I’m ambivalent about Ilana Sichel’s ambivalence about living in New York City. I do find it problematic, though, to assert, “The problems are enormous, but the choices are individual.” I find it arguably dangerous to ask, “At what point do we accept that the sensory is the level to focus on, that the rest is too far out of our control?” — or, not to ask, per se; but to seriously entertain accepting that premise.

Jonathan Foiles somehow wrote an entire piece about how “we can’t just replace cops with social workers” despite the fact that no one talking about defunding police and refunding communities is talking about it in such simplistic terms. So what, exactly, was the point of writing this?

There’s no way I would even attempt to “sum up” Kai Heron’s longform look into “capitalist catastrophism” for ROAR Magazine, and normally I would not quote passages from near the end of an article, but these bits have been lingering so I’m going to share them here.

(I found this via Nothing Here; thanks to Pocket for figuring out why it wasn’t saving properly.)

From the perspective I am advancing here the problem with Klein’s theory is that it presumes there is a normal to return to. Disaster capitalists use crises as smokescreens to consolidate their power for the post-crisis times to come. But what happens when there is no post-crisis? What happens when the catastrophic convergence of capitalist exploitation and ecological destruction leads to what David Wallace-Wells calls a “climate cascade,” a scenario in which “natural disasters” cease to be discrete events and start to overlap and compound one and other?

The coronavirus gives us an insight into what this might look like. The capitalist class still uses the crisis to advance their post-crisis interests but they also start to take leave of the rest of us. They retreat to their private jets and holiday homes, they take their personal doctors and their nannies with them into lockdown and they let “low-skilled workers” take the risks of maintaining global supply chains. They start, in other words, to assemble the infrastructure to support the coming climate apartheid. States, meanwhile, work to conceal the severity of the situation, to give an impossible to maintain modicum of stability to those of us living in the First World.

[…]

This is the paradox of capitalist catastrophism: a crisis in government becomes a form of government, the capitalist state’s epidemiological and climatic failures turn back on themselves to become their own solution. In the absence of a genuine left alternative to capitalism, the system now promises to protect those lucky few from events that are of its own making.

Emphasis added. Good night, everyone!

Let’s discriminate “indiscriminate efforts”. Here’s what I mean: White men have had the power in America for four hundred years, and over that time have constructed and molded the society in which we live today, often rerouting against challenges to their authority. (Parenthetically, I was prompted in a sort of sideways manner to come back to this by Kimberly Hirsh’s thoughts on Naomi Alderman’s The Power, somehow.) In such a socially glacial timeframe, to many people it simply doesn’t seem like they live in a structure or a system; society is just society, like the air. At the very least, it certainly isn’t a single if exceedingly complicated mechanism. (I’m setting aside for the moment those who know full well that society is a structure and a system devised to keep them in power.) So when a movement comes along seeking to address that entire structure, that entire system, of course the intellectually lazy (or the intellectually deceptive) are going to scream and whine and opine about that movement being “indiscriminate” in its efforts. Any concerted challenge to an entire unjust system is going to appear “indiscriminate” to those for whom the system was built, to those whom it privileges. In truth, the movement discriminates against unjust power and those who wield it whether as sword or shield. That only feels “indiscriminate” if you benefit from that unjust power. Or, if you prefer: that challenge can only be called “indiscriminate” if you also acknowledge that the system being challenged itself is just as “indiscriminate” in its leveraging of power in your favor.

So, I’d thought — or maybe I just feared — that I was going to have to spend half my day on this latest claptrap linked by Alan Jacobs (I don’t know if he agrees with it or just liked that he’s referenced in it) but instead I’m going to struggle to briefly latch onto just one bit.

It also drives the often indiscriminate efforts to take down statues, “defund the police,” to “abolish ICE,” pass a Green New Deal, and generally remake the country.

This is no mere partisan cause. It is every bit as zealous and righteous as America’s previous religious revivals. It is driven by a mixture of social and philosophical ideas, but nevertheless gets its energy and power from an ever-increasing zeal. However, it lacks any coherent organization or leaders who can be targeted and co-opted or at least defeated; it is a mob leading a mob, and woe to any who step out of line.

Well, okay, this is two bits.

First, there’s nothing indiscriminate about calls for cultural, economic, political, racial, and social justice — in truth they are all one and the same, in a dynamic akin or analogous to intersectionality. If you can’t see the connections between taking down statues, defunding the police, abolishing ICE, and the Green New Deal, it’s because you’re afraid doing so will call attention — yours or, worse, your readers’ — to the fact that they are all of a piece.

Second, here’s, I think, the rub for these folks: the very fact that so much of this “indiscriminate effort” is movement based rather than personality based, they don’t know who to target, co-opt, or defeat. (That middle one is especially notable.)

So much of modern American society is built atop visiting degradations upon people who aren’t White that there quite literally is no course correction, no chance of salvation, other than wholesale movement and remaking. You can’t attack the push for America to come to justice for being “indiscriminate”; it only looks that way to you because you won’t admit that America’s ills all are connected.

That rolling conversation from last night is continuing somewhat today, and I want to drop a few things here so that they are recorded for my own convenience if nothing else.

Let’s recall, again, that this entire discussion was set off by Alan Jacobs saying the following.

For the ones doing the mobbing, ruining the lives of innocent people is not a bug in their program, it’s an essential feature. There can be no reign of terror when only the guilty are punished.

[…]

That is why, for those who want to effect social change by exposure and shaming, punishing the innocent is a feature of their system, not a bug.

This is what sent me scurrying to post that “nah” to my blog — Jacobs’ contention that this is effectively the way some undefined “mob” wants it; to wit: “cancel them all and let god sort them out”, and there’s simply no evidence of that. An anecdote here or there doesn’t qualify.

Nowhere have I argued that abuses don’t happen, and these abuses — both the wrongly purported and the actual — quite clearly are being adjudicated and debated publicly, illuminating courses for correction; the abuses aren’t happening in the dead of night with no chance for review.

If only true and actual racist behavior when called out was treated with this degree of furred brow pontification and concern.

In the scheme of things, giving precious and plaintive column inches to the wrongly accused (whether they were wrongly accused or not) just seems all out of proportion in a society where so much of the every day racism both large and small gets absolutely zero column inches when maybe it should be the actual story.

Having been asked about my earlier “nah”, I’ll blog here the gist what I’ve been saying about cancel culture in the discussion it sparked off; obviously, you can read the entire thing over there.

  1. A story here or there does not a reign of terror social media mob ruining people’s lives by design make.
  2. Karens is, you know, a real thing. These are not random innocents being thrown into some social media guillotine in some sort of “cancel them all and let god sort them out” reign of terror.
  3. The alleged “junk-food dopamine where the crowd gets to feel like they’re dismantling racism” originated with Black Twitter punching up at legit offenses.
  4. Like all things I’m sure there are abuses but as a straight, cisgender, middle-aged white guy I’m not about to condemn cancel culture or the outing of Karens writ large, and usually the sturm und drang against alleged mobs arises out of one part or another of the power structure bearing the brunt of the punching up. I’m okay with a skeptical eye, but I’m not okay with doing the dirty work of the powers-that-be who are scrambling to keep their barricades intact.

I get the allure of the ideal that we limit collateral damage, but it’s tough for me to get too overly worked up about potential collateral damage from cancel culture when it can’t help but pale in comparison to the every day damage suffered or borne by the communities which are most often engaged in the punching up of cancel culture.

Before I go to bed, I want to say one more thing about item 3. up there. I’ve little doubt that cancel culture attracts the lazy hangers-on and the hollow performative allies; I’ve little doubt as well that they routinely get called out — which makes this just so much concern trolling.

What I’m not going to do, however, is quietly listen as white people urge throwing the baby out with the bathwater by diminishing it to nothing more than chasing a dopamine high, insulting any community which engages in cancel culture as part of their daily survival in a white supremacist society.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is talking about institutions of higher education but the idea of these words has resonance for some other things happening in the news lately with which you might be familiar.

The executive management teams at our colleges and universities have been charged with their institutions’ survival. I understand that. But we need to consider carefully what the institutions are for if not for the people who learn in them, the people who teach in them, the people who build them and keep them operational. The relationship between institutions and those people is the entirety of the institution’s value, and if the lives of those people do not come first, the institution should not survive.

John Rice posits three degrees of racism in America: “taking actions that people of color view as overtly prejudiced”; “opposing or turning one’s back on anti-racism efforts”; and “when employers, educational institutions, and governmental entities do not unwind practices that disadvantage people of color” — that last of which Rice says “undergirds the everyday black experience”. Particularizing these degrees of racism, Rice says, allows us then to heed his father’s advice to “increase the cost of racist behavior.”.

We can ratchet up that cost in several ways, starting today. The first step is to clarify what constitutes racist behavior. Defining it makes denying it or calling it something else that much harder. There are few things that white Americans fear more than being exposed as racist, especially when their white peers can’t afford to come to their defense. To be outed as a racist is to be convicted of America’s highest moral crime. Once we align on what racist behavior looks like, we can make those behaviors costly.

Pair with John McWhortner’s look, prompted by Kennedy Mitchum’s request of Merriam-Webster, at the changing dictionary definition of racism.