Dr. Matthew Taylor of the European Space Agency was publicly reduced to tears this week, the latest victim of what The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman dubbed the “self-serious, hypercritical, omnipresent, never-ending, and unpredictable justice system” that is contemporary social media.
Taylor stood accused of wearing a garish shirt featuring scantily -clad (though by no means pornographic) depictions of women at a media scrum following his team’s successful completion of the Rosetta meteor-landing mission. That the shirt was a gift designed by a female friend mattered not — the judges of the internet courtroom have a hair-trigger for these sorts of things, and their ruling of guilt was swift.
Over here in Canada, meanwhile, heightened tensions in the aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault scandal have provoked an equally striking instance of kangaroo justice. Two female NDP MPs anonymously accused two male Liberal MPs of harassment, and Liberal boss Justin Trudeau promptly exiled both from his party in response. But the purported victims have simultaneously “declined” to make their complaints official, or otherwise participate in any grievance resolution mechanism. That puts the two ex-Liberals in a curious sort of purgatory as far as due process goes, but from Trudeau’s perspective it’s much safer to err on the side of ruining two men’s careers than enabling “rape culture.”
When we speak about the climate of the times, the phrase I keep coming back to is “moral panic,” the idea of a public constantly whipped into a lather about frightening, dangerous phenomenon that may or may not actually exist. Panics relating to omnipresent sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are currently proving most salient, with much madness being done in their name.
All available evidence suggests incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment are at unprecedented lows, while metrics of female achievement sit at unprecedented highs. The recent midterms, for example, saw a record number of women get elected to Congress — a fact which has been true of basically every election of the last nine decades. That women still have much to desire in terms of safety and success goes without saying (and everyone says it constantly anyway), yet contemporary feminism’s disinterest in such “big picture” questions in favor of picking fights on the periphery, or compromising fair process to secure satisfyingly salacious prosecutions, has prompted even ordinarily sympathetic corners to worry things are starting to get a bit, well, McCarthyesque.
The roots are broad. Educated, upper-middle class women still tend to view their gains as fragile, and it can take a while for any community to abandon a skepticism of opponents from whom hard-fought rights were only recently extracted. Women similarly remain a highly-coveted demographic as both consumers and voters, meaning there’s considerable capital to be gained from stoking and appeasing their insecurity and anger — emotions which tend to be strong motives for action.
Articles, videos, cartoons, and advertisements that offer women empowering stories of confrontation with sexist society — be it a documentary on walking the streets of New York or an 11,000-word essay on the gender politics of Frozen have become easy clickbait, while liberal politicians and activists seeking to curry favor with the female electorate have found reasonable success framing conservatives as proponents of misogynistic conspiracies. Twitter and Facebook provide the grassroots chorus, and the result is a culture walking on eggshells.
That much of this is excessively censorious and judgmental — and at times, even totalitarian — is indisputably true. Yet the conservative in me can’t help but wonder if there may be some tertiary cultural benefit to this new era of heightened sensitivity, too.
Sensitivity to indignity and vulgarity have been historically conservative virtues after all, while many of those most vigorously fighting feminism’s most recent incarnation have been crass and cruel. As ideologues, today’s loudest anti-feminists — stereotypically embodied by the fringes of the “Men’s Rights” and GamerGate subcultures — are motivated by a strange sort of juvenile libertarianism, with arguments based more on unrestrained entitlement than anything else. The freedom to be offensive, ignorant, and insensitive are taken as positive ends unto themselves, while any expected standards of conduct or decency are construed as persecution and oppression.
Writing about the current freak-out over the dubious pandemic of university rape, Heather MacDonald in the Weekly Standard speculated that such feminist moral panics may be inadvertently “neo-Victorian,” in that the heightened climate of fear they foster may wind up generating a more conservative social culture. A culture in which we become a lot more instinctively cautious about meaningless sex and depictions of women’s bodies, and moderate ourselves with exaggerated displays of mannered restraint. A culture that’s considerably less sexually liberated (or, in current jargon, “sex positive”) but also less promiscuous, obscene, and lustful.
In some ways, it will also be a culture hypocritical to the current panic’s stated aims, at least in the sense many men will be inclined to patronizingly regard women as inherently delicate and hypersensitive. But if the result accompanies a revival of chivalry, protocol, and manners — and indeed, less boorish politicians and scientists dressing like grown-ups — that’s hardly something to mourn.
Conventional wisdom on the American left holds that while the Republican Party has grown steadily more right-wing in recent years, Democrats have remained comparatively moderate. Liberal activists and commentators usually observe this sneeringly, characterizing the Democratic establishment as cowardly or weak for allowing their side to stagnant in the centre, and it’s why aggressively liberal Democrats like Elizabeth Warren (or hell, Barack Obama) tend to be such populist darlings.
In some respects it’s a fair analysis. Socialism actually polls quite well with the Democratic base, but only a tiny smattering of Democratic Congressmen openly claim the label (pace, Allen West). And as Noam Chomsky never tires of observing, aggressive pacifism is much more popular with liberal voters than is generally reflected by Democratic policy.
But the modern left is increasingly not defined by economic issues or foreign policy, but rather unyielding militancy on what we’ve come to call “social justice” issues —the drive to liberate women, blacks, immigrants, and gays from the perceived cruelties of a society dominated by chauvinistic white men.
On this front, Democrats are absolutely taking further and further left, in both rhetoric and policy. And if Tuesday night is any indication, they’re not gaining much from it.
Wendy Davis, the Texas legislator who became an overnight liberal superstar for leading an 11-hour filibuster against a contentious abortion law, saw her campaign for governor fall flat once it became clear her hardscrabble single-mom biography had been heavily massaged and her demonized abortion bill was actually fairly moderate and broadly popular. Her feminist pitch having flopped, she spent the rest of the campaign in a near-constant state of backtracking and clarifying.
Similar flailing defined the Senate race in purple Colorado, where incumbent Mark Udall was rebranded “Mark Uterus” for campaigning exclusively against the pro-life credentials of his Republican opponent. The Republican in question, Cory Gardner, had in fact ostentatiously softened his once-strident anti-abortion position in the face of backlash, but the Udall campaign refused to let it go, mounting what the traditionally liberal Denver Post dubbed an “obnoxious one issue campaign.” A darkly comic pre-election column in the British Guardian featured an interview with an irate Democratic donor flush with irritation: “f—ing abortion is all he talks about!”
In Louisiana, meanwhile, embattled senator Mary Landreau offered a cloying caricature of an excuse when asked to explain the unpopularity of President Obama in her state — an unpopularity that was unquestionably dragging her down by association. “The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” she moped.
The New Republic would praise the quip as a clever ploy to “juice black turnout” (though less reported, in that same interview she also implied Southern sexism might be pushing her numbers down), but even if it did, the appeal was too niche to yield meaningful results. Landreau won 94% of the black vote, but only 18% of whites.
Mind you, her racial appeals were a model of subtlety compared to some of the handouts seen in Georgia. In that state, which featured a tossup race for an open Senate seat, the local Democratic Party distributed flyers featuring photos of doe-eyed black children holding cardboard signs reading “DON’T SHOOT.”
“If You Want To Prevent Another Ferguson In Their Future… Vote!” the brochure implored. This, at the time when the early liberal narrative of Ferguson — a black teen murdered by a racist cop apropos of nothing — is becoming increasingly disputed by new revelations about the nature of the fight between the two men.
In short, the left’s obsession with identity politics seems to be turning the Democratic base into an increasingly bitter coalition of those who relish in victim identities, and whose sole animating cause is the demonization of perceived victimizers.
Attempts to narrowly market “women’s issues” as abortion and birth control has made the Democrats less the party of women than the party of young, single women — your Lena Dunham and Sandra Fluke types — who see reproductive rights as the very essence of liberated femininity. To women who have aged beyond the sexual anxieties that come with early adulthood — perhaps even to the point of understanding that the legal status of abortion (and abortifacients) is not an all-or-nothing proposition — the whole thing comes off as rather condescending and juvenile.
Similarly, a disproportionate Democrat focus on stoking minority anxieties, implying a hidden racist agenda in basically every Republican criticism or initiative, has led to powerful alienation from whites resentful of this incessant blame. Republican voters are vastly more likely than Democrats to believe American race relations have “gotten worse,” in recent years, an opinion that doesn’t reflect indifference to minorities so much as deep skepticism that the reflexive impulse of the Obama administration to sensationalize and politicize racially delicate episodes like Ferguson and Trayvon Martin are doing much good.
By it’s very nature, a two party political system will always encourage the polarization of society. It behooves any ambitious partisan machine to push policies and rhetoric that win the loyalties of the fattest slice of this split.
Democrats are proving very good at dividing, but their conquering could use some work.
Amid much talk of alternative fuel sources and energy self-sufficiency, a stubborn fact remains — America still imports an awful lot of oil. Around 10 million barrels a day, to be exact. It’s a need that may be one day eclipsed, but for the time being it’s simply economic reality, and one that poses a unique dilemma for American liberals. Even if we concede that America’s end goal should be no oil imports at all (if not no oil, period), does there exist a moral imperative to ensure oil imports that do occur — that have to occur for now — come from nations whose internal politics are at least progressive enough to alleviate the indignity?
As the left anxiously debates the justness of the proposed Canada-to-US Keystone XL pipeline, this is one argument that’s rarely been heard — the moral case for weaning America off the oil of third world dictatorships and onto the oil of happy, liberal Canada.
It’s a pitch currently being made by a somewhat unlikely source — noted conservative rabble-rouser and oil apologist Ezra Levant — who today released a YouTube ad that explicitly seeks to antagonize American liberals by tying the case for Keystone to the social issue near and dearest to their hearts: gay rights.
Unambiguously entitled “OPEC HATES GAYS,” the ad depicts two painfully bourgeois gay men encountering a shop with a sign in the window reading “NO GAYS.” As they walk away offended, an incredulous voice-over demands, “If you wouldn’t shop at a store that discriminates like this, then why would you buy your oil from countries that do?”
The metaphor seems a bit clunky, but only slightly. After all, for all intents and purposes America is shopping quite happily at the “no gays” store — of the country’s largest non-Canadian oil trading partners, most have appalling human rights records on homosexuality. In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Nigeria gayness is banned altogether, and often viciously prosecuted with jail time, beatings, crackpot “therapy,” or even death. In Russia, homosexuality is tolerated but not encouraged (as the Putin regime made abundantly clear in the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics), while nominally permissive Venezuela sends similarly mixed messages through its alliances with decidedly homophobic regimes like Islamist Iran, Assad’s Syria, and Hamas. Even in the more democratic Latin American petrostates like Ecuador and Columbia, same-sex marriage and gay adoptions remain illegal.
Canada’s gay rights record, in contrast, has never been ambiguous: homosexual intercourse has been legal since the 1960s, every province passed anti-discrimination and adoption laws in the 90s, and the federal government approved gay marriage in the early 2000s. It was not without reason that the atmosphere was so smugly self-congratulatory this past June as Premier Wynne — now North America’s first openly gay elected head of government — kicked off World Pride in Toronto; Canada has a deserved reputation as a global pioneer in the fight for LGBT equality, a legacy that continues to this day as the battle moves down the alphabet to the transgender-rights front.
Identity politics is fast becoming the creature that ate everything in modern political debate, particularly on the left, where politicians and pundits seem increasingly bored with economic and foreign policy issues that lack a readily available link to some fashionable victim group. In this sense, the idea of linking trade to social justice concerns is nothing new, from the apartheid boycotts of the Reagan years to the anti-Israel disinvestment campaigns of today — to say nothing of the virulent domestic crusades against everything from Chick-fil-A to Mozilla in retaliation for perceived homophobia.
The gamble of the OPEC HATES GAYS campaign is to assume liberals can be just as easily motivated by a “positive” call to action, in the sense of being guilted to consume a certain product as a way of abstaining from another, rather than simply boycotting a wicked seller without shifting to an “ethical” alternative. The justification would be that while no one really needs fried chicken sandwiches or homemade soda, we all need gasoline. If the numbers of Keystone’s most enthusiastic backers are to be believed, approval of the pipeline could carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude into the United States every day, more than enough to cancel out imports from Iraq, Russia, and Nigeria combined.
To be sure, the polls suggest most liberal Americans are broadly supportive of Keystone — to the extent it’s controversial at all it’s only with the hardest left, most environmentally dogmatic wing of the Democratic Party, which seems to be exercising disproportionate influence over the White House at the moment (largely to milk campaign cash out of wealthy climate change alarmists like Tom Steyer, the theory goes).
Such types may well be single minded enough to be thoroughly disinterested in any conversation about fossil fuels that doesn’t begin and end with outlawing them, but presuming they possess even the slightest twang of realism, the question of whether America’s short-term oil imports should pass the social justice equivalent of EPA guidelines in the meantime remains a salient one.
Campaigns like this insist upon an answer.
Jian Ghomeshi, a CBC “star” to the extent that unpopular network has any, was fired on Sunday for reasons that remain officially murky. In a long Facebook post, Jian claims it’s because he’s very sexually kinky (a fan of “role-play, dominance and submission”), and his lifestyle embarrassed his bosses. This was then promptly undermined by an epic Toronto Star story published a few hours later, which revealed that at least four women have come forward claiming various forms of sexual abuse at Ghomeshi’s hands, including quite grotesque and violent sexual assault. That would certainly make any CBC embarrassment over his sex life a lot more justifiable.
The Star tells the story of three ex-lovers who were initially seduced by Ghomeshi’s fame only to be subsequently horrified when subjected to his deranged sexual appetites, which included beatings, chokings, smotherings, and verbal abuse. Ghomeshi says everything was friendly and consensual; the woman claim otherwise.
The women are said to have never laid charges (and still remain anonymous) because they fear the retaliation and shaming that could ensue from taking on such a powerful celebrity; a fear, it should be noted, for which precedent exists — blogger Carla Ciccone claims she was harassed by Ghomeshi-fans some years ago after writing about going on a creepy date with him.
As a progressive darling working for Canada’s flagship progressive network, the Ghomeshi case presents a striking test of the left’s willingness to enforce its ideological norms against one of its own.
In recent years, progressives have chosen to make defending the rights of women in the face of sex criminals an increasingly central component of their raison d’etre, even to the point of compromising traditional commitments to common law standards of innocence, evidence and due process along the way. Such sacrifices have been justified with the thesis that ours is a society of “rape culture,” in which dominant institutions — including the legal system, schools, business, government, and the media — either conspire to ignore, openly tolerate, or are systematically indifferent to female claims of sexual mistreatment, thereby making the tolerance of low standards of proof from female accusers an entirely justifiable counteraction. A just society, such thinking goes, is one that understands sexual violation as a crime that exists entirely in the eyes of its self-identified victim, and not one the victim-identified perpetrator has a right to negotiate his way out of.
Thus, the fact that the Ghomeshi story may come off as simply “he-said-she-said” to some, should do nothing to dissuade progressives who have previously made very clear in a number of high-profile online “social justice” campaigns — from the purported campus rape crisis to #gamergate — that what she said should be more than good enough for them.
Particularly damning in this regard are the characterizations of CBC management during this whole affair — both in the Star story and Ghomeshi’s own defensive claims.
In the Star‘s retelling, Ghomeshi’s fourth alleged victim, the co-worker who claims to have been sexually groped and harassed by Jian at CBC studios, says she complained to Ghomeshi’s producer only to have the producer turn around and instruct her to make their workplace “less toxic” — as if not getting molested on the job was somehow her prerogative.
Ghomeshi himself similarly claims that in regards to his other three accusers, CBC top brass has assured him “there is no question in their minds that there has always been consent,” a conclusion they evidently reached hearing only Jian’s side of the story (“I voluntarily showed evidence that everything I have done has been consensual.”) The firing was about PR damage-control, and little else.
If a right-wing media darling like, say, Ezra Levant was facing multiple accusations of vile sexual assault from several different women, and if his defense consisted entirely of assurances that his bosses believed his story and accusations of an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by “a jilted ex girlfriend,” it would go without saying that the progressive left would honor their own standards and demand massive retaliation towards such an obvious manifestation of rape culture.
The CBC has now shown itself to be culpable in precisely this fashion.
1) How do we determine when a terrorist/mass-shooter is legitimately acting upon the influences of an ideology, and is not merely mentally ill?
2) Who gets to determine whether a hateful/murderous ideology that claims to be motivated by religion has any basis in that religion’s teachings?
“Canada has lost its innocence.”
“We never thought this sort of thing could happen here.”
“This is not the Canada I know.”
One-liners to this effect have dominated the initial response to yesterday’s terror in Ottawa, in which an islamist nut murdered Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before briefly terrorizing MPs in the halls of Parliament.
Both at home and abroad, the implicit subtext of such breathless statements of horror have been clear: Canada is supposed to be a “peaceable kingdom” loved by everyone, and it’s utterly baffling when someone doesn’t. Acts of terror are things we expect to happen to controversial countries, not Canada, the world’s goody-goody.
While innocuous in intent, such naiveté is profoundly dangerous in practice
To boastfully insist Canada is supposed to be among the world’s most agreeable nations — with our free healthcare and multiculturalism and whatnot — is to demand explanations whenever a murderous lunatic seems unpersuaded. It puts the onus on us to justify ourselves to those who seek to kill us, and atone for our failure to impress them.
Predictably, many critics have turned to Canadian foreign policy for answers on how this country has failed to live up to its innocuous reputation.
Glenn Greenwald for instance, scolded that Canada “doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it” — and his position was echoed by many journalists yesterday who skeptically noted that the Ottawa attacks occurred mere hours after our CF-18s departed to bomb ISIS terrorists in Iraq.
Such arguments would be more persuasive if the cause-and-effect relationship was indeed that clear — say, if those currently inflicting terror upon Canada were all refugees from Canadian-inflicted wars. But of course they are not. Both Wednesday’s shooter and the hit-and-run jihadist of the day prior were terrorists of the homegrown variety — French-Canadians who converted to radical Islam on their own accord. Their migration to the cause of holy war required no exposure to a western bombing raid — just a darkly compelling ideology of bloodlust and religious chauvinism.
There’s nothing shameful about being hated by such people. The moral code of jihad and religious fascism is one thoroughly at odds with our own, elevating submission over liberty, homogeneity over pluralism, totalitarianism over democracy, and violence over peace. By now we’re all aware of the nightmarish existence that is life under fundamentalist Islam, and it’s no great sin to be aggressively hostile to that vision of civilization, both for ourselves and others. That proponents of such a society would hate our own seems perfectly rational: we hate theirs just as much — or at least we should.
Likewise, any Canadian who feigns amazement that violence of the sort that gripped Ottawa on Wednesday “could happen here” has simply not been paying attention.
Though the episode was overshadowed by the drama of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, last April Canadian law enforcement apprehended a chilling al-Qaeda plot to blow up a busy Toronto-area passenger train. A few months later, cops in British Columbia busted a radicalized couple scheming to bomb the provincial legislature. Seven years before that, a terrorist cabal dubbed the “Toronto 18” were nabbed before they could set off a series of explosives aimed at laying waste to the city’s downtown core.
Nor has murderous, psychotic rage against Canadians been limited to those with Islamist inclinations. In recent decades this country has witnessed three cops murdered by a militia-man in New Brunswick, several distinct gun massacres at Quebec schools, a Vancouver passenger plane bombing that killed 331, a madman shooting up the Quebec parliament, a disgruntled former employee of an Ottawa bus company murdering four ex-coworkers, failed assassination attempts against Prime Minister Chretien and Quebec Premier Marois, the successful assassination of deputy Quebec premier Pierre Laporte, and dozens of bombings launched by the French-Canadian extremist group the Front de libération du Québec.
Canada may be a virtuous country, but our virtues have never protected us from the rage of fanatics who by their very definition, either refuse to accept, or are incapable of accepting, the basic norms of human decency that make ours a civilized society. To be targeted by such types should not be shocking, nor should it provoke apologies — in its own twisted way, it actually confirms the strength of our values that those with worldviews so profoundly antithetical feel threatened and insecure.
When a moment of crisis arises, as it did yesterday, Canadians should take pride that responsibility for our safety rests in the hands of intelligence and security officers who know enough about the nature of our enemies to anticipate the worst from them — and not those whose self-flattering patriotism refuses to permit such unsettling thoughts.
Jean Chretien wrote an editorial for The Globe and Mail on Friday backing Justin Trudeau’s decision to oppose Canadian airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.
An honorable defense of pacifist principle? Or just a cynical attempt at partisan damage-control? Assuming you know anything about the author I doubt it’ll be difficult to guess.
Trudeau’s unanticipated hostility to the Conservative government’s October 7 resolution endorsing Canada’s offer of limited air support to the coalition of nations battling the Islamic State has garnered a decidedly chilly reception. Irwin Colter, a former attorney general and one of the Liberals’ most respected foreign policy thinkers, abstained from the vote rather than back his boss, while former leader Stephane Dion — now a backbench MP — was conspicuously absent as well. Fellow ex-leader Bob Rae has professed support for airstrikes, as has Michael Ignatieff, the leader before him. Ordinary Liberal-friendly pundits and editorial pages across the country have broken character, describing Trudeau’s ISIS stance as inarticulate, “callow” and proof “the young leader is not ready for the big stage.” Most damning of all, Justin’s anti-airstrike position is said to be opposed by 64% of the Canadian public — including 54% of the famously isolationist Quebeckers (whose Liberal premier also supports airstrikes, incidentally).
It’s into this context that the 80-year-old Chretien has been wheeled, the nation’s sole surviving three-term Liberal PM evidently hoping his unique standing will be enough to counter the near-unanimous dissent of other grande dames within his party.
Chretien’s rhetorical case against airstrikes features the standard themes of populist chauvinism, armchair intellectualism, and tenuous grasp of causal relationships that defined his premiership. ISIS “must be stopped,” he writes, but only Arabs should bomb them, lest we sass up the locals with our insensitivity to the Middle East’s “legacy of colonialism.”
“If the region sees military intervention as just another knee-jerk Western show of force, we all know what the long-term consequences will be,” he warns darkly.
Um, do we? This is the man, after all, who sent the Canadian army to Afghanistan three weeks after 9/11 and happily kept them there for the remainder of his tenure. But of course our Afghanistan adventure doesn’t count as insensitive western imperialism since it happened “under the umbrella of the United Nations” — and what uppity Islamist could find fault with that?
Such hand-waving is necessary for Chretien to reach his politically expedient conclusion: that there exists a shared strain of folly connecting limited airstrikes against ISIS with the 2003 invasion of Iraq , thereby making J-Tru’s opposition to the former as virtuous as Chretien’s opposition to the later — an opposition so heroic he’s praised by strangers to this day for it, “on street corners, in restaurants, in airports…”— at least in his retelling.
That Chretien gleefully accepts such accolades is an act of astonishing political chutzpah. Regardless of what you think of the decision to depose Saddam Hussein a decade ago, Ottawa’s opposition to it can hardly be heralded as a great exertion of Canadian principle or foreign policy wisdom.
It’s now been widely reported that the Chretien government was fully prepared to commit 800 troops to America’s 2003 invasion before waffling at the very last minute. And even after this formal opposition was noted, Canada still provided so much logistical support to the war effort — refueling US warplanes in Newfoundland, offering naval escorts for US carriers in the Persian Gulf, committing over 100 on-the-ground Canadian exchange officers — the US Ambassador of the day was forced to incredulously remark that “anti-war” Canada had actually offered a lot more practical assistance than many nominally pro-war European states.
But most Canadians aren’t aware of such nuance, and indeed, much of Prime Minister Chretien’s talents as an unapologetically cynical partisan can be credited to his skill at weaving simplistic, patriotic storylines to mask the difficult nuances of realities he doesn’t trust the public to handle. The Chretien Liberals postured against the 2003 Iraq war not because they opposed its goals or feared its consequences, but simply because polls suggested there were votes to be gained — particularly in beloved Quebec — for any party perceived able to “stand up” to America and its unpopular president.
Yet Obama is no Bush, ISIS is not Saddam, and 2014 is far from 2003. In evoking yet more shallow nostalgia to prop up a stumbling Liberal leader whose political appeal is based on little else, Chretien is gambling that Canadians can still be reliably mobilized behind sloppy evocations of anti-American contrarianism and flag-wrapped appeals to some hazily-defined “Canadian way.”
In other words, precisely the sort of dated lefty assumptions that caused Trudeau to require rescuing in the first place.
I know very little about this topic. I get the impression, though, that’s it’s a fairly unserious debate by a lot of very unserious people, and there’s something about the whole thing I find instinctively repellent as a result.
Do you think it’s something worth thinking about? What is it a symbol of?
The Ontario Federation of Elementary School Teachers recently announced that they’ll be offering a professional development seminar on the topic of “white privilege,” a move that’s reignited the debate over whether that trendy term of pop-sociology is actually a thing or not.
One problem with the modern social-justicization of the political discourse, particularly online and among young people, is the insistence on reducing the complexities of navigating a diverse society into narrow, zero-sum dichotomies of victim and villain. And since a victim is always more sympathetic and blameless than an oppressor, the logical outcome of such a discourse is a proliferation of victim identities cast in opposition to an extraordinarily expansive oppressor class.
Thus, the awkward fact that the white privilege movement — which demands whites subject themselves to endless seminars, conferences, manuals and blogs to deconstruct (or, to use the preferred jargon “check”) their subtly-exercised power over society — appears to be led mostly by whites is a hypocrisy that bothers very few. One’s whiteness, after all, can be easily negated by adopting a victim identity whose hardships are broadly accepted as comparable to a person of color — female, gay, transgender, handicapped, immigrant, poor, etc. Some Tumblr people even consider conditions like skinniness and low sex drive as states of victimhood, lest anyone consider the thin and celibate particularly well-off.
The original “white privilege checklist” that started the fad — the brainchild of American gender studies scholar Peggy McIntosh — is a worthwhile read, and does expose some interesting (though often trivially subtle) ways in which North American culture affords certain benefits-of-the-doubt or default priority to members of the continent’s white majority. But so too is it equally enlightening to read the numerous progressive attempts to resort privilege into more particularized castes, including male privilege , straight privilege and able-bodied privilege, as well as the more critical rebuttals of the previously-targeted, and their equally thought-provoking checklists for black privilege, female privilege, and lower-class privilege, too.
Placed together, these overlapping chronicles of privilege illustrate a society that’s nuanced and elaborate — a heterogeneous civilization comprised of numerous cultures, identities, states, and lifestyles, each experiencing a vast medley of benefits and hardships that co-exist, and indeed, often balance each other out.
An example I gave recently to some controversy went like this: A Muslim person may indeed be more likely to be investigated by airport security and be treated with unjustified suspicion. But so too is a Muslim who later publicly confesses to being stopped by the airport security more likely to have his claims of arbitrary profiling automatically taken seriously — regardless of the objective facts of the situation. His mere claims of victimization may be enough to generate headlines, investigations, and ultimately apologies, compensation, or policy reform in a way a victim from a different community could never expect.
A woman, similarly, may find herself excluded from some institutions or jobs thanks to the concealed sexism of decision-makers. But so too can a woman benefit from the explicit sexism of institutions or offices society has established to compensate for engrained misogynist biases — female-exclusive scholarships, diversity hires, and so forth. A gay man might encounter homophobic bigotry from some, but may also enjoy an exaggerated degree of moral support from many others who are terrified of appearing homophobic.
A society that rushes to give uncritical empathy and support to those claiming victimization, either at a personal level or through organized campaigns like affirmative action and anti-bigotry laws, is a society that privileges them. This victim privilege doesn’t necessarily cancel or negate every instance of discrimination or oppression they face (though that’s obviously the intent), but it does reveal a complicated society that’s evolved beyond crude polarization in which one group is forever at the mercy of another. To some degree, we all live in a constant state of transitioning in and out of victim/privileged roles depending on who or what we’re dealing with in any given moment, as most people exist as a medley of simultaneous identities of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, employment, wealth, size, health, etc. — none of which are unanimously valued or unanimously marginalized.
One can accept privilege theory without desiring — as many social justice types seem to — the creation of a grand victim pecking order offering definitive answers to whose plight is worse than whose (and who deserves most blame for causing it). The healthier perspective is to acknowledge that everyone experiences the challenges and benefits of diversity in different ways, with social harmony ultimately a product of self-awareness, empathy, and concession — and not the stoking of perpetually adversarial relationships through assertions of innocence.
Canadians— particularly those of a progressive bent — like to regard this country as a moral exemplar in the community of nations; a model of “good international citizenship,” as one catchphrase puts it. Yet in the fight against ISIS, a struggle fast proving to be one of history’s great tests of civilized humanity against the forces of indisputable barbarism, it’s Canada’s left-wing opposition parties who now threaten to make us an embarrassing global outlier.
To date, the leaders of six democratic nations — Britain, Australia, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and Turkey — have pledged military assistance to American-led airstrikes against ISIS forces in Iraq. Except in Australia, such promises have been accompanied by endorsement votes in the respective national legislatures, all of which have been extraordinarily one-sided. Turkey’s vote was 298 to 98. Britain’s was 524 to 43. Belgium’s was 114 to two. Such near-unanimity was only possible thanks to the support of those countries’ parliamentary oppositition parties, be they on the right, left, or centre
Canada’s leader has now committed this country’s air force to engage in strikes against ISIS, too, and like the prime ministers of our allies, Mr. Harper has respectfully requested parliament confirm its confidence in the government’s decision. To this, our progressive parties have spat an unqualified “no.”
The question must be asked what makes the Canadian left so eager to break the precedent set by their overseas compatriots, including Ed Miliband’s Labour Party and the ruling Danish social democrats. Under ordinary circumstances, after all, Canadian progressives are usually extolling the welfare states of western Europe as paragons of enlightened thinking whose supremely rational politics we should all strive to emulate. At the very least, it’s hard to argue their political center of gravity is farther to the neo-con right than our own (Belgium, Denmark, and Turkey all voted in favor of recognizing Palestinian statehood at the UN, for instance).
The simplest explanation is that in these countries, the debate over ISIS has been what it should — a foreign policy conversation over how to best degrade, and ultimately destroy, a terrorist group pursuing the decidedly illiberal agenda of slaughtering unbelievers the world over, and bringing the entire Middle East under it’s unique flavor of psychotic fundamentalism.
Politicians across the globe have contemplated such facts and concluded that ISIS is the sort of enemy for whom bombing raids were designed. In joining this military alliance they are not wading into some impenetrable foreign spat where “both sides have valid points,” nor embarking upon an imperial mission to rebuild a failed state in some utopian image. Theirs is simply a mission to cripple a hostile force before it can do more damage.
In their press releases and public statements, Canada’s left-wing opposition have not been shy about stating the reality of ISIS barbarism, or the need for Canada to be part of an appropriate international response. Yet only in this country are such instincts numbed by the uniquely Canadian disease of Harper Derangement Syndrome, in which the left’s fanatical loathing of this prime minister reduces every debate on every issue to the same hysterically narrow partisan question: do we like Stephen Harper, yes or no?
Watching the House of Commons on Friday, there was something uniquely disturbing about the sight of Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair professing their deep opposition to bombing ISIS through arguments that amounted to little more than pavlovian appeals to leftist nostalgia (remember how Harper supported Bush?) and ludicrously unfair tripwire technicalities (has any government, anywhere, ever, accurately predicted how much a war will cost?). This was not a principled debate between realists and idealists, hawks and doves, enemy sympathizers and opponents, but the reactionary braying of an opposition that has only one thing to say — what Harper wants, I don’t — and is determined to say it in every available circumstance.
The prime minister of Canada may not be the country’s nominal commander-in-chief, but constitutionally speaking, the decision to commit Canadian troops to battle is his alone. No one is suggesting for a moment that his conduct of this, or any armed conflict should be above democratic scrutiny. But as the elected head of a majority government, there are times when the leader of this country deserves some degree of trust and deference, and sending our armed forces into combat against an enemy everyone agrees is wicked and threatening is one of them.
Our allies understand this. Canada’s opposition does not. The ensuing consequences for this country’s reputation as a serious member of the global community will be felt accordingly.