I think most lefty types who can still stomach Twitter would agree there is a trend toward increasingly bitter feuds over what some of us on one side call the Celebrity Left, though to call them feuds is somewhat imprecise. A feud suggests two sides engaging in ongoing conflict, whereas on Twitter, genuine engagement between the two emerging camps is very rare, though there is no shortage of heat.
Here’s how things generally go: some widely admired public left says the kind of stupid, not-very-left thing that is the bread and butter of public lefts — like that corporations are bad by choice and needn’t be, or that the left should support intervention in Syria, or that “The moral basis for Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people is eroding fast.” (source) A smattering of more traditional radicals attempts to take them to task for it. The public left attempts to self-immunize from criticism by various, sometimes stunningly disingenuous, means.
Depending on who’s under attack, their rank and file advocates will set about wailing, keening and sneering almost entirely amongst themselves about purity cults, circular firing squads, leftier-than-thous, brocialists, manarchists, basement dwellers, shut-ins, thought police, shamers, obsessives, trust fund authoritarians, reverse McCarthyists, Stalinists, armchair radicals, conspiracists etc. In some cases, a very pleased-with-itself crew of man-children will repeatedly tweet the famous pig poop balls picture at whomever made the criticism or posed the unwelcome question. What almost never occurs is serious engagement with whatever the question or criticism happens to be.
An example of what I’m describing: This is Saint Louis anthropologist and Al Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior — who would later embark on a smear campaign against Marxist feminists and sometime after that approvingly cite a white supremicist blog on “outside agitators” during the Ferguson protests — explaining how corporations work:
No corporation is inherently evil. They are purposefully evil. They can treat workers fairly but they *choose* to underpay and abuse.
A number of people engaged with Kendzior to insist on the more traditional anti-capitalist view that corporate exploitation is baked in. To the extent that lefts engaging with each other to hash out principles is a good thing, I think the nature of capitalist exploitation is a reasonable thing to discuss. But there is a trend toward seeing all disagreements of this kind as personal attacks oriented in some agenda other than simply pressing a thought leader to defend a viewpoint. And so it was with this particular discussion. Here’s one of Kendzior’s more popular advocates responding to the disagreement:
All the leftier-than-thou kids (almost always kids) should occupy an island together while the rest of us attempt to be decent to each other.
I’m offering this mainly because the two tweet threads perfectly embody how this shit is playing out. I won’t dwell on the substance here except to highlight the accidental satire of, in fewer than 140 characters, wishing island exile on one’s political opponents while extolling one’ s superior decency. For this crowd, dominated as it is by status-conscious, middle class, disappointed liberals under various labels, radicalism is by nature posturing, disciplinarian or cover for something nasty like misogyny, and particularly unseemly when wielded against people of higher status. So when these conflicts erupt, they invariably see themselves as the “decent” ones, dimwittedly oblivious to the irony of wishing exile on “thought police” and harassing “reverse McCarthyists” with pig poop balls, verbal abuse and doxing.
What’s going on with team two here, let’s call them ‘The Adults” in accordance with their PragProg-like self-conception, increasingly seems like the kind of social psychosis that sets in when groups insulate themselves from outside influence and coalesce around charismatic figures. It is, at the very least, dishonest, hypocritical and mind-numbingly stupid. But I am going to assume that among The Adults there are intelligent people of good faith who simply differ with The Kids on theoretical grounds, though they might not have thought it through or discussed it enough to understand what those theoretical differences are. So let’s discuss.
Let’s start first with what The Kids mean by Celebrity Left. I can’t speak for everyone, but I define it in this context somewhat expansively as having a Twitter following in the tens of thousands and up — or capable of having such a following if one were on Twitter — and getting paid from time to time by mainstream media or larger liberal outlets to write and gab. While I didn’t coin the term — I think the author of this highly amusing Twitter account did — anyone who reads this blog knows that I am in the diverse group of people who ratify critique in this area as interesting, entertaining and, to the extent that media criticism matters at all, necessary.
I first became aware of how vehemently people disagree on the value of these inquiries when I started raising concerns about the Snowden spectacle. I documented here what happens when you are insufficiently deferential to Glenn Greenwald or persuaded to his self-mythology. A year on, a lot of the ardor has gone out of the Greenwald tribe, but the conflict continues, and more importantly, reproduces itself again and again in contests over other Celebrity Lefts, particularly the ones orbiting around Vice and First Look Media. Similar arguments occur around personalities associated with outfits like MSNBC and Salon, but with far less heat and controversy.
In the simplest terms, critics of the Celebrity Left do not view left icons and other professional lefts as operating under different or fewer constraints than the media as a whole. Meticulously demonstrating this is beyond the scope of this post, though I have touched on it in my posts on Chomsky, a post on The Snowden Effect and in less explicit terms all over this blog. The short version is that the ruling class knows its interests, and is not going to leave left media to its own devices any more than it allows CNN or the New York Times to do whatever they want.
If you look at funding sources and the demographic makeup of participants, the presumed border between mainstream and alternative media is largely imagined. That means that the system of reward and punishment for coloring inside and outside lines is in play everywhere, though the lines themselves may differ marginally in accordance with brand and audience. This thesis gets more credible as left politics gain purchase in commercial ventures like Comcast, Vice, and Huffington Post and elicit the patronage of tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
There is no consensus among The Kids on the conclusions one draws from all this. For me, the most important conclusion is that gatecrashing by authentic lefts is not in any way possible in this system, and that fame, money and influence are commensurate with service to power, not utility to the left. Generally, the Kids see a lot less left in the Celebrity Left than the Adults do. The part of the Celebrity Left that makes them left to The Adults, looks aesthetic and gestural to me, rather than situated in a solid foundation of readily apparent left principles. The part of them that isn’t left seems variously, and perniciously, capitalist, imperialist, liberal and libertarian, depending on the Celebrity Left in question.
I don’t object to the odd tactical alliance with capitalists, imperialists, liberals and libertarians over certain issues, but I do object to them defining the outer limits of left politics. The Celebrity Left does this by way of their higher status which permits them a childishly despotic relationship with their critics — that revealingly often takes the form of sneering anti-radicalism — and the protection of fans (that is, The Adults) who dole out discipline on their behalf, punching down and left. To the extent that these people shape discourse on the left, their overarching function is containment. This is undoubtedly among the reasons why neoliberal billionaires and right wing media moguls find them worthy investments. For the same reasons I do not see them as my allies and consequently do not see criticism as in-fighting.
I place Greenwald’s Pulitzers, Polks, book/movie deals, television appearances and hagiographies against this country’s history of ostracized, tortured and murdered dissidents and conclude that, at best, he is absolutely harmless to power and, at worst, hugely helpful. This is the prism through which I evaluate things like his parroting of smears against Manning when the Snowden spectacle first commenced; the retrograde doctrine that informs so much of his and Snowden’s rhetoric; the free speech absolutism that makes common cause with white supremacists and corporations; and his symbiosis with neoliberal ideologue and billionaire Pierre Omidyar, a relationship that potently isolates the surveillance apparatus Greenwald writes about from the only class it benefits, and more generally minimizes extreme inequality as a legitimate left concern.
People who disagree with me on this assessment likely concede that the ruling class knows its interests, but stress that it’s not omniscient. They may also concede that it exerts influence over our discourse, while counseling that it’s not omnipotent. They would stress the importance of individuals in all of this, insisting that an Omidyar is not a Murdoch or a Koch. Many of them probably agree with the old saw, sometimes attributed to Lenin, that capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them, and if it becomes profitable to give Marxists and anarchists their own MSNBC shows, or columns in the New York Times, it’ll happen. The most skeptical of them will say that, yeah, everything is fucked up, but you work with what you have. Better a Greenwald working under Omidyar than a Bill Keller, no?
I don’t agree with all of that, but I also don’t find any of it objectionable. Most importantly, I don’t see anything there that persuades, on tactical grounds, to immunizing public lefts from scrutiny or criticism. Whether or not we agree on the relationship of public lefts to power, can we at least agree that it’s a good thing to call them to account when they do something wrong? I mean, if we all agree that to at least some extent, non-left, powerful forces are exerting influence, shouldn’t we push back when public lefts seem to be articulating elite interests and not ours?
Posing the question in concrete terms: If, say, a charismatic figure rising on the left calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, what are anti-imperialists supposed to do exactly? What is the tactical rationale for interrogating or second-guessing their motives when they call her to account in a way that is entirely consistent with their principles? Why does speculation about their motives — which can’t be known with certainty — take precedence over her own unambiguous imperialism? Why the accusations of misplaced priorities on the grounds that she is of relatively minor influence, when, in fact, she is selling goods to people that would be less inclined to buy from a less compelling sales person?
In the absence of any obvious answer to the above questions, I am going to posit a theory: that the right to call yourself a leftist and say stupid, reactionary, retrograde, imperialist things is directly proportional to the sum of people who fear you, want to be you, want to work for you, or want to hang out with you and that that number, not coincidentally, corresponds in large measure to the interest people with money and influence have taken in you. So all the strategies that people use to shut people up on your behalf are just bullshit, even if some of the people taking you to task aren’t particularly nice about it. More importantly, these silencing strategies serve the interests of those people with money and influence that are causing your star to rise, which is all the more reason to resist them. If you don’t want to be held accountable for your words and deeds, go do something else for a living.
How to argue like a Celebrity Left, lesson 2: Credentialism. Here’s King of The Celebrity Left, Glenn Greenwald, insisting, for the gazillionth time, that to have the right to question Glenn Greenwald, one must first, well, be Glenn Greenwald. Which works out well because clearly Glenn Greenwald never, ever doubts Glenn Greenwald.
UPDATE 2 (link to update)
Below, Zionist, white supremacist enabler, and risible Oxford snob Laurie Penny, when confronted with the possibility that something other than her gender inspires criticism, offers another crash course in how to argue like a Celebrity Left. The entire conversation is a grim study in how infantile narcissism and the hasbara-like maneuvering of this riff-raff complement each other. Enter at your own risk.
Faving spectators included peerless performative “allies”, and disciplinarians to wayward feminists, Anarchy Dad David Graeber and self-fellating red baiter and rape culture enabler Charles Davis. Recall that Graeber was last seen in these parts Twitter-stalking Katha Pollitt. Around the same time, Davis was cited for joining in the mob ridicule of a woman’s family after Newsweek published a private email disclosing her sexual assault. To be exiled from this ‘feminism’ is truly an honor.
Wittiest circle jerk ever!!! Oh look there’s Sarah Jeong, who thinks outing rape survivors is funny. These people are so cool it’s scary. PS: OUCH! (Via SqarerootofeviL)
Notes on David Graeber and Conspiracism
Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part One
Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part Two, Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz
Dr. Rosen and The Snowden Effect
Oligarchs Approve The NSA Debate. I Guess We’re #Winning
The Cable News Heroism of Chris Hayes
Greenwald Still Covering for Pierre Omidyar
Doesn’t this entire, um, analysis (?) depend on twitter being something substantial and meaningful that can be degraded by artifice?
yeah. and I think you can infer that Twitter is meaningful by the interest advertisers, law enforcement, Israeli operatives, and the national security apparatus have taken in it.
but that’s a helpful objection to raise, because a lot of people do seem to find Twitter trivial. I may edit accordingly. Thanks.
I think those entities also take an interest in hot dogs, french fries, ketchup, relish, cotton candy, popcorn, the Super Bowl, the World Series, NASCAR, and TV viewing habits, among other numerous things. I guess if interest in a thing is the telltale sign of its seriousness, you may want to investigate Lady Gaga’s hospital selfies, or Miley Cyrus’s latest argument with her father.
“I think those entities also take an interest in hot dogs, french fries, ketchup, relish, cotton candy”
I guess the preposterous stupidity of this is to perform how unwarranted intelligent engagement is on this particular topic. You may well be the coolest most super savvy person who has ever deigned to auto-fellate on this blog.
However, since you clearly don’t think how lefties engage on Twitter matters, what you’re doing here is surely by the same logic in the outer limits of trivial. So please don’t detain yourself from the truly important things any longer.
This is why I signed off Twitter on Friday, and why I’m still debating whether it’s going to be a longer hiatus or not. The PigPoopBalls thing is fucking stupid, and pretty much I figure the people using that as a “response” aren’t worth doing anything but blocking. But beyond that, if as you said, there are sincere folks who think the pragmatic approach is to give a space to the folks using the Left as their personal upward mobility vehicle, on the notion that somehow that will drag the rest of us up ??? I’m not sure, I don’t claim to understand this view but at least if that’s the view professed I can live with that.
Here’s the thing though..
I haven’t seen *any* indication that there actually exist sincere non-trolls that think this way.
Here are things I’ve been told/called (or have seen thrown at others) because I have a problem with celebrity media figures using the left as a fashion statement to sell their personal brands (*AT BEST THIS IS WHAT THEY ARE DOING*):
-a misogynist because the person I was critiquing was a woman (even though at no point did my critique make issue of her being a woman or even mention it)
-a utopian (because I dared to hold people to standards that include not supporting imperialism)
-racist (still not sure why)
-a homophobe (same as the misogyny one)
-“empty trolling with no actual critique”
etc etc etc.
What bugs the shit out of me the most is that the same people who seem bound and determined to play apologist for the “celebrity left” are the same ones who spend a lot of time critiquing *every other form of celebrity*. Apparently a patina of leftism is all it takes to get a cadre of devoted defenders, even if your politics aren’t in any way significantly different that the Democrat Left.
To put it another way: the best way to be a democrat & retain cred is to serially bag on democrats while holding all of their same politics. Judging by twitter, it’s all but guaranteed you’re a lock.
Through all of this, the one critique that those of us on the anti-celebrity left or whatever we are have made that over and over and over again gets ignored or at best dismissed: from graeber to crabapple to greenwald and on, ALL of them seem to be making a point of putting social capital above actual praxis/ideas. Even if, at best, we see Laura Penny’s statement on Israel/Palestine as a gaffe and not a tell, her response to everyone that challenged her still dripped in social capital waving venom.
That ALONE warrants critique.
“I haven’t seen *any* indication that there actually exist sincere non-trolls that think this way.”
I haven’t really either, but I feel like any possible theoretical reasons why people find us so provocative should be addressed. I am not going to answer to the bullshit claims that come out of being so provoked. A longer draft attacked Greenwald’s credentialism, for instance, but I just don’t want to even dignify that tedious shit.
Roasty I’m right with you on this. At a certain point I look at Twitter and think “if these people just want a chummy place on the Internet where they can gab with people from the tv, and are willing to harass the shit out of anyone who remotely threatens that, who am I to interfere?”
So much of my personal political growth has come out of interactions on twitter over the years that I find it odd that people don’t have any interest in doing opening themselves up for the same; but you’re right, if that’s the space they want then whatever, but I have no interest in it, and only so much patience for culling my twitter experience to get away from it.
I guess it’s time for me to read Bernays. If Chomsky’s right about him (he cites him a lot, as you know), Bernays must have had some pretty remarkable insights into human psychology. I think the Adults’ complaints are at least cousins if not siblings to the defensiveness you hear after attacking someone’s favorite brand or commercial, and I’m guessing Bernays’ work probably has something, if not a great deal, to say about this. (And if you haven’t seen it, this Frontline doc is pretty good: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/view/ It features a psychiatrist, Clotaire Rapaille, whose work suggests certain kinds of frauds are irresistibly appealing to our primitive hard-wiring, and that it takes tremendous effort to oppose them.)
As for the tactical rationale itself, isn’t accusing the Kids of misogyny, et al., precisely the same derailment mechanism everyone’s seen before, in which attempts to interrogate the merits of the accused’s position are replaced–buried, really–with questions about the interrogator’s character? Followed by the character questions creating their own sort of feedback loop, which pushes merits questions off the horizon while raising the Celebrity Left’s profile? The Adults wouldn’t rely on evasive tactics like these if they weren’t so effective on other Adults, and maybe on some of the Kids, too. And I think history, if not Bernays’ work, justifies their reliance.
When a Celebrity Left parrots a Foxperson, I’d expect any of the Adults who don’t take themselves to be propagandists, or as shills for one, to understand that it’s bad faith to privilege character inquiries over the merits of what was said. Otherwise it’s not a question of Right v Left v Radical: it’s just propaganda, and the Adults are nothing more than sandwich-boarders. But if expecting people to vigilantly police their own ideologies is asking too much of them, what then?
You raise a great point here that I hadn’t thought of that exposes how hollow the whole enterprise is: even if we accept the premise that giving these journalists a high perch to parcel out info and muse about the way things oughta be is just a great thing for the world (which I don’t, but more on that in a minute), shouldn’t we at least be able to try and convince them to better represent our interests once in a while? There’s parallels here to how Obama is discussed elsewhere – sure it’s great that your guy’s up there but what’s the use if we aren’t allowed to push him on anything?
Then of course we’re told that we’ve just gone about it the wrong way, that we’ve got to remember that these people are our allies and must be treated with respect, even when they continuously respond to us with contempt. Fair enough if it gets the goods, but I’m not seeing any evidence that it does. Greenwald gets a respectful grilling on a lefty podcast that extracts no new leaks and countless lefties politely disagree with Crabapple’s repeated calls for a no fly zone to no apparent avail – the same way Josh Marshall and other sympathetic liberal pundits meet with Obama regularly as he continues to veer further and further right.
In other words, the premise is bullshit – these journalists aren’t accountable to their readers or any of the movements they appoint themselves spokespeople for, and they’re not meant to be. All criticism, regardless of tone, becomes part of the brand-building project – the respectful ones give our heroes an opportunity to be seen engaging with their critics, while the pathologized and marginalized “haters” demonstrate how good these writers are at striking nerves. And meanwhile the clicks and corresponding ad revenues/subscription fees all continue to flow in the same direction.
Anyway if someone wants to try and convince me that this model can actually work for anything we care about I’m all ears, the idea that one can participate in transformative politics just by signal-boosting the right voices holds obvious appeal (because I’m lazy), but I can’t really shake the feeling that the whole thing is a big fucking distraction, and designed to be so.
This hits the nail on the head for me – and brings up the other criticism I’ve heard in this space, that being that those of us who are criticizing what these various figures are saying are somehow empty of substance in our critiques – and this is coming from otherwise completely rational people that I talk to on a regular basis. Their essential admonishment is that we are simply picking apart everything that’s said, empty of any actual critique – and this admonishment is so close to a “brand” respectability argument that I can see just the one more step that would get them there, though they don’t see themselves making that argument at all.
They have a bunch of talking points.Saying that we’re nitpicking is just one.
They don’t even read the critiques. They hear about them. Example: Kade Crockford went on at length about one of my blog posts. Clearly she had only read Greenwald’s vomitous reply to it, which, naturally, was extremely dishonest. She has a big following, so then everyone started parroting her parroting him. And on and on and on. Nobody’s engaging with ideas because people they respect have done it for them.
Yeah this is the “oh no that person’s in left club, go easy on them” argument. Don’t look too closely at these words delivered by a paid writer that went through an editing process and are now distributed to tens of thousands of readers. Look at the writer’s social circle or credentials instead.
It’s even worse than all that now, they’ve gone one deeper. Even *legitimate* criticisms of usually female pundits — ones that Adults say they actually agree with! — are said to actually be proof that we’re all just waiting to pounce on some gaffe or other, as opposed to seeing something horrible/shitty and saying “hey that sucks, here’s why, stop saying that.” In that vein, it’s not that Molly Crabapple is a particularly shallow propagandist for imperialism, it’s that we hate her for being a woman and just “use” her ADMITTEDLY TERRIBLE IDEAS as a “pretext” to attack her.
Walter, yeah like this: https://twitter.com/GrungyBerns/status/437660239639609344
Oh man, that must be the thread where the guy was like “I disagree with subtweeting from a tactical perspective” – misty water-colored memories.
haha, it was! I really barely knew who these people were, I would just see them write some bullshit and roll my eyes. Then Syria started bubbling up and it got real. Or… did it get Serious?
It got DGIsSerious
I can’t get over how ridiculous this sort of suggestion is. It’s not “engage with this person so you can try to convince them,” nor is it “engage with this person so you can learn from them,” it’s literally “engage with this person so you can see how great a person they are.” This isn’t politics, it’s fucking networking.
If you’re not nitpicking, you’re ignoring nuance.
“Nobody’s engaging with ideas because people they respect have done it for them.” — Tarzie
Simple and astute — I love it. If that’s a weakness then it’s my weakness.
Yeah this kind of nails it for me. It’s like the dynamic I remember from college (where, admittedly I was probably no better than them). Right down to using snappy portmanteaus and trust fund ____ as ways to dismiss someone, something I have only encountered (1) in college and (2) on the internet.
The “‘“engage with this person so you can see how great a person they are’” line of thought in particular treats the public discourse as if it were a class discussion, where arguments are made for purely intellectual reasons as much as any commitment to principles. Like we’re all members of the same intellectual community, where sure we might argue passionately during class, but afterwords we shouldn’t be so uncouth as to let some academic disagreements disrupt the social fabric.
This seems really generous and perfectly satisfactory compared to what I’m seeing, where is very little one could call “intellectual” or an argument. In the examples I presented in my post, all questions put to the celeb in question remain open. Almost everything that has been said in reference to them was about the legitimacy of posing the questions.
Sorry, that wasn’t very well worded. I was trying to be acidic! I wasn’t trying to defend their arguments as purely intellectual exercises so much say that for them maintaining a particular social dynamic is more important that actually holding people accountable for the substance and implications of their arguments. So you posing those questions, to them at least, is equivalent to calling someone a poseur at a party because they don’t like pavement enough. Or whatever the kids are listening to nowadays.
In other words, I think on some level, they view their politics as a group identity they choose as much as a reflection of what they believe. So when you raise these issues, the implication that they aren’t really living up to their self-identified leftiness is moving from what they consider to be an acceptable intellectual engagement with their argument to a personal attack directed at them via their self image as a member of a particular in-group.
Yeah I think that’s spot on.
They are accountable – to their editors, to their sponsors, to their met gala invites, etc. They exist to distract and confuse. It’s pure cynicism, like Obama… like I said, they will put a baby in a NATO t-shirt and say how could you hate this baby? It’s awful and shows us we have to take everything with a grain of salt. If I was printed in the NYT tomorrow, I’d be so wary and expect my comrades to be too. I wouldn’t celebrate it – I’d comb through my work with a fine toothed comb (ask my comrades to as well) wondering what they thought made me safe to publish. If we were in the middle of a class war it would be different, but right now we are on the defensive, empire is loading their missiles and militarising the police – we can’t 100% trust a word they think is okay to publish, because they are trying to break us.
I mean this is just my theory, but I would think that the fact that we’re not in the middle of a class war, that most serious threats to elite interests are currently in atomized disarray, would be more than enough to explain why they thought you were safe, regardless of what you were saying. After all one can find full-throated anti-imperialism in The Guardian occasionally, and I would assume that Lennard and Davis, like Greenwald with his “journalistic independence,” move fairly unencumbered through the halls of Vice without much micro-management (if only because both have a history of loudly walking out on publications that pissed them off). But if someone told me they were some kind of Trojan Horse, I would ask “a Trojan Horse for *what*”? What movement do they answer to? What latent segment of society are they activating? Or are they just providing a release valve for disaffected lefts who get a thrill out of someone yelling “fuck the system” in the middle of the Newscorp building? I would imagine if a group like say FIST started making major inroads then censorship might become more of an issue.
Kahina also made a pretty brilliant point a while back about Vice, with its wild juxtaposing of alternate viewpoints, furthering a sense of reality being ultimately unknowable, something that can be adjusted by flipping the channel (the literal term Vice uses for its different sections). The Guardian does this pretty well and its clearly the goal of First Look as well, if Omidyar can ever get his shit together. It’s all entertainment – I can read a Vice article about a four-hour work week – what a fanciful idea! – and then click over to read about some bros abusing developing world sex workers. News is fun again!
Not sure the ideological spectrum is as wide here as you’re suggesting. Lennard and Davis’s offerings at Vice seem very tame. I would say Lennard’s work is even servile at times. I don’t think anyone is telling them what to write, but that’s not usually how these things work anyway. I think even following their own instincts they just throw off lefty signifiers without offering anything particularly radical. Davis’s Twitter persona is downright reactionary.
The Intercept is even tamer, toeing the line on good targets of surveillance and bad, always rich with government officials making the case for themselves. I simply don’t agree that it’s just all a big mix, with the point being confusion and entertainment. I see more consistency in what’s being sold. I think it would all be more entertaining if it were the wide open market you’re describing.
To be honest I’m not getting this whole brand-building thing that everyone keeps talking about. I don’t see the politics as arbitrary. I see the same old shit being peddled as new.
Maybe I’m underinvested in what counts as radical or not, but my sense is that if Davis really felt that his anarchy cred or whatever was in serious doubt, he could write a chest-beating tear-it-all-down type post for Vice and nobody would blink much. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t appear to feel that pressure says something in and of itself. But my broader point is that, in absence of an organized movement to actually do the work of tearing it all down, why should Vice’s investors sweat it? Just because there’s apparently a market for writing that calls for labelling Israel genocidal, opening the borders, moving to a four-hour work week, abolishing war, etc doesn’t mean any of these things are actually going to happen.
In referring to First Look I mean as originally conceived by Omidyar, not the current glorified Greenwald/Taibbi wordpress blog model he’s apparently stuck with. In his intro video for the project he imagines a much more freewheeling site with a wide variety of nodes, each with a different viewpoint and interest being represented. I don’t think any of them were necessarily far left, which again probably says something, but it was still meant to be more of a grab bag than it is now.
I dont really agree with any of this. I think the marketplace of ideas is very tightly circumscribed. I am not really getting this idea that oligarchs only fear dangerous ideas in pre-revolutionary situations, whatever that is. That’s certainly not what the Chomsky/Herman work suggested.
Okay – so is it that the actual examples I cited just slipped through? Or are those not really radical ideas?
Maybe I missed a comment. What examples? In the last comment I see a hypothetical as to what Charlie could do and a description of Omidyar’s original conception for First Look, the gist of which I don’t entirely understand. Not trying to be a prick here. Just not seeing your point. I see all of these new stars peddling a pretty consistently reactionary politics.
I don’t disagree that if Charlie wrote something genuinely incendiary it wouldn’t matter, but generally I think media owners err on the side of repression. Kill it before it grows. Lennard got fired from the New York Times for talking anarchism in a bookstore chat about Occupy. Not a single anti-capitalist word has shown up at GG’s place, nor has he hired anyone that might create the risk, even though they’ve been hanging off his nutsack since last June. He even removed a small anti-capitalist segment from something he quoted once.
Sorry, the examples I meant, and didn’t highlight clearly enough, were the four-hour work week, opening borders, etc, all things that Vice has run.
I mean you’re right of course, things are unquestionably circumscribed, I’m just wary of giving these journos an opening to ram something through that they can point to and then say “see, here’s something radical – no conspiracy here,” as if that means elites have suddenly stopped paying attention to their interests. I assume that to the extent Murdoch doesn’t care whether Vice calls for a four-hour work week, his reason for not caring isn’t that he agrees with the idea being expressed. I could be wrong though.
What was the anti-cap thing Greenwald removed? Ridiculous but unsurprising.
it’s documented somewhere in comments on this blog. need to try to recall enough to search it out.
I see what you mean now about Vice, which actually does seem like the bolder of the two outfits we’re discussing. That stuff I think just authenticates the rest. I don’t think it would be tolerated if it became a dominant feature, regardless of what kind of movement activity was going on in the real world, but I’m just speculating.
I think my original disagreement was too emphatic. Corporate media definitely seems inclined to give leftier ‘ideas’ a wider berth but I think there is an effort to keep it light. It’s a co-opty kinda maneuver.
I found the comment about GGs removal of anti-capitalism from a quote. It’s very revealing.
I think its clear that stuff like the Gitmo or Abu Dhabi pieces, Fernandez’ denouncement of old men selling war with sex and Davis’ recent defence of Obama in guise of antiimperialiat harrangue are meant to be received as antiestablishment and “left” and “dissident” and are in fact vitiated versions of real left critiques offered as substitutes. Davis’ ISIS piece is another perfect example: nearly the entirety of concerned humanity is aware that ISIS is the US’ creature and proxy. so VICE gets a “lefty” persona to offer a substitute that “in theory” sounds antiimperialist (US is “blamed” for mistreating the savages who then become vicious, like kicked dogs, and threaten us not vicious imperial core innocents). But although the “dissident’ disinfotainment commodities are not actual left product, they represent alternatives to the openly reactionary products and give the impression of a wide variety resembling the television spectrum — encouraging an attitude toward reality that is fragmented in this way, to make the obvious contradictions in the propaganda acceptable. If we think of reality as conveyed by Newsproduct as divided among channels and shows, there’s no difficulty with “al Qaeda” being the archbaddie in one show and the badass ally in another. There’s no problem with some factoids distributed in the context of Crossbones universe and another in the context of Homeland and another in the context of Law and Order or Glee. We don’t ever expect that Freddy Kruger may be the killed in Law and Order. So Charles Davis can avow the unparalleled ruthless murderousness of the US empire in one sentence and in the next advise it on how to achieve a “propaganda victory” by distributing food aid. What happened is an implied channel or series change. That’s how it strikes me.
Killer that should say. We don’t ever consider the possibility that Freddy Kruger is the killer in an episode of Law and Order or that one of the characters in Orange is the New Black is a vampire whom only Buffy can slay
‘they will put a baby in a NATO t-shirt and say how could you hate this baby?” yesyesyes
Here’s another example: https://ohtarzie.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/mark-ames-vs-glenn-greenwald-and-amy-goodman-on-usaid/ Ames’ colleagues and friends, Gessen or Taibbi etc, praise his work lavishly but then continue to not know anything they read in it when they construct their own disinfo shows. It can all be nodded along to while watch the Ames show – which is awesome! – but it is not part of the universe of the Davis show.
This might be a bit off-topic/too late at this point, but thought it might be of interest.
After the convo in this thead I read up a bit more and found this exchange between Edward Herman and NYT reporter Walter LaFeber from 1988, in which LaFeber claims to have identified some exceptions in the propaganda model: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/12/11/books/l-news-and-propaganda-307488.html?scp=2&sq=Manufacturing+consent&st=nyt
What’s fascinating about this exchange is how familiar the dynamics are today in debates with Greenwald and the Vice crews – assertions of journalistic independence, heavy focus on minor exceptions and ignoring of longer-term elite strategic interests. So I think I stand corrected on my interpretation of these exceptions – we could certainly talk about the ways corporate media is re-branding in 2014 and how that alters certain things, but this exchange from 1988 seems to show that there’s nothing really new under the sun.
Yeah, that no fly zone thing was particularly irksome. I don’t remember who specifically said that, but whatever.
Honestly, if someone is going to advocate empire I’d rather they be openly Yay Imperialism about it than the “this is DIFFERENT!/ don’t you care?” shit. There’s no such thing as humanitarian bombing, and anyone pinning noble motives on government, especially the US government, is at best an idiot and a half.
Exceptional post, Tarzie. Definitive, even. Will have to digest for some time.
IDK if you want to hear this, or if it’s directly related to the post, but maybe I have something to add. It’s probably naive, and maybe you’d rather disown it, but w/e. It’s my take. For the record, I’m no good when it comes to history, but things in the news have me pretty convinced of the importance, at very least, of socialism going forward. I see the implementation of socialist policy as a matter of survival for billions of people when automation really rolls in.
My introduction to politics was observing the current wave of feminist, intersectional, social justice, etc.-style language and rhetoric be massively abused in the tech. sphere. That’s where I come from. I think feminist issues are the number one political topic entertained by people in my demographic, which is to say, young Western college kids. Maybe you know about some of the firings, beatdowns, and e-mobbings that have been directed at people in the tech. sphere, and due to your general politics, you might have assumed some of them were okay or justified, I have no idea. But they were alarming to me, and stuck out as deeply unfair, which is why I sought out critiques of the feminist/intersectional beatdown attitude.
Earlier on, the most I could find was topical, and stuff often originated from libertarian thinktanks, or weird MRA sites, or even nationalist angles, and things like that. Those types of sources, and much of their argument, was really unsatisfying to me. Much of their arguments are rooted in a desire to establish their own fucked up hegemony. Especially the nationalists, who I’ll get back to. As well, their positions on economics seemed extremely harmful.
Eventually, I did come across a number of leftist critiques of this atmosphere. Stuff like “Exiting Vampire Castle,” various Freddie DeBoer posts, “The Politics of Denunciation,” and so on. Not only did these critiques seem more honest, but they were also clearly in the thick of it, and they demonstrated how the trendy rhetoric had potential to backfire on a movement. I also saw them as originating with people who I could align with politically.
I arrived at your blog because of the Greenwald stuff, but I also ended up feeling vindicated when you and your company stood up to the Jacobin smears, and when I saw you engage in numerous conflicts with the SomethingAwful/Weird Twitter goons who I’m pretty sure you refer to as “dipshit island.” Y’know, the pig poop guys.
I think you all have seen how these people cloak themselves in feminist/intersectional rhetoric, and ostensibly support the causes, while in reality being toxic and detrimental.
Well, so have others. And this is the other thing that worries me: I know you’re not interested in the centrists or the right, but I have observed the far nationalist right enjoy huge gains in my parts of the internet as the less bloodthirsty grow tired of what they see as a bloodthirsty left. A lot of people are calling this polarization. I think the left is banking on the death of the boomers, but they’re so caught up in smug asshole behavior that they have no idea what to do when parties like UKIP, or even literal Nazi parties around the Mediterranean, gain ground. These parties have a growing base of young supporters.
All of this is to say that I think we’re totally fucked. One of your pals is referring to this stuff as “Identity politics caterwauling.” If you don’t like hearing it from me, maybe he’s worth listening to. Or maybe don’t mind reading this. But my stance is that the intersectional stuff has been irrevocably hijacked. Maybe it was always bad. I’m not really old enough to know.
That’s my take on the “celebrity left.” I’d feel good if you left some kind of reply, either to let me know you disagree, or if you see something in my view. But I don’t demand it.
I see something in your view. I think that there is a dialogue growing on some of these rhetorical strategies. I have no prognosis. Not an optimist about this country generally, for reasons separate from this dishonest discourse.
I think you miss the point of the SK tweet you use. First, some corporations are definitely evil. Others less so. All exist in an inherently exploitative capitalist system, yet there exist differences between, say Wal-Mart and Costco, in how they treat and pay workers. Many of us on the left focus so intently on the structural problems of capitalism, leveling all corporations into an undifferentiated mass, that we lose sight of another avenue of attack. That is, to call out specific egregious examples of abuse at specific companies and agitate to change them.
It accomplishes less than sweeping structural change, but is also much easier to accomplish. And doing so may make the lives of some workers (or customers or communities) better in the interim as broader change is sought. Neither goal is mutually exclusive.
So I take the tweet as essentially saying: don’t get so overwhelmed by the structural problem of capitalism that we forget to hold individual corps responsible for their own actions. Don’t forget to fight the battles while waging the war. And that the battles can take different forms on different fronts.
I did not take it to mean: there are some super-awesome companies out there so capitalism is a-ok. I do think some took it to mean that, and not necessarily in good faith. I don’t think that view is supported by any other available evidence. Perhaps the view was not ideally suited to be perfectly expressed in 140 characters.
Is there any evidence from her responses to that whole fiasco to suggest that that is what she did in fact mean?
I mean I’m not fully sure, but it’s a lot more in keeping with the general tenor of her work than the alternative. Her writing on the economy paints a pretty bleak picture of exploitation generally, but also singles out examples of bad behavior (certain media companies using unpaid internships, adjunct policies, etc.) She points to a rot in the economy that needs to be addressed in general, but shows that these things are getting worse. Which in turn shows that there are gradations within the structural deficiencies of capitalism itself. It is a badly flawed system, but it is not static.
If you’re going to hang out here doing PR for Kendzior, please cite something to support your claims. I am aware that Kendzior wrings her hands over the troubles of working people, when she is not promoting thoroughly liberal ideas about individual choice and belittling radicals for, among other things, the focus on structural, systemic problems.
The point I think Tarzie was getting at though was directed at the way such people react to criticism, not what they said or meant at the start. If it was a misunderstanding, they could surely explain that. But they don’t seem able to explain themselves. They can only retaliate.
At some point though, you have to start being skeptical that *every comment made that directly parrots standard neoliberalism* gets soft pawned as a gaffe, or a restraint of twitter as a medium. I mean really if you can so fail to get your point across that often then maybe twitter isn’t a great medium for you.
Just seems like in certain quarters of twitter SO MUCH attention is given to this one tweet and huge swaths of written material that contradict the interpretation of it are ignored.
This is so overstated it’s outright dishonest. Kendzior has a much bigger platform than the critics that took issue with this tweet. Can you cite anything except the tweets that were written in response to it so as to verify the “SO MUCH attention” claim? Can you cite a critic who has one tenth the following she does? If you can’t do that, would you care to be more precise about what SO MUCH means? I find a rather consistent disingenuous in your contributions here. A lot of exceedingly generous claims on SK’s behalf and absolutely no supporting evidence. The focus on this one tweet also borders on derailment. Stop fucking around or leave.
It seems like a pretty generous reading, given that her most recent, public role [re: Ferguson] was explicitly to channel resistance against the police (and private property) into the “Heal STL” GOTV campaign. Has she ever claimed to be an anticapitalist? Based on my readings of the “huge swaths of written material,” I don’t think she has.
I say take everything at face value unless they walk it back or clarify. I don’t understand this business of offering the most generous interpretations of this stuff as if the people saying and writing this shit don’t have the most ample resources for doing it themselves.
Taking things at face value is a good idea. It’s also a good idea to, when faced with ambiguous statements, interpret them in the light least favorable to the person or entity uttering them. The more powerful the person or entity making the ambiguous statement, the more this holds true, I believe.
As you said, if the unfavorable interpretation is incorrect, the powerful person has the resources to correct the ambiguity. Tellingly, most don’t seem to do that. In the case of the beloved powerful, they have people who will hop to and do free PR work for them anyway, so why should they bother to clarify?
At the risk of playing pop psychologist, I wonder how much of Celebrity Left worship – and its cousins throughout the political spectrum and elsewhere – is rooted in ego. I don’t mean the ego of the Celebrity Leftist, because in most cases that ego is fairly obvious. I mean the ego of the “little people” who feel the need to defend the honor of those more powerful than they are. Is it perhaps something as simple as, “This is a person whose views I claim to support. If even one of their views is shown to be wrong, then I am wrong too, and I can’t bear that thought.”?
I don’t agree but the point of the post was not to deliberate the merits of SK’s tweet anyway. The dynamic swirling around people raising objections is fucked regardless of how persuaded you are to SK’s variation of Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’
I don’t think anyone taking her to task requires that lesson. A structural view of the corporation does not preclude “holding individual corps responsible”. It simply says that to make corps do the right thing you must make it more costly for them — that is, threaten shareholder value — to do something else. That is not at all what her tweet suggests.
One of my favorite things about all the celebrity left worship is the Greenwald cult. Here is a man who has spent years criticizing and mocking authoritarians, yet he has so many people willing to treat any- and everything he says as infallible and jump to his defense (in other words, he has a rather rabid following of authoritarians of his own).
In the couple years I spent reading and enjoying Greenwald, it never occurred to me that the subtext of his criticism of all those other authoritarians was that they were defending the *wrong* authority figures.
Two things occur to me.
This suffers from the same problem as calling the people discussed above the “left.” My “alternative media” tends not to be Democracy Now or anything traditionally designated as “left media.” In fact, it is a pitifully small, personally curated selection of blogs, twitter streams and other kinds of sources, aggregated in my own personal time based on a few years of active research in search of such things. It has been invaluable to me, but it has also been depressingly difficult to put together. It constantly wobbles on the brink of stagnation, as time-strained volunteer authors succumb to poverty, illness or, more optimistically – the demands of life, occupation and idleness. But commercial social media – and I include wordpress in this, because Tarzie’s blog is part of my “alternative media” – is just about the only reason it has been possible to put it together. Without the “broadcast from the bottom” structure of some social media, the effort required to create it would have been too onerous to have an “alternative media” at the same time as living a life above the poverty line. I get the impression that others have the same experience.
I tend towards Tarzie’s more pessimistic projections about the possibility of “gatecrashing.” To that end, I actually question the utility of genuine left engagement on these commercial social media. Twitter itself is a social credit system. We must infer that they tend to produce hollow leftists, because the numbers are very much stacked that way. It may well be that we’d be best advised to take Caulk the Wagon’s advice, and look to the creation of an alternative system whose structures would tend to favor the development and nurture of political subjects who share the goals and thoughts we care about, and from which to plot the demise of systems where capitalist consumerist subjects are compulsively enticed into pretending to themselves and each other that they are leftists as a dark and futile kind of ego stimulation.
To summarize the second point better, in the Twitter habitat, genuine leftism may be the mutant strain.
How can you be so sure the platform is the problem?
I have a problem with this argument. It’s like saying the celebrity itself is the problem.
It’s not. It’s attention to celebrity that is the problem. It’s the “need to be enticed by the right things” that is the problem.
Leftism, in the end, is a reaction to something. Why the hell would anyone want to identify as a reaction to anything?
The rise of these celebrity lefts poses the question, just what does it mean to be left? And not because they define what leftism is (because they don’t; what they do is draw upon assumptions sowed by MSM and mainstream popculture), but because WE let THEM define what it is for us.
And off we tumble, grappling with theory x and y, disciriminating between left and right, forevermore. In this sense Twitter is a waste of time. A tragic one.
If we were to define what leftism is for us, it would cease to be leftism. It would be something alive, organic, fruitful.
Communication itself is revolutionary.
I love reading lines like this, especially from someone who posts via Tor. I’m hopeful that something like this, with democratically configurable rules and appropriate levels of anonymity will come together soon.
Empire is going to start bombing Syria soon, and they are in the middle of turning it into another Libya. Empire is strangling oppressed nations to death. We must end capitalism now to save the planet and all of us. And some people don’t feel this urgency – they feel it’s a great time to build their brand. These people should be thrown out of red spaces. They are bourgeois with bourgeois sensibilities and will poison our struggle. Their niche is to sell us empire and bourgeois ideas. That’s how they make a living. That’s how they are useful to empire. They are the epitome of our atomised system of discipline and oppression. The only benefit to their theatrics is that it makes it easy to spot those who side with the bourgeois and their champagne daydreams instead of the world’s oppressed majority.
not crazy about the throwing them out idea but I do think people should stop engaging on their terms.
Why wouldn’t you? They will rat you out to cops. They will blacklist reds. They attempt to shame, smear and expel reds, red-bait etc. This is a strategic question, not an ideological one.
It’s not just my focus wrt to Twitter. I hear what you’re saying.
Can you cite a critic who has one tenth the following she does?
Here’s the crux. Jihad fueled by resentment, jealously and narcissism. You’re Twitter Justice Warriors, basically. Mebbe no one follows you guys because you have dead end ideas?
why are you here you cardboard cutout dolt?
I, too, think the Kardashians are the world’s preeminent philosophers.
I’m more a Lady Gaganist myself.
I was totally wrong about not having anything to say; I guess I just needed the night to think it through. I should note that my ideas here owe a lot to something Roasty says above: So much of my personal political growth has come out of interactions on twitter over the years that I find it odd that people don’t have any interest in doing opening themselves up for the same.
I think that there (at least) two different uses of social media happening here. One is the method where social media is the stage where a person performs their consumption habits and participates in the spectacle by quantifying themselves as tastes and loyalties and brands. The other is the method where social media is channel for communication/questioning/learning.
If you’re here for the first way, “engagement” isn’t something of interest, except insofar as your taste-performance is validated – by a follow or a retweet or whatever. Your political opinions are just another couple bytes in Big Data’s file on your hamburger preferences, thread-count likes, viewing habits and meme generation. Those opinions represent you, like a snazzy scarf or devastating gif; they aren’t organically part of how you want to change the world. (I believe political convictions, wherever they fall on the spectrum, fascist to Communist to anarchist, are dissatisfied with things as they are. They always want to change the world.)
So if the opinions accessorize the person, that’s how you can have such blithe dismissal of bad phrasing, terrible ideas, outright unsubstantiated lies. Such bad politics are just a bad choice in blouses; it doesn’t actually mean anything bad about the wearer beyond an unfortunate slip. The person underneath can still be promoted as “a dear heart” or “an earnestly sweet person”, even when they’re justifying Zionist genocide or lying about Chavistas’ murderous zeal for the super-pretty.
Someone working the second method – communication – doesn’t actually understand this stance. I know I don’t: why put words out there in the world if, when questioned, it turns out maybe you didn’t mean them or they weren’t important?
But communication isn’t of interest so much as decoration. Crabapple’s infamous self-portrait says as much, very plainly. Critique floats, disembodied, unheard, and purely decorative, transformed from communicative effort into pictorialized words, over her strangely wide-eyed, disbelieving face.
The sycophants who seek to police critique are having their brand loyalty challenged. If all we do and say and wear testify to our moral status, then a criticized brand could tarnish their own self-image. They’re not interested in engagiong with the criticism, either. Pigpoopballs is just a cruder version of disingenuous tactical criticism.
“Critique floats, disembodied, unheard, and purely decorative, transformed from communicative effort into pictorialized words, over her strangely wide-eyed, disbelieving face.” This is so spot-on!
“I think that there (at least) two different uses of social media happening here. One is the method where social media is the stage where a person performs their consumption habits and participates in the spectacle by quantifying themselves as tastes and loyalties and brands. The other is the method where social media is channel for communication/questioning/learning.”
I think this and everything else you’ve written is right, except I think the following part misses something:
“If you’re here for the first way … Those opinions represent you, like a snazzy scarf or devastating gif; they aren’t organically part of how you want to change the world.
I think these people (I don’t know how many, but some) DO hope they can change the world by retweeting the right celebrities, and otherwise performing their tastes. I think the difference between influential celebrities and their non-influential followers is that the followers often share or claim to share similar goals to The Kids, but they support the methods of the Adults. This is because they perceive or permissive that The Adults have the influence and status necessary to change the world. The Adults DO change the world but only in the sense of redistributing more wealth to themselves by allying themselves with New Money in minor rivalry with the Old. I don’t know how many of their followers know this and support for this reason in the realistic hope for become such New Money themselves, and how few are truly idiots who believe The Adults are secret communists.
You’re comment is excellent overall, thanks.
If that was inspired by my comment you far outstripped it in eloquence, very well said as always 🙂
I disagree with this not being objectionable:
“that capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them, and if it becomes profitable to give Marxists and anarchists their own MSNBC shows”
There is clearly an audience for it, RT’s popularity is the proof and that requires Kremlin funding to exist. The argument that “capitalism will provide to an anti-capitalist audience, the only problem is you and your kind are an insignificant minority” is insulting and complete horse shit.
Yeah, I agree.
Hmm. Let’s see. On the one hand we have Snowden – exiled in a country he’s been forced to live in because the US did everything it could to prevent him from flying to South America – separated from his family, abandoned his comfortable job & lifestyle, sought after by the world’s most powerful country, hated & accused of treason — whose work results in heightened domestic & global concern about & attention paid to govt intrusions into privacy, even in the US Congress — together with a blogger/journo forced (for a couple of yrs) to live away from his home country because its laws prevented him from being close to his partner in that home country — whose work also ends up forcing the mainstream media to report on spying & privacy issues it was ignoring before —
And on the other we have a blogger who snipes & attacks the above two (certainly flawed–*gasp* they’re human) because of the conduct of their twitter followers & because (in his estimation) they’ve done absolutely nothing of any value or merit at all to disturb or restrain those in power.
Said blogger is, of course, not guilty at all of any “holier-than-thou” attitude at all. Oh no. Strange, tho, how all he does is sit in perpetual judgment of certain people on the “Left” (a label he uses very imprecisely) because of their popularity. I guess his definition of an acceptable “Left” is someone like him–someone who risks nothing and writes a blog dedicated to analyzing and sniping at the worthless idiocies of social media wars and those who dare to have a following for their political or journalistic work. And someone who actually achieves nothing of any political merit at all.
According to this blog I am therefore supposed to throw out and dismiss Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky because they do not pass his litmus test of being sufficiently politically dangerous to power elites. They’re merely “gatekeepers.”
Tell me then–what makes YOU so politically dangerous that I should lend you far more credibility and seriousness that none of the above three merit?
Oh goodness me, you’re “challenging their brands.” Heh. You even TALK like a capitalist–reducing real human beings and the work they do to “brands.”
Well I find your brand ultimately parasitical and worthless–your work relies totally on sniping at those you despise. You’re not doing anything whatsoever to disturb the “power elites” of govt and corporations. All you’re doing is creating your own corner of holier-than-thou sniping where you hand down judgments about who’s not a “genuine threat” to power.
Your definition of any one who is a real threat to power is someone who apparently has few if any followers on twitter.
I don’t feel like engaging with the pointless metric of RISK that you’re positing, but I do want to respond to your passage here: You even TALK like a capitalist–reducing real human beings and the work they do to “brands.”
1. of course there are real human beings at work, but I think it’s been made clear, over and over, that what matters is not their fleshy, squishy earthly existence but their words and actions. What they say and do: whatever one’s philosophical orientation, it can’t be too much to admit that in a mediated world, what we’re dealing with are people’s words & actions, what they say & do, not how the simple unremarkable facts that they respirate and masticate and so on.
2. I’d note, further, that rejecting analysis of words and deeds in favour of Real Human BeingsTM is a pretty classic dismissal move. It sets aside as if disposable and irrelevant politics/words/speech acts/whatever and offers instead a sentimentalized figure of the Individual, besieged and misunderstood.
They’re not besieged and misunderstood. Looking at how journalists have made themselves and their reputations — their fucking BRANDS, because that’s what they are — the center of the story, analyzing what they say and do in institutional contexts, none of that is based on misunderstanding that they’re also Real Human Beings. It is instead working from a different angle, one that is way more useful in understanding the workings and messagings of power.
This is beautiful.
Canned Greenwaldian response accusing anyone commenting or posting here of thinking they’re changing the world on a blog, as opposed to simply being pissed that those who *do* claim to do this are using left labels and concepts for liberal ends. You’ve got the timeline all wrong on this.
This shit is so tired. Engage with merits or go away.
It’s all straight from GG. They never doubt a word.
why I have never heard GG’s self-mythology put so persuasively. I’m a convert! Full dipshit from this day on.
What work does Greenwald do that ISN”T about building his brand?
Rhetorical question. Don’t bother asking. The answer is none.
Just once I’d love to see a reply to Tarzie that didn’t include
a) an equating of “risk” with what a real leftist is, and
b) the assertion that what GG & the like are doing is “making a difference” that’s not backed up by… more assertions.
It means absolutely nothing that Snowden “risked” what he did when it comes to bolstering whether he is challenging power. None. Is he challenging power? I don’t know, there are enough reasons to suspect that power is perfectly fine with him to question that assertion – but even if he is it is NOT because of “risk”. This view that risk is the keystone that proves that someone is a radical is bullshit grandstanding. It’s a one-dimensional view of power, the idea that power can only be challenged in one monolithic way, and it’s as wrong as it is offensive to those that challenge power in a hundred other ways that don’t necessarily carry the “personal risk” that we are to believe Snowden and GG have put themselves through. If you truly believe that the only way to challenge power is through this sort of personal risk, you tip your own hand to your lack of understanding of the structural issues that underlie empire itself – structural issues that, hey, people like Tarzie have focused their critiques on. The woman who subsistence farms in a suburb in her backyard is challenging power. The people setting up Food Not Bombs tables are challenging power. An action’s flash, risk, or newsworthiness is in *no way* a corollary to it’s ability or scope in challenging power, and it’s a cynical mindset to think otherwise. Worse, I suspect that people in power LOVE that you are pushing a narrative where risk is the primary factor in challenging them – because it cools other people from thinking that they are capable of challenging power themselves… it professionalizes dissent.
As to my second point, I’m not convinced that what GG & Snowden have done HAS made a difference. What has changed? The power relationships between corporations and the USG have ever so slightly shifted from a PR standpoint – so now Google gets to declare that they are doing what they can to protect your privacy, while still funding and working on massive joint programs with the intelligence agencies. A few dozen startups get to come up and say “hey look, we offer privacy” using tools that already existed, not that have been fundamentally redesigned in light of the Snowden ‘revelations’. A few laws may get passed on one of 28 intelligence agencies, limiting it legally in a way that it will likely ignore as it’s ignored every other legal limit placed on it since it’s inception. So what, exactly, have Snowden/GG accomplished with these leaks?
Overall, your premise seems to be that critique should be silenced because these are real changers doing real change really changily. Yet I’ve yet to see a single person in the camp you have apparently attached yourself to explain *why* there needs to be silence of these critiques? If these big badasses are making these monumental world changing changes out of their own sense of civic duty or whatever the fuck, then shouldn’t they welcome critique? And here I thought one of the best things about being on the left was being open to a changing worldview via the critique of others – unlike the right which likes to silence critique in much the same way you are attempting to.
This is a terrific point. It really is the great man theory of dissent. Making risk the criteria of greatness is just adapting it to the risk/reward justifications of the capitalist mindset.
Yeah. Subordinates outcome completely. Also encourages a kind of dissent that produces victims and examples.
I agree with roastyagain’s comments regarding risk. Grandstanding is definitely the appropriate word. I think it goes even further than that though.
The whole notion that “risk” equals radicalism is a Rambo/Batman version of politics. Shallow, hero-worshiping, Hollywood romanticism.
The principle vector that matters in such a scenario is that of spectacular action which in Hollywood is fine because it is fiction. In real life however, at best, it only leads to soon forgotten martyrs that are momentarily served up for further spectacular consumption on the evening news.
In addition there are only so many spaces available in the attention spectrum for “good guy” hero-martyrs and since the spectacular element has become so crucial, often completely eclipsing any ethical motivations , any face time with the global public for any reason serves to satisfy that urgent valorization of the element of risk.
Maybe ask Steven Sotloff, or any of the other recent martyrs de jour, about that…oh right..can’t be done because somebody else had a bigger hero complex than them.
awww, you’re like a tree who doesn’t even know what a forest is.
I love the comments on these topics.
I do too.
To be honest, the thing that mainly alarms me is seeing these same tactics used more and more outside mainline celeb-left circles. It should surprise no one to see people who build careers on focus-tested faux-radicalism deflect real political critique into personal beefs. It should, however, worry when supposed comrades start behaving in the same way (as we have dealt with here in Seattle of late), using self-righteous less-radical-than-thou positioning to jockey position in small groups that can’t tolerate that sort of jockeying. And that is, after all, what it is; trying to “win hearts and minds” – and influence – by saying, “I’m not like THOSE people! I’m reasonable!” If it so happens those “hearts and minds” also have “pocketbooks”, well, so much the better.
“trying to “win hearts and minds” – and influence – by saying, “I’m not like THOSE people! I’m reasonable!”
that conflict in movements is as old as time. read about the 60s, civil rights movement, gay rights. There’s always a respectability camp. But the celebrity lefts are likely making that worse. Like Kendzior with her hyperventilating about agitators in Ferguson.
As expected, a great deal of the negative response has been some form of “Tarzie is an asshole.” As you know, I’ve closely followed your criticisms of Greenwald and Chomsky and this manner of response has been consistent throughout, with an early peak during the Snowden/Greenwald pieces. Of course, the pitchforks were spared on Chris Floyd and Arthur Silber, who are apparently still respectable citizens in the cool anarchist club. Unsurprisingly, the cool anarchist club didn’t seem to mind much when Greenwald compared Floyd to the neocons who started the Iraq war. I don’t want to relitigate the Great Greenwald Troll Wars but there has been a familiar pattern that keeps repeating itself. Since the left wagons circled around him re: Snowden we’ve seen the same pack mentality surface over and over again. Anyone who dares to challenge the authority of the great lefty thought leaders (even if those leaders are avowedly not leftists) gets immediately set upon by bloodthirsty fans who can’t wait to demonstrate their fealty with dogged Twitter beat downs. The worst appear to be the micro celebs and lesser known writers and activists who depend on RTs, endorsements, and access to the platforms the celeb lefts gatekeep for. The only possible explanation for the left’s sudden fascination with Crabapple and apologism for her imperialist politics is that social climbing is a big motivator here.
The increasing popularity of these politics has culminated in a left (at least on Twitter) that no longer even values online anonymity. The value of anonymity (and lack of ad hom attacks) should be basic tenets of anyone with moral left politics. Anyone using anonymity as a cudgel against the anonymous critic should be viewed with extreme skepticism. And the prevalence of this attack speaks volumes about the politics of the Celebrity Left and their courtiers. It’s a cheap, easy, and infectious tactic we should all denounce. Marginalization of dissent always follows the same playbook and that’s no less true on the left.
I’m not shocked by cheap tricks to climb a social ladder. They suck, but they don’t shock. I AM shocked by the doxxing of critics and dismissal of views held/arguments made by anonymous people. And no wonder some of us want to stay anonymous, just look at what they do with the tiny shreds of information about Tarzie they use to attack him and distract from his arguments. Anonymity is the only way you can make an argument without ad hominems intruding, and it’s obvious that’s why they hate it so much. It’s fucking thuggery.
It’s totally a game for them. The Celebrity Lefts jockey for higher social status in their group–trying to get MORE access and MORE power for themselves–and the pathetic people under them are banging on the door to get into the club. They’re all vying to be captain of the varsity Celebrity Left football team, and they’ve got a bunch of jocks eager to beat up people who want no part of their stupid sport. Politics and principles be damned! Since they’re playing a game for their own advancement, there’s no need to engage in good faith, but a strong need for shutting down criticism or anything that could derail them. Whatever posturing it takes to serve those ends (advancing their fucking brand while shutting down criticism), fine. There are no principles at all, just celebrity worship on one side and personal ambition on the other, so it’s laughable when they complain about being called out as frauds as they refuse to address valid criticism on its merits while crying “purity cult.” That’s their tactic. It’s no surprise that they attack people who write under anonymous handles. They can’t believe anyone could be on Twitter for a reason other than trying to advance their own personal brand, and maybe getting a RT from a celebrity.
The aspiring Celebrity Left really is the worst. A perfect mix of sycophancy and nastiness, they never miss a chance to smear people on behalf of their heroes. That naked ambition. That looking for any powerful sphincter to affix their lips to. That reflexive attack against any non-celebrity or lower-status person who doesn’t share their worship of the same people. It’s all such poisonous bullshit, and it dominates Twitter. The actions of the noncelebs in these squabbles and the beat-downs they perform on behalf of their idols expose so perfectly the whole Celebrity Left industry for what it is: One big fucking joke.
They almost seem like agents provocateur, trained well in their roles to blend in and move and infiltrate among actual radical and activist groups, or at least to put down the bread crumbs to get the radicals to “follow” them. They put down “dissent” against their viewpoints, they report and journo on “hot” topics using softball language that doesn’t threaten ruling class media and leadership. Their M.O. is to worm their way into the minds of activists and advocate reformism and pro-cap and pro-imp thought and behavior. It’s no different than the pigs who infiltrate antiwar and anti-cap activist meetings, it’s the on-line version of instigating bricks through windows or other tactics to set group cohesion off-balance. It’s meant to destroy the work of activism and to demoralize potential activists.
But liberation movements continue forward without them. Ferguson and other anti-racism and anti-cop rallies, block the boat, the living wage movement – these movements and activists and those coming up in the future don’t need the likes of Greenwald or his 300,000 yes-people and bootlickers. We’re organizing despite the presence of the water carriers for imperialism.
“Adam, I am Harvard, and about ethics in journalism.” These thin skinned preeners view social media as a mirror always telling them they’re the “fairest of all”. Easy to cull networking followers to oblige them(mostly white males).
This is very unenlightened. A preening, dishonest social climber gives Penny a pass. That means you should too.
If you can’t beat them join them, and pick up a paycheck. “Not a good look”(all about the brand)– BUT it’s forgivable to ape Patriarchy to quash debate by credential hawking.
good catch on “Not a good look.”
It’s like he’s had a brain transplant.
Greenwald’s dishonesty in debate on Twitter and elsewhere is astonishing. As Tarzie aptly notes, he’s a fan of argumentum ab auctoritate despite being a soi disant rebel against “abusive authority”(as if there’s a kind and gentle authority). His lifelong love for the “Rule of Law” is what anchors his respect for “righteous authority”(which he used in 2003 to defend Iraq War). This also grounds his implicit smear of Chelsea Manning for “irresponsibly” leaking things(i.e. violating law, and not cooperating fully to protect authorities with leaks) against Snowden’s “responsible” leaks. Where Snowden and Co boasted about working with authorities so as not to endanger, but only embarrass, them.
I hadn’t really thought about how the Manning smears were consistent with a general tendency.
But, don’t forget, his and Snowden’s characterization of Manning’s ‘recklessness’ was false and we know that Greenwald knew it was false, because when it was advantageous to repudiate it, he did. She didn’t dump anything on the internet. She gave it to WL and they sat on it for most of a year then followed a process very much like Greenwald’s but with more international involvement.
First of all, this article or blog entry is just outstanding once more, and needed, even. As Gregory Bateson noted, there are patterns that connect (the species with the environment) and there are patterns that repeat, merely. So, it is the “difference that makes a difference.” That is what matters.
So, thanks again. And, furthermore, I believe the piece on GW/BW pivoting about non-random injustice belying Manning’s fate is imperative to understand what fait-accompli means, in lieu of what progress might mean otherwise, or what liberal IS. That there is this difference that makes a difference, a context for and intelligent species/environment to become one in, is what Saul Bellow distinguished between a sphere and a bubble.
Does it give me faith? Hardly. But, it seems as basic, or necessary as food, leaving me not to deny the miraculous, or to be thankful when morsels are found.
It’s strange that there’s any debate at all about whether or not one should heap criticism on leftists that argue in favor of self-evidently savage, imperial, and servile things. Beyond taking them to task, which is a pleasure in and of itself, one hopes the criticism helps push debate more to the left or at least introduce people to authentically leftist ideas (my students–I’m a teacher–have zero understanding of what the left is or was; their knowledge, bless their hearts, is on the level of a fairy tale).
Yeah. It’s shocking that educated people contest the right to criticize.
This happens to be the only “response” to this blog that I’ve seen emerge from that crowd. I’ll give them some credit and assume I’ve missed other less repulsive attempts to make something resembling an argument.
But I think that thread reflects this tendency of engagement very well. I find it particularly interesting because they aren’t specifically using snark as a tactic to provoke or to convince others you aren’t worth responding to. This is how they talk to each other. None of them even bother to lay out a specific objection. Or give any indication that they read the piece at all. You are so obviously contemptible, its just taken for granted that anything you write can be instantly dismissed.
If you were sitting on twitter snarking at someone by yourself without others doing the exact same thing/faving every idiotic thing you say, you might have to sit there for a second and think about what you’re doing. Am I actually saying anything at all? What was it that I was meant to be responding to? But there seems to be no such awareness here. And even if there is, there’s no desire to break down what each of them as individuals are actually objecting to aside from the fact that you wrote it. We have a whole group of adults, some of whom write shit for a living, that not only seem to find this kind of thing funny and entertaining, but think this is a way to engage in politics.
Maybe we can blame the platform for facilitating this truly debased discourse. I initially joined twitter as a different person politically, with the desire to be exposed to something, anything different. And while I’ve been frustrated by the bad faith, authoritarianism, and stupidity that passes for left discourse, twitter has also become a really important place for my political devolpment. Without it, I doubt I would have found this space, or many of the people contributing here.
Ultimately I think “fractures” like these are a positive development because it evidences the desire of a group of people to think about how power functions within the left (on twitter, anyway). I want nothing to do with a left that thinks solidarity is standing with social climbing authoritarians and the snarky dolts running interference for them.
I like this but I think you’re underestimating how much arguing is going on in the things they’re saying. I am not going to look at it to see new additions, but the snapshot in my post could be summarized as follows:
It’s an argument for ignoring me by affirming a heavily promoted caricature of me and my concerns. By implication it also argues that I’m probably a slog to read. It sneers at my obscurity, suggesting that anyone worth reading is hugely popular.
It’s necessary to keep affirming the caricature and also their membership in the higher status club. These people are completely self-calibrating. They don’t waste a word.
That’s a good point. I guess I’m just responding to that thread and the lack of engagement with arguments from the piece you actually wrote. But, you’re right, they are always reinforcing the caricature, which I think is a dismissal, but not without content or purpose.
Unable to respond to their actual critics, they invent their own: https://twitter.com/caulkthewagon/status/507889844572672000
Also, apropos of nothing:
If leftier-than-thou kids means people in this thread, I think it would be a pretty sweet island.
we would be indecent to each other. it’s in our holier-than-thou nature.
Still sounds more fun than retweeting pigpoopballs and high-fiving.
see, as long as you can make it sound sexy…
Pingback: Your Revolution is Depressing as Fuck | roasty
Regarding a previous comment, and closer scrutiny:
AMY GOODMAN: “On the humanitarian front, the United Nations says 20,000 to 30,000 Yazidis may still be trapped on the arid Mount Sinjar where they fled, fearing attacks from Islamic State militants. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák said, quote, “All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours.””
Aug 13th, 2014.
Balance. Or: I would like the Pentagon to fuck me in the mouth.
Did I go too far here? Probably. But swearing is, apparently, all we have. I have attempted to find something salient and relevant from these people on ISIS. Nothing. Is asking who funds ISIS illegal? Is there a mothership controlling our thoughts, ensuring that the question can’t be asked? You’d think so.
Increasingly bizarre. I begin to wonder if Google has censored the anti-war comments of leftists everywhere. The alternative – that they are not anti-war – isn’t great, to say the least. Disturbing empty-shell Obama is getting increasingly weird, day by day, but leftists appear not to care. Infiltration of leftist groups is a standard tactic, little did we know that mind-infiltration was so advanced. I begin to think that tinfoil hats aren’t so insane …
As to the substance of the blog, I met these people at university. 14 year old who think they are cleverer than everyone else. They aren’t.
Also, how hard can it be to say: I denounce this shit?
It’s dead easy. You just say/write that you denounce this shit. You think it’s evil and a disgrace, and that everything the Pentagon states is bullshit, which you denounce. I can do it, and I’m a nobody.
I denounce this shit. It’s fucking awful.
Re: https://twitter.com/RancidTarzie/status/510150346032029696 :
Oh fucking priceless, because no one can save U$ $ivilization like those four highlighted and ordained – Free Trade!™adoring at ‘heart’ – youngish ‘white’ boy$z can:
(don’t feel too bad if you might have previously ‘bought in’ tarzie, it’s a feature in the opaque and insidious non-stop daily molding process constructed by the sociopaths who own all nooz/noose outlets; and can never own enough/ get enough power.
For me, Scahill is actually the larger embarrassment – since I never questioned his “insights” like I silently did with Greenwald and his utter absence on discussing those oppressed in his own country of birth – but then, fairly recently, I checked back to my hardcopy of Scahill’s, “Blackwater”, and retrospectively discovered a stunningly blatant omission of the historic OIL industry events (since Scahill implicitly declared such historic oil pipeline knowledge in that book) as regards British Petroleum, versus its preceding Anglo-Persian>Anglo Iranian and, subsequent, early to mid 1950’s London Inc./U$ CIA assassination[s].
I’m not even saying that Scahill omitted it deliberately, jus’ saying that Capitali$m is only successful for those who don’t feel obliged at all in taking precious care when they claim to speak for those who have been robbed of voice; and do so in order not to lose that chair in that venal Musical Chair$ Game ™ of Capitali$m.)
Oh goody, UselessAssholePalooza is coming to town.
Yeah, I think that sponsor is the same libertarian group that Greenwald spoke for a month or so back. Young Adult Liberty or Young Asshole LIberty or whoever they are.
Restoring civil liberties on one Saturday in October. Jesus christ, maybe they’ll hand out copies of the “Constitution.”
Terminology you won’t hear at this “event:” working class, ruling class, class collaboration, means of production, revolution (unless the words “Rand Paul” are in front of it), capitalism (unless it’s celebratory to garnish applause), imperialism.
and, let alone that [Ayn] Rand/Paul/Thiel, Sly Con Valley, et al, aspect: ..there’s that seamless Merger with COLUMBIA …Gem of the [Atlantic] Ocean!™, et al – .. delighted and sleazy ivy frat/sorrority bitch [bar none] cheer leader league bedfellows thang goin on …
I’d love to see somebody Code Pink this event and unfurl anti-cap banners during their talks. See how long it takes the “civil libertarians” to call security.
There is absolutely zero chance of that happening. Are we exempting Medea Benjamin from celeb left membership?
Absolutely not, I think Code Pink has been useless to the left, but I meant a general code pink type action, as it were, just an infiltration of sorts.
I’m curious to know where this advert for the talks popped up originally? Was it advertised at The Intercept? The libertarian org backing it is really played down, like smaller letters and such.
I don’t know. I got it from some libertarian talking about how butch Matt Welch looked.
well honey, after witnessing the Pink [ALPHA BITCH] Sisterhood™ up front, ugly and personal, re cancer, I’d be happy if the Pink brand was buried ten feet under (at least), siiiigh. (That sentiment will likely be verified if you ask any female with a “Stage IV”, ‘female cancer’ (I’m not even at Stage IV, to my knowledge, and as if dealing with Wanker Menz for the last half century wasn’t enough, I may have officially aquired PTSD just dealing with the Pink [ALPHA BITCH] Sisterhood™.).)
It would be wonderful though, as I suspect you would agree with, to see a gathering, demographically representative of the voiceless, to publically shame those claiming to speak for the voiceless at these sorts of venal events.
You suspect correctly.
Oh the Venal and Ghastly Irony of Celebrity Leftists.
In the Racist HollowWood, Racist Orange County, Racist California gut of where so many disgusting Celebrity Leftists such as: Woody, Di’Caprio; Tarentino; Africa’s Saviors™ Clooney and Mia; et cetera, etcetera, etcetera, have made stunning fortunes as a consequence of, for just one “consequence of”, being obsessed with being admired for their Acting (<key word) Abilities on an enormous scale and the stunning wealth which it brings; Fortunes which, in large part, came from the pockets of those who are utterly voiceless and whom those ACTORS appear to hold in utter contempt … could clearly care less about:
091414 The moment sobbing Django Unchained actress was handcuffed for kissing her white boyfriend because police assumed she was a PROSTITUTE
Typical Cali, Typical U$.
evil does exist
‘Oh … Lordie,’ and how could I have possibly omitted Bra[n]dJolie™; Jolie, being a least qualified (just like Clooney), vial blood sipper>United Nations Amba$$ador! … savior of the: 9th Ward; … The Middle East [Wimmenz] (and what the Fuck does that Middle East code exactly mean on a Huge Spherical Planet?) and all else!:
040214 Celebrity endorsement like Angelina Jolie’s is the curse of good causes – The world in which Jolie leads the campaign against rape is a dystopia, seething with hypocrisy and soaked in vanity:
(and don’t let me even start , on Jolie’s Daddy, Voight,….The [U$] Champ!™. … These Actors make obscene millions, as Actors (when the best of humanity… WHO ARE NOT ACTING …. generally work amidst poverty …and being constantly shamed/PUNISHED/arrested by the powers that be …and then they ‘retire’ or die in/into, poverty) then have the fucking unmitigated fucking gall, FOR FUCKING PROFIT, to insert themselves as our PARENTS?????? )
“I have never understood why actors, whose professional vocation is to erase themselves, are to be idolised, but maybe that itself is the reason. Even so, it feels peculiarly self-hating, even for a self-hating species.”
perhaps this is [without putting my finger on it] truly why i stopped Acting; now if only my getting over stage fright would translate into some useful public speaking…
“Gang of Four” hoping to substitute one capitalist party for another.
You’ve lost the plot when you take this nonsense seriously.
Gonna drop everything now and do something else. Thanks for taking the time to sort me.
you’re only asserting that because of how almost-Wilderness this (‘here’) is*. but it isn’t yet.
* (or with the ‘assurance’ that “this nonsense” takes place in a mental/metaphorical wilderness, which is hardly any more salutary than “ignore them and they’ll go away”.)
Any thoughts on this piece in the Nation? http://www.thenation.com/article/181569/how-feminists-and-liberals-enabled-modern-police-state
Pingback: Stranger Danger: The Infiltration of Dissident Communities by Freedom House’s Sarah Kendzior | Anti Social Media
Pingback: In Defense of Utopianism | roasty
As someone who came to understand the corporate-state system through Chomsky’s writings but has grown progressively more disillusioned with him over time, this series is quite interesting to me.
I agree with all of your criticisms, Tarzie, except this: Chomsky has done more good than harm and I don’t think that there’s any real doubt about that. He is the intellectual center of the “left”, whether most people who fit or define themselves in that category are less radical than you or I is utterly irrelevant in my view. This kind of “gatekeeper” idea is the language used by 9/11 truthers and is, in my view, disingenuous. We have to recognize the huge debt we bear to his writings over the years — he was one of very few who organized against the Vietnam War as early as 1965, when NYT journalists were celebrating the “glorious bloodbath” of a couple million Indonesian communists by Suharto. The Times may not have good coverage of periodic Israeli bloodbaths in Gaza, but they don’t openly glorify them. Chomsky has a lot to do with just shifting the parameters of debate in this country and we would not even be having this conversation if not for his work. His dissection of US power is an invaluable resource, and I don’t think that you can dismiss the importance of activism simply by saying its not sufficiently radical. Criticism before solidarity does not preclude solidarity, and though there are problems with many of his views, especially in recent years, one cannot (or in my view, should not) simply dismiss his contributions outright because of some bad comments he has recently made.
Specifically, though he does make these claims that it takes very little courage to dissent in the US, he was also practically the only white leftist denouncing the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the state, as he continues to do (I think he was the only white person at the funeral as well). He also says repeatedly that Blacks do not have the same level of freedom as whites. There is a range of options which the state can employ, and very few (if any) white dissenters have been killed by the state. Chelsea Manning and Aaron Schwartz are heroic in their bravery, and they took on the system well aware of the potential consequences, but they are exceptions. That is a huge difference from the measures employed in places like Honduras, El Salvador and other client states. There you just get killed, no questions asked, no one outside the country gives a shit. The coup in Honduras wasn’t covered at all in the mainstream press, for good reason — no one gives a fuck about brown people, especially NYT.
As for Omidiyar being an asshole, Greenwald an egotist etc. etc. there’s no doubt. But I would like to hear your response to how you can simultaneously agree with the importance of Chomsky’s writings and yet claim that overall he has done more harm than good. He’s far from the overly collaborative posture of Snowden, Greenwald and the rest. He has also repeatedly states his dislike for the huge amount of attention his activism and writing has garnered. You may think that its disingenuous, but I don’t. In his (unaired) conversation with Gore Vidal on the Gulf War, he began the discussion by stating that his relentless activism (and it is relentless) is motivated by the disgust he faces when looking in the mirror in the morning, knowing how much more he could have done to help victims of state-corporate power. I don’t think anyone commenting here, including myself, holds themselves to such a high standard.
To summarize, I agree with your criticisms but not the conclusion in the case of Chomsky. Reasonable people can disagree but that doesn’t mean that they’re shills for the system.
Just recently found this blog and its a refreshing alternative, so thank you for your writing.
I appreciate your dropping by. Glad you like the blog.
I’m sorry you remain unconvinced about Chomsky, but you haven’t made any real effort to disabuse me of my error. You haven’t contended with any of my specific claims but have instead made a series of assertions that you find much more self-evident than I do. You focus a great deal on his motives, which are a matter of pure speculation and of absolutely no relevance to what I discuss here. This is among my biggest problem with Celebrity Lefts. They are essentially religious figures and so evaluating them becomes an issue of good and bad. This is one of the many ways in which they make everything dumber. I am only interested in Chomsky’s words and deeds in relation to their meaning and effects, not how they reveal his super duper magic essence.
I don’t feel that you understand my critique of Chomsky at all, else you would know that it is precisely his status as “the intellectual center of the ‘left'” that arouses my skepticism. As I said in my first post about him, this status was conferred almost entirely by elites and by Chomsky’s lifetime symbiosis with the military-academic complex. It therefore arouses the question: why? And I believe I’ve answered it in my posts: he serves power vastly more than he impedes it. If you disagree, contend with that assertion by looking at what I base it on. Reciting Chomsky’s accomplishments as if I’m not aware of them in between calling this and that ‘disingenuous’ is not something I feel in the least obliged to engage with at length. I find the invoking of 9/11 conspiracism to discredit the extremely useful concept of gatekeeping a conformist, merit-free maneuver. That shit doesn’t fly here.
I have readily conceded that my analysis owes a lot to Chomsky, though it probably owes more to Herman. In any case, I don’t concede that if we had a left discourse that wasn’t circumscribed by elite-chosen arbiters, we wouldn’t have access to the same ideas but without the servility by which they pay their way. I think Manufacturing Consent is a uniquely valuable contribution. The rest of his work far less so.
I don’t care how Chomsky feels when he looks in the mirror, if the remedy for feeling better is extremely lucrative handwringing, endorsing Democrats, whitewashing state repression — which like so many before you, you’ve unconvincingly attempted to rationalize — pissing on other radicals and reinventing public anguish and information gathering as activism. You readily concede the over-collaborative posture of Greenwald. So then what do you make of Chomsky’s longstanding endorsement of Greenwald, to whom he is clearly passing the torch, even blessing his union with the toxic billionaire? Obviously Chomsky sees Greenwald as a kindred spirit, his heir apparent. Do you wonder at all why that is?
First of all, a number of the things I stated deal with your criticisms, for instance, your partly accurate criticism of his statements that very little courage is required to dissent in the US. Secondly, his remedy is not “lucrative handwringing” because his employment has nothing to do with his activism. He has put himself at considerable personal risk to physically defy the state in the 60s at a time when activism was non-existent. Its safe to say that the anti-war movement would not have developed so quickly, if at all, without his non-stop organizing, initially among very very few people and eventually reaching a mass audience. He’s now 85 so I presume you don’t expect him to continue with civil disobedience and I don’t see you proposing an alternative method of resistance, because there isn’t one unless there is a massive and organized anti-state movement. Hacking is civil disobedience, but again I don’t think its reasonable to expect him to hack. I do understand your critique and agree with it, but I disagree with the conclusion that his work is worthless. How can you possibly state that you agree with his analysis of the media and at the same time say he is totally subservient to corporate interests? Herman and Chomsky were co-authors, don’t disparage Chomsky’s work on the basis of the fact that he had help from Herman.
The reason I mentioned the “gatekeeper” term (I agree that guilt by association is not a logical argument, nor did I intend it) is that the idea that because you disagree with someone on certain points that person is a servant of state power is just not serious. People disagree on many things, but on balance, would you prefer Chomsky had remained within the field of linguistics? I don’t like Glenn’s comments about how people criticizing him are all cowards, but at some point that does have some validity if you attempt to disqualify a life of activism on the basis of partial criticism, and then extrapolate from that a total denial of the contribution of that individual. I said that even though you and I may not agree with his views as the “intellectual center of the left” it does not make that position worthless. Again, would you prefer that he said nothing political whatsoever? I know you don’t believe that because its clear how much influence he has had on you. There is a line between criticism and repudiation and I do think we ought to give credit where credit is due. That’s all. If you really think that his works serve power then I don’t think you have read them. I’ve virtually all of his political work and the only comparable figure working within the field of History is Gabriel Kolko. Chomsky’s output is vastly greater than Kolko’s and has had far more impact. There is a world beyond the “blogosphere” and twitter and all this internet bullshit and you have quite a hot-headed attitude for someone who had not materially contributed to the progress and proliferation of activist movements. You are taking the same approach to my criticism of your posts as you do to Chomsky’s work: my way or the highway. That’s not serious. I was hoping for a more thoughtful response and am still hoping for one.
From ‘disingenuous’ we go to ‘not serious’ with barely a recognizable argument along the way, just a litany of Chomsky’s virtues, insistence that I recognize them along with recognition of my own deficiencies, the main one being daring to criticize my betters, having made such meagre contributions myself. I find it extremely sad, though not at all surprising, that someone with a Columbia email address actually thinks they’re arguing when they do this.
I think you continue to misread me, if in fact you’ve read my Chomsky posts at all. My point about Chomsky isn’t that he’s not doing enough or that his work his “worthless.” It’s that I don’t believe one becomes an icon if one does more. He can’t be but what he is, but that doesn’t immunize him from critique. Your individualistic focus on Chomsky misses this point entirely, in a way that is quite starry-eyed about how repression works. If you want to interest me, argue how it is that a true thorn in the system’s side becomes a millionaire, continues to work for the military’s university, becomes a recognized authority in his field and is touted in mainstream newspapers and journals as the “world’s most influential intellectual.” Have you not noticed how this system deals with genuine threats, like say, Gary Webb, who’s still being smeared — by colleagues of Chomsky’s anointed one, no less — eighteen years after he published Dark Alliance?
Even Chomsky himself, during the moments when he’s not idiotically understating the level of repression in the US, pretty much concedes this. Read The Fate of the Honest Intellectual, for example. This question can be put another way: Why was Aaron Swartz dead at 26 while Chomsky will likely die of natural causes somewhere in his 90s? I think the answer to that question is eloquently expressed by Chomsky’s revolting behavior following Swartz’s death. Instead of seizing the opportunity to analyze and repudiate the forces that came together to destroy Swartz, he argued for intellectual property, called Swartz’s activism an expression of “social pathology”, and dishonestly misrepresented the crucial role his lifetime employer played in Swartz’s destruction. He essentially argued that Swartz wasn’t a true dissident and that therefore, his vile treatment by the state and MIT was not true repression. That’s quite a lot of servility for the country’s most revered ‘radical’, wouldn’t you say?
All the celebrity lefts are what I call Heat Vampires, public figures characterized by (quoting myself from elsewhere)
Chomsky, like every other public left of consequence, is a template for irrational compliance. By virtue of being the most radical celebrity left, his compliance is the most irrational of all, and thereby most useful at getting compliance at the margins. He wrings his hands over oligarchic control of every facet of our lives, while parsing out the difference between the Democratic and Republican parties and touting the US as ‘A Free Country’ where repression is ‘virtually undetectable.’ You point to his books as evidence of his resistance to power, but that’s because Chomsky has convinced you and a number of other people that wringing our hands and consuming bad news is resistance. In the end, what have people like Chomsky delivered in the way of effects? Where is the evidence that Chomsky and his ilk do anything but induce hopelessness, a little catharsis and anguished obedience?
One thing we know is that for Chomsky it has delivered a lot of extra income. While “his employment has nothing to do with his activism” his “activism” has a great deal to do with his fortune. Chomsky is Greenwald’s antecedent as a merchant of horror, making handsome speaking fees, recording everything he says anywhere for publication in anthologies, and writing books. Chomsky is a millionaire with two homes and a fat stock portfolio. I say this not because there’s anything particularly wrong with it, but to suggest that it is somewhat at odds with how truly fucking with power is usually compensated, even by Chomsky’s own assessment.
Things that Chomsky did long before he became an icon, such as his activism against the Vietnam War, are almost entirely beside the point apart from what they contribute to the Chomsky brand. Even so, I can’t help pointing out that you’ve got the history a bit wrong. By most accounts Chomsky’s activism against the war began in 1967, which was many years after the US had become involved, a few years after ruptures had begun to appear among elites on the war, and three years after the peace movement had begun. The Vietnam War would be the key issue of the following year’s Presidential Campaign. In other words, your assessment of Chomsky as a trailblazer playing a decisive role in the peace movement is simply wrong. He continued to work for the military’s university, which no doubt appreciated how Chomsky fielded questions about the evident hypocrisy in his employment, touting the university’s respect for free and open inquiry.
But I’m overtalking this. David Horowitz was far more militant at the time than Chomsky and we know how he turned out. That’s all ancient, irrelevant history.
Finally your Greenwaldian attacks on my character are entirely without argumentative merit. One needn’t be president to substantively criticize the president. Do you really not understand this, Columbia person? This is what I mean when I say these icons make everything dumber. They turn intelligent adults into fans.
And I doubt very seriously that Chomsky sees himself as needing an “heir apparent”; he has stated that future generations ought to eliminate the errors in his work while keeping the accurate aspects, which is what you ought to do rather than using this type of sledgehammer condemnation.
Another entirely non-responsive answer. You’re consistent.
Whether he feels he needs an heir or not, he has loaned his lofty brand to Greenwald numerous times and even blessed the union with the toxic neoliberal billionaire.
Pingback: Misremembering Gary Webb | The Rancid Honeytrap
Pingback: Edward Snowden’s Bizarre Conception of Human Rights | The Rancid Honeytrap
Pingback: The Agency | 100 Flamingos
Pingback: Edward Snowden’s Bizarre Conception of Human Rights | The Rancid Honeytrap « The Progressive Mind
Pingback: Can We Have A Smarter Conversation About Free Speech? | The Rancid Honeytrap
Pingback: ACLU Triptych | The Rancid Honeytrap
Pingback: Shit I Never Tweeted: A Heretic’s Lament | The Rancid Honeytrap
Pingback: A NOTE ON DERAY MCKESSON | ablackunbound
Pingback: “Kill your idols”: Chelsea Manning and the reactionary “left” – Leftist Critic