One of the reasons the recent US Presidential election has been so emotive is that, more than at any time in recent memory, it was also a stark clash of worldviews. Not just political doctrines, or sets of public policies, but a clash between two very different worldviews. The one has been labelled Right, Traditional, Conservative. The other Left, Liberal, Progressive.
I find myself drawn to the progressive side of this divide, without buying into everything that it stands for. I have been debating online for a few weeks with a set of people from the Right, who have been as fervent as I have to state their views and defend their worldview.
One of these gentlemen sent me two videos and asked me to respond to them: one by Andrew Breitbart https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIO4oSLwK3A and another on Cultural Marxism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg3T_H2LZ54
I don’t plan to do a moment by moment response. But Breitbart is a good lightning rod for where the Tea Party, alt-right and Trump are taking America, so it’s worth taking a moment to respond to this.
At the heart of the Right’s concern with the world right now is the perceived use of a Marxist approach to society. Marxism aims to highlight the divide between the haves and have nots, encouraging the have nots to rise up in revolution. It’s goal is to destroy capitalism and replace it with socialism. ‘Cultural Marxism’ – a label the Right like to impose on almost all Liberal worldviews – is perceived to be the use of similar tactics in encouraging minority groups to consider themselves to be oppressed and to rise up against their oppressor, which is the current ruling system.
The view of the Right is that minorities are not, in fact, oppressed, and that it is some mastermind movement that is creating a sense of oppression that isn’t actually real in order to destroy Western civilization. They see Obama especially as the pinnacle of this decades long movement, blaming him for heightening tensions in society (especially between race groups and gender groups).
To discuss this, let me use the USA as an example (although a lot of this applies to South Africa, where many white people harbour the same views, saying that it is the EFF or the ANC that are creating an unnecessary narrative of racial discord).
In order to buy into this theory of history, you must believe that in reality minorities in America (and black people in South Africa) are not experiencing any significant prejudice: it’s great and dandy to be black, gay, an immigrant, Muslim or even a woman in America right now. Any past prejudices are just that: past. And everything is fine now. That is why the heart of the pushback from the Right is to try and undermine organisations like Black Lives Matter, looking for any small talking point that makes them look anything less than angelic and fixating on it. This allows them to have huge airtime for irrelevancies, and ignore discussing substantive issues. And they fixate on complete outlier moments (like a court forcing a baker to make a cake for a gay wedding) and trumpet it as “all that is wrong” with a liberal worldview.
So, in the first video above, at 3:45, Breitbart complains the “queer studies” and “black studies” at universities are about pitting people against each other. I can’t speak for every curriculum in the country, but if your studies of LGBT issues and Black issues leads you to righteous indignation (see what I did there, Breitbart fans…), it’s because you’re feeling injustice and want to do something to overturn it. How can you look at what has happened to these classes of people, and NOT see a problem? How can you look at even recent history and NOT think something needs to change? How can you take this knowledge of the structures and systems that got us here and not feel that we are nowhere near where we should be on these issues? The universities are not the ones creating the problems – the system is inherently problematic.
I grew up in South Africa, and one of the cleverest tactics of the Apartheid regime was to impose restrictions on how people could express themselves. The oppressor dictated even the terms in which the oppressed could protest their oppression. It was genius, and it worked.
The same has happened this year. The best example is the NFL player, Colin Kaepernick. He wanted to protest police brutality against black people (something that the Right won’t even acknowledge is happening). He could have joined BLM, or joined marches, or shouted at people. Instead Kaepernick decided to simply remain seated and silent during the national anthem. The same people that had condemned BLM now also condemned him. The question was asked: “how should we protest then?” Any form of protest has been deemed illegitimate. And most of the airtime has gone to discussing the form of the protest, and not the substance of the thing being protested. It’s genius.
Less charitably, it reminds me of a slave who might have wanted to protest his slavery, going to his master and asking, “Boss, please boss, how should I protest?” And being told that there was no protest that would be deemed acceptable (obviously not).
This is what Breitbart and the Right are doing with these clever sounding videos. Watch them again. All they do is quote names and labels, but without ever explaining WHY they are so bad. Seriously, they don’t. Because they can’t.
The second video above, mainly focused on Critical Theory, goes a step further, arguing the people who are concerned about social justice are mindlessly caught up in this mastermind movement and are oppressors. The basic mistake is clear to see starting at 3:55. It argues that the Cultural Marxist agenda labels all people from traditional oppressor groups as oppressors even now. This is not true. Of course, people from traditional oppressor groups (especially white, heterosexual males) are more in danger of not realising the nature of both historical and current oppression, and are likely to continue supporting the systems of oppression, even inadvertently. A fish doesn’t know it’s swimming in water. And white, heterosexual males don’t necessarily experience oppression, so think it’s not an issue. The video may be right that some people have taken this too far, pandering to “oppressed” minorities and also assuming that people from these minorities cannot themselves become oppressors. BUT, the video overplays its hand at 4:10. Here’s the transcript from 3:55:
“It stands to reason therefore that if heterosexuals are oppressors the solution is to encourage other forms of sexuality. If whites are oppressors the solution is racial diversity. If cisgender people are opressors the solution is to encourage transgenderism. If Christians are oppressors the solution is to propagate Islam.”
So obvious they don’t even try and hide it. The Right fear multi-culturalism, homosexuals and Islam (and women). This is a generalisation, but one that matches their narrative. And I believe it’s rooted in the deep misogyny, racism and religious warfare inherent in the DNA of the traditional interpretations of the three major Abrahamic religions. The Right, where all of this comes from, would prefer for women to stay out of leadership, for black men to stay away from their daughters, for old white men to be in charge, and for Islam to be wiped from the face of the earth. And for them, the pinnacle of success is measured in accumulated wealth of the self-made individual. It’s a worldview that does not hear the voices of the oppressed, nor care too much about the have nots. And it does not care about the planet, our natural resources or community – all of which are merely resources for self-made man to make himself rich. And he deserves it too, because he works hard and isn’t lazy and doesn’t play the victim card. And, as far as they’re concerned, it is nothing but a coincidence that he happens to be white, straight and Christian.
They can couch their views in quasi-academic critiques of bogeymen from the past, and paste a patina of conspiracy theory and mastermind movements over it for good measure, but they are basically expressing the broken heart of a world system that will not survive this century.
I can’t believe that these videos were proudly sent to me the inserts that start at 5:34 in the second one, with some yob swearing about “the Paki’s” in England. I don’t need to respond to these videos: such blatant racism at the heart of this video speaks for itself. This is not just wrong, it is vile. The basis of the argument in the video at this point is that “different race groups should live separately because that’s just normal”. I am a South African, and I can tell you how this story ends.
I believe that the current system of the world is deeply flawed. I believe that this worldview is on the wrong side of history.
I have some sympathy for some of what is said. I don’t buy into some of the overstatements of some oppressed groups, for example. I agree with the second video when it says that words matter. And I even agree with its critique of some people who have said that the oppressed can never be oppressors – that’s nonsense. But it is just patently untrue to say, as the video does at 6:58, that there is no deviation or criticism allowed. I do agree that we need to move through some of where we are at the moment (“a desolate form of eternal warfare between ever more narrowly defined groups of offended minorities”) to something that is more healthy and inclusive and wholesome. And I am pretty certain that this is the aim of almost everyone who claims to be a liberal progressive.
These would be issues worth debating. But these two videos are not.
I do not believe that BLM and other movements have been formed as part of a half century long conspiracy to destroy America. I do not believe that the acceptance of equal rights for homosexuals, Muslims, women and black people will be the death of America. I do not buy the central thesis of these two videos..
Let me then be clear: I believe in a multicultural world. I am a bold ally of the LGBT community. I am a feminist. I believe in building a world that does not discriminate. In fact, as a South African, allow me to quote the preamble to the new constitution of the country of my birth, the country of my heart, as an example of the world I believe in:
“We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to – Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights; Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. … The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”
And I believe that we must redress the prejudices of the past – and the present – in substantive, systemic and proactive ways. I believe that acknowledging oppression is a key starting point. I believe that this worldview is on the right side of history.