Current Issue Analysis (CIA)
Refuting Dave Rubin and Debunking the so-called “Regressive Left”
#rubinreport #regressiveleft #defendingtheleft
Today I want to talk about the so-called “regressive left”. I want to look at where this term comes from and the why and the how of its use. Then I want to spend some time defending the quoteunquote “regressive left”. In order to defend them, I’m going to focus my arguements against Dave Rubin, host of the Youtube channel The Rubin Report. I chose Dave not just because he’s an outspoken critic of the quoteunquote “regressive left”, but also because I like the dude. I like his soft-spoken style, and I find his arguments convincing. That said, he’s also wrong, and I’m going to tell you why.
So, first some background: The term “regressive left” was fisrt used by author and activist Maajid Nawaz. Nawaz, formerly a radical islamist, is now critical of Islam and what he percieves to be widespread bigotry within muslim communities. He identified the “regressive left” as a part of the left who are unwilling to confront or challenge bigotry that occurs within minority communities because they don’t want to disrepect the practicies of other cultures.
Now, I’m sympathetic to this early definition of the term. I believe that bigotry should be condemned wherever it is found. I have no sympathy for fundamentalists who believe that, for example, homosexuality is evil, and I will condemn this belief regardless of the religion of the people who voice it. I do, however, also sympathize with the people, predominately from the left, who are standing up for oppressed peoples, even if they occassionally turn a blind eye to bigoted practices. The technique of these lefties might not be perfect, but they’re fighting the good fight, which is more than can be said for those who are so eager to find fault with them.
OK, the term “regressive left” originally referred to members of the left who were unwilling to challenge bigotry found in minority communities. Since then, however, the term has grown to encompass anyone (on the left) who gets angry about practices they perceive to be oppressive. Here’s a quick list of what the quoteunquote “regressive left” does:
- They get angry about offensive Halloween costumes,
- They get angry when bigoted speakers are invited to give lectures on college campuses,
- They get angry when public figures say or tweet racist or sexist things,
- They get angry by anything not “politically correct”
So I think you get the picture.
If you’re like me, your initial reaction to this list is probably something like: “Yeah. I’ve heard about those incidents, and I do NOT support banning Halloween costumes or kicking speakers, however wrong their opinions may be, out of college campuses. In fact, I really think this behavior threatens the freedom of speech!”
And I get that. This is also the same point that Dave Rubin, or Bill Maher, or Jonathan Haidt make.
Freedom of speech is precious, and silencing people for their opinions is wrong, regardless what those opinions might be. That’s just A UNIVERSAL TRUTH…
…Or is it?
Let’s unpack this a bit. Let’s peel back the layers. I’m gonna try to defend the quoteunquote “resgressive left”. and in order to do that I want to look at some of the stuff that Dave Rubin has talked about on his show. It’s not my intention to take him out of context, and I hope that I’m being fair to him. I encourage everyone to check out his show, links in the description.
Dave regularly sets up a dichotomy between his group–which he never names, though he calls himself a classical liberal and we know that his group believes in freedom and individualism–and the opposing group which he variously names the regressive left, social justice warriors, bigoteers, or the outrage machine. Let’s pause here for a second because this is already important. Question: Why doesn’t Dave name his group? The answer is probably that he respects the diversity of his group too much to give them a general label. But he does call the opposing group names. It follows from this that Dave either thinks his opponents belong to one big homogenous lump, and/or he simply has no respect for them. Dave might jump in here and say: “I don’t have to respect them, but even though I disagree with what they say, I’ll defend to the death their right to say it.” To which I would likely respond with something like: “But Dave! Aren’t you worried that there’s a moral hazard in publically criticizing a group that you respect so little that you’re unwilling to engage with them beyond making a few blanket generalizations?”
And while I think that’s a very good point that I just made, the more important point about failing to recognize the multiplicity of your opponent and instead just calling them a pejorative is that it shifts the discussion away from content and focuses it instead on some trait that’s supposedly shared by the whole group. That’s why, and I’m quoting Dave here, “Bigoteers are always looking for something new to be outraged about.” This characterization completely elminates any room for understanding the various motives or reasons that inform the actions of the so-called bigoteers. Rubin is basically saying that they have no reasons, they just want any excuse to get angry. And framing it in this way is strategic. That’s because the motives and reasons behind this group’s actions are diverse and intellectually challenging. It’s much easier to reduce them to “oh that outrage machine, getting angry again for no reason!” than to engage with them and to try to understand why they think and act the way they do.
Dave also says that the quoteunquote “regressive left” quote “uses buzzwords and outrage to silence the rest of us who are trying to have meaningful conversations”. This strikes me a blatant hypocrasy. Dave is unwilling to engage with, or even recognize, the substance of his opponent’s ideas, instead he resorts to calling them “bigoteers” and “the outrage machine”, and in the same breath he accuses them of using buzzwords to silence meaningful debate. That’s exactly what he’s doing! Also, notice the implication that meaningful debate can only occure in his camp. The “bigoteers”, on the other hand, and only capable of “outrage”.
So, according to Dave Rubin, the “regressive left” is a group of homogenous outrage seekers incapable of having a meaningful conversation. And that brings me to my fist point in my defense of the so-called “regressive left”:
+There is no regressive left. It’s a straw man, a deceptive generalization, a vicious mischaracterization. It doesn’t exist. That’s because the group that Dave so flippantly calls the “regressive left” is actually a diverse group of people with many good reasons to be angry about the continual propogation of oppressive behavior and speech in their society. Behavior and speech, by the way, that until recently was so normal that almost nobody recognized it as oppressive. (In fact the oppressors still generally do not consider this behavior to be oppressive, it’s only with the recent addition of marginalized and oppressed voices into the public sphere that the mainstream is starting to wake up to how oppressive it’s actually been this whole time.)
Which leads to my second point in defense of the quoteunquote “regressive left”:
+After centuries of intolerance to any voice that wasn’t white, male, and heterosexual, it’s a bit disingenuious to now, when non-white, female, LGBT voices have finally fought and won enough space to begin publically rejecting the dominion of the old order, to now preach the universality of open and respectful discourse.
Dave Rubin talks about, I quote, “the social justice warrior disease” and associates it with intersectionality. He says his camp has to quote “take back the narrative”, and claims that quote “the outrage machine will just dull us all down to the point where we won’t share any original thought because we just don’t wanna deal with the repercussions”. In all this he’s making assumptions about what counts as the correct narrative, and about what counts as original thought. I submit that he’s got it backwards. Intersectionality IS original thought, the narrative he’s defending is the still dominate narrative, and it has it’s roots in centuries of racist, sexist thinking. His message that the space for freedom of thought and speech is being eroded is not only alarmist–the space he’s referring to still characterizes the majority of the public–and private!–sphere–to say it’s being eroded is not just alarmist but it’s also inaccurate–the space he’s refering to was never a space for the freedom of thought and speech. It was, and still is, a space for the reproduction and further entrenchment of the dominant, hegemonic narrative. We can’t put brackets around 200 years of white men talking about the universal free and open exchange of ideas while the whole time excluding women, because they’re not reasonable enough, and minorities, because they’re intellectually inferior. We can’t put brackets around that and then claim that now white male voices are actually the victim here because they’re being interrupted and everybody deserves a fair hearing. The universal free and open exchange of ideas was never universal, never free, and never open. Rather, it’s been centuries of white men talking. Now they’re being interrupted. If they start claiming that that’s unfair, well, oh my, this tiny violin here just makes me so sad.
The people that Dave refers to when he talks about the quoteunquote “regressive left” are mostely young students. They may be the first generation in American history whose curriculum has included course work aimed at understanding the history of racial and sexual oppression from the position of the oppressed. It’s no wonder they’re sensitive to these issues in a way that older generations aren’t. We should be embracing this sensitivity and encouraging these young people to explore new ideas about how to engage with a world founded on, whether we like it or not, a racist and sexist ideology.
Dave says quote, “the biggest threat to free speech is that we are activly silencing ourselves”. It’s true that we should not silence ourselves out of fear. But that’s much different from reflecting on and recongizing how our speech and actions can contribute to a history of oppression and, refusing to be complicit, deciding to change our speech and behavior. That’s not self-censorship, it’s a fisrt tiny step towards social enlightenment.
Now a Girl is My Homeland by Sherko Bekas
Here she comes!
Here she comes herself!
In the fall leaves clothed
With nineteen yellow years
With nineteen dark lights
With nineteen green chalices
With the homesick autumn butterfly
She is on the way
She is coming to you
I beg you
When she arrives before you
I beg you
In the harkening sky
offer her your harkening bird
In your eyes, behold her closely with your eyes
reach into your bosom
With a kiss of the sight
offer her the apple of your heart
She is the ode of a wild and cold wind
wounded on the streets and in your homes
So heart broken a wind
So hopeless a rain
A book repulsed by its own language
This is the tale of oppression
The spectacle of the deceptions and machinations
of hands and fists of yours all
Here she comes!
She herself comes
With the land and burned flower of the land
She has picked
Here she comes!
With her she brings the remembrance of a victim here
Here she comes!
Challenging Capitalist Modernity III Conference
Uncovering Democratic Modernity ― Resistance, Rebellion and Building the New
From the website:
Capitalism is stuck in a structural crisis and losing legitimacy worldwide ― despite the claim that no alternatives exist. At the same time right-wing and reactionary movements o er themselves as alternatives. But there are other ways than the seemingly only alternatives. In Rojava/North Syria it was possible not only to not take sides but to establish an own, “third way”. The building of a non-patriarchal system and a democratic economic order seems within reach and has the chance to establish itself permanently. Such “third ways” are possible everywhere in the world. At our third conference we want to present, shed light on/examine and discuss them.
The third conference “Challenging Capitalist Modernity III: Uncovering Democratic Modernity ― Resistance, Rebellion and Building the New” is taking place around Easter (14―16 April) 2017 in Hamburg. The past two conferences brought together not only leading intellectuals, but also gave young activists, students and scholars a chance to present their ideas. In this third conference we want to once again build bridges between all these and movements in Kurdistan and worldwide. Invitation Dear Friends, You may have participated in one of our past two conferences “Challenging Capitalist Modernity I: Al- ternative Concepts and the Kurdish Case” in 2012, “Challenging Capitalist Modernity II: Dissecting Capitalist Modernity – Building Democratic Confederalism” in 2015. For three days hundreds of stu- dents, intellectuals, activists and movements came together and discussed not only what they criticised, but also how and what they wanted to be. Many ideas from around the world and that of the Kurdish freedom movement came together to strengthen their practices. We are excited to invite you to our third conference “Challenging Capitalist Modernity III: Uncovering Democratic Modernity – Resistance, Rebellion and Building the New”. is conference will take place again on the Easter weekend 14―16 April 2017 in Hamburg.
In this third conference we will continue to focus on the critique of the capitalist modernity, but this year we will discuss the obstacles and how these obstacles can be overcome. us, the main theme of this year’s conference is the importance of be- ing organized and to be in solidarity. We will not only immerse deeper in the problems, but also in the proposed solutions. This year we will continue with the tradition of Call for Papers, but additionally there will be working groups and work- shops. Please check the website for updated information on them.
You can still register for the conference by writing to registration[at]networkaq.net