Restoration as revolution

[This item was first published at Catallaxy Files. The version here is slightly modified.]

About a week ago, Steve posted the article Jordan Peterson trashes the left once again. He quoted from an article by Joy Pullman, called (big breath) The Left Is Actually Afraid Of Jordan Peterson Because He’s Leading A Revolt Against Their Corruption. It was published in The Federalist. Pullman starts her article by commenting on an earlier piece from The Atlantic, by Caitlin Flanagan . I had previously read, with amazement, Flanagan’s article.  It seemed to me to be schizophrenic.  The quote that Pullman utilises in her second paragraph encapsulates its central weirdness. I’ll quote her here again.

They “began listening to more and more podcasts and lectures by this man, Jordan Peterson,” she writes. “The young men voted for Hillary, they called home in shock when Trump won, they talked about flipping the House, and they followed Peterson to other podcasts — to Sam Harris and Dave Rubin and Joe Rogan. What they were getting from these lectures and discussions, often lengthy and often on arcane subjects, was perhaps the only sustained argument against identity politics they had heard in their lives.”

When I first read it, I could not credit it.  How could you watch the dismantling of the rationale of the modern left and yet vote for Clinton?  To me it had seemed self-evident that identity politics, in all its vituperative glory, was the primary driver of Democratic politics, and that to undermine its foundations was to undermine the entire rationale of the Democratic Party.  Democratic voices opposed to the identity politics that dominated the media, mainstream and social, were never, as far as I could tell from here, heard.

It also seemed self-evident that the Democratic Party was, by virtue of these emphases, not a centrist party, but a party of the left.  Yet Flanagan, author of the above remarks, titled her article, Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson, and throughout she makes it clear that she, and her Peterson-listening, Clinton-voting sons, are not now, nor have they ever been, on The Left.  Jordan Peterson, and the “intellectual dark web” are “offering … kryptonite to identity politics,” yet “Barack Obama [is] the poet laureate of identity politics.” So, was Obama on The Left?  The producers of Today, and Good Morning America and CBS This Morning “did their bit” by not giving Peterson a platform to promote 12 Rules for Life, presumably because these programs are voices of The Left.  But not Flanagan.

[T]he left [she says] while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable.

But not Flanagan. What’s going on in her head? Here’s a clue.

With identity politics off the table, it was possible to talk about all kinds of things—religion, philosophy, history, myth—in a different way. [Young people] could have a direct experience with ideas, not one mediated by ideology.

If we assume that by “ideology,” she means a theory of the world and a program of action that derives from that theory, and further, that the ideology she’s referring to is that of identity politics, we can catch some reflections from the Flanagan Hall of Mirrors.  She, and her boys and her friends and the editorial directors of The Atlantic, do not have an ideology; they just have ideas.  This does not explain why her sons needed the dark web to present to them ideas without ideology, but let that pass for the moment.  The Hall of Mirrors is designed to distort.

Let me speculate.  All of the sensible Democrats have been feeling embarrassed by the antics of The Left; that is, the Antifa street gangs; the mobs of students attacking speakers and audiences on university campuses, the same ones who are at one moment smashing windows and at the next curling up with Play-Doh in a safe space because they heard a bad word; the screaming social media hysteria of the keyboard warriors enforcing society-wide speech codes; and on and on. But not Flanagan.  It took her a while to notice, but her non-ideological political beliefs and expectations had been hijacked by ideologues.  While she was busy not noticing, the rest of the country got on with the business of electing Donald Trump, and after an appropriate delay to process the shock, she began to see a little of what they had been outraged by for years.

If you think that a backlash [against identity ideology] … isn’t at least partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump, you’re dreaming, she now assures the skeptical.  But where there are ideas, there is hope. All across the country, there are people as repelled by the current White House as they are by the countless and increasingly baroque expressions of identity politics that dominate so much of the culture.

There we have the program for recovery.  Cut the crazies loose; link together their craziness and the current White House as opposite extremes of the spectrum; assert the non-ideological character of your own ideas, and the non-ideological political program that flows from them; which, accidentally, is identical to the ideological political program of The (soon to be isolated) Left.  One may retain the deep contempt for one’s political opponents; one can continue to support the attempts by Federal institutions to subvert an election which gave the wrong result.  With a mix of cynicism and self-delusion, one can continue to believe that only one’s own views are decent, balanced, honourable, and, most importantly, acceptable.

It helps to pull this off that sensible people like Flanagan have realised that Jordan Peterson is apolitical.  His conversation is about eternal verities of the human condition, and he will talk reasonably with anyone.  So while she explains why The Left is afraid of Peterson, the lower-case left, a.k.a. the centre, can sit down with him for an agreeable conversation, without having to change its ideology – I’m sorry, I’ll read that again – its ideas, which have no connection with any of that deplorable nuttiness.

Pullman, whilst calling Flanagan’s piece an “insightful counter-narrative essay,” goes on to say,

Flanagan does not delve into why identity politics is a cause and result of corruption, but I have a suggestion. It’s because identity politics, and so much else of what passes for politics and culture today, is largely an elaborate system of virtue signaling.

Offering a quick snapshot of deterioration in efficiency and effectiveness, from household appliances to national infrastructure, as evidence of breakdown, she calls for a return to “competence” and, more importantly, personal moral responsibility.  She sees in Jordan Peterson both the call and its appeal to a very broad audience.

Both Flanagan and Pullman look to that appeal and that audience to restore sanity and civility to the political arena.  I think it’s fair to say that such a restoration poses greater challenges to the left, and to The Left.  The politics of virtue signaling has dragged the whole Democratic side so far out of stable orbit that, within the left, restoration would be revolution.

Joy Pullman links to a perfect example: Jordan Peterson on Real Time with Bill Maher. At the end of the clip a woman who is a “contributor CBS News,” explains that we are all neurotic because we live in a crazy world, where “Donald Trump is our President. How are we expected to raise normal children?”  How indeed.

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