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May 09, 2005

Follow up on the substance of the Left's style

My previous post really went off topic on the Peak Oil issue. I didn't mean for it to veer in that direction, but that's like a drunk driver asserting that he didn't mean to drive into the tree, so my bad.

Here is my point: I sympathize a great deal with the individualist/civil liberties issues that many liberals push for. I disagree with, but can understand, economic populism. On the other hand, the identity politics discourse really gets on my nerves. It's like the SAT analogies section all over again! (yes, I'm that old) It is a bizarro style of intellectual posing that serves little genuine greater social purpose, but does establish oneself within their own narrow sociopolitical ecology in terms of status. To make an analogy, imagine a learned Jew1 in a Eastern European shtetl who is a master of rabbincal disputation. There is a whole world outside the shtetl that the Jew doesn't care about, doesn't engage with, and that has contempt for the Jew because of his perceived alienness. But the fact remains that the Jew is still part of the world by virtue of the reality that his urban lifestyle is dependent on the surpluses produced by the rest of the society, his own ecosystem is simply nested within the greater social system.

My personal observation is that among many elite liberals this peculiar identity politics discourse and verbal genuflection toward ghost sensitivities has started to spiral out of control in a runaway selection effect. This does two things

  1. It weakens genuine Left-Right tension and oppositional politics (good from where I sit in the idiosyncratic-party-of-one) because the Left becames rather good at auto-cannibalizing because of the strong pressure of individual selection and preening within the Left ecology. The greater importance of intrapolitical competition explains I suspect the difference in the nature of the Left and Right ecologies in the United States, or at least the perception that the Right is simultaneously more unified and tolerant of internal dissent. (the Schiavo dispute brought out the same bizarro preening on the social Right as well)

  2. The sharp rhetorical tools which are developed by the Left-shtetl ecology are exported out into the general society to far more substantive social effect (a previous example of this is the anti-porn feminist rhetoric that was put to good use by social values conservatives).2

John has already talked about the decline of populism in the Democratic party. I don't necessarily think that is totally a bad thing, but some populism is also I think good for the republic (else we become might as well become a plutocratic-oligarchy in name as well as fact). But populism requires mobilization and focus on material issues as opposed to mental demons.

1 - Warning! Warning! Using the term "Jew" and making an analogy with a shtetl is not an opening for Jew baiting! Alas, perhaps I'm drinking and driving again....

2 - A very clear illustration of the power and force of the social Left in reshaping the "norm" on the Right is the book One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism, authored by Creationist svengali Ken Ham. Though to be fair in the 18th century the Christian monogenists stood their ground against secularist polygenists (who asserted that human races were tatamount to distinct species with disparate origins), by the 19th century the racialist tenor of the times had seeped into Christianity, and I would argue that the pull of the surrounding culture deracialized much of the more fundamentalist Protestant strands of white American Christianity in the 20th century just as it had volkified it in the previous.

Posted by razib at 04:58 PM