Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On Bogus Progressives

Does anyone actually think Nicholas Kristof is a progressive of any sort?

Some contributor to the New Republic does - ironically in an article criticizing Kristof’s repeated efforts to legitimize a favorite conservative canard. The piece is entitled "The Myth of the Liberal 'Echo Chamber' on Campus.” Of course, Kristof's tired talk of a "liberal echo chamber" comes straight out of the conservative echo chamber. It's the right’s standard lament about "liberal intolerance" in academia but with the surprise twist that it is delivered by a "liberal." (It isn't.)

Such an absurd turd needs constant polishing and Nicholas Kristof’s practiced hand-wringing is equal to the task. He has written several pieces pushing this stupid thesis. I will explain why it’s stupid in this footnote(1) but my point here is somebody actually called Kristof a "progressive." Granted, that is what he calls himself - I’m just stunned that someone is humoring him. (Not really.)

Seriously, Kristof routinely scolds the poor. He circulates conservative urban legends about rampant cheats on disability. He bashes teachers unions. And he simply adores sweatshops - he just loves them. They are one of his favorite things - that and decrying "intolerant" progressives, apparently. In the first article, he makes the requisite acknowledgements that their working conditions are appalling, but his enthusiasm builds across time. By the second article, he says clothing labels should proudly boast that they are made in sweatshops. 

If the enormity of his Orwellian pose escapes you, let me explain: Progressives have historically opposed sweatshops. It was a focus of their reform efforts at the turn of the last century - and the one before that. Tragedies like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire repeat themselves in Bangladeshi garment factories. Like in the Triangle Fire, the women workers were locked in the building during their shift and many eventually  jumped to their deaths attempting to escape flames and suffocation. In 1911, the horror shocked America's conscience into action. Today, good "liberals" ignore such troubling thoughts, lest they feel bad about their last thousand purchases.(2)

Of course, 1911 had its Nicolas Kristofs to do damage-control too. See also antebellum pro-slavery propaganda. The eternal narrative is "These people never had it so good and are/should be grateful."


The point is progressives do not whitewash sweatshops. Call me an impossible-to-please "purist," but that's a pretty definitional baseline thing, both past and present. If someone opined that women should not be allowed to vote but identified as a feminist, it would not be purist to call bullshit.

Nicholas Kristof had also praised welfare reform. Yes, he later admitted he was wrong on that, but his apologia was not entirely awesome. And how genuine is his contrition if he continues to parrot conservative talking points afterwards?

If his soul-searching is actual rather than affectation, he should revisit his other opinions because his whole career seems to consist of oily moralizing and concern trolling. "This is painful for a liberal to admit but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency.” Such lines are his stock-in-trade. Nicholas Kristof is pretty much John Stossel minus the porn mustache. Most of these shills are.

Well, okay, Thomas Friedman has the porn mustache too.


Such pundits are not progressives or even liberals. They exist to make right-wing schemes and fever dreams seem reasonable to liberal readers. They cynically prey upon liberals’ famous open-mindedness to promote unconscionable policies. It's just like that sardonic Dead Kennedys song "Kill the Poor" - "Jane Fonda on the screen today / Convinced the liberals it's okay."

It’s a pretty shitty literary industry. Do you want to be a published pundit? Then comfort the comfortable, afflict the afflicted, and guy the gullible. Tisking is uplift and you can say the most grotesquely reactionary things so long and you insist you are a "sensible” Democrat and don’t sound quite as paternalistically racist as, say, Rudyard Kipling. 

Obviously, Nicolas Kristof is not the only Potemkin progressive pontificating out there. Since the last Democratic primary, pretending to be a progressive has become quite fashionable - particularly among centrists bashing actual progressives. Pseudo-progressives are everywhere saying all sorts of shockingly ignorant and incongruous things on Twitter and other social networking sites. (3) They sound like conservatives do when mis-invoking Martin Luther King - which I suppose is appropriate when you remember what King thought about  white moderates.(4)

But such posturing is actually nothing new. Indeed, it is literally old news. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) is a progressive watchdog organization has been monitoring the corporate media since 1986. (No doubt you've noticed that I've linked to them a lot.) They have repeatedly revealed that the acceptable spectrum of opinion on American television goes from the center to the far right. Fascists like Pat Buchanan were routinely piped into our living rooms: Leftist critics of U.S. foreign policy like Noam Chomsky not so often. Alas, print isn't much better. The media has been paving the way for Donald Trump for quite some time.

Of course, if you are going push the Overton Window to the right you cannot announce it. That would defeat the purpose. So you have centrists pretend to be progressives. In 1990, four years after its founding, FAIR exposed several
 phony television progressives. In 1998, they once again complied a field guide of these counterfeit leftists.  And in 2004, they discovered nothing had changed: actual progressives were absent as usual. And so it goes. Therefore, I was not actually surprised that The New Republic described Nicholas Kristof as a progressive since it isn't really liberal either.

This is how the establishment press operates. Surprise! It caters to the establishment. As I keep saying, the mainstream media is composed of enormous corporations that make their revenue almost entirely by selling advertising to other enormous corporations.  You don't need a conspiracy theory to explain this: It's just business. The Invisible Hand of Self-Interest isn't particularly invisible here. But what might be surprising to some is the fact that centrism is profoundly unpopular with most voters - but it is spectacularly attractive to advertisers so pundits must sell it to us relentlessly. 

To put it another way, think of all those round table discussions on reproductive freedom or women’s rights where all the speakers are men. They are monstrous and absurd. But they are not unlike every discussion we have on class or the economy: Only rich people are invited to opine. 


EDIT:

This became a two-parter because you cannot bash sweatshop apologists enough. Part two is here.

___________

1) Broadly speaking, there are basically two kinds of conservatives: economic and cultural - and an increasing number of them are both. Likewise, academia roughly breaks down to the humanities and the sciences. Kristof concedes that many economic conservatives may prefer the private sector to academia because it is more lucrative. No shit. If you want to get rich, you are probably not going to major in philosophy or art history. As for the hard sciences, if you are a conservative geologist, you would certainly prefer to find new oil fields for Exxon than teach "rocks for jocks" at a local college - ditto with chemistry, biology, etc. But cultural conservatives self-select themselves out of academia too because they are inherently hostile to the subject matter. Think of the humanities: There is the nude in art, gay writers, philosophers questioning the existence of God, etc. And forget the sciences because biology teaches evolution and geology teaches that the earth is millions of years old. Never mind global warming, the scientific method, and critical thinking skills as a whole. Unless whole subject matters are gutted of core content, most conservatives are going to feel uncomfortable in academia. Some might feel fine, but not the bulk of them.

2) Full Disclosure: Although I try to buy at least American made - if not union made - it is next door to impossible to not own some sweatshop-produced product. It sucks. But Kristof thinks it doesn't. This site has a mix of union and American made merchandise.

3) It's gotten too easy to flush-out frauds and I'm getting bored. So, here's a few pro tips to help the phonies out there improve their game and making things more interesting.

First, actual progressives are alarmed about economic inequality. Historically, we always have been, so we are sort of invested in it. Therefore, trivializing it may impact your credibility. 

Also, try to avoid pitting it in a false trade-off against race or sex because we progressives are pretty big into intersectionality and if you don’t know what that is it will show. Moreover, posing false trade-offs is a favorite conservative tactic (liberty vs. equality, jobs vs. the environment, etc.) and you don't want to blow your cover right away.

Second, we progressives generally consider ourselves on the left, so spouting Horseshoe Theory is not something any leftist would logically be inclined to do since we are loathe to associate with the right and highly unlikely to conflate the two. It’s a conspicuously centrist conceit and thus a great way to accidentally out yourself. Not to mention the fact that, if you are pretending to be a progressive while you are invoking that horseshoe horseshit, you are equating yourself with the far right. And lest you think moderation prevents moving too far along the arc, remember that Donald Trump is a textbook ideological moderate. Do not confuse the temperament with the ideology.

Moreover, I should also mention that conflating right and left is exactly what reactionary cranks like Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg do when they call progressives "fascists." And that is not a good look on you or anyone else. I have written about this a bit previously.

Finally, when you say the left is a greater threat than the right, you have shown your true colors. Give up, go home, and find some honest occupation that does not entail slandering good people. It’s not the shooting star you really want to hitch your wagon to.

4) There’s a Facebook meme in which someone says she is thinking of naming her cats Thoughts and Prayers "because they are useless.” I might name my next cat White Moderate.

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