Progressive Extremism and Fuck Off

A couple of weeks back, view I wrote a post that went, if not viral, then just a little bit sick. It was one of those popular outbursts we see people have on social media wherein I told folks (in this case, those who believe that Islam is intrinsically evil) to go and fuck themselves. I did this in part because I find sentiment of the type lacking in logic, but mostly because a Muslim pal was copping shit.

download (3)Since muggins here did her thing on Facebook, several people have sought permission to republish the post and many more have published it in any case. Someone even asked me if they could set it to music. I said no. Because I regret writing it, and I wanted to explain why.

(Have a cuppa, this is not going to be short. You know me. I fucking go on.)

Let me say that the post was a fair summation of how I *feel* about intolerance of the type. As an address in a public forum, however, it does not represent how I think about intolerance of the type.

Telling people to go and fuck themselves is wrong; and not just because it’s impolite. It is wrong because it locates intolerance of the type in the individual, and not in the society that produced that intolerance.  I write unstintingly with the difference between a society and an individual in mind, except on the day I wrote that post. Understanding this distinction and this relationship is central to my worldview. In hundreds of articles a year that few people read, I talk about society and plead with people to think that individualism is an ideology, and not a natural thing that just *is*’. And when I posted that “go fuck yourself” thing, I addressed individuals and made them responsible for a social disorder. Because I was in a mood and not thinking clearly. And it’s probably going to stand as the most “shared” item I’ve ever written. Shit.

I believe those of us who are concerned about the rise of intolerance of the type must return, again and again, to this idea of society, and not individuals, producing such sentiment. And, no, I am not letting deeply intolerant or fact-averse people off the hook here. I am not saying we need to love them or talk in a reasonable way if they are doing something awful.  But I am saying, for the sake of the future and the fuck, that we MUST think about what we are doing when we criticise them, instead of criticising the society that produced that sentiment.

It is at about this point in my argument that someone always says “This is bullshit. Society is made of individuals, Razer is a suckhole and I am cancelling my subscription.” But, there is a real difference, and I think you can see it if you try. Societies are machines. They are not individual people. They are big and they have their own logic which often overwhelms individual intervention. You may be able to think about this in terms, say, of the nations from which a lot of asylum seekers are currently fleeing. You may permit yourself to understand how some people in Iraq might be coerced by economic and social factors and opportunistic leaders into thinking a certain way about the west . But,what you may not see so clearly is that some people in the west can be coerced by economic and social factors and opportunistic leaders into thinking in a certain way about Iraqis. You say that it’s all their fault. As though that fault were produced just by the individual, and not by the society the fault serves.

Intolerance serves a (terrible) purpose. Just as intolerance of the west serves ISIS, intolerance of Islam serves Australia’s investment class. All these people blaming Islam for the shit that they find themselves in, never blaming the rent-seekers who actually put them in the shit. This works really nicely for society’s richest people and entities. Yay, the underclass is fighting itself.

If I were to meet, say, a young Iraqi man whose desperate parents had given him to a radical mullah as a boy because, you know, the US and its allies have bombed all the schools in Iraq, and I spoke to him reasonably about his loathing for my nation, I wouldn’t achieve much, right? If I said, “Habibi. We’re not ALL like that,” he wouldn’t give a shit. It is unreasonable to expect him to give a shit. It is unreasonable to expect him to lift himself in an instant from years of ideology (I would say at this point that Islam is not an ideology, it’s a faith, but that’ll just provoke more intolerance in the comments) formed in poverty and war. If I gave him an awareness ribbon, if I told him to “just love” or if I told him to go and fuck himself, none of this would work.

Okay. Well, it doesn’t work on people who can’t afford air-conditioning in mining electorates, either.

There are SO many things that produce intolerance. A lack of needs-based education funding for starters. A stagnant wage. Experience of domestic violence, which occurs more often in impoverished homes. (Cue, feminist comment saying “all women suffer equally under patriarchy”. No, they don’t.) The knowledge that you’ll never have anywhere permanent to live. Insecurity (real insecurity, I’m not talking about vague-fear-of-terrorism Sonia Kruger insecurity here) makes people insecure. And, you know, it is really fucking difficult to think and to love, especially when you’ve got little education and no aircon and dad’s whacked you and called you a poofter again.

Some of the world’s best minds grapple with the stuff of society and how its arrangement produces particular attitudes, and they’re still confused. So, you tell me how some poor white kid in western Sydney is going to think about this complexity. When someone comes along, like P Hanson, and not only gives voice to your sense of persecution but gives you what feels like a big, social solution to your very shitty life, you might think, “Yeah. It’s the brown people and those gays with scholarships getting all the stuff that belongs to me”.

The young man from Iraq. The young man from Mount Druitt. They’ve got more in common than you think.

Like a lot of terrible things, intolerance is pretty complex. It does not arise for a single reason. It does not have a simple history. As such, it does not have a simple solution. I know that people mean well when they write or say or broadcast something simple and emotional. When they declare “My answer is to love everyone” or, as was my answer, “everyone go and fuck yourself”, they mean well. But the road to hell is paved with passionate posts on Facebook. (And I should have kept my Strong Feelings to myself. I guess what I’m saying is, ergh, “Sorry”.)

I do not claim to have diagrammed all the causes for intolerance. I don’t have a nice infographic I can post. But I will say that if we do not consider harsh economic conditions as a significant factor in the rise of intolerance in Australia and in other western nations, then we are fools.

I am from a white working class family. However, I am not an intolerant person (well, not of social categories of people, just of fucking everything) due largely to the social wealth I experienced. I grew up in a time when my parents, neither of whom finished secondary education, could afford to buy a home. Four doors down was a pretty decent state school. I am legally blind and like many disabled kids back then, I was afforded extra funding to make my education useful. Close to us was a nice library, built from the belief that citizens who pay taxes deserve knowledge, inter alia, in return. It genuinely never occurred to me for the first nine years of my life to think of brown people as inferior, dangerous or somehow more or less persecuted than I was. Then, I heard some white kid call a brown kid a bad name and when I asked my dad what it meant, he said, “It means that the kid that said the bad name comes from a poor family”.

And, much of the time, that’s still what it means. And we fucking alleged “progressives” very rarely take this into account. We correct their spelling, we call them idiots and we say “why don’t you check your facts”. I don’t know. Maybe after ten hours on the floor at Target, all you have time or inclination to do is smoke a bowl.

And, no. To be gracelessly clear, I am not saying that you should feel sorry for such persons. I am not saying they get a free pass because life is tough. No more than, say, Islamists should.

I mean, do I need to actually say to my tens of readers that some persons in aspiring Islamist states became extreme in their views because they didn’t have a choice? And I know bombs aren’t raining down in Lindsay, but things are pretty shit there, all the same. And they are shit in a way that I, having been educated reasonably well and produced by good social policy settings that have now been switched in favour of investors, cannot imagine.

But, we must try to imagine why people are becoming so intolerant and blaming their lot on a particular ethnic or religious group. And you must think how fatuous you seem are and how extreme your privilege appears when you urge them to use “respectful” language. They see, and not without reason, such verbal shifts as the hobby of a class with greater leisure. They think that if you have enough time on your hands to chastise them for wearing Native American headdress to a costume party or to ask them not to use “gay” as a slur, that you’re on a better wicket that they are.

And you know what? Much of the time, they’re right. Individualist progressivism is a middle-class pursuit. It’s also an ideology.

We “progressives” no longer think about solidarity with people whose lives and labour conditions have been screwed. There are certain of these people we might lend our support to, sometimes. But we largely consider the chief measures of progressivism to be things like respectful language and same-sex marriage and being “culturally sensitive”. We have little interest in fighting for wealth equality and even less than in admitting that this lack of equality is, in part, what produces intolerance.

We are culturally sensitive but we are no longer socially and economically sensitive. The ALP took the decision more than twenty years ago to turn its back on its working class base. They appeal to people like you and me who have evolved or inherited a middle-class sensibility and just love it when Shorten says something to Corey Bernardi like, “At least I’m not a homophobe”.

Now, I am a queer person and I have very good reason to loathe homophobia. But I am also a citizen of a nation so busy talking about cultural sensitivity, it has no obvious interest in economic and social reform. Why is Shorten wasting his time trading personal insults with an idiot, when he could be talking trade? Which has FUCKED us. And has fucked so many people so badly, they become intolerant.

And, no. I am not saying there was a golden time in Australia. I know, I know. The White Australia Policy. But, if we can preserve what is good about our cultural sensitivity and let it, please, take a back seat for a while to social sensitivity, we could drive into the future without crashing.

Progressives will not admit these culturally insensitive people to their movement. Progressives have come to believe in the idea of the good individual. All this “It all starts with you” shit. Fucking, balls. I think the idea of the good individual is an ideology as extreme as Islamism or as intolerance of the type I’ve been describing. And I know it’s extreme, because so many people who believe it can’t recognise it as a belief. (N.B. I recognise my beliefs as beliefs. I might come across as smug. That is largely because I am an arsehole. But still, an arsehole who acknowledges her beliefs.)

You think an intolerant person or an Islamist thinks they’re extreme? No, they don’t. They think they’re utterly logical. So do the “It All Starts With Me” and “If I Can Touch Just One Person” mob who make up the progressive rainbow army of the present. It might feel all nice and fluffy and right-minded, all this compassion talk. But, I’m telling you, this individual shit is extreme.

We can use the respectful language. We can do the eco-tourism. We can buy fair trade chocolates and teach our children that some people have two mummies and tell newcomers that we’re very interested in their culture. But we must not expect that everyone can do this before we see them as our comrades.

We cannot demand of a white underclass in Australia “be tolerant” unless we offer them solidarity and solutions in return. Which we do not. Because we’re so far up our own fundaments with awareness ribbons and respectful this and compassionate that, we do not consider their problem of poverty a problem. Notwithstanding that poverty is, in large part, responsible for their intolerance. We progressives really do think of them as the undeserving poor.

(Not all of intolerance is down to poverty. As I said, intolerance is complex. Especially in the case of that directed toward this nation’s indigenous peoples. That’s some deep psychological shit, as well as economic.  I’ve already gone on too long. But. Just. FFS. Follow the money, people.)

If I were wired just a little differently, I am pretty sure I’d be on the wrong side of the culture war, right now.  I would look at my pay packet and see the loss of my leave, superannuation and right to a steady job and say, “It’s the foreigners”. And, it is the foreigners, although not the ones an intolerant person might think. It’s a very small group of them who have accumulated a great deal of wealth and, with it, immense power.

That’s how I, and others, see the world. And we see it this way largely because we had access to a comprehensive education. And this education stops us from going completely bonkers when we watch someone experiencing or administering intolerance, because we feel we have some idea of the social conditions that produced such acts. We believe that we can change the settings if only we have a true solidarity.

These days in Australia, most progressives see only the intolerant individual, not the society that produces intolerance. And for just as long as we remain fixated on individual morality and not the kind of social policy that will buy a blind kid a typing tutor or a mother a home, we will not be a progressive movement.

You don’t just break someone out of ideology with kindness OR the instruction that they should go and fuck themselves. However, on this occasion, I am telling those who believe in individualism as an account of society to go and fuck themselves, just a bit.

And, yeah, I am sorry that I wrote that thing.

23 comments for “Progressive Extremism and Fuck Off

  1. Uri
    August 3, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Thanks for another interesting article Helen.

    I agree with your synopsis of the social effects of poverty on potentially creating a sub-optimal individual outlook as described. But apart from a small disclaimer towards the end (without examples to corroborate) that intolerance is complex, aren’t you drawing a fairly rigid connection between personal finances and social tolerance? If money and education solve intolerance how do we explain Sonia Kruger, The Donald, and pretty much everyone in the Libs? In fact I’d go so far as to say that “poor”-but-reasonably-educated people (such as yourself) are generally far more tolerant – almost by definition – than almost any Liberal voter.

    PS. Don’t worry about your wiring. With your love of identity politics, you are on the wrong side of the culture war anyhow :)

    Love your work.

    • August 3, 2016 at 1:20 am

      FFS, Uri. A girl only has so many hours in the day. :)
      These grandees appeal. both wittingly and unwittingly, to an underclass. Trump is cynical about it, and Glenn Greenwald’s interview last week in Slate explains the origins of his appeal to an underemployed white class. There’s a good link therein to the conservative site, The Week. It’s a cynical strategy, coupled with empty promises about how he’ll fix trade in favour of the underclass. He’s actually saying that he is, economically, just like Bernie Sanders.
      And Kruger. Well. She’s a simpler creature. I think she started saying idiot stuff, and it worked well. Also, an impoverished sensibility can follow you through life, even when your circumstances change.
      Look. It’s no surprise that the people who benefit from intolerance are also going to be intolerant. People who want neoliberalism with a human face like Turnbull are either deluded or lying. Anyhoo, as I said, this was long and I wrote it when I should have been earning money and basically, the short version is, impoverished persons tend to be more open and vulgar in their intolerance. And so they cop it a lot.

      • August 3, 2016 at 1:25 am

        Also. No. Not just personal finance. Social wealth. Education, for example. Or the ability to buy a house with your personal finance. As I said, quite plainly.
        And what example do I need to give of intolerance being complex? It’s hardly an unreasonable proposition.

        • Uri
          August 3, 2016 at 1:32 am

          OK it’s my bedtime too, but I think it’s problematic to finger everyone from Mount Druitt for social intolerance when people in Point Piper are probably more intolerant per capita. And all that despite their educational, social and cultural capital.

          • August 3, 2016 at 1:38 am

            No. I know. As I said, though, it’s these people who get fingered for it. One thing the posh are do with their nice educations is learn how to conceal their racism.

          • August 3, 2016 at 1:38 am

            I mean, honestly. The most sexist fuckers I have ever met in my life went to private schools. But, of course, they conceal it better.

  2. Uri
    August 3, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Not to mention cash money.

  3. August 3, 2016 at 2:30 am

    Re your spray, you might be sorry you wrote it .. I’m glad I read it. It was a great and beautiful piece of vituperative writing. And the last line was a balltearer.

  4. Cally Brown
    August 3, 2016 at 6:57 am

    Great writing (even though I missed the trigger piece) that put into words much of what I have been thinking, but had not articulated.

  5. Pete
    August 3, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I have helicoptered in to this discussion. Excellent thinking. So the solution to racism, and many other issues, is an economic one? More specifically the argument is that income inequality needs to be tempered so that drudgery abates? I fear there is then no solution. Totally perfect analysis though.

  6. Rosa Champion
    August 3, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Helen you can be annoying, but you’re so clever. And you write well. Thank you.

  7. pauline
    August 3, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Excellent piece. As Noam Chomsky once wrote ” If you want to get rid of the mosquitoes first you have to clean up the swamp” ( and no I am not calling poor people mosquitoes)

  8. JD
    August 3, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Ok so it’s nurture that comes out the winner this time….
    I love that you have the brain power to write these conversations down. I have long lost the ability thanks to a habit of “drowning my sorrows” once too often.

  9. Aristophrenia
    August 3, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    So, we should give Saudi Arabia and the Emirates more money so they can overcome their extremist religious views brought about by poverty and rampant western military intervention ? In fact every single Islamic nation on earth right down to Indonesia which requires vaginal virginity test for its state police and military is merely a victim of western military intervention and poverty – and NOT the religion which guides their ideology and repugnant actions ?

    Pretty sure religion has been an anathema to progressive western liberal ideas for centuries not sure why all of a sudden it’s now ignorance and intolerance to question it – what happened ? When did we decide the reformation, enlightenment and renaissance was just ignorance derived from poverty masquerading as religious bigotry ? Was it when you made friends with a Muslim ? I too have friends who have religions, and many other ideas I find abhorrent – but I don’t spontaneously accept those ideas because they are my friend.

    As for economics being the bedrock of transitioning regressive states to the modern civil society perhaps you could read some political philosophy / theory or some international relations one day – there is an entire field within International Relations dedicated to this concept specifically. And when you do make yourself available to some of this thinking, you will also discover that the most dangerous of all wars and the most dangerous of all violence are not wars of economics, resources or wealth, but wars of ideas – specifically religion.

    There are so many astute progressive thinkers who spent their entire lives campaigning against religion who are turning in their graves reading this type of narrative.

    Religiosity is a disease and those affected by it need help and education while those trying to expose its deforming and corrupting avarice do not need attacking.

    There is no doubt that there is perverse levels of intolerance and bigotry in our country, as there is in most countries, which is born of ignorance, but seeking to justify one form it based on a singular self sanctioned moral imperative based on a singular exception does not make it acceptable.

    The real problem with westerners is that they do not see and understand that it is in fact US, the west, that are the MOST evil ones, that we are not the bastions of moral progressive liberalism, that we are in fact the ones whose ENTIRE philosophical spin and exceptional lifestyle is predicated on deep and profound oppression and violence enacted through centuries of colonialism and exploitation. Your moral wisdom is derived specifically from extreme misery enacted on invisible people hidden from our faux nirvana projected into our western “holo-deck”.

    Even today people feel a total and complete sense of entitlement in trashing groups of people, bullying them based on their populist moral band wagon – old people, those who are not progressive (enough, or on the current trending moral issue), white people, men, and now its just fine to bash China. And of course, those who question religion – because its Islam.

    Extraordinary.

    Perhaps its time we realised that the moral vigilantism rampaging across our societies, with fingers furiously wagging and bilious moral invective spewing forth is in it’self one of the most regressive manifestations if the archaic christian revivalist temperance movements which brought us such moral social imperatives like Prohibition, or worse the staid moral conservatism of the Victorians or 1950’s middle class America.

    Rather than quartering those who do not conform to what ever the populist moral trend of the moment is in what has become an orgy of cathartic public evisceration for the sole purpose of self aggrandisement and empowerment through public displays of social moral conformity to assuage low self esteem and personal disenfranchisement, we instead revert back to the ideas which brought about the civil rights movement, feminism and the great ideas of the humanists – collective, inclusion and acceptance of all by merely espousing better, more enlightened alternatives rather than taking every slight indiscretion to immediately flay those who dare stray from the moral path of populist righteousness.

    Interesting ideas you have Helen.

    • August 4, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      “So, we should give Saudi Arabia and the Emirates more money…”
      This was not a foreign policy account. It was an account of how racist discourse is used to sway voters in Australia.
      “Pretty sure religion has been an anathema to progressive western liberal ideas for centuries not sure why all of a sudden it’s now ignorance and intolerance to question it…”
      There is no hint here of me celebrating Islam. As much as you might like to paint me as one of those “regressive leftists” which will, I concede, exist, I am not defending the terms of a particular religion. I am just saying, as others, including my guy Marx, is that religion is not a killer, just a pain killer. Religion doesn’t make the world go ‘round, in my view. Money does. Argue with the argument I have made, not one that you have imagined I make.
      “As for economics being the bedrock of transitioning regressive states to the modern civil society perhaps you could read some political philosophy / theory or some international relations one day – there is an entire field within International Relations dedicated to this concept specifically.”
      In shock news, there are counter arguments to mine. Setting aside that this was an account, again, of the way in which a racist narrative is used to sway voters in Australia, yes. I am aware that there are different schools of IR thought. While you are a Liberalism IR person, I am one who is more convinced by Dependency Theory. Sometimes by Constructivism, of which I have only read a little. But, sometimes by the great challenge to Liberalism, Realism. Realism, which I don’t need to tell you because you are an IR person but I describe here for the benefit of others, holds the view that all states should be seen as “black boxes”, not acting from ideology, but acting from the will to seize power. And you may not believe this, but very often, I do.
      “There are so many astute progressive thinkers who spent their entire lives campaigning against religion who are turning in their graves reading this type of narrative.”
      I don’t care. You think I am stupid, fine. Whatever. I am sorry I don’t think AC Grayling is a genius. It’s obviously because I am not as bright as you.
      “Religiosity is a disease and those affected by it need help and education while those trying to expose its deforming and corrupting avarice do not need attacking.”
      Yes. I agree that education is a great way to empower people to the point that they can politically deliberate. If only I had devoted some time to that thought in this text. Oh, wait. I did.
      “There is no doubt that there is perverse levels of intolerance and bigotry in our country, as there is in most countries, which is born of ignorance, but seeking to justify one form it based on a singular self sanctioned moral imperative based on a singular exception does not make it acceptable.”
      I can make neither head nor tail of this.
      “The real problem with westerners is that they do not see and understand that it is in fact US, the west, that are the MOST evil ones, that we are not the bastions of moral progressive liberalism, that we are in fact the ones whose ENTIRE philosophical spin and exceptional lifestyle is predicated on deep and profound oppression and violence enacted through…”
      So you agree that liberal humanism is the ideology of privilege? Or you’re being sarky? You’ve lost me here, Sunshine.

      “Even today people feel a total and complete sense of entitlement in trashing groups of people, bullying them based on their populist moral band wagon – old people, those who are not progressive (enough, or on the current trending moral issue), white people, men, and now its just fine to bash China. And of course, those who question religion – because its Islam.”
      Okay. I am now convinced you meant this comment for someone else’s original post.
      “Perhaps its time we realised that the moral vigilantism rampaging across our societies,.”
      Take a breath, honey. Am I being moral here, or am I being more “black box”?

      “Rather than quartering those who do not conform to what ever the populist moral trend of the moment is in what has become an orgy of cathartic public evisceration for the sole purpose of..”
      Again. This is inscrutable. To me at least. Maybe if I read more Ayaan Hirsi Ali I would get it?
      “Interesting ideas you have Helen.”
      Given that you clearly did not read them, I do not understand how you are able to make this sarcastic assessment.

  10. Ken
    August 3, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Planet sized brain that actually has something to say..
    I love your copious note-taking as you vivisect the body politic..as they say, everything is political.

  11. Yvonne
    August 3, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Love this piece of writing. And now must confess I’m one of those who shared the article we will no longer refer to. It was such a relief to release the cranky valve that’s firmly screwed tight keeping my type respectful. So yes, I was mouthing off vicariously.
    You might be interested in an article a cousin of mine in the States shared. She’s a long standing Democrat, but works as a lawyer for the disadvantaged, for want of a better word. It’s from a conservative source, nevertheless found myself nodding in agreement with most of it. http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/trump-us-politics-poor-whites/

    • August 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      Yvonne. There are some good accounts currently being written by conservatives about how Trump is playing the “culture wars”. Here’s another http://theweek.com/articles/599577/how-obscure-adviser-pat-buchanan-predicted-wild-trump-campaign-1996
      I mean, personally, I think it’s the only way conservatives can win their argument. Otherwise, it comes down to “I believe the chief function of the state is to help me retain my wealth”. Which does not play well to people who have little.
      But, I admire the frustration of people from the material right who are sufficiently moral and intelligent to be sickened by the use of racism.

      • August 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm

        Also, thanks for the link. I will read it now.

  12. Leon
    August 4, 2016 at 12:29 am

    Remove comma between “fucking” and “balls”, no?

    • August 4, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      A comment which makes a good case I had not previously considered.
      Thanks and will do. (Although, I did sort of put in there for comedic purposes. I didn’t know how else to indicate a pause.)

  13. LGBTCDEFGHIJKLMNOP
    August 4, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Of course we could patiently take into account the socioeconomic conditions which contribute to xenophobia, and try to enact material change leading to a better world for all…

    …but might it not be quicker and easier just to actively massacre the poor. Anyone on minimum wage, who doesn’t own a copy of Beyonce’s latest, could be incinerated in a handmade furnace fueled by sustainably harvested timber. The ashes could be a great source of nutrients for local co-ops.

  14. Bruce
    August 6, 2016 at 12:13 am

    Hi Helen
    Thanks so much for this piece. As always you provide fresh air to my smug progressiveness (though that new one nation senator and his fear of grammar is luring me back into righteousness with his sweet climate denial songs, I feel the binds on my wrists, holding me to my mast getting a little loose…)

    Just wanted to pass this fascinating interview with this author Vance (Hillbilly Elegy). Do you know of it? I theeenk it speaks up your ally. At least intersects.

    Regards
    Bruce
    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/trump-us-politics-poor-whites/

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