Violin Concerto, 2nd movement, by Samuel Barber (1939)
As is often the case, a satirical news article in The Onion makes a political point better than 100 earnest Op-Eds on the same subject (including those of this blog).
In a piece entitled “Former conservative recalls belittling tirade from college student that brought him over to the Left”, The Onion reports:
Explaining how the string of personal insults and sharply worded accusations caused him to reevaluate every one of his political leanings, former conservative Vincent Welsh recalled for reporters Friday the belittling tirade from a college student that brought him over to the left. “It was last October and I’d just mentioned my support for a Republican congressional candidate on Twitter when this 19-year-old responded by telling me I was an ignorant asshole who hated the poor and that I was everything that was wrong with the world, and it just completely opened my eyes to how incorrect my whole worldview was,” said Welsh, fondly recounting how the sophomore sociology major converted him to liberalism on the spot by calling him a hateful bigot and saying he was too much of a “brainwashed puppet” of corporate interests to know what was best for him, instantaneously invalidating the 56 years of individual thought and life experience that had led him to his previous political beliefs.
This is what the Laura Pidcocks and Abi Wilkinsons of the world simply fail to understand; publicly declaring that those with differing political views are amoral or at best complicit in evil behaviour does not open hearts and minds, it closes them. Furthermore it only prompts those on the Right, tired of being falsely portrayed as callous oppressors, to hit back against leftist positions using the same divisive language of morality.
I’m sometimes guilty of this myself, having finally snapped after being called out and unfriended by a sanctimonious leftist former acquaintance, and subsequently resolving to fight fire with fire rather than patiently argue that left wing policies are well-intentioned but flawed. Is this the best approach I could take, in terms of helping to bridge political divides and promote understanding? Of course not. But it is incredibly cathartic and gets this blog much more traffic.
The Onion makes a point which may be (and often is) lost on ordinary grassroots left-wing activists, particularly those patrolling social media. And that is only to be expected; right-wing activists are often equally strident in their denunciation of leftists and liberals as communist antipatriots determined to undermine the country from within. Obstinate partisanship is not the preserve of any one political ideology.
But one would hope and expect the adults in the room to take a different approach. Those holding elected office or exercising influence over millions of people on television or in their written commentary ought to be able to tell the difference between playing to the gallery (which is easy) and engaging in genuine persuasion (which can be extraordinarily difficult). Yet too often they choose the former rather than the latter path.
Witness this recent feature by Stephanie McCrummen in the Washington Post. Entitled “The Homecoming”, the feature follows a young female university student returning from her liberal arts college back to visit her home in rural Missouri and help out at the county fair, finding it difficult to relate to her conservative, Trump-supporting family and friends.
In a piece which broke the needle on my overwrought sanctimony detector, McCrummen begins:
It was the first full day of the Clark County Fair, and over at the concession stand Emily Reyes was reading the novel “Ulysses,” raising her head every few paragraphs to look out through the window.
Meet our protagonist, Emily Reyes, child of rural Missouri but reborn as an urban sophisticate following a couple of semesters at college in Kansas City. Already the alarm bells should be sounding – few people read “Ulysses” for pleasure, and one wonders whether Reyes brought the book home with her in part to signal the intellectual leap she has made from her backward hometown. That I could certainly understand, having read numerous books merely to be seen reading them back in my more insufferable youth.
It goes on:
She put down the novel about a young Irish man searching for meaning on an ordinary day in Dublin and began making some jalapeño poppers. A white-haired farmer in denim overalls arrived at the window.
“Small cup of coffee,” he said.
“It’s Starbucks!” Emily began, realizing as soon as the words came out that “Starbucks” was of course a symbol of the urban elite liberal, which was exactly what she did not want to seem to be. She poured him a large cup of coffee and slid it across the counter.
Jesus. Rural Missourians are familiar with Starbucks, and most of them do not see it as a symbol of the urban elite – how can it be when even smaller towns often have a drive-thru Starbucks on their main strip? Newsflash, Washington Post: small town America also has electricity and running water.
Emily had been going since she was a girl, and had always looked forward to the feeling of ease, the lull while the corn was rising, the unhurried conversations. But nothing felt easy to her since the election, especially conversations of the sort that she had learned could arise here.
She had tried talking to her parents during other visits home, telling them that a vote for Trump was a vote “to deport your future son-in-law.” She had tried with Cyrus, and their relationship had only suffered. She and her best friend Hannah had decided not to talk about Trump at all because of the strain the subject had put on their friendship. A sister-in-law had told Emily that she had become difficult to talk to lately, self-righteous and angry.
At this point you should be starting to question whether Emily Reyes might just be a little bit dim. And to be fair, at her age of 22 and early into my political awakening I was not unlike her in terms of my outlook. A more curious person, though, having noted her hometown’s strong proclivity for Donald Trump and then experiencing an entirely different culture at a left-leaning urban college campus, might start asking what faults and failings among the supposedly superior political and cultural elite prompted so many decent people to drift away from establishment candidates and end up wearing MAGA hats. But all Reyes can seeminly do is see the faults and failings of her own family and friends.
And why on earth was their vote for Trump a vote to deport her then-fiancé, how husband? Is her husband an illegal immigrant? There is no indication given in the piece that her Guatemalan partner is “undocumented”. One can reasonably object to Donald Trump’s stance on border security, amnesty for existing illegal immigrants and the foul, racially charged rhetoric he used during the campaign. But to imagine that Trump plans to begin deporting legally settled immigrants is leftist hysteria of the first order, a wild extrapolation from anything that Trump has ever said or that his administration has ever proposed. But again, the Washington Post is not interested in highlighting or deconstructing the flaws in Reyes’ own thinking – for the purposes of their feature, Reyes is unquestionably right about everything, and the residents of Clark County, Missouri are unquestionably wrong.
So far, the only line in the piece which rings true is the observation that Reyes “had become difficult to talk to lately, self-righteous and angry”. That much I can totally believe, based on numerous conversations with people exactly like her.
She turned on some Bob Dylan at a low volume, opened “Ulysses” and settled into a folding chair, advancing 10 pages before Hannah arrived to help. Hannah Trump was her maiden name. Her uncle ran Trump Trucks. An aunt ran a bed-and-breakfast called Trump Haus. Her brother played football and was booed at an out-of-state game recently because of the name Trump on his jersey.
They began making biscuits and gravy, talking about an old high school classmate studying at the University of Missouri.
“She was asking me to help her work on a project about diversity in small towns — she wants to know about any racial targeting,” Emily began.
Again, did the fact that her friend’s brother was booed at an out-of-state football game for sharing a surname with the 45th president of the United States prompt Emily Reyes to dwell for a moment on leftist intolerance? Apparently not.
And of course their mutual friend at the University of Missouri was working on a project about diversity in small towns. American academia in general has become little more than the clergy of the social justice movement, and Mizzou in particular is notable for having capitulated totally to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. The only astonishing thing here is the speed at which Reyes discarded her old values and sense of empathy with her hometown friends and neighbours in order to side completely and unequivocally with the leftist politics pumped out by her college.
There then follows a particularly egregious segment where McCrummen and the Washington Post seem almost to take enjoyment from the fact that the hopes that the people of Clark County had invested in Donald Trump were not being met:
At a moment when Trump was making news almost every day, when the Trump campaign was under investigation for possible ties to Russia, when some Americans were still rooting for his agenda and others were convinced that his presidency amounted to a national crisis of historic dimensions — no one seemed to be talking about Trump at all.
In the very heart of Trump country, no Make America Great Again hats were in sight. No Trump T-shirts. No Trump bumper stickers or placards.
When asked, people said the standard things Trump voters have been saying, that the president should “stop tweeting so much,” or Congress should “give him a chance,” or that he was always “the lesser of two evils.” Then they went back to talking about how good the corn was looking, or the car crash yesterday, or which garden photo won the open art show.
Sitting in the shade of the grandstand, Marvis Trump, a member of the fair board and owner of Trump Haus, had her theory. She had supported Trump, she said, and for a while, she even had a Trump sign up at her house because it irritated her liberal daughter-in-law. It was a lot of fun, she said, but sometime around Easter, she said, that feeling faded.
“Probably the fun’s over now,” she said.
Perhaps I am being oversensitive, but I almost detect an air of mockery here – a perverse enjoyment by the writer and newspaper that the hopes of these people that Trump might actually “Make America Great Again” were being slowly dashed, that they were being made to look foolish for having previously supported his candidacy so sincerely.
And this gets to the heart of the problem with leftist and liberal resistance to Donald Trump. It’s not that leftists do not have many critiques of Trump which are entirely valid – of course they do. It’s that too many of them seem to enjoy being proved right more than they see the need to make meaningful outreach to those who were wrong.
Yes, the Emily Reyes’s of this world were absolutely right about all of Donald Trump’s character flaws, his inability to govern effectively and his disinterest in even trying to do so. They correctly identified his moral flaws, and picked apart the non sequiturs and logical fallacies in his various arguments with ease. But astonishingly, even now – 227 days into this presidency – they remain utterly unwilling to look at the flaws and failings of their own politics which drove so many people into the arms of Donald Trump in the first place. This does not bode well for the defeat of Trumpism.
I’m currently reading an excellent book, “The Once and Future Liberal” by Mark Lilla, which explores some of these failings in leftist dogma, particularly as they relate to the Left’s obsession with identity politics.
In the introduction, Lilla notes:
“The main result has been to turn young people back onto themselves, rather than turning them outward toward the wider world. It has left them unprepared to think about the common good and what must be done practically to secure it – especially the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.”
This seems to perfectly capture the seemingly unbridgeable divide between college-educated child and rural-dwelling parent described in the Washington Post piece. In one sense, Reyes is extraordinarily open, having seen the wider world, worked with Syrian refugees in Greece and married someone of Guatemalan heritage. But in another way, her newfound political ideology is so insular that it has left her struggling to look past the different politics of her immediate family and friends to see their innate goodness, and also unable to discuss these issues without becoming angry.
None of this is particularly the fault of Emily Reyes, who seems to be a generous and upstanding individual, despite the fact that she is clearly being used as a tool by the Washington Post to advance their particular ideological agenda. Rather, it is the fault of a political dogma which equates moral virtue with the unquestioning acceptance of its strictures – hence the cognitive dissonance experienced by some identity politics leftists when beloved family members hold the “wrong” views, effectively making them “bad” people.
Obviously the Left’s problems go far beyond this, and include a failure to grapple with the impact of globalisation and automation on the people of small-town America, who tend not to be the kind of ultra-mobile knowledge workers found in the city (and to whom so much of the Democratic Party policy platform is geared). But besides Mark Lilla, few other people on the American Left presently seem willing to engage in any kind of introspection.
Abraham Lincoln once noted that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed”. Sullenly waiting for Donald Trump supporters to realise the error of their ways – and come crawling back to the same political parties and the same policies which so repulsed them in the first place – is not a recipe for success. On their current trajectory, the Left and assorted anti-Trump forces can at best hope to silence Trump voters, returning many of them to a state of sullen political disengagement and despair – hardly a recipe for improved social cohesion.
Far better to win them over with a new and improved vision for America, one which is better than Donald Trump’s bleak and superficial promises on the one hand, and the Left’s dystopian, censorious identity politics on the other.
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Professors are now free to bully and harass their students with impunity on American college campuses, but don’t worry – it is all done in the name of social justice
Things are getting seriously out of hand on the American college campus.
Watch this video, which depicts several professors – professors! – at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, circling around a conservative student who was recruiting for her campus chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a national conservative student organisation, taunting and insulting her.
Addressing TPUSA chapter president Katie Mullen, one graduate teaching assistant screams “Neo-fascist Becky right here! Becky the neo-fascist right here. Wants to destroy public schools, public universities, hates DACA kids” while stalking around holding a sign declaring “Just say no to neo-fascism!”.
Other professors and teaching assistants then join in a chant of “No KKK, no NRA” (because a white supremacist movement and an organisation set up to defend the Second Amendment are clearly comparably sinful).
The first professor – a middle aged white woman – then paces around shouting “Fight white nationalism! Fight white supremacy!”, yards from the TPUSA stall.
Campus reform reports:
Mullen told Campus Reform that a university administrator eventually came out and told her she could not table because she was in a free speech zone. Campus police were called, however, and after assessing the situation they informed Mullen that she had the right to stay and table.
“I was honestly shocked and scared. I was there for a couple hours and had no real issues but a couple debates,” Mullen told Campus Reform. “They came with posters screaming profanities at me and people passing by.”
“I didn’t even engage, but I kept tabling as I wasn’t going to let them silence me,” she continued, but conceded that after a while, “I got overwhelmed and scared and started to cry,” at which point the professors “screamed [that] I was crying for attention.”
“It shocks me that these are professors that are supposed to teach and support students and they were bullying me,” she remarked.
And what was Katie Mullen’s crime? Simply recruiting for her lawful university society and handing out literature with slogans such as “Socialism Sucks!”. And for this transgression against the new illiberal order on campus, these professors, these supposed custodians and mentors of young minds, felt it appropriate to bully Mullen to the point where she started to cry.
Watch this video and then tell me that the social justice and identity politics movement is one based on love and tolerance.
No, this is evil. There is no other word, and following a recent wake-up call I have resolved not to mince my words any more. These professors are behaving in an evil fashion, and their hearts are clearly filled with something dark and malicious, not something benevolent and empathetic.
Note the professor shouting about white supremacy. She is doing what all white members of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics are required to do to remain part of the movement – namely debase herself, publicly acknowledge her own supposed white privilege and be seen to be agitating against all forms of oppression at all times.
Elliot Kaufman made this point in the National Review, with reference to the ACLU’s recent craven capitulation before the idol of identity politics:
But that may be what it takes to be a good “ally,” the term the Left has developed for white supporters of social-justice movements. Their job is to subordinate themselves to non-white “marginalized peoples,” and help those peoples to be heard. As Mia McKenzie, a queer Black feminist who founded the popular website Black Girl Dangerous, has written, the key to being a good ally is to “shut up and listen.”
Almost every article about how to be an ally begins with some version of this advice. Ben & Jerry’s created a list of eight steps. The first two are “It’s not about you” and “We must listen up.” This reflects the ideology of the identity-politics Left: Who you are, and where that places you on the hierarchy of victims, determines the merit accorded to your views.
These movements will take what help they can get, but whiteness can never escape from the doghouse. It will always be suspect. White allies, many in the movement worry, will always be insufficiently invested in the cause because of their whiteness. For them social justice can be a game, whereas for truly marginalized “people of color,” it is real-life. It is for this reason that white leftists are constantly being “called out” for stepping out of line or “crowding out marginalized voices” with their own — that is, for claiming to know better than people who are more oppressed.
The only way to prove oneself as an ally is to demonstrate absolute devotion and selflessness; for an ally, Dhimmitude will always be the name of the game. And the best way to demonstrate that is to defer to “marginalized” social-justice warriors even when it makes no sense to do so.
And now the desperate quest to retain one’s place within the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is leading professors to publicly bully and shame their own students in an hysterical attempt to prove their woke bona fides.
Note that even if these University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors were correct to harass one of their students to the point of tears simply for holding different political views – and they most certainly were not – their behaviour is still counterproductive, because they are devaluing the definition of “white supremacy” to such an extent that it becomes meaningless.
When tremulous social justice warriors see white supremacy in garden variety conservatism, or even being marked down for bad spelling or grammar, then what word do we have left to describe lynchings, cross-burnings, assaults and discrimination? And when grown adult professors behave as though fascism is returning to the United States, they magnify a serious but containable issue out of all proportion.
But none of these considerations matter to the bully-professors. These leftist academics must now continually prove their allyship by prostrating themselves and persecuting dissenting students in servile and fearful hope that they will win some small scrap of favour from their new masters, the leftist SJW activists – particularly those who claim some exalted position on the hierarchy of victimhood.
And depressingly, the spineless academics are increasingly willing to do so, knowing that the social justice activists will soon come for them unless they taunt and terrify an innocent student and commit other similar acts of public fealty to the movement.
In 56+ posts on the subject of campus censorship in the name of social justice, I have typically reported instances of angry leftist students bullying their professors and university administrators into fearful compliance with their childish demands. But now it seems that some of these professors are turning around and redirecting that bullying right back at students who dare to express heretical, out-of-favour political opinions.
May God help them to see the error of their ways.
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Today, on my weekly scroll through corporate networking social media site LinkedIn, I came upon that most annoying of phenomena – the corporate humblebrag.
In case you are unfamiliar, the corporate humblebrag is a status update or article generally written by some cretinous individual who takes excessive pride in their firm (outside of which they have no life) and thinks that their organisation’s craven feats of pandering to environmentalists or the social justice priesthood somehow reflect a deep-seated virtue in themselves.
LinkedIn is chock full of such posts. Just as online pornography is said to account for up to 30% of total internet traffic, so the vast majority of posts on LinkedIn (excluding those chirpy and persistent approaches by recruiters) consist of corporate humblebrags, people trying to ingratiate themselves with their current employers and colleagues by conspicuously and repeatedly trumpeting even the most banal of news items about their firm.
The corporate humblebrag which prompts this blog post is particularly bad, and centres on global consulting firm Accenture’s efforts to bring about harmony between world religions – a feat which has thus far eluded the world’s greatest thinkers and statesmen.
Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer of Accenture writes:
Those of you who are regular readers have heard me talk about Accenture’s aspiration to be the most truly human organization in the digital age. As we continue to peel back the layers on what “truly human” means, at the heart is helping our people be successful both professionally and personally. And, to be at our best, we need to be comfortable being our true selves and expressing our feelings at work.
Peeling back the layers on what “truly human” means? This is the type of existential question which has challenged and consumed people for millennia, without resolution. It hardly seems likely that Accenture’s drive to be “the most truly human organization in the digital age” is going to crack the secret of life when the most prominent philosophers, theologists, artists and scientists throughout history have all come up short.
The self-aggrandising article continues:
We started our “Building Bridges” journey last year in the midst of racial unrest in the U.S. Our people told us that it’s stressful when they feel they can’t talk openly in the workplace about things that happen in the world or at home that affect them deeply. It makes them feel like they don’t belong and that perhaps their co-workers are unaware or don’t care about things that are important to them.
Why do I get the distinct feeling that Accenture’s “Building Bridges” scheme is probably only receptive to some viewpoints and perspectives about the racial unrest in America – and that the people being encouraged to speak and rewarded for doing so are those who propagate the current identity politics dogma which dictates that race is not something to be ignored but rather scrupulously and punishingly observed, with everybody seen not as an individual, not as an American but as a member of an oppressed community (or the oppressing white male group)?
Somehow I imagine that were an Accenture employee to stand up in one of these “Building Bridges” meetings and venture the kind of opinion typically made on this blog – that we should be colourblind in our interactions with people and that identity politics only serves to fracture society and create a self-fulfilling culture of passive victimhood – that they would find themselves up in front of HR pretty fast, and out the door escorted by security not too long afterwards. But perhaps I am being uncharitable.
We recently convened a Building Bridges session in New York on the topic of religion. Yes, one of those supposed taboo topics that you’re advised to avoid – along with politics – right?! Well, the bottom line is religion is important to many of our people. And, it’s critical to foster cross-faith and multicultural understanding and respect. At the very least, it helps us understand the religious observances of our colleagues. But what I really see is deeper connections among our people.
Oh goody, religion in the workplace. At this point, Ellyn Shook hands over to her sycophantic underling Dan Eckstein, head of Accenture New York’s Interfaith Employee Resource Group – which apparently started out as a Bible study group for Christian employees before being hijacked and taken over in order to fulfil the glorious higher purpose of social justice activism.
Here’s Dan, in his own words:
As an observant Jew, I’ve always been passionate about inclusion and diversity, especially the topic of one’s faith at work. After graduating college, it was a challenge to figure out how I wanted to balance my religion and my work. I found myself trying to compartmentalize my work life from my religious life. But it didn’t feel right. I asked my parents, grandparents and mentors for advice. I’ll never forget the story of my Grandpa when he arrived in NY after the Holocaust and surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp. He was a fur matcher and he told me that almost every Friday in the winter he would leave work early to get home for the Sabbath by sundown. When Monday came around he would go back to work and they would fire him for leaving early. As a survivor, my Grandpa taught me to always be proud of who I am and to stand up for my beliefs.
I ultimately decided to wear my Kippa to work because I wanted to be transparent about who I am, and be consistent both inside and outside the office. I feel it represents my true self and is something that I’m proud of. As a leader, I also hope that I am a role model to others, encouraging authenticity.
Fine. That’s all well and good – people should certainly be free to express themselves at work as far as practicable and in line with their role. But then it starts to get weird:
Our Interfaith ERG hosted a Building Bridges session on August 11 where over 100 people packed into the NY office training room to talk about faith at work. We decided to anchor this session around the theme of “story telling.” Everyone has a story, but we’re often so busy or distracted at work that we don’t take time to ask or share.
[..] We ended our session by asking local faith leaders – Rev. Doyeon Park, Brahmachari Karuna, Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, Mohammed Al-Mathil and Rabbi Bob Kaplan – to reflect on the day and offer messages around hope, transparency, courage and community. Mohammed Al-Mathil encouraged us to ask questions from a place of respect and to do a bit of homework when coming to conversations about religion. Brahmachari Karuna shared a story of his father, a Human Resources leader, who seeks to find points of beauty in other religions, which helps to spark conversations with colleagues to explore commonalities and points of beauty across their different faiths.
It’s amazing that anyone in Accenture’s New York office finds time to align boxes in PowerPoint, sit on 3-hour client conference calls or just do some good old fashioned shakedown testing on a new SAP deployment when they are all so busy learning about other faiths and affirming one another’s chosen identities.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The same culture now pervades nearly every large company with offices in major world cities or key industry hubs – any place where college educated knowledge workers gather in high concentration. For example, it is now almost compulsory for corporations to conspicuously endorse Pride Month and acknowledge it with a veritable festival of sponsorships and office activities.
There is nothing particularly wrong with this – if executives want to engage in corporate virtue-signalling then this is their choice. But these forays into social activism inevitably come down hard on one specific side of the debate, with little tolerance for those with differing views – even if they are conscientious and upstanding employees.
For example, this is what the Head of HR Strategy for one multinational firm had to say on LinkedIn about the recent Google Memo saga, in which developer James Damore was summarily fired for publishing a frequently and deliberately-misrepresented memo calling for Google to look again at the policies through which it aims to increase diversity:
Inclusion and diversity can be a prickly topic, although these issues don’t need to be sticky if handled in an appropriate manner. A great example set by Google’s CEO following the engineer’s ‘anti- I&D manifesto’. Having sent a clear email to all employees, he fired the employee in question and returned from his holiday immediately to take time to discuss the topics further with Googlers. Bravo for great leadership, mirroring words with actions. #strongleadership #diversity #inclusion
How then is an employee of this corporation who happens to agree with James Damore’s perfectly reasonable argument supposed to feel when it becomes clear that their own Head of HR strongly supports the firing of people such as themselves simply for failing to agree with the prevailing social justice groupthink; that every kind of diversity is encouraged in their firm, except for ideological diversity?
More to the point, why is it now necessary for our employers to continually nurture and affirm us as though we are needy toddlers? Why do we look to the corporations we work for to be our moral lodestar, a source of emotional support and a powerful auxiliary parent to adjudicate every petty interpersonal dispute that may arise between us and our coworkers?
When you work for a company you are selling them your labour – manual, mental or sometimes emotional – and in exchange you get paid a wage or a salary. That’s the sum total of the relationship that should exist between employer and employee in a capitalist system, and that’s a good thing. We don’t want to go back to the Victorian days where wealthy industrialists took it upon themselves to watch over the moral fibre of their workforce, regulating speech, recreation and behaviour in purpose-built company towns.
Of course people form important professional connections and bonds of friendship with colleagues, and employees are required to buy into whatever company culture exists in the various ways that it manifests (at least if they want their careers to prosper), but this still falls under the remit of labour. And the corporation has traditionally only been interested in nurturing such relationships to the extent that they help the employee perform their job and improve their skills (and consequently the value of their labour) – through training and intra-company networking events, for example.
I won’t deny that it is nice when corporations take sensible measures to improve the wellbeing of their workforce and increase employee engagement – and there are a whole range of ways to accomplish these goals, from bonus systems and employee reward schemes to the nature of performance appraisals and even small token gestures like free fruit or snacks for staff. I have personally benefited from many such initiatives in my own corporate career. But again, these schemes were designed to incentivise me to stay with the company or to work harder, not to fill in gaping holes in my psyche.
Yet apparently thousands if not millions of well-educated and gainfully employed people look to their employers – huge corporations which ultimately often have little allegiance to either their home country, country of operations or indeed their employees – to help realise their potential as human beings. That’s just plain creepy.
And note also that this is a mental affliction which only seems to affect middle class workers in the creative, tech or professional service industries. You don’t get minimum wage burger-flippers at McDonald’s demanding that the corporation “peel back the layers” of their humanity or otherwise validate their existence and identity at every turn. The relationship is purely transactional – they show up for work, put in a shift, go home and get paid. The same goes for retail work, semi-skilled clerical work and those in the service industries.
(In fact the only organisation where such intimate involvement in the private lives, personalities and identities of their staff seems remotely appropriate is the military, which in order to make people into effective warriors and leaders must essentially deconstruct and rebuild people from the ground up during basic training, with very different boundaries of privacy and intimacy to other private or public sector employment).
In other words, this phenomenon or corporate coddling is something that upper middle class professional knowledge workers are bringing on themselves, not something which is imposed upon them (as one might have imagined from following the Google Memo saga). It is no longer enough for corporations to provide a water cooler, cheap coffee and a relatively consistent ambient air temperature – now rank and file employees are effectively demanding that their employers pander to their every emotional need as well, be it support with their sexuality, gender identity, religion or any number of other issues which are best tended to in one’s own personal time.
I must say that I find this trend fascinating and repellent, in equal part. I genuinely struggle to identify with the kind of mindset that would prompt an intelligent, driven employee to organise an interfaith religious symposium for their office, or to facilitate a training workshop in LGBTQ+ allyship on company time – other than the obvious excuse of wanting to avoid the tedium of doing real, actual value-adding work (which I totally understand).
If I were still working in a large professional services firm with one of these gung-ho HR departments, I would sooner that they fire everybody with the word “diversity” in their job title and raise my salary by a couple of quid than be continually validated in my identity as an trans-class, mixed-race, semi-privileged cisgender heterosexual male by some gimlet-eyed, Kool-Aid drinking corporate apparatchik. But apparently I am in the minority.
Admittedly, LinkedIn isn’t the best gauge of these things, being populated mostly by fellow corporate Kool-Aid drinkers who share endless posts about how “proud” they are that their firm won some industry award for sustainability in toilet paper consumption. But there are clearly enough people who value – nay, demand – being condescended to in this way by their employers that large firms are willing to pull out all the stops and treat their employees like children they apparently yearn to be.
Perhaps I am a grouch and an outlier on this, and I would certainly welcome the input and perspective of anybody who works in corporate HR or one of these diversity or employee-nurturing workstreams. But to me, this trend is just another casualty of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, not to mention a symbol of the relentless infantilisation of Western society, with grown adults in prestigious jobs now seeking to regress back into coddled childhood, one insipid LinkedIn status update at a time.
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It generally doesn’t end well when big corporations decide to prove their right-on, progressive credentials with a slick new TV advertisement.
Only four months ago, Pepsi found itself on the receiving end of a heap of bad PR when their insipid commercial, featuring celebrity with no discernible talent Kylie Jenner, was deemed to be trivialising the Black Lives Matter movement (the gravest sin that it is presently possible to commit).
The Pepsi ad was certainly stupid, but not because it made light of a movement which is by no means as pure of character as it likes to pretend. No, the problem with the Pepsi ad was that it tried to cast the soft drink manufacturer in a positive light by clinging on to the coattails of various protest movements, and casting its brown sugary liquid as the balm that could ease tensions between Generic Oppressed Communities and the police. It was glib and superficial and insulting to everyone who was portrayed in it.
And unfortunately that’s how it is with most ads that try to paint the responsible corporation in a positive light by embracing the latest progressive fad or injunction from the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. They politicise that which should not be politicised, needlessly sow division over politically contentious issues, waste shareholder money to burnish the reputations of certain executives and generally fail to serve the corporation’s customers. In Britain, Channel 4’s cynical and self-serving “Gay Mountain” ad, timed to coincide with the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is another awful example of tawdry corporate behaviour.
That’s not to say that all such ads are bad – by all means, corporations should wade into social territory when the product and the issue actually have some connection with each other and there is a worthy goal in mind. The #LikeAGirl ad campaign by Always, for example, is actually quite moving and packs a real impact. This Barbie ad isn’t half bad either.
Other social justice ads fall into the grey zone, not terrible but not particularly praiseworthy either – or else just plain confusing. Procter & Gamble’s recent ad “The Talk“, highlighting the fact that African American parents have had to teach their children resilience techniques and shore up their self-esteem in ways that white parents generally have not, makes a valid and moving historical point. But it is never quite clear why Procter & Gamble is the one to be making the ad, other than that they cynically calculated that they can burnish their corporate credentials by conspicuously attaching their brand to the worthy cause of anti-racism.
But best of all recent ads where a large corporation dips its toe into the roiling waters of social issues is this one by Heineken, entitled “Worlds Apart“. What makes it so good? The fact that it does not seek to preach any specific value or social outcome besides the importance of tolerance and mutual respect which is too often missing in public discourse. Rather than shoving a particular social cause down the throats of consumers, the ad dares to suggest that more than one opinion (the progressive one) may have value, and that issues should be discussed rather than dissent shut down.
The ad is shot like a reality show, putting various pairs of strangers with diametrically opposed opinions on various issues – feminism, transgenderism, climate change and so on – in a room together, having them perform various icebreaking tasks including assembling furniture, describing both themselves and their partner using five adjectives and then just talking together about their life experiences. It sounds corny, but it actually works quite well – watch the video at the top of this article.
The final task given to the various pairs of strangers is to assemble a construction out of wooden blocks – which turns out to be a bar (see what they did there?) Having cooperated and bonded with each other while completing various tasks, they each then have to watch a video in which the other person talks to the camera about their opinions of various relevant hot-button issues. It then becomes clear that the feminist was paired with the anti-feminist, the climate change sceptic with the environmentalist, the transgender woman with the man who scorned the idea of transgenderism. Having discovered this truth about their partner, they are then offered a choice – either they can leave and never see each other again, or they can discuss their differences over a beer at the bar they just constructed together.
This really is quite effective. You see the shock on each person’s face as they realise this uncomfortable truth about the stranger with whom they have been working and bonding during the various tasks. You see hints of confusion and almost betrayal on some of their faces as they weigh the competing facts – that they got on well with the person, know them through their brief interactions to be decent, yet that they stand on opposite sides of major social wedge issues. Spoiler alert: they all end up deciding to stay and discuss their differences over a nice cool Heineken.
This is a good ad. Firstly in terms of product promotion, it positions Heineken beer as something over which sane, rational people can discuss their differences like adults. In real life, people do discuss their problems and bond over beer. Unlike the Procter & Gamble ad, there is a valid reason for Heineken to be making this commercial. And what’s more, despite only being a commercial the various interactions feel ten times more real than President Obama’s very real and much-publicised “beer summit” in the wake of the Henry Louis Gates arrest controversy.
But more than that, the ad is good because it doesn’t force a set outcome. It doesn’t end with the transgenderism sceptic acknowledging the error of his ways, confessing his sin and being absolved, or the anti-feminist checking his male privilege. Rather, knowing that their partner is more than the sum of his or her political opinions, the various couples are able to forge bonds of mutual respect and friendship. Like adults used to do in the days before social media turbo-charged identity politics.
So why does Heineken succeed where so many other corporations have failed? Again, it’s those three reasons:
If corporations are going to continue to dip their toes into social issues then we need more ads like this. Right now it feels like society is fraying, sometimes even in danger of coming apart at the seams, fuelled by a toxic blend of identity politics zealots, genuine bigots, people who simply dislike being preached to and those who profit from creating friction between them.
Too many people in positions of authority – politicians, media personalities, self-appointed community leaders – fail to encourage understanding and respectful disagreement, preferring to foment mutual intolerance. Only today I was publicly and ostentatiously defriended by a respected acquaintance, someone who suddenly decided that my relatively mainstream and inoffensive conservatarian opinions were beyond the pale and injurious to their mental safety. It isn’t the first time that this has happened. This is what identity politics and leftist intolerance hath wrought.
Retreating into our respective bubbles will not help knit society back together and weave the strands of a common identity and shared purpose around which we can – and must – all unite. The Heineken “Worlds Apart” ad acknowledges this fact and pitches its product as part of the solution.
It shouldn’t take a beer company to say what so many political and community leaders have so conspicuously failed to say themselves, but that’s just what Heineken have done with this ad. And this puts it head and shoulders above the rest.
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