Monday, July 27, 2020

Hedges - the Last Word on Cancel Culture

Having a mass of people able to "cancel" someone in power can seem like a fantastic form of fluid democracy when it shuts down something harmful in a harmless manner, like people reserving space at a Trump rally they have no intention of attending. But it can be dangerous that a mass of people can shut down something merely controversial, like a YouTuber losing their followers after associating with someone with problematic opinions. But most often, it's completely ineffective "boutique activism" because it targets the wrong people.

Chris Hedges, writing for Scheerpost now, explains that cancel culture "is not a threat to the ruling class." In fact, the ruling class is using it to their own advantage. That's their superpower:

"Hundreds of corporations, nearly all in the hands of white executives and white board members, enthusiastically pumped out messages on social media condemning racism and demanding justice after George Floyd was choked to death by police in Minneapolis. Police, which along with the prison system are one of the primary instruments of social control over the poor, have taken the knee, along with Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of the serially criminal JPMorgan Chase, where only 4 percent of the top executives are Black. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world whose corporation, Amazon, paid no federal income taxes last year and who fires workers that attempt to unionize and tracks warehouse laborers as if they were prisoners, put a “Black Lives Matter” banner on Amazon’s home page. . . . The inclusion of voices often left out of the traditional academic canon certainly enriches the university. But multiculturalism, moral absolutism and the public denunciations of apostates, by themselves, too often offer escape routes from critiquing and attacking the class structures and systems of economic oppression that exclude and impoverish the poor and the marginal."
The focus on journalists, authors, and YouTube personalities won't affect anything. The target has to be firmly placed on corporate entities, and the entire system needs to be redesigned.
"Racism will not end until we defund the police and abolish the world’s largest system of mass incarceration. Racism will not end until we invest in people rather than systems of control. This means reparations for African-Americans, the unionization of workers, massive government jobs programs, breaking up and nationalizing the big banks along with the for-profit health services, transportation sector, the internet, privatized utilities and the fossil fuel industry, as well as a Green New Deal and the slashing of our war expenditures by 75 percent."
Regarding that letter in Harpers,
"These critics are battling a monster of their own creation. The institutional and professional power of those targeted by the Harper’s letter is insignificant, especially when set against that of the signatories or the Israel lobby. Those singled out for attack pose little threat to the systems of entrenched power, which the signatories ironically represent, and indeed are more often its victims. I suspect this is the reason for the widespread ire the letter provoked.
The most ominous threats to free speech and public debate do not come from the cancel culture of the left, which rarely succeeds in removing its targets from power, despite a few high profile firings such as James Bennet, who oversaw a series of tone-deaf editorial decisions as the Opinion Page Editor at The New York Times. These corporate forces, which assure us that Black Lives Matter, understand that the left’s witch hunts are a harmless diversion. Corporations have seized control of the news industry and turned it into burlesque. They have corrupted academic scholarship. They make war on science and the rule of law. They have used their wealth to destroy our democracy and replace it with a system of legalized bribery. They have created a world of masters and serfs who struggle at subsistence level and endure crippling debt peonage. The commodification of the natural world by corporations has triggered an ecocide that is pushing the human species closer and closer towards extinction. Anyone who attempts to state these truths and fight back was long ago driven from the mainstream and relegated to the margins of the internet by Silicon Valley algorithms." 
Hedges says that cancel culture "shorn of class politics, is the parlor game of the overeducated. That's reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre's reaction. I wrote about Sartre's very similar concern with the "classic intellectual" almost a decade ago:
"The classic intellectual is bothered by the world, and denounces atrocities, but at the same time serves and benefits from the very systems that allow these things to happen. We become intellectuals when we become conscious of this contradiction or conflict of interest. Recognizing it is a start, but, we must move further to become revolutionary intellectuals. Morality is based on political engagement. He says that the classic intellectual 'discovers truths he thinks are more and more universal, and he constitutes himself as an intellectual. This means, in most cases, he signs petitions.' So, at a burgeoning level, petition-signing is a means towards accepting responsibility. 
But there is a higher level of morality: To take responsibility, to live authentically, it seems, requires anyone benefiting from a government that supports atrocities to wipe out any ties to that government or system. That's a hard thing to do; consequently, most of us live in bad faith. . . . I wonder if the revolutionary intellectual isn't necessarily someone who goes beyond petitions and takes to the streets in protest, but someone who sometimes says, 'This problem is beyond me.'"
Hedge's solution is to overthrown the system. And I still have the same view on this as I did ten years ago. I can denounce the state, and I can refuse to support certain companies, focusing my vitriol on corporate entities and destructive systems, and I can march in the street, but I don't know how to completely wipe out any ties to the system that pays my salary and keeps me fed and housed.

Have I not evolved one bit since then? Or is the solution actually impossible?


The Disaffected Lib said...

Hedges is ready with prescriptions but he always comes up short on vision of how they might be accomplished. Eventually, endlessly repeated, it becomes empty rhetoric. He runs a good race until the finish line draws in sight.

Marie Snyder said...

Yes, I keep reading his words over and over thinking, but what does that look like?? How do I begin to actually do that?? Something about police turning around to face the real enemy, the way the barons did to join forces with peasants in 1215, but I don't have any idea how to make that happen. Or maybe we just spread the word and wait for it to manifest!

David said...

The system is much bigger than corporations. Even in Canada, our legislative process is slow and gives large corporations the advantage since they move at the speed of business and profit.

Here in BC, we have the new Declaration Act with a progressive view for systemic change, giving government the power to align laws to the spirit of UNDRIP. Operationally, we are tied to the legislative process which means that amendments to laws, introduction of new laws can only happen a few at a time. e.g If put our efforts into amending the Water Sustainability Act in a session, we don't get a chance to amend policy on Children and Families.

I once went to a session hosted by the Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs (they've changed their names many times since) where there was a suggestion to dismantle the Indian Act. He listed the implications a change like that would make - no Indian Status, Indian Reserves disappear, support structures go, the entire department vanishes - what would be the benefits of dismantling a government organization that has racist beginnings but has now become integral to the function of government?