Who’s got the bad faith? A reply to Pavlos Roufos on moral panics, power relationships and that sodding book

Who’s got the bad faith? A reply to Pavlos Roufos on moral panics, power relationships and that sodding book

An examination of a recent Brooklyn Rail article that repeated rightwing/centrist narratives about censorship and free specch, and cited some writings hosted on libcom in support of this argument.

“The illusion of the internet was the idea that the opinions of powerless people, freely offered, had some impact on the world. This was, of course, total bullshit and based on a crazy idea of who ran the world…
The one thing that freely offered opinions did not do, at all, was change the world. Opinions were only more words, only more shit that someone somewhere made up, and words were grease in the gears of capitalism.”
- Jarett Kobek, I Hate the Internet

The Brooklyn Rail’s Field Notes section, which is usually a reliable source of thought-provoking writing, recently carried an article entitled “The Aggressiveness of Vulnerability” by Pavlos Roufos. This article covers a wide range of ground, but a substantial section of it is given over to a defence of the work of noted copypasta connoisseur Angela Nagle, with particular reference to some critiques of her writing that were hosted on libcom (1 2). The rather unusual line of argument often seems to suggest that pointing out a few minor flaws would be acceptable, but taking up any fundamental disagreements, and arguing as though there were something important at stake, is frankly discourteous and beyond the bounds of civility. The following is a consideration of Roufos’ critique of the libcom articles, and some comments on the rest of his argument.

Roufos starts off with a consideration of the 2016 presidential campaign and introduces Nagle’s analysis of that campaign, then moves on to consider some of the criticism Nagle’s received. He states that “There appears, at first sight, nothing particularly controversial in claiming that many alt-Right figures built their careers by ridiculing the excesses and irrationalities of so-called “social justice warriors.” This is a key point, and the nuances of this sentence are crucial, as there is a substantial difference between “many alt-Right figures built their careers by ridiculing what they perceived to be the excesses and irrationalities of so-called “social justice warriors”” and “many alt-Right figures built their careers by ridiculing the excesses and irrationalities of so-called “social justice warriors”, a subject where the alt-right seem to be a reliable guide and so I will take their claims at face value, even where the evidence to support them is scant to non-existent”. The former would indeed be a fairly uncontroversial claim to make, but I don’t think it’s too mystifying as to why some might object to the latter.

In a footnote, Roufos sneers at libcom for criticising Nagle’s plagiarism while claiming to be influenced by the Situationists. Certainly, there is a cheap gotcha moment to be had there, although it is somewhat undermined by the disclaimer that “Up front, we should say we don't really give a shit about plagiarism as such”, which somewhat takes the sting out of the whole “people influenced by the SI caring about plagiarism” jibe. And if we’re spotting ironies here, there’s surely a more glaring one to point out: by criticising libcom for failing to live up to the SI’s legacy, Roufos is implicitly positioning himself as a more faithful caretaker of that legacy while at the same time making an argument that people should be more polite and restrained while criticising minor media stars, or what some might call functionaries of the spectacle, so this is surely a case of the pot saying the kettle would make Debord turn in his grave.

As that disclaimer makes clear, the real point of disagreement is not with Nagle’s failure to credit her sources adequately, but that the lack of citations hides some questionable sources, and that the sources are put in the service of some very dodgy arguments. Roufos summarises the disagreement as libcom claiming “that Nagle’s book is “laughing at the alt-Right’s scapegoats,” that she has performed a “leftist laundering of sexual assault,” that she is transphobic and, essentially, a rape apologist.”

It’s worth going through these claims one by one. With regards to the “laughing at the alt-right’s scapegoats”, it’s genuinely hard to work out where the objection lies – is Roufos seriously trying to claim that at no point does Nagle join in with what he describes as “ridiculing the excesses and irrationalities of so-called “social justice warriors””? Or is it that she does, but it’s bad taste to point out that she’s doing so, or what?

The second alleged claim, that the libcom article accuses Nagle of having “performed a “leftist laundering of sexual assault,”” is just openly dishonest. I don’t want to cramp Roufos’ style if he’s trying to perform some kind of avant-garde experiment with punctuation and sentence structure, but in standard English usage quotation marks are generally used to denote direct quotations, and when looking for the quote in question, I can only find “rather than critique this fabricated moral panic, KAN’s dubiously sourced analysis gives it a leftist laundering” which is somewhat different. Of course, the moral panic that Nagle joins in with is used to target students organising around sexual assault, so there is some connection there, but it is also used to try and undermine people organising around a whole range of other issues as well.

By way of analogy, Nagle also recycles some tired liberal chump arguments that are used to discredit militant opponents of neo-nazis; it would be fair comment to say that at times she sounds like a liberal centrist undermining the work of people organising against neo-nazis, but to say that she sounds like an actual neo-nazi would obviously be an unhelpful overstatement, of the kind that few people would actually make, but that it would be very convenient to pretend your opponent had made if you wanted to score points.

There is a marvellous marriage of form and content going on here: if you’re going to come to the defence of an author who’s been criticised for playing fast and loose with sources, and of trying to discredit reasonable ideas by conflating them with stupid ones on the basis of some kind of surface similarity, then doing so by playing exactly the same silly tricks seems very appropriate.

Similarly, nowhere in the article does it say that Nagle is transphobic: it does point out that Nagle whitewashes the transphobia of figures like Germaine Greer and Jordan Peterson, but that doesn’t make Nagle herself transphobic, and the article makes no attempt to claim that it does. Maybe it’s just that Nagle’s research was so sloppy that she had no idea what Greer and Peterson had said on the subject, or that she has such a low regard for her audience that she thinks giving them too much information would addle their brains, who knows? At any rate, it feels like engaging with what the article actually said and offering an alternative take – say, trying to explain why Greer telling the BBC “'Just because you lop off your cock & then wear a dress, doesn’t make you a f****** woman” wasn’t transphobic, or for that matter arguing that 2015 was, in fact, 15 years ago – would be more productive than just stating that libcom called Nagle transphobic and then expecting the audience to gasp in horror at this shocking rudeness.

Finally, there’s “essentially a rape apologist”, which is presumably a reference to the article’s treatment of either Nagle’s omissions with regard to the Kipnis case, or her dismissive talk about PTSD. In either case, the same point applies here, which is that if you want to refute a point you have to look at the evidence and show why it doesn’t stand up; you can’t just rephrase the point in provocative and loaded terms not used in the original and then act like you’ve already refuted it.

Spluttering in indignation at the things that he’s decided the libcom article must have said, he adds a footnote saying that “It is quite clear that for the libcom crew and their online supporters, it is simply inconceivable that Nagle was lazy in her citations or that Zero Books preferred to publish quickly rather than bother with editing. In fact, she is not even granted the opportunity of holding political positions that one can disagree with. No. In libcom’s view, Nagle’s “plagiarism” or bad citations are conclusively indicative of the fact that she is an extreme-right sympathizer, that she hates transgendered people and that she makes fun of rape victims.”

Once again, there is an awful lot to unpack here1. To start off with, the human psyche is certainly an enormously complex thing, so I suppose that it is technically possible to openly talk about something while still finding it inconceivable - discussions of our own mortality, for instance, or the full impact of climate change, might fall into this category.

But if we stick with regular English-language usage, I don’t think that many people would read, for instance, “Many of KAN’s key arguments are bolstered by accounts of events and ideas which appear to have been hastily googled, and sometimes simply copy and pasted, to support the book’s claims. Inconvenient details are omitted, and the subsequent analysis frequently succumbs to basic fact-checking and sourcing” or “My dude, just promise that you'll pay an editor to read your next book all the way through before you publish it, it's really not that complicated”, or “Zero Books is renowned for having almost nonexistent editing as is witnessed in not only the plagiarism in Nagle, but also that Zero books tend to be riddled with typos, grammar mistake and other copy editing issues. Zero Books would likely not exist (or at least would not be publishing "academic" books) if not for the publish or perish imperative in academia. IIRC, you'll get your books published much faster by Zero than a proper academic publisher, likely because Zero does little editing and, based off of Nagel's book, they don't go through peer review.” and come away thinking “these people clearly cannot conceive of the possibility that Nagle might be a lazy hack or that Zero might be sloppy about editing.”

The claim that “she is not even granted the opportunity of holding political positions” is also somewhat bizarre given that, in the next sentence, she is also apparently accused of being “an extreme-right sympathizer”, which I think would probably be counted as a political position by most standards.

In general, it gets a bit boring to repeat over and over that actually engaging with the evidence made to support a claim and showing why it doesn’t stand up is more useful than just repeating it in a hyperbolic form and trusting that the over-the-top spin you’ve chosen to add is enough to discredit it.

Another place where Roufos falls down is by taking one part of the evidence used to support one part of the argument and treating that as if it was all of the evidence used to support all of the argument – so, for instance, a pair of articles that discuss some of Nagle’s bad citations and also show where she uncritically repeats far-right narratives, as in her apparent endorsement of F Roger Devlin’s weird ideas, get twisted into “Nagle’s “plagiarism” or bad citations are conclusively indicative of the fact that she is an extreme-right sympathizer”. This is a bit like reading a detective story and coming away at the end going “that Sherlock Holmes is a right judgemental prick, isn’t he? I can’t believe he decided that poor bloke was a murderer just because he used his left hand to light a cigarette.”

It is also interesting that Roufos chooses not to engage with the defence that Zero and Nagle herself offered, which, in Zero’s telling, is that all this fuss only came about after she criticised state department policy on Syria. Nagle took it one step further, and used the controversy as a chance to remind everyone that she refused to oppose the censorship of a piece of anti-fascist journalism. It’s hard to see the direct connection between her solidarity with far-right Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson and his mates and some people on the internet noticing her fondness for Wikipedia, but this aspect of the saga does seem worth considering, not least because so many of the issues in dispute revolve around questions of free speech and censorship. For those of us who see a posho Assadist Fox News guest using legal threats to censor criticism as being something of a litmus test, Nagle’s decision to side with the censors casts her self-proclaimed commitment to free speech in a fairly dubious light.

But enough about that – returning to Roufos, I’m still troubled by his characterisation of the libcom criticism of Nagle’s writing as being representative of a form of argumentation where “the person under scrutiny is not simply wrong but presented as a veritable monster”. Since the articles in question focused solely on the text of Nagle’s writings, with the only ad hominem attacks being ones that Roufos has created in order to attribute to libcom, I find myself wondering: if this kind of polite criticism is unacceptable, then what is allowed? How many flaws are you allowed to point out in a single book before it becomes ungentlemanly? If someone writes a book that has multiple glaring flaws, is it OK to politely touch on one or two, and at what point does mentioning the holes in someone’s argument become a personal attack?

Moving on to the wider context, Roufos sees this kind of shocking incivility as being a product of a situation in which “accusations of racism, misogyny, etc., [that] were traditionally directed towards the Left’s conservative enemies… are now predominantly used internally”. “Predominantly” is an interesting choice of word here – I’m certainly not denying that such accusations are made within left movements, but is that really the main way they’re used? Do they really outweigh the frequency of people calling, say, ICE, Milo, Trump or Richard Spencer racist or sexist?

And where do we draw the line here – is having a go at “revolutionary communist” guru turned tory-supporting Spectator writer Brendan O’Neill an example of depressing lefty infighting or a laudable attack on our conservative enemies? How about Nick Cohen? Are we still claiming Michael Rechtenwald as one of ours? If we accept Nagle’s claim that Jordan Peterson represents “brain drain from the left”, then is it OK to call him misogynist now, but was there a point in the recent past where it would’ve represented moralistic internal discipline?

Roufos asserts that this terrible habit of criticising things that people have written, which is obviously a wholly different thing to when he criticises things that people have written, aims not just at “mere censorship… but the veritable excommunication of transgressors with whom one should not even bother to engage.” The use of the term “transgressors” is interesting for someone using a Nagle-influenced framework, and makes me wonder whether transgression is meant to be a good or a bad thing today. Anyway, this is a very weird way to characterise an article/pair of articles which did genuinely engage with Nagle’s work – claiming that someone is engaging with a text because they think no-one should engage with that text is an interesting sort of performative contradiction.

And if the enemy here is people who favour censorship and/or shutting down people’s work as not being worth engaging with, then again Nagle doesn’t set the best of examples here – as well as siding with the censors and against free speech in the context of that ARR article, there’s also her treatment of Depression Quest and video games in general: she confidently describes it as “a dreadful game” (p 25), an assessment which she feels perfectly qualified to make, despite being “a nongamer” (p 24) whose position on games is that "If you’re an adult, I think you should probably be investing your emotional energies elsewhere" (p 25). Despite this total lack of interest in the general medium, she happily tells her readers that it "looked like a terrible game” (p 24), because obviously someone who sees an entire form as being a total waste of time is ideally placed to distinguish between good and bad examples of that form, far better than those foolish critics who spend a lot of time engaging with and thinking about that form and who inexplicably gave positive reviews to “Quinn’s bad game” (p 25). It’s hard to imagine a more thoroughgoing way of dismissing something as not being worth engaging with than to call it dreadful, admit you’ve not actually got any first-hand experience of it, assert that the entire medium it’s a part of is basically a waste of time, and then add that it definitely looks like a particularly bad example of its essentially worthless genre.2

Moving on towards the next section of his argument, Roufos asserts that the persistence of this style of politics “is, in any case, not only premised on the capitulation of spineless liberals who find offending marginalized groups more excruciating than, for example, abolishing the conditions that marginalize them.” I’m slightly embarrassed on behalf of the Brooklyn Rail that this gibberish actually made it into print, as this sentence appears to be having a go at liberals who find the idea of offending marginalised groups to be very upsetting, but the idea of abolishing structural oppression to be less upsetting, which is… not quite the sickest burn I’ve ever read? The sentence comes a bit closer to making sense if we swap out “abolishing” for “the continued existence of”, but I feel like the difference between “getting rid of something” and “keeping something” is one of those things that a writer really should be able to keep track of.

The following section, setting out the Ehrenreichs’ concept of a “professional/managerial class” (PMC) is considerably more interesting, but again seems hard to reconcile with Roufos’ insistence that pointing out holes in Nagle’s argument is a dastardly and uncouth activity. If people in jobs such as journalism are “structurally antagonistic [to the working class] by virtue of the PMC’s role in the direct or indirect management of labor power” then why exactly is it off-limits for communists to discuss flaws in the work of one particular media commentator? If people playing the role of media figure are our class enemy anyway, then why this insistence that any criticism of them has to stay within strict bounds of politeness?

In Roufos’ historical analysis of the PMC, there is one really intriguing line, where he talks about “a process of expansion and bureaucratization of professions… a process at the time mistakenly seen as “proletarianization,”” which looked on the face of it to be a denial that “professional” jobs in fields like education had been through a process of proletarianisation at all, but later sections of the article also mention the “gradual commodification and corporatization of professions that had so far remained outside the immediate interest of profit-making apparatuses” and the “actual proletarianization of PMC jobs”, which seems to be Roufos saying that the professions did indeed go through a process of proletarianisation, and he’s just disputing the time frame.

In his treatment of the famous Combahee River Collective statement, Roufos writes that “the very use of the term “identity” in this case was indicative, as it implied a parting of ways with the traditional workers’ movement (for which being working-class did not, in any discernible way, indicate an “identity” in the present use of the concept)”. Again, this is an interesting claim, and it would be nice to see this backed up rather than simply asserted – did the various cultures associated with the classical workers’ movement, from the old SPD, FORA or CNT to the miners, not constitute forms of identity? Perhaps not if we’re going to treat identity as being inherently essentialist (essentially essential?) but then that's clearly not what the references to “socialist” and “revolutionary” identities in the Combahee River statement are doing.

In a footnote, Roufos warns that “the dominance of identitarian sensitivities end up reinforcing precarity by urging young scholars to curtail their views or censor disagreements in order to avoid risking their unstable positions”. This reads an awful lot like an appeal to academic freedom, but surely, if we’re going to characterise ideas as being “professional-managerial ideology”, then “academic freedom”, the idea of a specialised realm of freedom reserved for a certain kind of professional, has to be one of the purest possible expressions of professional ideology.

Beyond this objection, the claim that “identitarian sensitivities” are a major source of self-censorship in academia could do with a bit of fact-checking – are the pressures enforcing ideological conformity in academia really worse than they were under previous orthodoxies? How often are people silenced for offending identitarians, how often are they silenced precisely for being too “identitarian”, as in the case of that trans student at Bristol, and how often do they manage to spin their supposed heresies against the supposed identitarian orthodoxy into a lucrative media career? Looking at Jordan Peterson, it certainly seems like the chilling identitarian academic thought police are not quite as all-powerful and career-ending as one might think; similarly, that one teaching assistant up in Canada who decided to play a JP video to someone else’s grammar class may have gone through a brief bit of hassle for her inability to understand what a teaching assistant’s job actually is, but she certainly seems to have done alright out of the situation as a whole.

Roufos chooses to take up the same moral panic over free speech that Nagle promotes, giving examples such as a talk by Lionel Shriver that “was immediately attacked by a young aspiring novelist, who accused her of being a racial supremacist who wants to normalize imperialist rule.” This example seems worth looking into, but unfortunately Roufos doesn’t provide any citations as to his sources on the subject – again, this is why citations are worthwhile, they let the reader investigate the broader context, such as Shriver’s well-documented views on immigration, a subject she herself mentions being obsessed with, which might be relevant when forming an opinion on the subject being discussed.

Even just looking at Roufos’ summary of it, it’s notable that this is someone voicing a disagreement – that is to say, free speech at work – not a “dreadful” suppression of anyone’s views. Shriver would presumably also be pleased if the people she argues against stop saying the things they’re saying, but for some reason she can criticise people’s ideas without it having a “paralysing” effect, or it being an “inquisition-style attack”.

It may be worth taking a moment to look at the power relations here: Rebecca Tuvel might be a relatively junior figure (but still more senior than, say, that student at Bristol), but does, say “an aspiring young artist” like Hannah Black really have the power to “force” – Roufos’ word – the New York Whitney Biennial, or an artist they favour such as Dana Schutz, to do anything, using the mighty platform of posting something on facebook? As this is one of the central examples Roufos offers to support his claim that there is “a developing pattern [of] people… using the vehicle of identity-based moralism to force their targets (and anyone who might consider defending them) into capitulation”, you would expect that this story would involve someone being forced into capitulation at some point, but since, as the New Yorker put it, “the museum has been entirely supportive of the curators and of the artist”, it would appear that something entirely different is taking place. At least the bit about people who “seek to generate… moral outrage… by using charged characterizations against their opponents” serves an accurate characterisation of the moral panic Roufos is endorsing and contributing to.

Moving from Schutz to Shriver, the same questions apply: presumably the example of someone criticising something Lionel Shriver wrote or said is meant to serve as another part of the pattern of people “using the vehicle of identity-based moralism to force their targets (and anyone who might consider defending them) into capitulation”, so again: where’s the force? Where’s the capitulation? What is the power relationship? To judge by Roufos’ (again, I stress: citationless, as if readers are expected to do Roufos’ research for him) presentation of the situation, not only has Shriver not been forced to retract anything, but her adversary seems to not even have a name. It’s hard to see how a novelist of Shriver’s prominence could be in any way intimidated by such a feeble, insubstantial, anonymous shade.

Given that it’s the likes of Peterson, Sam Harris and Douglas Murray currently performing big-name arena tours, not Judith Butler, Sara Ahmed, George Ciccarello-Maher, or the aspiring novelist with no name, it would appear that the situation is less one where any challenge to identitarian moralism is liable to be immediately silenced, and more that anyone claiming to have been silenced by identitarian moralism is liable to make a good deal of money by selling their story, which there seems to be a thriving market for. Uncritically recycling the moral panic here doesn’t do much to help develop an analysis of the situation as it actually stands. In my opinion, Ahmed’s “You Are Oppressing Us!” is the best thing I’ve read on this peculiar mechanism of claiming-to-be-silenced-as-amplification.

Roufos claims that the controversies he surveys are cynically “ignited by people who seek to defend (or to advance) their personal careers and aspirations”. Again, it seems worth asking: do Rebecca Tuvel, Dana Schutz and Lionel Shriver have careers? What about Jordan Peterson or Lindsey Shepherd? Are they advancing their careers, or do such grubby motivations only exist for those who defend “identity-based moralism”, not the pure innocent souls who offend against it?

Roufos does voice some criticisms of the standard social-democratic “materialist” critique of identity politics, but doesn’t pick up on the distinction between those who honestly advance social-democratic class positions (I’d include Reed, Jacobin and many DSA figures in this) and so will often contribute interesting reports and analyses from ongoing class struggles, and the not-even-really-social-democrat type of commentator whose interest in class issues seems to be directly proportional to the extent that they can be used as a cudgel to own the idpol moralists with.

One point Roufos makes that I do fully agree with is his critique of Nagle’s call to abandon transgression, which seems to be based solely on the thoroughly defeatist ground that it’s possible for the far-right to exploit it. It’s hard to imagine how disastrous this advice would have been if applied systematically to every music scene or football club where fascists attempted to raise their heads and recruit. Or indeed to political issues – if transgression is bad because it’s possible to exploit it for far-right ends, then presumably talking about housing shortages or criticising Islamist reactionaries are also off-limits.

On closer examination, Nagle’s critique of transgression even seems incongruous with her own arguments – are safer spaces, trigger warnings and so on the work of people in love with transgression for its own sake, or are they the result of people precisely seeking to prevent certain forms of transgression?

In closing, Roufos notes that the social-democratic universalist critique “consistently misunderstands the attractiveness of identitarian ideology”, echoing a point made a few paragraphs earlier that “these very critiques unwittingly bolster some of the concerns that generated identitarian positions in the first place, especially when promoting crude class reductionism as a legitimate response”.

As is sadly typical of this genre of article, Roufos leaves off right where he ought to begin: if the stuff he derides as identitarian ideology is an inadequate response to these concerns3, and reheated 20th-century social democracy isn’t up to the trick either, then what is? That, surely, is where things start to get interesting, and genuinely productive conversations that go beyond mutual sniping can be had; but I can’t help suspect that, if Roufos were to make a serious attempt to provide an answer, then he would at times find himself saying things that would sound similar to some things the so-called “identitarians” say.

And, as we have seen, any deviation from the anti-identitarian orthodoxy prevalent in some sections of the left is likely to attract the denunciation of those who “seek to generate… moral outrage… by using charged characterizations against their opponents”. Safer just to stick to the party line, eh?

  • 1. Is there a word for falsely claiming that someone else is making a false claim? I can’t think of one, but if I could I’d be using it a lot here. “Strawmanning” comes close, but it doesn’t quite capture the sheer symmetry of what’s going on.
  • 2. As a sidenote, I do think “writing about other cultural controversies the way Nagle writes about Depression Quest” would be quite a promising niche genre of comedy – for instance, starting an article about the Death of Klinghoffer by stating that all opera is inherently boring and dull and you’re better off watching a musical with some proper tunes any day, but this particular opera probably sucks even harder than the rest of them, or a discussion about the met’s clampdown on drill music that began with the observation that rap isn’t even proper music because they’re not even playing guitars or singing or anything, not like the Beatles, now they had talent.
  • 3. In passing, I’ll just note that at this point the word “concerns” itself actually feels mildly suspicious, I’m so used to seeing it followed by “about immigration”, or else “women’s… about the GRA/self-identification”. Still, at least they’re not “legitimate concerns”, I suppose.

Comments

Mike Harman
Aug 3 2018 07:17
R Totale wrote:
Is there a word for falsely claiming that someone else is making a false claim? I can’t think of one, but if I could I’d be using it a lot here. “Strawmanning” comes close, but it doesn’t quite capture the sheer symmetry of what’s going on.

I can't think of one, but yes, quite.

It's kind of amazing that the response to us pointing out that Nagle has been repeating false narratives was to create a false narrative about what we said ourselves. Thanks for the link to https://feministkilljoys.com/2015/02/15/you-are-oppressing-us/ - I think it describes the process quite well.

One thing you didn't mention is that the blog post as well as making up quotes, doesn't link to the original posts at all, so unless someone reads it, then goes to the effort of googling the titles, there's no way to quickly verify what was actually said.

Comrade Motopu
Aug 3 2018 07:57

I actually agreed with some of his objections to a few specific examples of idpol he gave, but if he spent any time communicating with the people who get smeared as, and lumped together with, the class-free kind of idpol, he’d know that many of them are grounded materialists who are active in class struggle activity, from work place organizing, to physically confronting white nationalists, to educational and mutual aid activities as well as internationalist solidarity and grappling with supply and distribution chain analysis, etc. Like Nagle and her milieu, he paints with a broad brush, filling in the gaps with boilerplate anti-idpol in which everyone can be summed up by referring to the Social Justice Kitten calendar and be done with.

The last 7 paragraphs of his article could make a good first 7 paragraphs of a libcom article. But up to that point he kind of just "takes sides" noting the toxicity of identitarians online, while bizarrely missing that the Nagelian left is built on toxicity, as well as cliquishness, refusal to engage in genuine argument/dabate, and bad faith smears of other people and their positions. Maybe he’s not spent much time on twitter. To me it would be hard to miss the behavior of her supporters. These are the great intellectuals who could not see plagiarism even when presented with a “turnitin” set of analyses, which they bizarrely claimed “vindicated” Nagle. They couldn’t admit that the “<1%” description they hooted about meant less than one percent of a 40k word book, meaning huge passages of up to 400 words, many of which were presented side by side with the original online.

As for his description of the libcom position, you show in your article that he misrepresents the arguments, even misquoting, and that he ultimately failed to engage with lib com’s points convincingly. I say that having sympathy for his points about the kind of identity politics that actually do jettison class for moralistic cross-class collaboration. Roufos also rightly points out the weakness of Nagle’s focus on electoralism, but I think he’s failed to look honestly at the libcom articles, and their general libertarian communist focus on self organized working class power.

Not sure why he would go on about the Ehrenreich's useful critique of professionalism and the PMC and not use that as a launching point to lay into Nagle and her whole retinue of Spiked and Zero books demagogues, say, James Heartfield and Brendan O'neill, Leigh Philips and the whole ecomodernist set, who are obviously anything but Marxist or materialist, and much more Right Libertarians. Her whole milieu sees itself as the alleged academic vanguard of the sort he criticizes in the end of his article. How could he miss that? Living Marxism--the roots of the Spiked milieu she's part of (online, with the Battle of Ideas, and published by Spiked), with fellow Zero/Spiked author Heartfield who constantly promotes and defends her-- announced itself as a political force by noting ""FOR THE TIME BEING AT LEAST, THE WORKING CLASS HAS NO POLITICAL EXISTENCE." And yet he wants to lump libcom in with the PMC and the retreat from class? Roufos is slow on the uptake, like most of the Left it seems, to wake up to the fact that Nagleism is a kind of Right entryism into the Left.

R Totale
Aug 3 2018 12:47
Comrade Motopu wrote:
Not sure why he would go on about the Ehrenreich's useful critique of professionalism and the PMC and not use that as a launching point to lay into Nagle and her whole retinue of Spiked and Zero books demagogues, say, James Heartfield and Brendan O'neill, Leigh Philips and the whole ecomodernist set, who are obviously anything but Marxist or materialist, and much more Right Libertarians. Her whole milieu sees itself as the alleged academic vanguard of the sort he criticizes in the end of his article. How could he miss that? Living Marxism--the roots of the Spiked milieu she's part of (online, with the Battle of Ideas, and published by Spiked), with fellow Zero/Spiked author Heartfield who constantly promotes and defends her-- announced itself as a political force by noting ""FOR THE TIME BEING AT LEAST, THE WORKING CLASS HAS NO POLITICAL EXISTENCE." And yet he wants to lump libcom in with the PMC and the retreat from class? Roufos is slow on the uptake, like most of the Left it seems, to wake up to the fact that Nagleism is a kind of Right entryism into the Left.

That's another thing I find hard to reconcile with Nagle's apparent opposition to "transgression" (which obv isn't shared by Roufos) - how do you square a dislike of transgressiveness with a fondness for the Spiked milieu of professional edgelords? Or indeed the Chapo/dirtbag set.

Mike Harman
Aug 4 2018 02:02

R Totale already mentioned it in the blog post, but the The Lionel Shriver example really jumped out, after she came out as anti-immigration in 2006 in the Financial Times complaining that the "recreation area where I once hit a tennis ball against a backboard in Riverside Park has now been colonised by immigrants from Guatemala. [..] Surely fiction could stand to render as passably sympathetic an unease - or even fury - at being made to feel a foreigner in one’s own country.". Positively citing Shriver in an article about identitarians who aren't interested in class is... well what the fuck is that.

Not only this but Shriver is cited in opposition to Hannah Black. I didn't know about the Emmett Till facebook post, but have seen Hannah Black's name around on twitter and vaguely knew who she is.

Hannah Black has written (not on facebook) about Federici here. Being able to cite Federici doesn't mean you're doing a proper 'class struggle' but it's not quite the impression given in the article of an aspiring artist randomly shouting 'racist' at people who don't deserve it to advance a career.

https://tankmagazine.com/issue-70/features/hannah-black/

Hannah Black wrote:
It could be that capitalism is violent just because people are violent, but most people are not violent at heart: think of the feats of community we perform daily, embodied in the gossip’s willingness, part love and part labour, to make herself the conduit of other people’s business. In the end, our opinion of the social conditions that prevailed before capitalism depends on our world-view. Some believe in something like Hobbes’s imaginary “state of nature”, a wild and bloody war of all against all, out of which the benevolent capitalist state emerged, but there is evidence to suggest that, in many places, people tried hard to live together more or less cooperatively and peacefully, just as most of us continue to do more or less today.

The reduction of communal life to the nuclear family (as in unit, as in war), combined with, as Federici argues, the drastic deterioration of women’s social standing, produced a situation in which the conventional basic unit of social life outside the wage was idealised as a stressed out and authoritarian provider living with a stressed out and speechless carer.

I really wonder - why is a painting on show at the New York Whitney Biennial depicting Emmett Till not an example of 'bearing witness to suffering', or 'identity-based moralism'? Why single out the person that criticised the painting? Why care about a facebook post at all?

Talking about pre-capitalist social organisation via Italian autonomism isn't quite the same as arguing publishers and galleries should "‘plug in’ representatives of a variety of groups on the basis of strict diversity requirements". And then although it's behind a paywall, it looks like HB has written against identity-based tokenism here from the first paragraph: https://www.artforum.com/print/201606/the-identity-artist-and-the-identity-critic-60105

So again, looks quite a lot like more manufacturing of outrage. Doesn't mean the people and arguments being made are perfect, but they're being misrepresented (whereas calling Lionel Shriver racist seems very accurate based on her writings for major international publications).

I quickly checked out Lionel Shriver and imperialism too, and found this:

Lionel Shriver's book blurb wrote:
Eleanor Merritt, a do-gooding American family-planning worker, was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor. Unnervingly, she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper despite, or perhaps because of, his misanthropic theories about population control and the future of the human race.

Surely, Calvin whispers seductively in Eleanor's ear, if the poor are a responsibility they are also an imposition.

Set against the vivid backdrop of shambolic modern-day Africa—a continent now primarily populated with wildlife of the two-legged sort—Lionel Shriver's Game Control is a wry, grimly comic tale of bad ideas and good intentions.

From https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/708267.Game_Control

erm...

And also this:

Shriver wrote:
it is a sign that the American electorate no longer taking the country seriously, it’s no longer regarding the United States as a country that leads the world, that has responsibility that it is a beacon of freedom,

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/05/29/lionel-shriver-parenthood-is-not-a-human-right-and-the-nhs-shoul/

Comrade Motopu wrote:
These are the great intellectuals who could not see plagiarism even when presented with a “turnitin” set of analyses, which they bizarrely claimed “vindicated” Nagle. They couldn’t admit that the “<1%” description they hooted about meant less than one percent of a 40k word book, meaning huge passages of up to 400 words

Yeah this is kind of amazing. the <1% means that a particular copypasta passage makes up less than 1% of the total book. But you could write a book that is 100% 400 word copy and pastes all the way through and each identified passage would get a <1% score.

R Totale
Aug 4 2018 09:35

Yeah, Hannah Black has written some very interesting stuff at The New Inquiry, her piece about spycops and love is a really fascinating piece of writing, imo - and also includes a bit about the distinction between formal and real subsumption, which again is definitely not the sort of stuff you associate with liberal idpol SJWs or whatever.
As for Lionel Shriver, it's hard to know where to start, but this is pretty jawdropping - an article where she publicly rebukes herself for having "a lazy, ignorant exasperation with the whole "Muslim world"" and talks about how surprised she was to have met one Muslim who was actually pretty nice. "Riots over some silly video made people like me think they're all hot-headed, brainwashed lunatics. I wouldn't claim naively, "Oh, I met this one really nice Muslim, so now I realise they're all really nice... Still, if I'm honest, the "Muslim world" over the last decade has seemed especially annoying, and fortunately my lovely publicist reined in an unexamined bigotry."
But yeah, if someone calls her a racist that's definitely because they're an identity moralist who just wants to stir up controversies to get attention and advance their own career, that is definitely the only possible explanation.

Mike Harman
Aug 5 2018 09:00

On a similar note, talking about UK universities, particularly the recent Kipling/Angelou/Biko story that was blown up. http://review31.co.uk/essay/view/60/waiting-for-sargon

Mike Harman
Aug 5 2018 10:30

That Economist interview:

Nagle wrote:
The Economist: Does the restrictive nature of political correctness inadvertently push people away from progressive politics?

Ms Nagle: No serious person can really deny that it does at this point, if they're being honest. Many people are attracted to progressive politics because they see that the world is unequal and unfair and they want better wages or education or healthcare. But they quickly find out that this isn't enough. In order to not be purged they have to learn an ever more elaborate and bizarre set of correct positions they must hold on a range of issues and they must continue to carefully and fearfully walk on eggshells to avoid the call-out.

The Economist: It often seems like the culture wars are driven by young men with diminished economic prospects and an inability to find a sexual partner. Is that a problem that can be solved by policies or do liberals simply need to discover a new tone?

Ms Nagle: One of the darker products of the sexual revolution is that you have a generation of young men raised on very grim pornography and being able to be like the Marquis de Sade in the virtual or imaginary world but in the real world they have less agency, less human contact, fewer prospects and less stake in their community and society than ever before. You have unprecedented levels of celibacy and childlessness too among millennials, including women.

...
I think there are economic solutions to some of it but it also requires a major shift in the culture at this point. Young people need to be able to have families and a home and some kind of job stability. We also need to restore the dignity of ordinary people.

Ruthless competitive individualism is being applied to the romantic and private realm and it's deeply anti-social. Ultimately though, the emergence of all of this is really about demographics and race. Though I've been guilty of it myself in the past, I would now caution that these issues should be considered before diving straight into the psycho-sexual interpretations.

Why did you spend the previous three paragraphs talking about porn and unprecedented levels of celibacy in young women if it's actually just racism then?

R Totale
Aug 21 2018 17:57

This from Tom Whyman scores some solid hits, imo, and it's nice to see someone exploring Mark Fisher's thought properly rather than just citing that one article:

Quote:
Beneath all the alarmist bluster, there is a clear cognitive dissonance about how the activism of these snowflakes is reported. On the one hand, we are repeatedly told, the problem with young people today is that they just can’t handle the way reality is. This is why they demand “safe spaces” away from traumatizing political and academic debate on campus. This is why they want all their course content marked up with laboriously specific “trigger warnings” to prevent them brushing against an abrasive idea or an indelicately confrontational literary work. This is why they can’t openly debate those holding any kind of different views; it’s why they want to “erase history”—especially the history of the Confederacy and the British Empire. It’s why young people today can’t seem to get jobs. And it’s why after college they all seem to wind up living back with their parents in their teenage bedroom where you—if not qua parent, then qua taxpayer—are forced to bankroll them, as they spend all day surfing the internet in their social media bubbles. The snowflake, then, is a cringing, fragile, simpering idiot—too weak and sensitive for the rigors of the “real” world.

But on the other hand, somehow, the snowflake seems to be all-powerful. Through their activities, the snowflake threatens to overturn the entire tradition of academic instruction. They threaten to completely destroy all established gender norms. They even seem to be able to bring the goddamn army to its knees. The snowflake threatens to no-platform, decolonize, and genderqueer the whole world.

So what’s going on here? Just who are these snowflakes, anyway? And if they’re really so pathetic, then how come they constitute such a threat?

...In an era where so much nonsense gets justified with the imperative that “you gotta see both sides,” it’s striking to note how singularly unsympathetic the media coverage becomes anytime the subject of “snowflakes” and their putative political outlook comes up. There is no campus equivalent to that interminably vast genre of fawning “dispatches from Trumpland” periodically regurgitated by every supposedly respectable news outlet. No one seems particularly keen to do the work of untangling the grievances of tumblr SJWs in the way that Angela Nagle did for 4chan keklords. The New York Times has never hired a columnist their entire readership is obviously going to hate on the basis that the writer might provide some sort of special insight into “snowflake culture.”

But why does the snowflake so manifestly fail to warrant empathy? What is it about the snowflake that prevents strained attempts at understanding?

When reporters meet Trump voters (or their UK equivalent, Brexiteers) in their native environment (usually a depressed, depressing post-industrial town), we are typically told a number of things. First off, these people—if they are anything—are real people. They have real worries and real problems—that is to say, we are usually assured, their worries and problems are in the first instance economic ones. They feel “left behind” by politicians, again in the first instance economically: they’re seeking to cobble together some ad hoc livelihood now that post-industrial decline has left their area low on jobs. Of course, these voters also feel like they’ve been left behind culturally. Partly this is because young people keep leaving their area to find work elsewhere . . . but OK, yes, it is also at least on some level because they feel like they’re not allowed to say the n-word—or in the more anodyne, Fox News-branded view of things, “Merry Christmas”—anymore. It’s not always completely clear what this has to do with the economic worries—but who cares, in the final analysis? These articles are, ironically enough, their own brand of virtue signalling from elite newsrooms to the scary Trumpist interior—and as such, they leave precious little room for any sort of joined-up thinking.

In short, the message is supposed to be: these people are authentic. In contrast to the reporters profiling them, and probably also in contrast to the assumed audience of these reporters, these people experience reality directly—in a way not buffered by financial or cultural capital or education...

The media’s line of thinking on things, then, appears to go something like this: the response to reality shared among members of the far right might be an unpleasant one, but at least—in obvious contrast to the snowflakes—they never lose sight of it. This is why they warrant understanding. Whereas the snowflakes—who can’t even confront reality at all, despite having been afforded every advantage by their nice and definitely not-embittered parents—only warrant telling off...

The reality principle, as manifested through the negotiating position of Oxford’s administrators, as well as by the British press, demanded that students gratefully ignore the excesses of the generous academic benefactor Rhodes. The snowflakes responded by asserting the repressed Real of British colonial history.

The reality principle, all too frequently, sees fit to place the lives of trans people up for debate; the snowflakes respond by asserting the Real of trans lived experience.

Seen in this light, then, it is not the snowflakes who are cowed by “reality”: they are precisely willing to confront it. It is rather their critics who are trying, with increasing desperation, to repress the Real the snowflakes threaten to expose. This equally explains the frequently observed phenomenon that it is in fact the middle-aged critics of “young people today” who are ready to take kneejerk offense at any views they don’t like. This Reality will of course be obvious to anyone who has recent direct experience of college campuses, and doesn’t just get all their information about students from the news. Young people aren’t too weak for Hobbesian reality: the delusion that they might be stems almost exclusively from the fact that a number of them are willing to tear it apart.