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Razer’s class warfare: a diary of dissent

Helen Razer tells you how to protest and dissent in the modern age — without resorting to cheap anti-intellectualism and anti-privilege.

Popular thinker William F. Buckley once joked he would prefer to be governed by the first 200 names in the Boston phonebook than the Harvard faculty. A is for Anti-intellectualism; the colourful credo hung on the nursery walls of neo-liberalism. It is the view of formal reason as elite that gives us bunkum like Nick Cater’s The Lucky Culture with its “latte sippers”, “champagne socialists” and other beverage typecasting long since lost its pop. It is this view of “book learning” as the work of statist monsters that informs the Right.

Except, of course, that it really doesn’t and really hasn’t; not, at least, since influential neo-liberal economist F.A. Hayek urged in the middle of the 20th century for a “free society (that is) once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage”. Hayek and his rival John Maynard Keynes didn’t agree on much, as illustrated by the rap anthem below, but they both knew that the ideas of intellectuals shaped the future.

Buckley, of course, knew this as well; the Yale alum and professed intellectual used more $20 words than Guy Rundle. The Right’s “anti-intellectualism” is a tactic and a fiction retold convincingly by windbags like Cater and Bolt.

It is also a story, to our shame, now used quite sincerely by the Left.

In recent weeks, our nation’s better feminists have taken up the essential work of protest against state legislation that will potentially restrict access to abortion services. In response to the “foetal personhood” changes in New South Wales and in Victoria, the still murky propositions by Geoff Shaw, we have seen protest on social media …

… urging the categorical imperative but on the streets, a stranger sort of protest that is not, in my view, much different from a Cater view of things.

On the Facebook fan-page for the group Destroy the Joint, we see a much “shared” and “liked” photograph of a man whose act of protest is consent.

Now, in one reading, this is a heart-warming picture of a chap who offers unqualified support to the gender who will be most overwhelmingly impacted by changes to termination law. On the other, he represents the anti-intellectualism best expressed in the Left’s frequent caution to “check your privilege”.

Briefly, this charge, applied within Left-liberal circles, is one of universalism; of failing to acknowledge other perspectives than one’s own. The charge is laid, perhaps, most frequently in feminism where the idea of “intersectionality“ has taken hold as a half-idea.

With few primary texts but a great many adherents, intersectionality is, in my view, the pseudo-intellectualisation of what, by the modern era, had become the Bleeding Obvious. To wit: (a) a single individual can belong to more than one subordinated social and economic class, and (b) any tit with any idea of social or critical theory should be aware of this.

John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance“ is one of many intellectual solutions to the problem of people being ethnocentric or sexist or homophobic dicks. But the original position, or any intellectual riposte to questions such as abortion, are increasingly deemed invalid responses in late era Left-liberal protest.

Dependably Left Guardian columnist Zoe Williams offered her views on the “check your privilege” disorder to which progressives had been subjecting themselves. Uncomfortable with the idea that only those who found themselves at the most perilous intersectional crossroads could protest an injustice, she cheekily asked “are you too white, rich, able-bodied and straight to be a feminist?”.

The notion that only the most vulnerable can speak on the behalf of the most vulnerable is, as Williams points out, not only informed by a monumental logical flaw: the most vulnerable are often too busy being vulnerable to speak. It is also the case that protest that demands and feeds upon the silence of its “allies”, such as the taciturn chap in the picture above, does nothing for the sort of intellectual cross-pollination that has long fuelled radical reform movements.

The labour movement, for example, benefited as much from involvement with the late campaigner Chicka Dixon as the land rights movement did from its acquaintanceship with socialism. It is no small concern that this sort of intellectual co-management is a diminished possibility in the age of “check your privilege”.

*Helen Razer describes herself as a semi-professional bellyacher and Marxist of convenience

20
  • 1
    Hominoid
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I checked my privilege and found that it intersected with my struggles. They cancelled each other out, leaving me feeling quite ordinary. Damn you, Razer.

  • 2
    Mr J
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Great piece. It’s reminded me of Jeremy Paxman’s interview of Christopher Hitchens where he asked, and I’m paraphrasing, “Do you still consider yourself a leftist”? Hitchen’s reply was Yes, but both Paxman and Hitchens settled on a better description dialectic.

  • 3
    Carlene Colahan
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Great piece Helen; thought provoking, well researched, incisive and entertaining 5 stars

  • 4
    kmart
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Well, I guess I’m not one of the latte-sipping intellectuals, cos I can’t work out what Helen Razor is actually saying here! Is she FOR the guy with the “what she said” poster, or against him ? If someone could summarise without the political-sociology jargon, for the benefit of us non-intellectuals, I would truly appreciate it.

  • 5
    bluepoppy
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Australian politics is very tribal and many times, I think this can be extended to particular struggles and causes. Much of it comes down to groupthink which, while the cause may be just, can intefere with logical and rational thinking on a subject; and promote the tendency for knee jerk responses.

    Many times I have seen an author of an article bombarded by enthusiastic feminist responses, and which clearly demonstrate the person has not really read the article and/or misunderstood the message intended.

    PS: Have never understood the beveragisation of political thought. Can anyone explain it?

  • 6
    Bob the builder
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Identity politics - so 1990s!

    I remember at uni back then everyone in the (tiny) engaged left positioning themselves by their oppression. There was a lot of ‘grandad was a coal miner’ type of stuff, although sleeping with people of the same gender was blue ribbon material too.

    And the people who had actually grown up properly poor were too modest (or grateful at their luck) to play the game. Here we were, tertiary educated people, empowered enough to peacefully protest in the face of consistently violent police and lying media, yet so much time was wasted on proving our powerlessness rather than just getting on with changing things!

    Depressingly, 20 years later (as usual) the lazy liberal-left has caught up.

    I’m out of touch with what the active left is doing and thinking, but I suspect (and hope) that they’ve moved well beyond this self-defeating rhetoric.

  • 7
    Chris Hartwell
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    bluepoppy - lattes and champagne are generally more expensive than, say, a short black or a beer (or they used to be - yay craft beer!) It’s intended to imply elitism and consequently an inability to empathise with the struggles the “common people” struggle with.

  • 8
    Kez
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    kmart, a posible explanation: by keeping his mouth shut, the guy is doing the cause a disservice; despite the y chromosomes he’s allowed to speak up for the xx opressed.
    Or it could be something else. I’m a flat white slurper. What would I know.

  • 9
    Tom Jones
    Posted Thursday, 5 December 2013 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Kmart, Let me explain. Ms Razer thinks that if a man agrees with women and lets them speak for themselves he is anti intellectual. Women who appreciate a man who listens probably sip latte or drink Chardonnay and the people with influence speak in riddles. Simple really except it is all wrapped in convoluted sentences with no consistency.

  • 10
    Jonathan Maddox
    Posted Friday, 6 December 2013 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    GOLD, Tom Jones. Gold.

  • 11
    Altakoi
    Posted Friday, 6 December 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I checked my priviledge. Lots of it. Ooodles. Now, should I just sit here like a cabbage or should I use it for something? Nice to see someone also seeing the sterility of identity politics in actually getting anything done.

  • 12
    kmart
    Posted Friday, 6 December 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks Tom Jones. I think the whole thing’s bollocks anyway - the guy is there, he’s supporting the women (as are a bunch of other men, who don’t seem to have any placards), and I think he’s made a clever point, one that my husband and Michael Moore both agree on - “I don’t get to have a position - I don’t have a uterus”. Whether you support someone with clever arguments, or just support them because your gut instinct is that this is the decent thing to do, what difference does it make?
    The whole “latte-sipper” insult is meaningless anyway - my (mostly conservative) family group and my (mostly left) group of friends both have a large proportion of latte and chardonnay drinkers, as I suspect do our pollies and our political journos…

  • 13
    David Hand
    Posted Friday, 6 December 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Well I think the picture is a clever piece of communication that demands notice. It could be argued that he has abdicated himself from holding his own view - he’s not necessarily made his own mind up. That’s not my view but I think Razer’s discussion about anti-intellectualism on the left is about this.

    But sorry folks, you’re not going to escape the mild insults that we use for the left. It’s so much fun and the fact that inner urban, latte sipping, chardonnay quaffing, basket weaving, roman sandal wearing, tree hugging bendy bus fetishists complain about such handles just encourages people like me.

  • 14
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Monday, 9 December 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Well, I guess I’m not one of the latte-sipping intellectuals, cos I can’t work out what Helen Razor is actually saying here! Is she FOR the guy with the “what she said” poster, or against him ?”

    Same kmart - I can normally follow Ms Razer, but once she starts talking about feminism I can never quite work out whether she is for agin.

    Ms Razer thinks that if a man agrees with women and lets them speak for themselves he is anti intellectual. Women who appreciate a man who listens probably sip latte or drink Chardonnay and the people with influence speak in riddles.”

    Thanks TomJones, I’ve got a horrible feeling that you might be right.

    And if you are right, I must take umbrage. The guy in the photo is doing the only thing that a well adjusted, intelligent, learned, erudite and socially advanced male human being can do, and that is to point out the bleeding obvious, which is that men don’t have a say on the matter.

    This is not anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is when people who have no idea what theya re talking about are listened to as though they were learned (Bolt, Akerman, etc etc)

    Anti-intellectualism is conflating celebrity with intelligence. Anti-intellectualism is having an opinion on everything, even if you know nothing about it. It is NOT about recognising that you have no say, and stating it.

  • 15
    bluepoppy
    Posted Thursday, 12 December 2013 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Chris thanks for the explanation. It is odd that these drinks - Lattes and champagne - are attributed more generally to the Left which belies the fact they often identify more with those who are struggling in society, than the Tories etc.

  • 16
    cnk
    Posted Friday, 13 December 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Intersectionality link to wikipedia ironic much? There are way better critiques and insights available on the interwebs.

  • 17
    MsCuriosityK
    Posted Saturday, 14 December 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t like the way this is written - particularly the dismissive ‘half idea’ that is intersectionality. Yes, there are problems with its methodology - there are loads of critiques out there - but if you were to hold this as its only criticism and that it’s *just* a variation of identity politics then you’re missing the point. First and second wave feminism’s chants didn’t fill a void for the world’s ‘othered’ disenfranchised so this kind of pisses me off, this idea to dumb it down to a readership then subsequently makes it invisible. Here, read this - http://feministcurrent.com/8353/marxist-feminism-as-a-critique-of-intersectionality/ and this http://blackfeministsmanchester.wordpress.com/ Yes there are constructs around structures but if you’re going to dismiss a theory that validates what is clearly invisible to many women who are also not shown or seen in mass media - let me remind you when YOU see this - what do you see? http://thehoopla.com.au/women-hmmmmm/
    My point is attacking liberal white feminists and dismissing ‘half-idea’ intersectionality - is everything along class lines?

  • 18
    MsCuriosityK
    Posted Saturday, 14 December 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    As an extenstion of my previous (ranty) thought I’d clarify - I’m sorta stuck between consensus theory and conflict theory - textbook pseudo-intellectualism …

  • 19
    MsCuriosityK
    Posted Saturday, 14 December 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Rant I was referring to -> since it didn’t appear to come up the first time - I really don’t like the way this is written - particularly the dismissive ‘half idea’ that is intersectionality. Yes, there are problems with its methodology - there are loads of critiques out there - but if you were to hold this as its only criticism and that it’s *just* a variation of identity politics then you’re missing the point. First and second wave feminism’s chants didn’t fill a void for the world’s ‘othered’ disenfranchised so this kind of pisses me off, this idea to dumb it down to a readership then subsequently makes it invisible. Here, read this - http://feministcurrent.com/8353/marxist-feminism-as-a-critique-of-intersectionality/ and this http://blackfeministsmanchester.wordpress.com/ Yes there are constructs around structures but if you’re going to dismiss a theory that validates what is clearly invisible to many women who are also not shown or seen in mass media - let me remind you when YOU see this - what do you see? http://thehoopla.com.au/women-hmmmmm/
    My point is attacking liberal white feminists and dismissing ‘half-idea’ intersectionality - is everything along class lines?

    I don’t think that ‘only the most vulnerable can comment on the most vulnerable’ but this is a mish mash of ideas that needs unravelling. IMO.

  • 20
    Jeremy Gaynor
    Posted Tuesday, 17 December 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    It’s exhausting reading about the lefts infatuation with its own anus… Try taking the fight up to this group of fundamentalists… They are accident prone …and silly… Game on?
    I

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