough subject for a number of reasons. First, what is bad woke-ism? We all know there are certain things that should not be said, and very rightly so. However, we may hear things and say, hey wait a minute, that is over the top. It is very hard for me to know/intuit where the line is (though I feel fairly confident of where the good and bad extremes are), and even if there is a “line,” who is to say being a scootch to one side or another is really that different then being just a scootch to the other side of the line? Also, everyone has different lines, so one person’s view of the line (assuming there is one) is different than another person’s view of the line. And, of course, lines can also change depending on the subject matter. I guess it is kind of like the Supremes and porn, I know it when I see it, I guess, kinda…

    Second, many times the issue comes up in fast-paced conversational settings. Something on the “overly woke” side of things can be said or a charge can be made (again, the line thing comes up here), but the conversation has moved on. Or, how does one respond when being accused of something in a conversation, or if someone else is accused of something? There can for sure be situations where one says, you know, there is a point there. OTOH, one can easily fall into the trap the Klein article notes.

    Third, how does one “protect” oneself in this situation without making things worse? Will one jump in to “protect” someone else? Standing up for someone against an accuser (and their friends) can also bring severe social consequences and people will often times shirk/shrink from standing up for someone else. Can one ever really ever properly respond to a bad woke-ist charge?

    Fourth, there is also the high social cost of the issue. If one is accused of a woke transgression, it can have severe work-related or friend-pool or potential friend-pool consequences. Moreover, there can be situations where the consequences are warranted. OTOH, there will be situations where the consequences are not warranted. Improper (including malicious (yes, I guess we have to say that is a possibility)) woke-ist charges can cost people their livelihoods (a horrible prospect in this precariat society). We also, and again, have the issue of defending someone accused of something.

    Fifth, the author of this piece is correct about ceding ground to those who really want to drag us to the abyss.

    Any thoughts/links/etc on how to discern good from bad would be greatly appreciated. Also, thank you Acacia for the link to the Klein piece; it is very thought-provoking.

  7. ArkansasAngie

    IMO identity politics are destined to create us and them. How about we look at things we have in common across humanity … across hair color, skin color, degree level, income, sex, etc.

    But … Yes! The days of being polite and saying nothing while people speak nonsense (crazy) needs to stop.

    The days of letting “them” think my silence means approval are over.

    Take responsibility for your interactions.

  8. Bart Hansen

    “Qui tacet consentire videtur, or “he who is silent is understood to agree” can apply in political as well as legal contexts.”

    It’s a shame Obama failed to utilize this idea when he failed to march Merrick Garland up to the supreme court and dare them not to seat him.

    1. Ignacio

      Qui tacet consentire videtur, or “he who is silent is understood to agree” in Spanish we say it even more directly “el que calla otorga” or “he who is silent, grants it”. This is a say that I always found odious. There are frequently many reasons to be silent and in fact many times silence means the contrary.

      1. ZoN

        It is odious (and all too common). And related to the fallacious “argument from silence.”

        We didn’t see or hear anything, therefore it must mean (usually some straw man).

        We didn’t see you condemn this or that, therefore…

  9. JohnnyGL

    One of the most important things the left stopped doing post-2020 was putting forth an agenda. Our leadership no longer asks for minimum wage hikes or medicare for all.

    During the primary debates, corporate hacks in charge of tv news spent oodles of time trying to convince voters these things were bad.

    Now, we’re no longer setting the agenda for discussion as we once did.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Now that Yours Truly is actually on Medicare, I am here to tell you that it ain’t that great.

      For one thing, it’s a huge giveaway to allopathic medicine. Y’know, the medicine that hawks drugs, surgery, and radiation as the solution to our ills.

      For another thing, it is way too complicated. You have Medicare A. Nope, not enough. You also need Medicare B. Oops. Still not done. Gotta add Medicare Parts G and D to the mix.

      I can see why so many people are attracted to the supposedly simpler option, Medicare Advantage. And, since we are NC-ers, we know that these plans are neither Medicare nor an advantage. They’re the same old HMOs that have been [family blogging] Americans over for decades.

      1. Pat

        True. But the fact that it isn’t that great but is an improvement on the at least 90% of the insurance available on the marketplace at least in NY tells you what a flaming pile of options most Americans have. (Depending on the plan, staying on employer provided programs even as they degrade yearly might be your best option. Not for me on the lowest tier for instance but for others in my union it was.)
        I will note that here Medicaid is pretty good, and if you have a major health issue it is worth staying eligible if you can still keep a roof over your head.

        1. ambrit

          The problem with Medicaid is that the States can set their own standards for qualification. Here in the scrotal sack of the North American Deep South, one must be practically destitute to qualify for Medicaid. Even with Medicare and Medicaid, (the latter we do not qualify for here,) the trajectory is from precarity to total destitution. At that point, one becomes a ‘client’ of the State. Add to this the extant and ever growing Panopticon and we have the template for a true Totalitarian State.
          Time for a United Front. Strange Right joined with True Left and burn the place down.
          May I suggest a Phoenix Party?

          1. Pat

            Trying to stay on Medicaid in NY is difficult and awful, but I know a few who are doing it. But that is NY, much of the rest of the country…

            Sign me up for a phoenix party, even though I know the likelihood is it will be yet another mess of easily corruptible wanna be powers that be.

            1. ambrit

              “Sign me up for a phoenix party.”
              Can do! We’ll send you a genuine ziplok sealed mini plastic bag containing the ashes of your Membership Card. You can send us the ashes of a five dollar bill for shipping and handling.
              Alas, you are probably correct in your prognostications concerning the eventual makeup of the Guiding Cadres.
              You have me thinking now, and I’ve come up with a primary worry. What if the Neoliberal Dispensation has already combined the Legacy Parties into a singular Potlatch Party. There go all the concrete material benefits.
              Stay safe, no matter your Party affiliation, or lack thereof.

  10. Mark Gisleson

    Reading the City Journal piece on some of the actual university policies being contested, yeah, this stuff is tailor-made for the opponents of woke-ism. The kind of rules where you wonder if the hard right doesn’t have an embed egging on the committee (these commandments were not written by just one lone deranged individual) into full tilt wtf newspeak bafflegab cult recruitment mode.

    According to one of these programs, called “Scaffolding Anti-Racist Resources,” whites must first admit their complicity in racism, which includes “being confronted with active racism of real-world experiences that highlight their whiteness.” Whites will then enter the process of “disintegration,” experiencing “white guilt” and thinking, “I feel bad for being white.” Next, after their racial identity is broken down, they will enter a phase of “reintegration,” thinking, “it’s not my fault I’m white” and beginning to engage in left-wing political activism.

    “[L]eft-wing political activism” in this case meaning whatever they wish it to mean that particular week not that anything said by the committee is binding upon the committee. This sounds to me a lot like the “you’re a racist” dinner party movement of a few years back. Persuasion is hard, guilt trips are easy.

        1. LifelongLib

          It’s a separate work (he decided it didn’t fit in the opera) but IIRC Adams also wrote “The Chairman Dances” where a portrait of Mao comes to life and he and Madame Mao dance a tango together.

        2. britzklieg

          I was understudy to the role of Nixon when it finally made it to the Metropolitan opera (did not get to sing it in performance, alas) and agree that Nixon looks benign next to Madame Mao, who ultimately was deemed even too radical by Mao’s underlings after he died, was arrested and sentenced to death (sentence commuted, she ultimately committed suicide after being released for medical reasons). I love the opera, but it tries too hard to paint Nixon more favorably than he deserves. In the last act when he reminisces about selling hamburgers he comes off almost as an innocent as opposed to a crazy person. It’s an overly sympathetic reading of his character, imho, but works for an opera that carries his name while looking for that very dark cloud’s silver lining.

          As for China, Chou’s final meditation, which ends the opera, asks the unanswerable question: “How much of what we did was good?”

          Nixon may be the single most complicated and difficult to measure POTUS ever. A lot of “liberal” legislation was passed on his watch. Going to China in ’72 while he was actively fighting what was essentially a proxy war in Vietnam against Beijing (the Domino Theory) was a game changer which lead to the end of hostilities in 1973, and provided a missed opportunity to escape the “forever war” philosophy which has engulfed (out of shame?) our foreign policy ever since. And I’d suggest that Biden could save his sorry ass with an historic visit to Moscow. “Complicated” would be a better judgement to carry to his grave than as the belligerent who started WWIII, but it’s not gonna happen. The way I read things, peaceful cooperation through diplomacy is no longer a possibility. We call that treason now.

          It’s Ironic that given the failures of the “left” post Nixon, he looks better and better as time passes. By comparison with today’s political custer#*^k, Watergate looks like a petty misdemeanor. That said, his crimes against Cambodia and Laos, motivated by the wacky reasoning that expanding the war “secretly” on two fronts would deliver peace, rightfully secures his place in history (along with Kissinger) as a war criminal. Kent State seals the deal. His path to hell may have been paved with some valid diplomatic intentions but, as such paths are known to do, caused immeasurable damage instead. Nixon did want to end the war in Vietnam (which Chomsky claims is the second worst war crime in history, our war crime, next to WWII) and de-escalated it through a drastic reduction in troops, hoping the South Vietnamese would prevail over the Viet Cong on their own. That didn’t happen. The “secret” bombings destroyed 3 nations and killed millions. The war finally and officially ended 3 years after the genuinely historic east/west rapprochement in Beijing, with Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford in the White House and the nation shattered forevermore.

          1. Steve H.

            > I was understudy to the role of Nixon when it finally made it to the Metropolitan opera

            that’s just awesome..

            Contrariwise, be thankful the opportunity wasn’t fulfilled. The metaphysics of the role intrudes beyond the stage door. The most deterministic indication is the use of learned lines offstage in semi-appropriate circumstances.

            I recently turned down ‘Virginia Woolf’ because Janet didn’t want me bringing it home. And the melancholy of Falstaff still lurks, over half a year later. Having a peak life experience of Being Nixon could’ve led to intrusive murky thoughts.

          2. Mark Gisleson

            When Nixon begins singing about ‘photo opportunities’ it summed up the talent side of electoral politics better than anything I’d heard or seen in the arts up until then. Reminiscent of Steve Reich and Robert Wilson (and I have a nagging feeling this may have been staged by Wilson? said the old man who’s too tired to fight with google right now).

            Very very very mixed feelings on Nixon. Yeah, pretty sure Watergate was a CIA sting but equally sure he didn’t have to listen to Kissinger like he did. I actually mellowed on the topic of Tricky Dick quite a bit over the years, then HRC reminded me why I was so angry with him.

            Any youtubes of you doing opera you can share?

        3. britzklieg

          My long and ego tainted comment above went off track and I forgot what I was originally going to write: that Mao has, in my opinion, the best line in the whole opera, which is particularly appropriate to this essay:

          “Among the followers of Marx. the extreme left, the doctrinaire, tend to be fascist. True Marxism is called that by the extreme left. Occasionally the true left calls a spade a spade and tells the left it’s right.”

    1. Sgt Oddball

      “…experiencing “white guilt” … [>>>] … “it’s not my fault I’m white”…”

      – Iow: – Straight-up classic struggle-session, down-is-up, dissociative mind-[family blog]ery…

      …- In short: – Brainwashing.

      1. Arizona Slim

        To counter it, I recommend John McWhorter’s book, Woke Racism. He offers this advice to those who are confronted by those who espouse the views discussed on this thread:

        Instead of trying to engage, say this to them: “I don’t think I’m a racist. You’re not going to change my mind. Let’s talk about something else.”

        And then be quiet. You’ve spoken your piece. The ball’s in their court.

        BTW, I read the City Journal article. Good stuff. I agree with it.

  11. MP

    Don’t agree with the thesis of this post, and find it pretty anti-materialist. It’s conflating two different things–the embrace of identity politics by the Left, and embrace of DEI by institutions like businesses and universities. The former, whatever we call of the Left, is the post-Cold War, post-neoliberal left. All solutions of economic redistribution were patently considered off-the-table, so progressives adopted many of the positions of non-Marxist, Foucauldian academics as sites of struggles that were in many cases material, but were not undergirded by Marxism or class. The DEI of institutions is a response to this, in a way of coopting and weakening their ideologies and preparing the ground for the right-wing backlash. But the ones with the real power are the capitalist class, and divisions within them. We find ourselves stuck in the paradigms of the 20th and 21st century and don’t understand that this is actually closer to early 19th century levels of class consciousness within a hegemonic system. There is not some cohesive Left and some cohesive Right, each duking it out in their separate but equally powerful ideological tents. There is a defeated Left, a center-right capitalist class with the light rhetoric of social democracy representing the poor and PMC, and a rapacious right-wing capitalist class representing the industrial and exurban capitalist/petit-bourgeois classes. These are battles within the capitalist class itself, not across them, between a liberal democratic side that favors meritocracy and representation politics as a salve for the economic stuff off the table, and a right-wing that maybe correctly sees this stuff as leading the readers of this down the intellectual path to Marxism. These are things as structural forces, again driven by capitalists, and the backlash from the right-wing is not somehow justified because of the foolish decisions of the Left. Again, there is no Left. There is no communist party, there is no trade unionist movement, and union numbers are still in decline. We are in the aftershocks of the fall of socialism, and this one ripple is meant to crush anything even approaching left politics in the cradle before it rises again.

    1. Don

      “the embrace of identity politics by the Left”

      I think that the embrace of identity politics is a marker of not being of the left.

      What is the difference between identity politics and DEI (I am high school dropout and the latter is a term that is new to me)? Is it called identity politics when adopted by individuals and DEI when it becomes institutionalized?

      I see a distinction, but I don’t get the point.

      1. MP

        The former is, say, using analyses like Angela Davis in Women, Race, and Class or Judith Butler in Gender Trouble to think intersectionally when thinking about oppression, like saying that a poor, black woman is going to experience systemic oppression differently than a wealthy black man, or even a poor black man. The latter is a business or university hiring a DEI consultant or making people take a training on harassment and discrimination. I think the big difference is that institutions are very individualized (be careful what you individually say to a marginalized person, or add individual marginalized people to leadership roles), while the academic sense of the word is going to think about it from the perspective of the state and systems. Davis I would confidently say was/is part of the Left, while Butler is more of a liberal, it’s not all cut-and-dry. I still recommend reading both and understanding that it’s quite different than the right-wing parody of Disney adding an LGBT character or whatever, and that’s where the distinction lies.

        1. square coats

          I’m really not sure what the meaning of intersectionality is these days but I learned (in an unfortunate but ostensibly well-intentioned student-facilitated single credit college course on anti-racism..) that one of the incepting events for theorizing intersectionality was a court case of discrimination a group of black women brought against their employer.

          They argued that there was quantitative evidence of discrimination based on their intersecting identities of being women and being black. The employer argued that there was no quantitative evidence in the company of discrimination against women or discrimination against black people. IIRC the case was decided in favor of the employer.

          1. square coats

            Just adding, after thinking more on how I worded my comment, my parenthetical was unnecessary in that it didn’t really make sense being so brief. It might be of anecdotal interest considering some above comments though (I’ve been reading comments on this post in reverse order).

            I took that student led course as an undergrad, it was called something like antiracist activism, and found it unfortunate because it definitely felt designed to instill a sense of personal white guilt, and ultimately I found it to be quite paralyzing in terms of finding any feelings of self-efficacy afterwards for participating in any kind of activism or whatever.

            A few years later I took a course in grad school that was broadly about oppression in the u.s., which covered a lot of similar content, but was not designed to instill personal white guilt, and felt like it was much more effective in both educating me about a lot of these sorts of issues and helping me feel better equipped to participate in activism (or whatever).

            I think one important difference between these two courses was that the first focused only on identity issues of race/ethnicity, while the second incorporated a critical analysis of capitalism and the roles of class/wealth inequality/economic exploitation throughout.

        2. Mark Gisleson

          There is identity theory that has evolved from the writings and teaching of many feminist writers, but the identity theory being pushed by the Democrats is something else entirely.

          Davis and other second wave feminists understood capitalism and its role in oppressing women. The identity theory currently being peddled erases capitalism and blames racism/sexism for everything.

          I’m not an expert on Angela Davis, but some of her better known quotes seem to suggest a different understanding of identity:

          “As a black woman, my politics and political affiliation are bound up with and flow from participation in my people’s struggle for liberation, and with the fight of oppressed people all over the world against American imperialism.” – Angela Davis

          “I believe profoundly in the possibilities of democracy, but democracy needs to be emancipated from capitalism. As long as we inhabit a capitalist democracy, a future of racial equality, gender equality, economic equality will elude us.” – Angela Davis

          “I think we have to really focus on the issues much more than we may have in the past. I think we have to seek to create coalitional strategies that go beyond racial lines. We need to bring black communities, Chicano communities, Puerto Rican communities, Asian American communities together.” – Angela Davis

          And some of her statements do not fit nicely into this debate at all:

          “No march, movement, or agenda that defines manhood in the narrowest terms and seeks to make women lesser partners in this quest for equality can be considered a positive step.” – Angela Davis

          “Progressive art can assist people to learn what’s at work in the society in which they live.” – Angela Davis

          “It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.” – Angela Davis

          But mostly I believe that original identity theory encouraged me to learn more about peoples I knew little about, whereas current identity theory expects me to apologize for my skin without allowing me any slack for a lifetime spent in the trenches and while typing this sentence I realized that “the left” as personifed by the Democratic party values my past service about as much as the Veterans Administration values the well-being of our veterans.

  12. CNu

    All solutions of economic redistribution were patently considered off-the-table

    I think there are some gaps in the commentariat’s living memory history. LBJ had some very real economic redistribution as historic redress ideas. These ideas were systematically subverted in the House and the Senate. Rep. Martha Griffiths makes it straight up, simple, and plain. (youtube 40 seconds)

    Senator Howard Smith had of course done the original yoeman’s work.

    The most incisive economic leftists haven’t forgotten this living memory history – and – they clearly understand from whence the bulk of the current wokeish chin-dribble emanates, as well. (youtube 23 minutes well worth the listen)

    1. Skip Intro

      What are the demographics of this ‘Living Memory’ in 2023? Having to reach back to LBJ is not the winning argument you may think it is.

    2. bwilli123

      Matt Stoller covered this extensively.

      The transition from politicians shaped by the shadows of the Great Depression to the Boomers (who until they took power & re-labelled themselves) were accurately called the ‘me’ generation
      And any analysis of how the Boomers were created can’t overlook the uniquely indulgent crucible in which they were formed.

  13. hk

    I want to suggest (following the theme often raised by David/Aurelien in his substack posts) that we take a step back and think what aspects of so-called “woke” make it authoritarian.

    It seems to me that the fundamental problem is that wokeness rests on the notion that people are entitled to a right “to be respected” “to be heard,” and, implicitly, “to be right.” Indeed, the first two are often repeated verbatim. (And these are not necessarily limited to the “wokeness” argument.) The problem, as often pointed out by David, is that ensuring these “rights” is not limited to protecting the rights of those who have them to exercise them, but compelling those around them to “respect” them and “hear” them, and, in case of the “right to be right,” force the truth to bend, if necessary, to accommodate the sentimentalities of those who supposedly enjoy such a right. I think it should be clear that the first two are recipe for an unequal authoritarian society–a society where the right to be “respected,” after a fashion were widespread, not only to the great nobles, but even the numerous petty nobility, the insistent actions by the latter to obtain that respect led to far more acts of tyranny than a more centrally authoritarian society–I’m referring, of course, to Feudal Japan, where the petty samurai, numbering a sizable percentage of the population, had the right to behead peasants at will for not showing them sufficient respect. Constantly “correcting the truth,” to fit the present sentimentalities of those whose rights must be protected, is practically the MO of INGSOC in 1984, with a catchier justification.

    This is not to say that those who demand respect and those who demand to be heard–the genuinely disadvantaged, the marginalized, the weak, and so forth–do not deserve respect or voice. Quite the contrary, they rightfully deserve them. But does giving them the right to be respected and to be heard necessarily give them the respect and the voice (that can actually be heard)? In a conversation with Stephen about Neustadt’s conception of “the power to persuade” in context of US presidency, I mentioned that Neustadt’s point concerned the limitations of the formal power. In a sense, the same logic applies here: not unlike the power to persuade, “respect” and “voice” are not the things that can be legislated and enshrined as part of legally enforced “rights” without leading to contradictions and abuse–without earning those who were intended the actual respect and voice that they deserve.

    If the goal is to expand the respect and voice for those who lack them, the solution necessarily has to be more “cultural” and “societal,” I think, not something that can be forced on society by de facto (or worse, de jure) legislation. This will, seemingly, make it much harder and complicated process. But this needs to be considered in light of the fact that the superficial advancement towards broadening respect and voice achieved by legislation is only superficial and comes with a great deal of abuse that degrade the society on the whole. We are, unfortunately, hobbled in this endeavor because we have too many lawyers, who think of solutions only in terms of more legislation, not more fundamental societal changes beyond the scope of laws, IMHO.

    1. Karl

      A problem arises when someone feels “disrespected” or “threatened” when you disagree with them (even nicely). They have the power to invoke that whether it’s reasonable or not, and they will prevail. A story:

      I recently tried to register for an overnight stay at a hotel in Eugene, Oregon (a very liberal University town). I had already reserved the room and paid for it in advance. A young woman at the front desk said the hotel’s policy was that I couldn’t register without a government-issued photo ID. I didn’t bring my driver’s license because I used mass transit to get to the hotel.

      It was rather late at night, raining, and I needed a roof over my head. I explained that I had a legally enforceable contract with this hotel, and the check-in instructions that came with the reservation said nothing about needing a Photo ID. When I nicely explained these things, and tried to work out a solution, she said she felt “threatened” by me and then called the cops. They arrived and kicked me out into the outer darkness, with wailing and gnashing of teeth.

      I’m seventy years old, a reasonable guy, and of modest weight and stature. I was hardly threatening but there you are. She obviously understood her DEI talking points, probably taught in her U of O diversity and assertiveness trainings.

      1. square coats

        Your experience strikes me as particularly ironic, considering how requiring a government issued ID can be used to exclude various marginalized identity groups from accessing different material/otherwise resources.

      2. agent ranger smith

        Did you try documenting every stage of this interaction and send it all up to her superiors, step by step by step, in order to try to succeed at getting her fired?

        If somebody ever slanders/libels me in order to mistreat me that way under DEI cover, that is what I will do. And I will try very hard to succeed.

    2. britzklieg

      Yes, morality can not be successfully legislated short of the imposition of authority, and authority exists only to justify itself.

  14. Lex

    Once upon a time the word “woke” was a part of black vocabulary and meant, “understanding how the system is used to oppress black people and the manipulations of history et al as the mechanisms”. The Black Panthers were woke, National of Islam was woke, Chuck D was woke. And it was dangerous to be woke. Not just that eyes were open to reality but that being woke was to be a target.

    So the current connotation of woke is effectively a complete inversion. Perverted by liberalism’s theology as David writes so eloquently on, particularly the cult of individualism. And as such it empties itself of any real meaning to serve inverted totalitarianism.

    I had to participate in an executive committee meeting at my firm this week where ownership unveiled its new “mission/values/goals” concept. One of these was “accessibility/inclusion”. The irony of six middle aged white men in a company entirely white and overwhelmingly male company in a city that’s 98% white was apparently lost on all but me and the one white, female in the group. So I pointed out the irony and how ridiculous it sounds. This wasn’t terribly well received, though afterwards the female discussed it with me. Perhaps it says something that she didn’t feel comfortable enough in the wokeness of the atmosphere to express her opinion.

    1. CNu

      Lex comes as close as this thread gets to boiling down the origin and the perversion of the concept of “wokeness”.

      Once upon a time the word “woke” was a part of black vocabulary and meant, “understanding how the system is used to oppress black people and the manipulations of history et al as the mechanisms”. The Black Panthers were woke, National of Islam was woke, Chuck D was woke. And it was dangerous to be woke. Not just that eyes were open to reality but that being woke was to be a target.

      So the current connotation of woke is effectively a complete inversion…..And as such it empties itself of any real meaning to serve inverted totalitarianism.

      That concept, once apropriated by white women and intersectionally allied men who are identified with the worst and most useless signifiers of white womanhood (think Caitlyn Jenner,Jennifer Pritzker,Ru Paul,) – have indeed emptied it of any real meaning. Black folks never got LBJ’s proposed 40 acres and a mule, and white women got the overwhelming majority of material rememdies dispensed under affirmative action. All living memory history playing itself out in the course of my lifetime.

      As for the technologically-enabled censorship, ostracism, and retaliation – consequences for violating the new language codes – those are interesting and potentially devastating tools of totalitarian governance still waiting for their full-fledged application.

      As has alreadty been borne out in preliminary application – these tools will be a gestapo’s wet dream when coupled with social credit scoring and digital currency. Someone commented earlier this week about the possibilities aborning when affective control theory meets social network analysis over a backdrop of language GPT. Thought criminals won’t even have to explicitly violate language codes to be pre-emptively detected, deterred, or disciplined for wrong thinking and guilty association.

      As for genuine dissent, (language as violence) well, that”s the dangerous far reaches of violent extremism, stochastic terrorism, misinformation, disinformation, malinformation – and will be dealt with with extreme prejudice.

      1. Mark Gisleson

        Somewhat in agreement but wished to correct your mistatement about LBJ. The 40 acres and mule promise was made by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1865 and has been a mantra among supporters of Black Reparations ever since.

  15. urdsama

    I realize this may come off as either a simplistic take on a complex subject, or as a “duh” comment, but my main issue is with the whole concept of respect in this framework; respect is earned. I’m not claiming all people shouldn’t be acknowledged, treated fairly, or have a voice. But it is really grating to be told I have to “respect” someone just because they exist.

    Or am I just that out of touch?

    1. Grebo

      I’m afraid so. What people mean by “respect” these days used to be called “common courtesy” or “consideration”. Which, I’m sure you would agree, everyone deserves by dint of existing.

        1. Grebo

          It can mean that. Does it in this context though? Are people really demanding that we like, admire, esteem, hold in high regard, or defer to everyone? Surely even the wokest would recognise that’s asking a bit much.

      1. urdsama

        I think you may have failed your own test, or the very least failed to fully read my post.

        “I’m not claiming all people shouldn’t be acknowledged, treated fairly, or have a voice.”

        I’m pretty sure what I referenced would also be called “common courtesy”.

    2. hunkerdown

      Respect is a relation of avoidance and subordination. The salience of the principle implies that some have it, or merit it, and some do not, and therefore are exempt from reciprocity. I see no reason why those who harm me materially because of their supposed claims to symbolic property shouldn’t be materially harmed right back threefold, other than to enable petty aristocratic entitlement.

  16. Gulag

    If our understanding of how change comes about involves unified movements, or consensus based decision making, then we will inevitably find ourselves among people we may not see as allies but who could make up part of a countermovement to all of the network projects of power (like opposing the network war in Ukraine).

    Such a temporary alliance among populist right and left might even blossom further if these groupings become capable of recognizing the possibility of composting the traditions that matter to either side as a way to contribute to a living culture beyond the ruins of progress or nostalgia.

    1. Don

      I am entirely willing to march arm in arm with a Republican evangelical Christian in a demonstration against NATO’s war on Russia.

      Not woke perhaps, but it is how the Vietnam war was ended. The banners read “Support the Troops: Bring them Home Now” (not, as the Maoists would have it, “Victory to the Viet Cong!”).

    2. hunkerdown

      Nah, that would be pointless. The value they both support is competition, and it is imperative that they both perform it. The end of the game is the end of both parties and their legitimacy as gods.

      In fact, the problems all stem from the common property they actually agree on, the secularized Christian totalitarian ideal exemplified by the Puritans, and the imaginary collective subjectivity they all license themselves to puppeteer.

      Parallelism would work far better, followed by an amicable breakup.

  17. flora

    Ah, the woke bullies – bully bully bully – who cry “I’m a victim! You’re oppressing me!” when they’re called out on their bullying.

  18. David in Santa Cruz

    Our planet has tipped-over the crest of 8 billion human lives in contemporaneous being and 2-degrees Celsius planetary warming. We’re queueing-up for the lifeboats on the Titanic. All of this caste-differentiation theater is about who — other than Our Billionaire Overlords and their PMC factotums — is “deserving” of a place in one of the boats.

    Dorman’s thesis is that DEI rejects collective action and embraces radical and reactionary libertarian “individualism as its framing.” The “woke” appear to be attempting to define themselves individually as part of the caste “deserving” a ration of food, shelter, and medicines — by defining other individuals as “undeserving” sub-humans to be “left out in the cold” just like Karl was in Eugene.

    This is precisely the framing that Our Billionaire Overlords will use as their PMC factotums row them away from the terrified and hysterical passengers they intend to abandon aboard the rapidly sinking liner…

  19. korual

    The problem with identity politics is that it takes 3 concepts that are equivalent, gender, race & class, and then proceeds to split out class and make it the basis of society. They don’t call it class any more, they call it merit. The PMC is all about merit, but look at the logic of this:

    What did anti-suffragettes argue? They said women were feeble-minded and physically weak.
    What did slavers argue? They said Africans had lower intelligence and were uncivilized.
    What do the PMC argue for themselves? They say they are highly educated and work hard.

    The logical corollary is that poor people deserve to be poor because they are inferior. It is the justification of the condition of wealth or poverty that is wrong.

    Sexism and racism, the justification of oppression by gender and race, are denounced but the elite preach snobbism, the hierarchy of economic benefits. The left that argued for economic equality has disappeared in the West.

  20. CNu

    The problem with identity politics is that it takes 3 concepts that are equivalent, gender, race & class, and then proceeds to split out class and make it the basis of society.

    These “concepts” are very far from equivalent in their current and historical, factual and legal application. How the Most Important U.S. Civil Rights Law Came to Include Women

    A committed segregationist, Sen. Howard W. Smith cleverly and deviously schemed to permanently undermine the meager legal and material remedies intended to correct for 400 years of violent and legally sanctioned economic exploitation and exclusion on the basis of race and color. The upshot is that the resulting hard-won Civil Rights and intended meager material redress have overwhelmingly been redirected to the benefit of white women. (and here more recently – LBGT variations on gendered whiteness)

    Bill Burr correctly skewers a broad swath of this nonsense…,

    1. korual

      Ironically, you don’t understand the concept of what a concept is.

      Ironically, you use the logic of identity politics to complain about identity politics.

      1. CNu

        The civil rights movement (and its unrealized promises of affirmative action and public school integration) has had its coat tails ridden to oblivion by every flavor of gendered whiteness pretending that psychic discomfort equates to the material privation of 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration.

        President Johnson’s Commencement Speech at Howard University, “To Fulfill These Rights.” June 4, 1965. https://youtu.be/vcfAuodA2x8

        Unironically, devious whites asserting false equivalence for material gain under law is a conspicuous matter of fact.

  21. KD

    For the archeology of anti-racism, we have to understand the “science” of Dianetics:

    Hubbard claimed that the “reactive” mind stores traumatic experiences in pictorial forms which he termed “engrams.”[277] Dianetics holds that even if the traumatic experience is forgotten, the engram remains embedded in the reactive mind.[273] Hubbard maintained that humans develop engrams from as far back as during incubation in the womb,[273] as well as from their “past lives”.[278] Hubbard taught that these engrams cause people problems, ranging from neurosis and physical sickness to insanity.[139][263] The existence of engrams has never been verified through scientific investigation.[279]

    According to Dianetics, engrams can be deleted through a process termed “auditing”.[282] Auditing remains the central activity within Scientology,[283] and has been described by scholars of religion as Scientology’s “core ritual”,[284] “primary ritual activity,”[285] and “most sacred process.”[286] The person being audited is called the “Pre-Clear”;[139] the person conducting the procedure is the “auditor”.[287] Auditing usually involves a question and answer session between an auditor and their client, the Pre-Clear.[288][289] [from Wikipedia]

    To get to anti-racism, reactive engram = white supremacy, and to overcome, it is necessary to undergo “education” administered by an abusive authoritarian cult, the self-appointed vice-regents of Dei on Earth. Note the prominence of “unconscious trauma” in the original Dianetics formulation, and the carry forward with “micro-aggressions” and “trauma induced” by stuff like FBI crime statistics or claims about objective reality. I found an article (but can’t put my finger on it now) about how someone left Scientology and started running these Anti-Racism seminars in the 70’s in California, so its not an accident. Why corporate America has bought into this particular abusive authoritarian cult, well, working for corporate management is often close to being in an abusive authoritarian cult, and these are the same people who were forcing their employees to go to EST seminars in the 70’s. Same Stuff Different Name, it just gets more oxygen because it purports to be about repairing race relations.

    Now, if someone is into Scientology or Anti-Racism seminars, great, whatever floats your boat, but the laundering of fringe ideas into the mainstream without any critical pushback from members of the rationalist community or real scholars is a true display of craven cowardice.

      1. KD

        Its interesting that this concept of “unconscious trauma” was key to the moral panic in the 1980’s over Ritual Satanic Sexual Abuse unlocked via “repressed memories”–which left many innocent people in prison, and many therapists getting sued for destroying families. The cycle seems to be repressed trauma –> church lady moral panic –> witch hunts –> “witches” burned, destroyed, or cancelled –> reality check –> lawsuits and discrediting.

  22. Dick Burkhart

    This article is right on except that some of us have been trying to restore some sanity where we can. One of the places where the “woke” have taken over and implemented this disastrous ideology is the Unitarian Universalist Association. What was once the most “liberal” church in America (in the Enlightenment sense) has taken a sharp turn toward authoritarian governance. It had been a haven for religious skeptics and heretics but is now engaged in censorship and outright persecution of ministers and others who dare to challenge the latest orthodoxies of identity politics (race, gender, disability, etc.).

    The worst slander this association has ever seen is officially condoned by the hierarchy, at least as long as it is anti-white, anti-male, etc., with zero accountability. There is an absolute and total refusal to even discuss or acknowledge the turmoil by the hierarchy, so many UUs remain unaware, even though the schism is upsetting a growing number of congregations and the self righteous bigotry and cancel culture continue unabated in certain quarters.

    But several groups have formed over the last few years to “save our 7 principles”, to challenge the “woke-racist” ideology (John McWhorter’s term), and more. In fact, the resistance (I’m in the middle of it) is now really starting to catch fire, as word of the persecution gradually spreads and as more and more congregations rebel against woke-racist or incompetent ministers or even lay leaders to try to impose the new dogmas. Although there are few conservative types who are protesting, most of us come from the left end of the political spectrum (I’m a democratic socialist of sorts).

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