Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Feb/14

11

Critique for thee, not for me

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Over at The Nation Michelle Goldberg has a long piece on the internecine conflicts within online feminism. First, an admission. I’ve long been a follower of these blow-ups on the feminist Left blogosphere because it is compelling to me in the way a car-crash might be. I’ve never commented on it because it’s as intellectually a serious interest as watching Dancing with the Stars. Though I think Goldberg has a lot of justice on her side, there are two issues which always nag at me. Many of the feminists who are outraged at being raked over coals wouldn’t have any hesitation of doing the same if the target was someone else. In other words, the hyper-critical lens that they place on others is obviously not relevant for them, because they’re good people. So the second issue is that the extremely harsh, often unfair, attacks on these self-righteous types wallowing in their “privilege” actually draws upon a real phenomenon.

Obama campaign headquarters

Obama campaign headquarters

It reminds me of the famous photo of Obama campaign headquarters in 2012, which was filled with white faces. If you transposed this to Romney campaign headquarters you could imagine Melissa Harris-Perry at MSNBC making some snarky remarks. But it’s different, because they support Obama, and they’re good liberals…. By their nature they can’t be racist, so the same evidence can’t be brought to bear. The lived lives of upper middle class white liberals may be quite segregationist, but their hearts are not, and that’s what matters.

Which brings me to the weird general observation: American liberals are quite essentialist when it comes to the target of their critique. Conservatives and Republicans are racist by their nature, by their intent, so their social segregation from non-whites counts toward their racism. It’s a fundamental attribute. In contrast American liberals and Democrats are anti-racist, so their social segregation from non-whites is situational, and does not reflect antipathy to non-whites.

This can be generalized. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton both seem to exhibit sociopathic tendencies in relation to their attitudes toward women. But for social conservatives Clinton’s transgressions reflect his lack of core morality, because he’s a liberal. In contrast, Gingrich says the right things, and acknowledges his moral failings. No matter what he does his fundamental essence is that of someone who understands the importance of morality. At least from the perspective of his supporters.

5 comments

  • L · February 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    I think you’re being unfair to liberals. The essentialist streak is evident in both sides. I’ve often found Karl Popper’s distinction on this sort of issue to be illuminating:

    Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still ‘un-analysed’ … – Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations

    The gist is that people tend to see the world and the world’s supposed facts as obvious (the truth is manifest). Once you start looking at the world as a set of obvious facts without the context of what led you to believe those obvious facts, you tend to classify those who disagree into two camps: those who know the truth but deny it (evil) and those who do not know the truth (dumb).
    If you do not catch yourself from falling into this pit, you begin to wade down the path of either talking down to those who you disagree with or questioning the motives of them.
    Take the topic of welfare and social support in America through the lens of the generic partisan. If you are liberal, then you believe that welfare is an essential function of government (moral argument) and that increased social support allows for better flourishing of a society (empirical argument). If you are conservative, then you do not believe welfare to be an essential function of government (moral argument) and that increased social support either does not effectively boost productivity and employment (empirical argument) or causes individuals to become beholden to the state (mix of empirical and moral).
    With those views, each side either claims the other side has questionable motives for supporting their view or that they are simply misinformed about the true empirical facts.
    I just don’t see how this is clearly a plague of liberals. It seems to be a deep vein the American public.
    Relatedly, if you weren’t aware of this video, it discusses exactly this issue: Ill Doctrine – How To Tell Someone They Sound Racist.

  • Author comment by David Hume · February 11, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    I think you’re being unfair to liberals. The essentialist streak is evident in both sides.

    why do you think i added the last paragraph? or did you not read it?

    (though charging liberals with essentialism is more interesting than conservatives, because liberals often make a strong pretense to reject essentialism; conservatives far less)

  • Steve In Tulsa · February 12, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    So you admit to living in an all white community and you say that is okay because democrats, the party of slavery and lynching, cannot be racist.

    I am a white conservative. There is an American Indian woman on one side of my house. On the other side is a black family. Across the street is a couple of white guys sharing a house. Behind my house is a Hispanic fellow and his family and another black family.

    Yet you call me a racist for living where I do and you say you are not racist for living in an all white community. You chose that all-white community. You are the racist here.

  • Steve In Tulsa · February 12, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    I should have addressed my previous comments to “The Democrats”

  • Author comment by David Hume · February 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    So you admit to living in an all white community and you say that is okay because democrats, the party of slavery and lynching, cannot be racist.

    no. reading comprehension.

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