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The Problem with the Left (2.2)

left problemRecap
In the first article, I looked at how the regressive left arose from the remnants of the revolutionary radical left, after most decided that they could no longer openly cling to classical Marxist theory.  I explained that having abandoned Marxism, with the promised utopian communist state that it predicted, the regressives no longer had a specific utopian end-point to talk about, but most still remain committed to the overthrow of the state in a Marxist-style revolution, even though they cannot say what, exactly, they would put in its place. Finally, we saw that the modified version of identity politics adopted by the regressives is toxic and actually undoes all the progress made by the liberal left in addressing equality of minorities and reducing both the importance and the awareness of identity differences such as gender, race and sexuality. I finished by explaining that it is for this reason in particular that many people, including me, label this destructive mutation of left-progressive politics the regressive left.

In this article, I want to explain the dangers that I think regressives pose to society, and offer some thoughts on how we might address these dangers.



The dangers

Freedom of expression
I think the main danger posed by the regressive left is the threat to freedom of expression.  Since the regressives belong to a tradition of revolutionary change, they have little or no interest in constructive debate with opponents.  Free-speech is the them a nuisance, not an essential freedom.  Not only do regressives refuse to defend free-speech, they actively attack it at every opportunity.

These attacks have taken various forms, including:

 

  • Continuing attempts to redefine language to suit this agenda. Examples include defining offensive speech or words as violence, and fabricating or provoking examples to present in order to gain sympathy
  • Labelling any criticism as hate-speech
  • Labelling any critics as bigots
  • The introduction of concepts such as micro aggressions, cultural appropriation, internalised misogyny.
  • Excessive, almost puritanical, policing and censorship of language usage.
  • The use of, and insistence upon, safe spaces and trigger warnings
  • Ridiculously inappropriate use of labels such as NAZI, misogynist, transphobia, and similar, to the extent that they lose any real meaning
  • Physically preventing debates and presentation of opposing views, including the use of violence
The goal is to instil in people such fear of being perceived as a bigot that they will automatically self-censor and avoid expressing any views or opinions which are judged (by the regressives) to be damaging or otherwise unacceptable.  In this way, the regressives can work towards building their desired environment - which is basically an echo chamber.

We saw in part 1 that the driving force behind the progress of western democracies for the last two centuries or more has been the constructive debate between the liberal left, constantly proposing changes to society, and the conservatives, resisting the proposed changes. This leads to ill-considered changes being discarded and ensures that only well evidenced changes, sufficiently robust to survive all the challenges that can be made by conservatives, are actually implemented.  This process fundamentally depends upon freedom of expression.


Extreme right-wing government
The left is now fundamentally fractured, with many liberals so confused by the neo-puritanical demands of the regressives that they no longer have any clear idea of what they believe or how they should behave. More worrying is the fact that they often mistake regressives for fellow liberals - any easy mistake, since the regressives, unlike radicals, do not openly advocate a specific alternative utopia for which they are striving. This leads well-meaning liberals to leap to the defence of regressives, who they mistakenly believe to be supporting liberal-left policies.  This behaviour is most easily observed amongst liberal elites, such as Hollywood celebrities, and is commonly labelled Virtue Signalling. It can be defined as making unnecessary and very public expressions of support or condemnation, so that other liberals can be reassured of your credentials, rather than for reasons of genuine outrage or empathy.

Some believe that we need to unify the left quickly, or the consequence will be victory for the extreme right-wing, and the introduction of policies tending towards fascism. Indeed some believe that this has already started with the Brexit vote and the election of Trump in the US.

I believe that unification of the left, as it stands, is neither possible nor desirable. It seems to me, rather, that a total realignment of politics is called for. Most left-liberals now have more in common with moderate conservatives than they do with the regressive left.  The most critical political lines of division are no longer on issues like support for nationalisation vs support for free enterprise. Much more important lines now exist, such as belief that individual freedoms are critical (liberal and conservative) vs belief that the collective good overrides individual rights (regressives); support for freedom of expression (liberal and conservative) vs belief that giving offence should be prohibited (regressives); support for considered and incremental changes (liberal and moderate conservatives) vs insistence that the basic structures of western democracies are patriarchal and must be torn down (regressives).


Women as genuine victims
Another danger, which may seem counterintuitive, is to women. As women have gained more equality and moved into areas previously dominated by men, they have become unhappier. Several measures show that women today are less happy than they were 50 years ago. This decline in well-being combines with another malign effect of feminism - the legitimisation of obesity.  Modern feminists now state that obesity is a social construct, and can be blamed on (who else) the patriarchy.  A recent academic feminist paper even question whether obesity has negative medical consequences, stating that there is correlation but no causation.  Many women have taken this message on board and over the last decade there has been a decline in life expectancy for women in the US - reversing the long-term trend upwards.  Feminists have tried to blame this on increasing poverty but the same trend is not observed in males, so this is hard to support. 

Camille Paglia - one of the 'old guard' feminists who is particularly critical of the modern regressives, believes that women are less happy because they have lost their basic feminine solidarity. They are no longer in almost control of the private sphere and as a result they no longer spend much of their lives with other women, across generations, as they once did. Whilst I’m not sufficiently familiar with the issue to have a strong view, Paglia is generally worth listening to and I would be surprised if there was not at least some merit in her argument.


Science and excellence
Regressive ideology, as we have seen, attaches no special significance or respect to science. In fact, in many regards, particular sections within the regressive left, such as much of feminism, are actively hostile to science. This is partly because they perceive it as a patriarchal system which is gender biased - feminists have written the most hilarious nonsense to this effect (see the endnotes), and partly because much of the theory central to many strands of feminism either contradicts scientific understanding or, at best, makes claims of scientific validity for things which just are not.

Examples include, but are no means limited to:
  • The assertion that male and female brains are functionally indistinguishable at any level less than large populations.
  • The entire concept of 'a patriarchy'
  • The assertion that differences between the sexes are largely socially constructed rather than biological.
  • The assertion that there is no well documented causal link between serious illness and obesity
  • The assertion that physics is 'gendered' and that physics theory is written to reflect patriarchal values and models (see endnotes)
  • The belief that women are only under-represented in some sciences, such as physics, because of structural discrimination and that there are no inherent differences between genders on a statistical level that would be influential in this (I do not say there are, I simply say that the assertion that there are not is not evidence based).
In addition, feminists have, and are, seeking to alter the way physics is taught in order to attract more young women. In fact, they already HAVE altered the syllabus in some countries - such as Australia. Respected (British) quantum physicist Michelle Simmons, who was born and educated in the UK before moving to Australia and became a citizen, says:

“One of the few things that horrified me when I arrived in Australia (in 1999) was to discover that, several years ago the high school physics curriculum was feminised. In other words, to make it more appealing to girls, our curriculum’s designers substituted formulae with essays! What a ­disaster’.

It is interesting that all of the women I know, or have come across, who are serious scientists, tend to regard modern feminism and the regressive left with the same mix of contempt and concern that I do and most men I know do.   Feminists would no doubt say that these women are only successful because they think like men anyway, so it is to be expected that they have a high level of internalised misogyny and antipathy to feminism. I think that it bollox, and I think the main difference is that such women have been trained to
  • think critically, not according to 'critical theory'.
  • value evidence
  • be distrustful when feelings and emotions are introduced into debates about matters which can be tested (i.e. which are not dependant on opinion)
  • trust the scientific method as the best system for getting at objective reality we have,
  • have a developed sensitivity for bullshit.
Finally, feminist academics seriously maintain that western science is entirely corrupt by patriarchal bias and that a new kind of science - feminist science - is required, which includes subjective elements like 'feeling' to arrive, paradoxically, at a more objective understanding.  I have looked at published material on this - some by a feminists with proper scientific credentials - Evelyn Fox Keller. The papers are written in the normal impenetrable jargon common to postmodern papers, but I was able to eventually extract what meaning they containing after much effort.  It is UTTER UTTER arse-gravy of the foulest-smelling kind.  It is a mixture of woo, statements of the obvious couched as profundity, and unsupported assertions which I think border on psychotic.  There is no space here to debunk Keller's garbage, but fortunately a fellow YouTuber, more qualified than me, has already done it - links at the bottom.

A high-level training in science does not guarantee a person will be immune to cults and related woo-woo, but it is still by far the best protection out there.

A lost generation
There is now a large group of intelligent young adults - aged around 18-30 - who have been brainwashed whilst studying at university and who have completely bought into the SJW narrative. Most of them are in the US, but there are significant numbers in the UK and, to a lesser extent, the rest of Europe. These young people are seriously damaged - the indoctrination they went through at the hands of feminist academics is not something which can be reversed easily, and it has left them with a highly dysfunctional moral and epistemic world-view. Many will, eventually, realise that their beliefs are nonsense - in the same way that many zealous religious people eventually see that their beliefs are nothing more than blind faith - but it can be a shattering blow to find your entire epistemology is based on sand. Probably worse, though, for those who may never gain that realisation.

Their world-view makes them essentially useless in the job market - they rarely have any technical, craft or science training, and their 'education' in gender studies qualifies them to do one thing only - teach gender studies.  They are, therefore, either going to be socially non-productive for much of their lives, or realise that they now need to do a REAL course of study which equips them for the real world, rather than the patriarchal fantasy they currently believe in.  I feel nothing but sympathy for these young people. They have been badly served by the people they put their faith in and who they had every justification for believing were giving them an education. It is hardly their fault that their teachers were ideaologues delivering indoctrination rather than eduation.


Social Cohesion
The regressive left have been the most outspoken supporters of disastrous western policies concerning asylum and immigration from Islamic countries, and the quickest to leap to the defence of Islam when it is criticised publicly.

One of the things that most observers find the most surprising and difficult to understand is the support that the regressive left display for Islam. It seems strange that intersectional feminists - who spend most of their time blaming patriarchal oppression for everything wrong in the world, should show support for a religion that is famously patriarchal and oppressive of women.  How can we explain this?    The thing to remember is that regressive feminists are a development of radicals. Their goal is the overthrow of western society. In that battle, ANY ally that is not rooted in what they regard as patriarchy is welcome. Muslims are, in the west, one more minority group in the matrix of oppression, and therefore they are allies in the struggle against western patriarchy.  The fact that western democracies have seen women achieve the highest levels of autonomy, equality, material independence and financial wealth are all set aside because the narrative demands that minorities are oppressed, and that white males are the patriarchal oppressor.

To many this might seem to be insanity - and I am not really inclined to disagree. The attitude of regressive feminists to western democratic society bears striking similarities to the attitude of creationists to modern science and the scientists who developed it. 

The feminist has accepted a narrative in which she is a victim of a global oppressor. He or she therefore condemns western society as irredeemably patriarchal, and condemns supporters of that society as simply tools of oppression. The fact that this society has given her a position of immense privilege, unimaginable even a century ago, is beside the point.

The creationist has accepted a narrative in which the world is only a few thousand years old. He therefore condemns the dishonest conspiracy of scientists to cover-up the failures and unreliability of atomic and quantum physics, in order to avoid admitting that radiometric dating is wrong by many orders of magnitude. The fact that they are typing this polemic using a quantum device that relies for its operation on the validity and accuracy of that same atomic and quantum physics (their computer) is beside the point.

In both cases the levels of cognitive dissonance are quite breath-taking.


What to do?

Before I suggest ways in which we might address these issues, I'd like to return to the epigram with which I started part 1.

Anyone who is not a socialist aged 20 has no heart.  Anyone who is still the socialist aged 40 has no brain.

The first sentence contains wisdom. Not only should we not be surprised that young adults are attracted to the cause of the social justice warrior, I would actually be more alarmed were this not the case.  I remember myself at the same age - a committed socialist, convinced of my own invincible moral superiority, as I manned the soup kitchen during the miners' strike, unwilling to even hear anything which did not start by condemn the Thatcher government.

Young adults should be idealists, so I have no problem with the fact that hordes of students consider themselves social justice warriors, spout often nonsensical slogans, and generally behave like my 18-year-old self.  University is a place which should expose students to as many views and influences as possible.  Part of being an adult is learning to discriminate.  The idea that students should be sheltered from ideas which their lecturers predetermined to be unacceptable, is dangerous nonsense.

This brings me nicely to the people who should be the focus of concern - their lecturers.

The Universities

Any lecturer or professor who thinks it is any part of their job to recruit activists for a particular cause or ideology needs, in this order.
  • ·         Professional retraining
  • ·         Redeployment to non-teaching duties
  • ·         A change of career. 
I can barely contain my anger when I see 'colleagues' proudly claiming that their role is to recruit young students into the cause of social justice.  These ideologues clearly do not have any understanding of professional ethics.  The role of the teacher is to educate, not to indoctrinate. In science, this is often pretty easy - particularly at the undergraduate level, since most of the material is fact based and opinion is rarely required. In the humanities, however, opinion is sometimes all there is. The lecturer should present the best of what is currently known about a subject - including the less likely or more controversial stuff.  They should present various views points, perspectives and critiques. They should seek to expose the students to the range of possibilities.  To present a particular viewpoint within the humanities as if it is not only factual, but actually the only view with any validity, is so grossly unprofessional that I could spit.

I have personally experienced an 'orientation' lecture at a good Northern University, in which the lecturer presented a standard feminist view, including patriarchy theory, male gaze and toxic masculinity, in her explanation of sexual assault as a phenomenon on campus. She also presented various bogus statistics (including the 1 in 5 bogus rape figure).  When, during questions, I asked her if there were any other possible models for the behaviour she was seeking to explain she immediately replied that no, there was no other explanation, and that the explanation SHE was presenting was proven fact, so there was no need for any such alterative.  I could scarcely believe my ears.  The thought of impressionable students being taught by this ignorant ideologue fills me with anger and shame for my profession.  On a slightly wider point - I do not believe that gender studies is a valid undergraduate course of study, in the same way, and for exactly the same reasons that I do not believe theology is a valid undergraduate course.

Here in the UK this seems to have been accepted some time ago.  I know of no reputable HE Institution that offers an undergraduate degree in gender studies or women's studies.  To be sure there are interesting fields of study within the wider context of gender roles, sexual identity etc., just as there are interesting areas of study within religious faith and theology.  These can be explored in postgraduate studies and there are many causes in both. Undergraduate degrees, however, should introduce students to coherent fields of study in which there is a coherent body of knowledge, robust systems of peer-review, and which can be regarded, to at least some extent, as a self-contained discipline. Neither theology nor feminist 'gender studies' qualifies.  A quick check of US undergraduate prospectuses, in contrast, reveals over 200 undergraduate degree courses in gender studies or gender and women's studies on offer.

Some months ago, I had chance to examine the scheme of work for two modular components of one of these courses in the US. These were kindly, and illicitly, given to me by a colleague who shall remain nameless.  I could scarcely believe the content.  Ideas which can be most generously be described as contentious, were presented as fact, with no attempt to provide any alternative viewpoint, or even mention the existence of such.  The material was very similar to the material I encountered on the Orientation lecture mentioned earlier.  In this case, however, this material constituted nearly half the required content of a full undergraduate degree, rather than a misguided 2-hour time-filler.

It is important to realise that Universities are both the home and the breeding ground of the regressives. Academic feminism in particular is now dominated by the regressives. In the 1970s and 1980s the radical and emerging regressive feminists were engaged with more mainstream equality feminists in a struggle for control. The equality feminists won the battle. The regressives were not defeated, however.  They bided their time within their faculties, until the more mainstream feminist professors retired or moved to jobs in the private sector.  The regressives were gradually promoted, in the usual manner, until many of them had tenure, and a significant number were senior faculty members.  Today the regressive feminists represent a powerful group within education and from an academic standpoint, feminism is now dominated by the regressive left.

Even here in the UK, universities are not safe from the influence of these people.  True, we do not have the full-time undergraduate courses to act as recruitment and training spaces, but there are still sufficient post-graduate courses to enable a significant group of lecturers to maintain their academic positions. In addition, the humanities subjects - particularly philosophy and sociology, have been widely infested with regressive ideology.

Unless academics within the humanities are willing and able to challenge their regressive colleagues then I see little hope that this will change in the near future.  But there are measures which can and should be taken which will, at least, limit the impact of the regressives.

Most importantly, senior management within universities need to do their job properly rather than pander to these people.  The sight of U.S. College principals appeasing these ideologues is sickening.

Fortunately, some university leaders understand their role have more courage. Kudos, for example, to the principle of Chicago University for sending the following letter to all new students.

  • “Welcome and congratulations on your acceptance to the College at the University of Chicago! .......
  • You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement.  At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.  Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
Other universities including Princeton, Purdue, Columbia and the University of Wisconsin have since made public similar statements.

It is worth taking a moment to deal specifically with the twin issues of trigger warnings and safe spaces.  The justification offered by regressives for these is that some students who have experienced abuse in the past, need to be warned of material that might 'trigger' a reaction based on that abuse and need the chance to either prepare themselves or retreat to a safe space and avoid the material completely. Even if one accepts the rationale, the proposed solution is the worst possible course of action. Any psychologist or psychiatrist will confirm that where someone is suffering from post-traumatic issues, such that this type of reaction is likely to occur, then the WORST thing to do is isolate the person from possible triggers.  Modern treatments for this type of trauma involve desensitising the person by deliberately EXPOSING them to potential triggers. This is the whole basis of very successful treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy.

Universities also need to stop the practice of no platforming speakers who the students' union find objectionable.  Students who engage in behaviour designed to block debate - screaming abuse, blocking access, pulling fire alarms and the like - need to be dealt with under disciplinary procedures, just as I was in my own student days.  I do not blame the students for behaving this way, but I do more certainly blame university managers, firstly for recruiting the ideologues who have poisoned their minds, and secondly for allowing, even encouraging such behaviour.


Any hope?

Over the medium term, I think the regressive movement will turn on itself - we can already see this within feminism as the more regressive feminists denounce and DE platform feminists of the old-guard who refuse to sign up for new ideological positions. Gender and transsexuality have been particular flash points.  This is pretty sure to continue. Since status as a regressive depends to some extent on being a member of several groups which can be categorised as 'oppressed', there is a positive pressure to increase the categories and no counter-pressure.  This means the number of groups will increase unchecked. We have already seen this happen as LG became LGB became LGBT, became LGBTI and is now LGBTIQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Queer).  Ultimately the size of the oppressed groups will tend to one, and we will then be back to the situation which Liberals like me have always had as their goal - individuals treated on the basis of their own merits. 

The tendency to turn against itself, coupled to the pressure to fragment, means that the regressive movement will eventually self-destruct.  It is difficult to put any sort of timescale on this, however, since the universities continue to offer both a safe haven for the regressives and an opportunity to recruit more people into the ideology.

Finally, what can the ordinary individual do - people like me and you? Quite a lot actually.

Most importantly, do not accept regressive use of language. When someone insists that speech is violence do not let it pass. If someone is making accusations of Nazism or Fascism then challenge it. This sounds simple but it can be difficult to stand up against SJWs - they are often well schooled in shouting people down and using mob tactics to shut opponents up. It is critical not to get riled-up and NEVER lose your temper. Remain calm and simply make your points clearly and in a level tone. If accusations are hurled at you then, again, don't respond angrily.

Above all, NEVER, EVER apologise. Even if you misspeak do NOT apologise or give ground. It will be taken as a weakness, not as civilised debating behaviour. SJWs do NOT do debate, because they are postmodernists who don't accept that logic and evidence carry the argument. If you happen across an SJW on YouTube you will invariably find that their comments sections are either closed or heavily censored. Don't expect, therefore, to win any debate with SJWs. They are not the target - the targets are the liberals who may be mistakenly supporting the regressive in the belief they are fellow liberals. You should aim to disabuse them of that notion by calmly arguing your point and revealing the flaws in the SJW argument. 

I debate SJWs in the same manner that I debate Creationists - they are very similar. Both are driven by dogma/ideology rather than logic or reason. Neither regard logic and reason as the most important tools of debate, and neither is likely to admit any error or concede any fallacy or error.



 

The Problem with the Left (1/2)
Open response to Emma Watson
 

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