Against strategic primary voting

I’ll vote for literally any Democrat in the general election, up to and including Satan himself or even Rahm Emanuel. But I just don’t see the benefit of “strategically” voting for a candidate I disagree with in the primary, due to some belief in “electability.” That is a purely speculative property. I don’t have the information necessary to decide that, and maybe no one does. Barack Obama sure seemed unelectable for a lot of common-sense reasons, but lo and behold, he actually got elected.

In any case I don’t trust the people who are trying to convince me of their personal theories of “electability.” Too much American political discourse takes place in those weird speculative meta-levels, where we’re supposed to choose the person we think other people will choose, or the person who will protect us from someone else. Every living American adult should be aware of the blackmail involved in the latter — and should be familiar with the disappointing results. Saving us from the worst looks an awful lot like the worst itself sometimes.

And again, we do not and cannot know for sure whether someone will actually win the election or protect us against the worst. What we do know for sure is each candidate’s policy proposals, and I think we should vote based on what we know instead of on our hunches about what other people (whose political preferences we don’t share or really understand) will think about the candidate at some future date.

The presidential candidate isn’t just a presidential candidate — they’re the leader of the party, who sets the agenda. Voting in the primary means voting on the direction of the party. If the Democratic Party is going to ask our opinion on that, we should give it to them sincerely, instead of psyching ourselves out through some ill-conceived 11-dimensional chess.

On circular firing squads

It is often observed that the left forms circular firing squads — incidents where internecine struggle does serious damage to the cause. When this issue comes up, the point is most frequently to blame some other individual or group for starting a circular firing squad. This view of the situation seems to presuppose that people just up and decide to form circular firing squads and could stop doing so simply by up and deciding not to.

Less frequent are analyses of the structural roots of the circular firing squad phenomenon. And it is a structural rather than personal issue. An honest appraisal of the history of radical politics in the modern world will indicate that the threat of a circular firing squad has always been in the air — from the Terror that arose in the wake of the French Revolution, up to the various “purges” that have been endemic in Communist regimes. From a certain perspective, of course, there is little ground for comparison between mass deportation to Gulags and blocking each other on Twitter, but it is not sheerly coincidental that people reach for the imagery of “purges” in the latter incidents.

In The Structure of World History, Karatani tries to account for this eternal recurrence of the purge. Essentially he claims that it stems from the attempt to carry out a radical revolution “in one country.” Read the rest of this entry »

Por qué nos encantan los sociópatas

Spanish Sociopaths

Why We Love Sociopaths has been translated into Spanish. I like the cover image, complete with Walter White and his gas mask. Extract and TOC available at the link — it’s a strange sensation to read my own words in translation, after having spent so much time on the other direction. Thanks to Albert Fuentes for what I can only assume is excellent work.

Radical Interpretations of the Bible

There’s a new issue of the journal Postscripts out: a special issue on radical interpretations of the Bible, edited by Michael J Sandford. It’s got a piece by Sandford on whether we can understand Jesus as a Luxury Communist, one by Robert J Myles on the Jesus of John’s Gospel as a reactionary aristocrat, one by Wei Hsien-Wan on 1 Peter and imperial models of time, and response articles by me and Caroline Blyth. You can access the issue here.

Vincent Lloyd on Martin Luther King

Amaryah alerts us that Vincent Lloyd has a great piece up for Martin Luther King Day. An excerpt:

Where are those powerful resources found? I do not think that we should turn to King’s late work to find a more “radical” leader. While such a turn has become fashionable of late, I believe it is actually the early King to whom social justice advocates ought to turn. In King’s early sermons and speeches, he spoke in a decidedly theological idiom, and he spoke from and to the black community. As his career progressed, his public voice became more secular and his audience became whiter — a trend that accelerated after his assassination, culminating in the secularized, post-racial King memorialized in Washington.

“Political Correctness” and Lucy’s Football

We often hear that “political correctness” is to blame for the left’s failures. Though the fundamental message of the left is presumed to be automatically popular in itself, that appeal is obscured by language policing and the narrowly particular demands of “identity politics.” Only once the left purges its “politically correct” elements will it be able to command widespread appeal.

I agree that a fixation on “political correctness” contributes to weakness and division on the left, but in a different sense: too many of the most visible and powerful members of the left (mainly, though not exclusively white men) are absolutely obsessed with distancing themselves from the spectre of “political correctness” and are willing to publicly and repeatedly throw their ostensible comrades under the bus in the service of this goal. Often, it is these privileged leftists themselves who do the most to draw attention to the “politically correct” actions that they decry, using their public profile — which is often incomparably higher than that of the “politically correct” malefactors who are supposedly ruining the reputation of the left — to air the left’s dirty laundry.

Here it might be helpful to recall that the trope originated on the right as a way of belittling the left. They will never be satisfied with any level of purge of “political correctness.” If we sent everyone who expressed a “politically correct” sentiment to the Gulag, the right would just ratchet up its expectations further and unleash another torrent of “political correctness gone mad” hysteria.

The attempt to gain mainstream respectability and become a “good leftist” by denouncing “political correctness” is a classic Lucy’s Football maneuver. “Maybe if I throw this group of naive but well-intentioned young activists under the bus, I’ll finally have a chance to win over the white working class!” It’s never going to work, guys. “Political correctness” was made up to trap us, and we keep falling for it.

The object of satire

Every kind of indirect communication, which is what satire is, presupposes some kind of in-group. It could be a preestablished in-group, as with an “inside joke,” or it could be an in-group by anticipation (which is what seems to be going on in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, for instance).

Satire that uses racist tropes — like a certain publication’s cartoons about Muslims and refugees — presupposes an in-group that knows that of course that publication isn’t really racist, etc. And though I do wonder how far total indifference to being perceived as a racist can be separated from “direct” racism, let’s grant their non-racism for the sake of argument. My question is whether a faithful Muslim or refugee is ever presupposed as the audience, as part of the in-group. And the answer seems to be pretty clearly no. Even if the object of the satire isn’t the Muslims or refugees themselves, but instead the “politically correct” liberal discourse about them, Muslims and refugees are not envisioned as potential dialogue partners.

From this perspective, then, Muslims and refugees are the object of the satire in a different sense, insofar as they are completely objectified and instrumentalized when they are “thrown under the bus” in the service of the presumably more important goal of skewering “P.C.” liberals. So even if this kind of satire isn’t “directly” racist, it’s ultimately dehumanizing.

But then I’m probably just exposing myself as another one of those humorless “P.C.” liberals who can’t allow myself a good belly laugh at the thought that a drowned toddler would have turned out to be a sexual harrasser.

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