Sunday, February 18, 2018

Jamie Palmer: "Fundamentalists vs. The New York Times"

This is good.
  What we have here is a failure to communicate, and it is willful. In the populist lexicon, the term ‘neocon’ does not denote a set of political positions with which Greenwald or the Times’s left-wing critics are prepared to disagree in good faith; it is simply an instrument of stigmatisation. Identifying political opponents as such is reason enough to expel them from the realm of legitimate discussion. And as the Left continues to divide against itself in the Trump era, heterodox opinions on a whole range of complex questions are being re-described as heresies so that the sphere of reasonable disagreement diminishes while the list of non-negotiable orthodoxies lengthens.
   Invited to discuss the vilification of political scientist Charles Murray at Middlebury on Charlie Rose last year, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt described the incident in explicitly religious terms. “The best way to understand what happened,” Haidt argued, “is an auto-da-fé – a religious rite.” That is why the protesters were so adamant that the event be moved off-campus, he explained: “The campus is like a church and you cannot have blasphemy on campus.” It wasn’t enough simply to express disagreement or disapproval. Murray’s mere presence was somehow so disruptive to moral order, it threatened to pollute the sanctity of the territory itself. This secular fanaticism is what lies behind the attempt to drive Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens from the masthead of the New York Times. That they are both immigration doves and ardent Trump opponents counts for nothing until and unless they are prepared to endorse every dot and comma of progressive dogma.
   As Haidt has noted elsewhere, political purification and polarisation are the products of longstanding political trends. But they seem to be accelerating with alarming rapidity in response to our present moment. Liberals have responded to Trump, Brexit, and the transnational rise of the populist far-Right by worrying that the pragmatic centre is in danger of collapse and that now, more than ever, it is vital to defend democratic institutions, free speech, free assembly, and the rule of law. Leftists, meanwhile, see liberalism as a spineless doctrine of compromise and accommodation, and that the only useful response to right-wing populism is a radical left-wing alternative that is comparably trenchant, intolerant, illiberal, and doctrinaire.
   A rallying cry published in the Guardian on February 6 of last year made this explicit. Bylined by six activists, one of whom is a convicted Palestinian terrorist and another of whom is an unrepentant Stalinist, the article called for a new global anti-capitalist feminist movement that would be “anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-heterosexist and anti-neoliberal.” Its authors announced that “it is not enough to oppose Trump and his aggressively misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and racist policies. We also need to target the ongoing neoliberal attack on social provision and labor rights” as well as 30 years of “financialization and corporate globalization” and something called “corporate feminism.” With every subsequent line of the article, the circle of the indicted widens and the circle of available allies shrinks. On which subjects will reasonable people of goodwill still be permitted to disagree?


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