Fredrik de Boer in his post entitled “Maybe Time for Change”:
… The pressure to avoid criticizing current progressive practice is intense. …
… Within progressivism today, there is an absolute lack of shame or self-criticism about reducing racial discourse to a matter of straightforward personal branding and social signaling. It turns my stomach.
(If there’s one thing I know about today’s progressive white people, it’s that they are all sure other white people are the really white ones.)
… Do we still have the capacity, as a political and intellectual movement, to argue in a way that’s not entirely based on associating with race or gender in a totally vague, unaccountable, and reductive way?
… Tired, rote arguments and magic words, treated as cutting rebuttals no matter how lazy and uninspired. …
… But if there’s one thing these sites understand, it’s that you’ve got to leave your readership soothed and reassured, confident that all of the social problems described in your work don’t apply to them personally. You let them stay on offense, never on defense.
Hacky garbage getting defended on political grounds is a contagion for today’s progressives. Some of the most cynical people in the world right now are pumping out ostensibly progressive cultural writing. They know there’s no standards; the defense of everything they write is baked into their self-identification with their political movement. …
… I don’t know how to ask people to do better work and have higher standards when they treat any criticism as a political betrayal.
Criticism of today’s progressives tends to use words like toxic, aggressive, sanctimonious, and hypocritical. I would not choose any of those. I would choose lazy. We are lazy as political thinkers and we are lazy as culture writers and we are lazy as movement builders. We ward off criticism of our own bad work by acting like that criticism is inherently anti-feminist or anti-progressive. We seem spoiled …
If you want us to stop being a mess, you have to be willing to criticize, and you have to accept that every criticism of an ostensibly progressive argument is not some terrible political betrayal.
As a … hmm … not-progressive, I’ll only add that I think he’s late to the party. It was 10-12 years ago when I started to notice that progressive positions seemed to lack a center: there was nothing that all progressives agreed upon … except outrage and finger-pointing.
I was, and am, worried that the progressive movement in the United States, as led by the Democratic Party, no longer stands for anything at all. Well, maybe it stands for mood affiliation.
Why is this a problem? Let me give you an example from my field of expertise.
Programs like social security consistently run into problems in democratic societies because they’re based on taking something from one group and giving it to another. So what do reasonable people do: 1) vote themselves out of the paying group, and 2) vote themselves into the receiving group.
I have zero social problem with gay marriage.
I have a problem with the fact that marriage has been used as a legislative convenience to support constituents (somewhat flimsy) moral positions that they need to either get out of the paying group or into the receiving group. Think about it: we started out with a system where spouses who worked in the home were not in either group, but we’re decades into a modified system where they’re only in the second group. That sounds nice on paper, and it is nice in reality … but it’s also a symptom of that really screwed up it’s-all-about-number-one mentality that makes people think it’s OK to get out of the first group and into the second group.
What I wonder is if gays would be so interested in gay marriage if marriage hadn’t first been used as legislative cover to give something to someone who might vote for you? As a corollary, I wonder how much support for gay marriage would have fallen if people had been told it might lead to higher taxes.
So here’s the thing. As an economist, I think that’s an important point to talk about (and there are flip-side issues to talk about too, since gays who get married will now be subject to the marriage penalty). But I pretty much am socially constricted to never bring this up in polite conversation.
Except we all know that the first thing just about any couple does after they get back from their honeymoon is go talk to the human resources office at their job to figure out their new benefits.
Hey progressives! I blame you for this. Your habit of shouting down opposition means thinkers can’t talk about what they’re supposed to be thinking about. Thanks a lot.
Just because gay marriage is primarily about dignity, and secondarily about money doesn’t mean that you should shout down the money angle.
But I suspect that it’s not primarily about dignity, and that it’s all a dodge. If it was, we’d see lots of people who are not heteronormative volunteering that they’d be willing to give up some of their (heterosexual) marriage based benefits to be more inclusive. You know, share and share alike. Again, that’s an idea that goes nowhere.
FWIW: I live in Utah. I have had the opposite conversation with (temple) Mormons who take the social position that gay marriage is wrong, but are at least willing to talk about how goofed up our policies already are and how gay marriage won’t make them better. Those Mormons are typically more open-minded than the progressives I know.