Jason Wilson writes about the alt-right’s tactics. Here’s one perfect example: Andy Ngo is a kind of inflammatory yellow journalist whose specialty is capturing tiny slices of left wing events that he then distorts into the kind of lie useful for enraging the Fox News/Breitbart crowd. For instance, here’s how he handled a visit by James Damore to Portland State:
In the lead-up to Damore’s appearance, Ngo penned an article for the Wall Street Journal alleging that the event had been threatened, writing that that “we expected controversy. But we also got danger.” The evidence of danger, as reported in Willamette Week, was “two violent threats on Facebook, three diversity events held on campus as counter-programming, and a scornful blog post”.
This was more than enough for Fox News, who ran an item under the headline “Antifa targets ‘Google memo’ author James Damore’s talk at Portland State”.
Impressive. Everything is coming up antifa nowadays. I suspect this post makes me antifa, at this rate.
Then the ever-ridiculous Peter Boghossian chimes in. This is where it gets really interesting, because there is a phenomenon many of us have noticed before: people who like to claim to be on the Left, usually referring to themselves as “classical liberals” or “centrists”, who are remarkably consistent in siding with the Right to deplore anything and everything anyone on the Left does, yet also pay lip service to rejecting the traditional Right. Maybe we ought to start recognizing that the usual political binary is often invalid, and that there are multiple axes of polarization. Maybe we ought to appreciate that someone like me can despise, for example, Bill Donohue, and so can a Boghossian, and at the same time, Boghossian and I can mutually reject each other. It’s amazing! More than two categories? Brains will explode!
Still, people will cluster in domains of mutual sympathy, it’s just that there are definitely many more than two of them. Boghossian helpfully engages in a little taxonomy for us, in the process of saying stupid stuff.
Boghossian does seem to see members of her discipline in a dark hue. At the Damore event, he said that “diversity is a Trojan horse for a political agenda.”
When asked later what was inside the Trojan horse, he said “the diversity they try to create is the most superficial kind of diversity and doesn’t include ideological diversity.”
When asked who “they” were, Boghossian replies “all disciplines infected by postmodernism, and women’s studies and gender studies in particular.
“It’s intersectionality, it’s diversity, it’s those values which are riding in the wake of postmodernity,” he added.
“Jordan Peterson speaks about this, Gad Saad speaks about this, Steven Pinker speaks about this, there’s a whole circle of us speaking about this.”
Despite his criticisms of the campus left, however, Boghossian insists that he is not rightwing, that he “can’t stand Republicans”, and complains about recent accusations that he is “alt-right”. He insists it’s all about Enlightenment values.
Ngo too. “I identify as a centrist if I was forced to answer”, he writes, adding that “Freethinkers is a nonpartisan organization”.
Strange, then, that they, and the movement that Boghossian claims membership of, take such trouble over antagonizing the left, and drawing rightwing attention.
I’m actually kind of impressed here. There are quite a few people mentioned in the article who I, as an outsider to their group, would have lumped together, and there’s Boghossian, unconsciously affirming my taxonomy. Yes — Boghossian, Peterson, Saad, Pinker, they all belong in a single taxon. The defining character seems to be, at least in the context of this excerpt, that they are all pretentious academics who do not understand the meaning of the word “post-modern”, while hating it fiercely, all while huddling under the banner of the Enlightenment, an 18th century movement that they believe entitles them to consider themselves progressive. They also consider themselves liberal while hating diversity in a multicultural nation, and despising gender and women’s studies at universities that are encouraging students, who are mostly women, to examine the complexity of our social and cultural environment.
They’re a weird, regressive bunch. Their clique also includes other people mentioned in the article, like Christina Hoff Sommers, the anti-feminist who calls herself a feminist, and Dave Rubin, the cheerleader for right-wingers who insists he is a centrist, Enlightenment liberal.
I’m perfectly willing to recognize that this is an ugly mess of a beast that is completely different from the ugly mess of a beast called the Republican party. The American landscape is filling up with a diverse collection of shambolic monsters, united only in their willingness to shit on anything that resembles a progressive vision of our future.
So the issue with diversity is that it is not diverse enough and excludes white conservative men? And the solution is to get rid of efforts to promote diversity and squash the voices of women, people of color, etc. And at the same time they claim to support diversity.
Well no need to go to the amusement park. After reading that, I have had my fill of spins and jerks.
Jeremy Shaffer says
And that’s the issue right there. Why they insist they’re “on the Left” while appointing themselves terms like “classical liberal” or “centrists”. Because they ultimately ascribe to values and principles that were progressive and open-minded 200 years or more ago. Yes, they were the liberal, forward-thinkers of their day, but they also supported imperialism, exploitation, and bigoted supremacy. What’s escaped them is that we’ve moved on, we’ve looked back and saw that while those thinkers took important steps, they were still subject to the prejudices and conceits of their time.
* Emphasis mine.
Noam Chomsky (hey, look, I did a name drop too!) pointed out long ago that the role of people like this is to set the limits of discussion. They are set up as the mainstream left/liberal/progressive commentators, and then by definition anyone further left/more liberal/more progressive than they are is a crazy fringe extremist and can be safely ignored. The discussion goes as far as they take it and no further. This is very convenient for those in power, because it helps to stifle opposition that might create genuine change.
You will also note that what they rail against on the right is not mainstream right-wing/capitalist/regressive politics but the cartoonish extremists over the horizon. The Nazis and (American-style) Libertarians and fundamentalists. Admittedly there are more of those popping up out of the woodwork these days, but that just helps to focus attention away from the evil going on in more established centres of rightism. The kind of greedy neoliberal capitalism that has wrecked the Western world, and America most of all, gets a free pass. That’s what these people and the ones who fund and promote them are all about.
I can’t be the only one who thinks this, but there is no such thing as a “centrist”. There are moderates, opportunists, and intellectually lazy cowards. A moderate happens to be in the current center. The other two are kind of a Venn diagram of shitheels *cough*David Brooks*cough*.
Also, I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Fuck Steven Pinker.
I have to say, though, that this focus on the “Enlightenment” is itself a propagandistic nod to a stream of thought intimately wound up with American exceptionalism and self-serving distortions of history among those in power today.
It is perhaps telling that the very term “Enlightenment” has persisted much longer and is much more ubiquitous in US academia than European. Where in England we tend to talk of the Eighteenth Century or the Early Modern period, in the US it’s almost always the “Age of Enlightenment”. Why? Because that’s the period when the United States as we know it came into existence. Because the US doesn’t have any history before that period. Because the very term denigrates and dismisses and belittles what came before it, making nations which weren’t a part of that seem special and progressive and just plain better than ones that were. What’s the opposite of “Enlightened”? Dark. Ignorant. Unheeding of reality.
Colonial America has no Medieval history, and Enlightened is very frequently compared with Medieval (for which read brutish, ignorant, violent and stupid). This was how the thinkers of the Eighteenth Century themselves tended to see it. They cast themselves as bold, intellectually superior progressives, bringing the light of reason to a dark world sorely in need of it. It is their propaganda that modern apologists like Boghossian and Pinker unthinkingly rehash. Sorry to say I’ve even caught PZ doing it on occasion, raised as he was in an American and a Scientific culture that still lionises the “Enlightenment” so. Scientific culture tends to be particularly susceptible, given that modern science traces its existence back 500 years or so and pointedly no further. Science means modern. Science means Enlightened. Science means better!
The Italians did it before this with Renaissance. The rediscovery of classical (i.e. Italian, Greek, Mediterranean) culture, putting aside centuries of inferior Medieval (i.e. Germanic, North-European, barbarous) culture. Conveniently enough at a time the Italian (and Dutch) city-states were being threatened by the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and its culture and political might. We have a tendency to propagandise with our names for and division of intellectual history. Heck, even before that they had the Second Sophistic in the 1st-2nd century Roman Empire, where it was the emulation of 5th century Athenian culture that did the job.
It is very revealing that riding on the coat tails of the intellectual movements of 200 years ago is still so in vogue.
I can’t have been the only one who cringed to see someone named Andy Ngo referred to as a “yellow journalist”. Yes, I know the meaning of the expression, but in context, probably not the best choice of words.
Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk- says
I think I can spot the contradiction here.
I guess you can define them as people who were ok with progress as long as they kept their privileges.
They had no problem with enduing segregation, black people couldn’t afford to eat in their restaurants or live where they sent their kids to school anyway. Gay marriage doesn’t bother them. But now that people insisting on getting a slice of what they consider their cake the whole thing is going too far.
My kind of grifters are better than other kinds of grifters.
And people who threaten my privileges are commies/islamists/atheists from hell.
Also, the use of the term “Dark Ages” to refer to more-or-less the entire Medieval period… (Although I hope that’s just popular culture rather than academia.)
Tabby Lavalamp says
It never ceases to amaze me how many pearls are clutched by self-described “centrists” over anti-fascists.
And speaking of self-described “centrists”, the Overton window must have many, many panes considering how insulated they are from reality.
Marcus Ranum says
They are setting up to declare “antifa are terrorists.”
I thought they had already tagged black activists as “extremists” in federal law enforcement.
So, trying to be more inclusive of women, people of color, and LGBT people is “superficial”? Does Boghossian not realize how entitled that makes him sound? Those groups I mentioned are marginalized and exlcuded from academia, the entertainment industry, politics, and multiple other areas of society. It certainly isn’t “superficial” to them that they’re shoved to the side and ignored in favor of white men. What sort of “Trojan horse” is this supposed to be anyway? Does Boghossian think that these groups of people have some sort of nefarious goal that they’re secretly working towards?
I am not sure that it is any more filled than in the past but they do seem very active these days. I suspect that very few of them would have supported the establishment of the Constitution Of the United States way back in the olden days. the one thing that does seem common in all the groups that come out against what can be grouped under the term diversity is a profound antithesis to democracy.
Acolyte of Sagan says
Andy Ngo: yellow journalist.
I see what you did there. It’s not like there are aren’t other words that would have sufficed.
You’ll be telling jokes about assault victims ne……pardon?….oh!
All this right vs left crap compelling people to join one or another side or club or team or tribe or party…
A tedious game that consumes enormous resources of time and energy.
It also distracts them from focusing on right vs wrong. And turns them into feverish lunatics.
I need a name change.
Tell people you are using it ironically maybe?
Ed Seedhouse says
I have a hard time understanding how anyone calling themselves “centrist” could be anything other than proudly antifascist! Surely fascism is antithetical to any philosophy that can justly call itself “centrist” except in the most threadbare sense.
But then I had three or four uncles who were very definitely not left wing who nevertheless spent years of their life proudly killing Nazis and fascists in Europe. At least one of them is still alive as a matter of fact.
In the interest of ideological diversity should we dismiss postmodernism, gender studies, and everything else that doesn’t conform to the new enlightenment values juggernaut where people get together in front of adoringly uncritical skeptical audiences and talk about really smart stuff and engage in those crucial difficult conversations with the courageous rigor only a manly MMA gladiator can bring to the table?
On another blog it was suggested that Raoul Martinez was something of interest because the intersect with obligatory free will bashing tropes. I went down that rabbit hole and would say I got redpilled, except Martinez merely extended my interest in stuff I was already aware of having read some of the sources he cited. Probably one of the most eye scale peeling books I have read in a long time. Haven’t completed it, but most of the way through.
From another unrelated book ( https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-evolution-of-atheism-9780190225179 ) that is a scathing critique of new atheism I stumbled upon the concept “dialectic of enlightenment”. Now I am reading Frankfurt school commentary on the then new media. Listened to some Philosophize This podcasts on that too. Am I being redpilled by cultural Marxism? The horror of not towing the popular line. Does “Frankfurt” explain how hundreds of channels of cable tv amount to crap collectively? Is what Adorno and Horkheimer discuss one of those thinky aporic crucial conversations we should be having or am I merely being turned into a beta male by the counter- Enlightenment?
Can’t say all tv shows are bad. South Park struggles to be relevant. PC Principal is the unintended anti-hero fighting for social justice. But the “dialectic of enlightenment” gets at the heart of streaming binge watch escapism. Big media is just a perennial tease, promising but never delivering. The adverts for new releases (uh oh Freudian slip) are better than the movie. The menu surpasses the entree (or double entendre). I think the penultimate exemplar is Lost. It pretended all along to be something profound. People struggled to decipher the hidden meanings. It was a captivating Rorschach. But the finale revealed it was about nothing more than holding its audience trapped in purgatory with no real denouement. But on another level maybe the show was deeper. It was a mirror to reflect our collective lemming stupidity saying: “Look at our power. We made you watch this crap. Ha. Ha. Ha. Idiots!”
Great American Satan says
addiepray @6 – I noticed.
Yellow journalism has the popular connotation of sensationalism and scandal-mongering. It originated in some cartoon character based on uncertain stereotypy, but the common utility of phrase is totally removed from historic origin. My memory of it relates more to the hyping leading into the Spanish-American war than the cartoon.
It’s a bit of hypersensitive language policing to decry what was nothing more than an accidental juxtapositional proximity devoid of ill intent. Apples and oranges.
John Morales says
Also, @21 you seem to be arguing that because you personally weren’t influenced — but merely informed — by exposure to memetic hazards others won’t be.
Whether or not you actually have a case to make, you haven’t made it.
John Morales says
PS as a non-USAnian I had to look up ‘yellow journalism’. In other lands, the term is ‘tabloid’. Shock-jockery.
John Morales says
Mmm maybe ‘USAniac’. Rhymes with… :)
The argument is actually orthogonal to the diversity argument.
Some liberals who call themselves “the centre left” and/or “the progressive left” criticise a subsection of liberals who they call “the authoritarian left” and/or “the regressive left” who see everything from the point of view of “identity politics”, in that they are for women, and for blacks, and for homosexuals and other “marginalised groups” and, therefore, all their politics is geared towards the protection, advancement, and positive discrimination of people belonging to these groups.
Their argument is that politics should be about people as individuals – be they male or female, black or white, heterosexual or homosexual or trans of any other gender group – rather than people as members of these group or groups. So, for example, they disagree with “quotas” in political parties, workplaces, and places of learning, preferring to concentrate on aptitude rather than race, sex, or gender, and reserving “affirmative action” to situations where there is active discrimination against individuals belonging to these groups which results in them being under-represented with respect to their aptitude.
I have some sympathy for both groups and nestle somewhere to left of centre.
My father was an anti-fascist. In fact, he spent the better part of 1944 and 1945 doing everything he could to kill as many of them as possible.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the rise of Fascism in America is happening as the last of that generation is passing and are no longer around to…. deal with fascists in that particular WW2 style.
Yeah, just keep telling yourself that. You might even believe it, for all I know.
So basically, affirmative action.
that, is simply because they are the children of suburbanites who instead of learning about history, chose instead to imagine a great future of equality… that doesn’t yet exist.
and so in their great sense of fairness… they repealed all the affrmative action programs… because they were TOO FUCKING IGNORANT to understand why they were even there in the first place, or understand that it would take more than a couple of generations to eliminate the impacts of hundreds of years of systemic bigotry in the US.
It was so common in the 1980s, sociologists even invented a name for that kind of imposed ignorance.
None of us are immune to ideology and I prefer that term in a more general non-pejorative sense. Some of the stuff I’ve read on ideology in the past has referenced Frankfurt. Even memetics (throwing red meat at me there) is infused with atomized Darwinism, an all encompassing universal acid of its own that causes world distorting hallucinations and germophobic fear of catching mind viruses. Durkheim and Hebb are among my idols, not Dawkins.
“People are so easily offended these days. That’s why I only ever make jokes at the expense of white men, whose thick skins and calmly rational attitudes make them impossible to upset.”
– @somegreybloke at Twitter
On average, I am left of centre on the political spectrum. In Australia, the main political parties are the Liberal Party, which is actually a conservative party, and the Labor Party, which is on the left. I have never voted Liberal, and always voted Labor, except for abstaining on one occasion.
There is a difference between affirmative action which imposes quotas on the basis of minority groups irrespective of aptitude and affirmative action which attempts to correct for discrimination against people from minority groups to promote people based purely on aptitude. I support the former only to a limited extent for limited periods of time where discrimination has resulted in extreme disparities. I always support the latter.
@billyjoe “So, for example, they disagree with “quotas” in political parties, workplaces, and places of learning, preferring to concentrate on aptitude rather than race, sex, or gender,…”
And, ignore all confounding factors, like.. I just recently found out that we still have huge swaths of cities in areas where Jim Crow laws where used to push blacks into certain areas, and tricks and lies where used to get white people to sell out, so their homes could be torn down and substandard housing built, which decades later still contain substandard houses, and lead paint. Exposure to which causes… ding, ding, ding, learning disabilities and a higher tendency to violence. The overlap in those cities between certain sets of crimes, lead paint still found in houses, almost exclusively African Americans, and places which are poorly policed and in poverty is a near 100% correlation. You can almost use the maps for each of them interchangeably.
Of course, this doesn’t prove causation, and the right (and probably some/many/most? of these enlightenment liberal jokers would probably argue the same BS I hear from every conservative I know, which is, “They (being the people living there) could just stop it, if they wanted to, and tried hard enough.”)
Addressing Saad as well, the problem then with using merit to determine things, becomes, that the reason for programs try to fix the issue, is precisely because you cannot measure the “merit” of someone who you have already failed so egregiously that they are incapable of meeting their own potential. It would be like testing the merit of two groves of trees, one of which is a terrible choice, but is well watered and fertilized, vs. a far better type of tree, grown on poor land, in a drought zone. As long as the place on which they grow in unequal, there is no means to derive “merit” for them. On the contrary, all you have done is judged the merit of the place they came from, not the individuals – i.e., the exact same thing that certain classes of people have been doing since the first time they found a tribe willing to sell them captured members of other tribes, and decided they where “primitives” and thus, “not as intelligent”.
Sad thing is, even their own fall for this crap, hence the pro-GOP African American politicians, who either got damn lucky, or.. maybe would have been the geniuses, among the averages, if they hadn’t grown up under conditions that made them merely the average, compared to everyone else among the mediocre, who insist that the rest of the people like them just need to stop being lazy.
Most people who call themselves Liberals are actually Leftists. The noble title of Liberal has been dragged through the mud, sadly.
How do you tell a Liberal from a Leftist? Easy, Liberals believe in free speech. Lots of classical liberals were abandoned by the Left long ago. Here’s a site to check out: http://liberalismunrelinquished.net
Meg Thornton says
John Morales @ 27: I tend to use either “USAlien” or “Merkin”. (The latter probably exposes my ‘net upbringing a bit).
Clarifying billyjoe @ 35:
It’s probably worth pointing out that in Australian terms, the ALP (Australian Labor Party) is actually centrist, or centre-left at best. The Australian Greens are actually further left on the “still electable” end of the scale, while on the “not likely to get elected” end of the left are the Communists, the Socialist Resistance, and the Green Left.
However, in comparison with US politics, it’s probably worth noting that our Liberal party is occupying approximately the same sort of ideological turf as your Democrats, and this is after having trended heavily US-style conservative for the paste couple of decades. Pauline Hanson’s One Notion (sorry, One Nation; it’s so easy to get the two confused) is a bit more in the direction of the US Republicans, while Corey Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives look as though they’re going to be lifting their dogma directly from the US Republican playbook.
 US-style spelling because the ALP were the original Americanophiles in Australian politics.
Fair enough Meg, I was merely contrasting the two major parties – Labor and Liberal.