Pride Before The Fall: What Woke Capitalism Tells Us About Power In Modern Society

Oreo Pride Month pronoun celebration cookies

A tale of two product launches, set against the most fawningly corporate Pride Month in American history

Imagine that you are Jerry Falwell, Jr. or some other notable socially conservative reactionary type, and you see the above image in which the makers of Oreo cookies announce that they are celebrating Pride Month by producing commemorative packs encouraging customers to “share [their] pronouns with pride”.

One can easily imagine Falwell, Jr. taking to his Twitter account in high dudgeon to complain about something (the ongoing erasure of the gender binary) so clearly against his own personal beliefs and conception of Christian morality being promoted on the packaging of a beloved, family-friendly American snack. Maybe this would be followed by an angry TV news appearance – or, in the good old days, a strongly-worded open letter, printed in the national press and addressed to the godless, degenerate executives at the National Biscuit Company.

There was undoubtedly a time when such a reaction from the likes of Falwell, Jr. – or more likely, going back several decades, his father – would have resulted in a swift and chastened response from those on the receiving end, followed by an immediate retraction and apology for whatever the offensive conduct may have been. Needless to say, that time has long since passed.

Now imagine that you are mediocre ex-football player, social justice icon par excellence and Nike endorser Colin Kaepernick, and one day you find out that the company which pays you millions of dollars to use your image is preparing to celebrate American Independence Day by launching a special edition sneaker featuring the historic “Betsy Ross” version of the American flag:

Nike Betsy Ross American Flag - Colin Kaepernick

Naturally, the multinational organization which has gone to such great pains to hug you close as a product endorser cannot simply be indulging in the innocent, age-old corporate American pastime of cashing in on patriotism, but rather must be somehow actively perpetrating racism and white supremacy.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Nike Inc. is yanking a U.S.A.-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag after former NFL star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive, according to people familiar with the matter.

The sneaker giant created the Air Max 1 USA in celebration of the July Fourth holiday, and it was slated to go on sale this week. The heel of the shoe featured a U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle, a design created during the American Revolution and commonly referred to as the Betsy Ross flag.

After shipping the shoes to retailers, Nike asked for them to be returned without explaining why, the people said. The shoes aren’t available on Nike’s own apps and websites.

“Nike has chosen not to release the Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July as it featured the old version of the American flag,” a Nike spokeswoman said.

After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.

In this depressing contemporary case, Kaepernick barely had to raise an eyebrow before terrified executives at Nike were fawningly apologizing to him and scrapping the launch of their new shoe, presumably at some considerable cost to the company and ultimately its shareholders.

Think of all the various legitimate and often seemingly intractable problems facing the African American community – poverty and lack of capital, the percentage of unstable or single parent families, lagging educational attainment, male violence within the community and an often fractious relationship with local police forces which at times has led to the tragic and outrageous death of unarmed black civilians at the hands of police officers. These are complex and often interlinked issues, but rather than discussing them and continuing to push rational policy solutions to the fore, instead we must all now stop and waste our time discussing the mental and emotional trauma unleashed on poor old Colin Kaepernick when he beheld a new pair of shoes.

We are loftily told by the usual Twitter verified bluecheck suspects that this should not be reported as a case of fragility or “hating America”, but rather protesting a symbol which is apparently in the process of being appropriated by a number of fringe extremists who like to hearken back to the good old days when minorities knew their place:

Well, if we don’t want something to be appropriated by unpleasant extremists, what is the absolutely worst thing we could possibly do? I would venture that the worst thing we could do is cede the ground to them without a fight and run away screaming, being sure to destroy any products inspired by good-hearted pride and patriotism so that only the scrawled banners of the haters remain.

But clearly I am at odds with the woke commissars, who have instead decided that as soon as a venerated symbol is once used by extremists, it is then lost to the mainstream forever. This never ends well, as I can personally attest, having emigrated to the United States from England, where the English national flag (the Cross of St. George) is still so heavily associated with 1970s racists and football hooligans rather than mild-mannered patriots that even many prominent politicians struggle to relate to it without coming across as insincere, ironic or even derisive.

Now, none of this is to say that racism, sexism and homophobia have been banished from society, and that we do not need to take reasonable care about the symbols and language we use. Not by any means. But it is striking that the people who now complain loudest about word or symbolcrime, and who portray themselves as the most grievously pitiable victims, actually tend to operate in realms where they hold overwhelming cultural and organizational power.

There probably aren’t ten impoverished black teenagers in America today who would have objected to Nike’s new commemorative sneaker bearing the historic Betsy Ross version of the American Flag. But it sure did seem to trigger Colin Kaepernick, multimillionaire, doyen of woke elitists and star of slick television commercials (inexplicably produced given his fading sports career, but for the fact that he substituted football for the fallback option of peddling racial grievance). And so it’s gone, just like that – the sneaker design vanished down the memory hole and the finished products themselves yanked from store stockrooms, presumably to be incinerated in a bizarre holocaust to the god of intersectionality.

The same likely applies to being gay, or an ethnic minority. If your daily existence is lived in the rarefied world of academia or working with your mind in the creative and knowledge economies, your identity is likely not a handicap but a boost in modern day America and much of the West. While pockets of bigotry remain, together with increasingly isolated, unreformed older bosses, from an HR perspective you may well enjoy some kind of exalted position. Your minority status may be continually celebrated and affirmed at various corporate networking events and brown-bag lunches, while your HR department is likely in the process of rolling out inscrutable new guidelines, cloaked in rainbows and the language of inclusivity but designed to ensure that the workforce basically polices itself in order to identity any retrograde or “harmful” thinking – and then either silences it or purges it from the organization, for your supposed benefit.

How different the experience is likely to be if you are working on one of the lower rungs of the economy – in a wage paying service job, or in agriculture or manufacturing. Here, your ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality and other facets of identity are far less likely to be celebrated. In fact, there is likely more chance that your company will summarily fire you without any kind of due process because an over-entitled upper middle-class woke individual takes unnecessary offense at something that wasn’t even your fault.

Naturally, one of the most recent and compelling examples comes from the increasingly dystopian city of Portland, Oregon:

Last month Lillian Green, an “equity director” at the state Education Department, entered Back to Eden, a vegan bakery, a few minutes after closing time. She recorded videos accusing the bakery of refusing to serve her because she was black. Using the hashtag #LivingWhileBlack, Ms. Green—a doctoral student at Lewis and Clark College—took to Facebook to demand that Back to Eden fire the clerks.

The bakery obliged, issued a 3,400-word apology, and offered Ms. Green a job training the remaining employees in “racial inclusivity.” “In this situation it doesn’t really matter that the two staff members working are not themselves racist because the call they made to deny Lillian service caused her to feel like she had been discriminated against,” co-owner Joe Blomgren wrote in a now-deleted Facebook statement. “Sometimes impact outweighs intent and when that happens people do need to be held accountable.”

In this truly disturbing incident from last year we have a very highly credentialed, economically successful black woman successfully getting two young wage-earners fired because they had the temerity to refuse her service after she entered the store after closing hours. The loyal employees may have expected their boss to show them loyalty in return for their service, but instead they were thrown under the bus in ritual sacrifice to modern intersectional outrage culture, just as Nike’s new training shoes will doubtless be incinerated as a burned offering to the same unforgiving god.

We are constantly told by progressive activists, against all objective reality, that we live in an age of unprecedented oppression, with ancient and universal rights being swept away before our very eyes. Never mind the fact that President Obama took office still officially believing that gay marriage should not be permitted, and that America wasn’t “ready” for such a step. Never mind the fact that the word “transgender” barely even featured in the coverage of major newspapers as recently as a decade ago while now major corporations race to embrace every aspect of the new avant garde gender theory. Apparently we are to believe that the people who shout the loudest from the most prestigious platforms about intersectional identity politics are in fact the most downtrodden among us, while those who lose already-precarious jobs or find themselves cancelled and unpersoned for failing to keep up with the latest intersectional nomenclature somehow wield immense societal power.

This is ludicrous.

If you want to know what real privilege looks like in modern America, it is this: having the power to pick up the telephone, call Nike and get their executives to voluntarily recall and burn thousands of lucrative special edition commemorative sneakers because the historic American flag design offends your pathetic, overly coddled snowflake sensibilities.

Real privilege is being so enormously removed from the concerns of people who actually struggle – including ethnic minorities, gay, lesbian and transgender people who do not have the immense fortune of an elite college education and a lucrative career – that minor or even imagined verbal or visual slights become more important in our national discourse than the social and economic wellbeing of the least among us.

Be assured: we are not living in the age of Jerry Falwell, Jr. We are not even really living in the Age of Donald Trump, though he temporarily resides in the White House and sweats his insecurities on Twitter from the bathroom at 5AM. Neither do we still live in what may become known as the age of “tolerance” – those halcyon days when mere tolerance of other people and alternative lifestyles was considered enough to be able to live one’s life free from the woke inquisition.

No, today we live in the Age of Kaepernick; the Age of Pride, turbo-charged by performative woke capitalism and enforced by some of the thinnest-skinned, most cruelly vindictive people in our society, despite – or perhaps because of – their immense cultural and economic privilege.

And I increasingly fear that toxic pride of this inescapable, coercive type may presage some kind of fall, for all of us.

Budweiser asexual pride

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Who Is Truly Marginalized? – Part 2

Tendayi Achiume - UN Special Rapporteur - Britain UK racism Brexit

Champions of intersectional identity politics in academia, culture and government have accrued near-hegemonic societal power for themselves by exploiting both the real and imagined oppression of certain groups on whose behalf they boldly presume to speak

Last month, I wrote a short reflection on who is and is not effectively marginalized in 21st century Western society, both societally and intellectually. Building on far more substantial contributions from Rod Dreher and Kevin Williamson, I concluded that while racism, sexism and LGBT discrimination remain very real and pressing challenges to be overcome, when it comes to setting the political and cultural agenda it is those who refuse to embrace, uphold and evangelise intersectional identity politics who are increasingly the most functionally marginalized.

To me, this seems self-evidently true. Try being a black conservative or libertarian politician in America, or a gay politician questioning of current gender theory in Britain and see how far you rise and how welcome you are in the Democratic or Labour parties, or the Op-Ed pages of prestige newspapers. In each case it will not be the color of your skin or your sexual preference which holds you back, stymies your career and invites social and professional ostracization from the most prestigious and influential networks; rather, it will be the “unacceptable” opinions you profess and the supposed harm you are doing to sweepingly designated victim classes.

Partly depending on how one defines being marginalized – and there are different perspectives here, one being the ability to speak up for one’s personal interests and meaningfully control one’s own destiny, the other being the ability to wield influence to shape wider society in one’s preferred direction – a powerful case can be made that race, gender and sexuality are now far less a determining factor than whether or not one possesses the education, social justice lexicon and properly conforming social viewpoints to avoid scrutiny and censure by other “gatekeepers”. In other words, we have returned to an almost class-based form of societal hierarchy where the new underclass do not necessarily work with their hands or sit on the dole queue but generally hold opinions and values now considered unfashionable or harmful, while the new upper class do not necessarily own mansions or penthouses but are uniformly fluent in the lore and language of intersectionality.

Note that this is very different to making the tedious, self-pitying Alt-Right claim that straight white Christian males are now a terribly downtrodden group while reverse discrimination-benefiting racial minorities or perpetually unsatisfied “feminazis” are on the ascendance and have the best of everything – far from it. In fact, a straight white male is still likely to do extraordinarily well, to the extent that he also holds a narrow range of opinions deemed acceptable by current elites, while a black lesbian woman who blasphemes against one of the identity politics movement’s main articles of faith is likely to find herself every bit as limited in opportunity and outcome as a straight white male who commits the same sin.

Thus we need to think about power in a more nuanced, multilayered way. There are differences in power between various individuals in society, resulting from numerous factors including (but certainly not limited to or even predominantly caused by) race, gender and sexuality. But there are also differences in power between various voices in the public square, and these differences depend even less on immutable personal characteristics and more on the particular political opinions which people hold and either choose to voice or suppress. The former may well often be overwhelmingly important to the individual, whose personal happiness or fulfilment is likely closely tied to getting through life unstymied by various forms of discrimination. But the other power differential – the ongoing interplay of voices in the public square, which slowly shapes society through rules, customs and laws – is far more consequential to us all. And it is here where the social justice left insult our intelligence by continually playing the overwhelmed underdog when in reality they enjoy every conceivable advantage and inch closer to victory with every passing day.

To this end, I was very heartened to read the latest blog post by Ben Cobley, a left-wing journalist who freely expresses qualms about the groupthink and illiberal authoritarianism now rampant on the Left. Cobley focuses on the work of UN “Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” E. Tendayi Achiume, who recently made an official fact-finding trip to Britain in order to apply a remarkably presumptive “post hoc ergo propter hoc” analytical lens to the supposed impact of “Brexit” (which hasn’t yet taken place) on racial equality in the UK.

Referencing the UN Special Rapporteur’s report, Cobley writes:

For this interpretation, which is appearing in our public life daily and prominently, the life chances and well-being of non-white-skinned people, women, the ethnically non-British, Muslims and disabled people are determined by those identity markers, so that they appear as universal victims of society and of the identity groups which dominate it. This is direct causation she is talking about – that identity leads to either success or failure. She makes no qualification on it and makes an unequivocal judgement on the situation as unacceptable and also sometimes unlawful – so assuming a kind of absolute authority over it.

Achiume, who The Times described as a ‘Zambian-born, US-based academic’ and ‘a UN expert’ on its front page, added, “Austerity measures have been disproportionately detrimental to racial and ethnic minority communities. Unsurprisingly, austerity has had especially pronounced intersectional consequences, making women of colour the worst affected.”

Here we see the logic of this form of knowledge, attributing victimhood along the lines of identity categories – so, combining women and people ‘of colour’ as victims, we arrive at a maximum victimhood of ‘women of colour’. This type of knowledge, of ‘intersectionality’, will be familiar to anyone accustomed to the theories coming out of the social sciences (and wider humanities) departments of Western universities.

However the ability to make assertion in the public sphere – and to have it leading the news with the one making the assertion described as a ‘UN expert’ as in this case – is an indication of political power. The domination of academic discourse by this sort of universalising theory is a sign of political power. That someone propounding this theory gets appointed by the body that brings the world together to go and inspect countries and tell them what to do is a sign of political power.

Absolutely so. Such is the power wielded by devotees of intersectional identity politics within academia that reputations can be ruined, careers terminated and cringeworthily fawning apologies extracted by identity politics practitioners, not on the basis of an intellectual refutation of a contrary argument but by the mere assertion that merely having to hear such alternative opinions constitutes intolerable cruelty and harm.

Such is the power wielded by identity politics practitioners within British politics that a one-time party leader – Tim Farron of the risibly named Liberal Democrats – can be forced through media pressure to publicly deny what we all know to be his true beliefs on certain hot-button social issues, and ultimately to quit his post because of the incompatibility of private conscience with the totalitarian demand that he personally approve of alternative lifestyle choices rather than simply promising never to legislate against them.

The power to hand down a statement or opinion of any kind – from a UN report accusing Britain of becoming a land of racist oppression following the Brexit vote to a university professor redesigning a curriculum or writing a grievance-soaked Op-Ed – and receive unsceptical, unquestioning newspaper coverage or approving cable news commentary is immense indeed. They who control the universities, cultural outlets serving mass markets and the media outlets consumed by political elites can be reasonably said to control the basic narrative of society. Sure, dissenting voices are still permitted to appear (though less frequently in prestige outlets, and often with various disqualifying provisos attached) from time to time, but as a general rule they who control the narrative determine the future.

Those in opposition to the social justice and identity politics movements simply do not possess this media or cultural reach. Their arguments are not given the same weight by opinion-makers and their messages are not amplified to nearly the same extent by media gatekeepers. Bad individuals on this side of the societal divide remain intermittently capable of causing physical or emotional harm to others through their private actions, which is always reprehensible, but the conservative movement as a whole is firmly in retreat on a societal level. Even many of those most concerned about the rise to power of Donald Trump concede that this historical aberration is very much a “last gasp” from a segment of society they openly write off as unimportant and “deplorable”.

Cobley continues to explore:

[..] how this power works through relationships which have built up between what I am calling ‘the liberal-left’ [..] and these favoured groups via those who appear as their representatives – so feminists, Islamists and ethnic group activists for example. These relationships make up what I am calling ‘the system of diversity’ – a form of society grounded in these relationships of favouring and representing, linked to assumptions of identity group victimhood.

As I am seeing it, many of our major institutions, including major media organisations like the BBC, Sky NewsThe Times and especially The Guardian and Channel 4 are constantly being drawn towards the system of diversity and its ways of relating to the world – seeing fixed and ‘quasi-fixed’ identity as primary to what is going on in the world and primary to how they should address it.

And warns:

This agenda is increasingly working its way into our daily lives as rules and orders and social norms – to implement positive discrimination in the workplace, to attend training to correct our ‘unconscious bias’ and to report assertions that are not favourable to favoured group members to the police as ‘hate crime’.

The natural response in this situation is to give way, which is after all, fundamentally, a giving-way to power. We evade, we protect ourselves, while the winners go on producing their reports and setting the agenda and setting the rules that govern our lives.

It takes a strong person to resist all of these pressures to conform. Only the very brave, generally reckless or those with little to lose will readily voice dissent against the identity politics left’s stark design for society, which is why such dissent is concentrated among a handful of brave and exceptional academics or journalists, opportunistic politicians or disenfranchised and often under-occupied young men online.

Unfortunately, despite the ability to generate the occasional flashpoint of resistance, these groups count for little against the great mass of middle class opinion which is either actively supports the identity politics message saturating the culture or (perhaps more often) is too fearful of negative personal consequences to question or object to the present direction of travel.

And all the while opposing voices are silenced, careers ended and lives ruined for failing to move in fast-enough lockstep with evolving identity politics orthodoxy, those powerful figures doing the silencing, ending and ruining have the temerity to portray themselves as the underdogs in this culture war. We must not fall for their charade.

 

Update – 30 May 2018

Ben Cobley has a new book on this very subject coming out on 1st July, entitled “The Tribe: The Liberal Left And The System Of Diversity“. I will be getting a copy and encourage my interested readers to do the same, as it promises to delve into these issues in more depth and certainly with a more scholarly eye than I currently possess.

 

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Feminists Against Brexit, The Patriarchy’s Latest Cunning Tool Of Oppression

Brexit feminism - EU Referendum

Democracy? Don’t be daft. Brexit is nothing more than an oppressive tool of the patriarchy. Or something.

If you had to guess what somebody whose web bio reads “Muireann O’ Dwyer is a PhD candidate in European Law and Governance in University College Dublin” has to say about Brexit in an article for Left Foot Forward, what angle do you think that piece would take?

Yup. Muireann O’Dwyer has found a way to make Brexit and the reclamation of our democracy and national self-determination all about intersectional feminism:

There is no shortage of analysis on the post-Brexit fallout but, following a trend established in the referendum campaign, issues of gender are remarkably absent. Indeed, women’s voices are rare in the debate regardless of their position.

[..] While all male panels and the dominance of male columnists and talking heads continues after the result, there has been some change to the political landscape.

Apparently Andrea Leadsom, Gisela Stuart and Kate Hoey (the first two of which took part in the main televised EU referendum debate watched by millions of people) don’t count, because they are women who dared to express the “wrong” views. And journalists / TV pundits Isabel Hardman and Isabel Oakeshott likewise do not exist.

Conservative women or women who supported the Leave campaign in the EU referendum are not “real” women, and the only women’s voices which should be elevated and amplified are those of pro-EU, left-wing women – at least, that’s the clear inference from O’Dwyer’s remarks.

O’Dwyer continues:

Economic policy is deeply gendered – the different general positions of men and women in the economy means that any policy intervention will impact them different.

In the UK, successive budgets have been analysed by the Fawcett Society, which has highlighted that women are bearing the burden of austerity cuts and reforms. In the aftermath of the referendum, it is likely that this disparity will continue.

However, the economic impacts of the vote are themselves gendered. For example, the pay gap for women over decades has lead to a pensions gap – women tend to have lower pensions, and to be more likely to have no private pension at all.

This existing disadvantage means that women are more likely to suffer the consequences of the devaluation in pension funds caused by the market instability and the sterling fluctuations.

This makes no sense. If there is a pensions gap, with more women having lower pensions or no pension savings at all, then the economic impact of any post-Brexit market turbulence would be felt more keenly by men, who O’Dwyer admits have more money invested in the stock market subject to risk.

But even if this were not so, looking at something as long-term as pension scheme performance through the lens of short-term market reaction to Brexit is stupid beyond measure. Unless one is cashing in a pension early or unfortunate enough to be retiring right this minute, any of last week’s stock market losses (most of which have already rebounded) are of little relevance. Who is to say that the improved economic output resulting from a well-negotiated Brexit and an agile, proactive trade policy will not lead to better stock market performance than would have been the case if Britain had voted to remain in the EU? Who can disprove the counterfactual? Certainly not Muireann O’Dwyer, who isn’t even aware of its existence.

O’Dwyer then turns her gaze on fiscal policy:

Additionally, the proposed tax reforms, particularly to the corporate tax rate, mean a transfer of wealth away from those who rely on various public services and supports to the already wealthy.

Again – insidious, cretinous nonsense. To the extent that people rely on public services, they do not have “wealth” – they are the beneficiaries of a compulsory wealth transfer from high earners to low earners, facilitated by the government. Assuming the government cut taxes and benefits, this is not a transfer of wealth from poor to rich, as the Owen Jones Left continually screech. It is just a smaller transfer of wealth from rich to poor. But of course it does not suit the left-wing purpose to acknowledge this fact, so O’Dwyer readily perpetuates the lie that tax cuts combined with spending cuts constitute a transfer of “wealth” which is somehow rightfully owned by those who did not earn it.

And then on to immigration:

Concerns over migration played a major role in the discourses of the referendum, and these have now mutated into heightened racism and abuse.

Migration is itself deeply gendered, as can be seen from the different migration patterns of men and women, but also in how migrants are constructed in media discourses.

The despicable rise in racial attacks in the days since the vote merges with street harassment of women. Even before the vote, Muslim women were the group most likely to be subject to racist street abuse.

While the rise in racism has been roundly criticised, it is essential to understand how this racism connects with sexism, both in online abuse and in the street.

Racism and sexism combine in migration policy debates as well. The famed points system proposed by Leave campaigners is based on the Australian system that has led to inhumane treatment of migrants of refugees and is itself the policy embodiment of a racist and xenophobic attitude.

Further, a points system operationalizes sexist discrimination – for example by setting earnings requirements for entrants. Since women on average earn less than men, their success in such a system will be systematically lower.

Further, unpaid work does not count in such a metric based system, and so the work of women in care and the community is discounted, further disadvantaging applications by women.

The proposed points system then provides a clear example of the intersections of xenophobic policy and gendered economic inequality.

Sure, it took some twisting to get there – assuming that a points-based immigration system is desired by all Brexiteers, and that Britain would adopt the same “discriminatory” rules for that system rather than create our own criteria, and that accepting people on economic merit is evil but favouring predominantly white Europeans while discriminating against predominantly non-white people from the rest of the world is A-OK – but O’Dwyer found a way.

And she did all of this based on the insidious, unspoken proposition that women are so feeble that they would all flop around helplessly were their alms from the welfare state jeopardised by a Brexit-inspired economic downturn. This is what passes for feminism in the 21st century – treating women like an inherently vulnerable, permanent victim class for whom the reclamation of Britain’s democracy can only be seen as a fearful calamity.

Fortunately, the women of Britain – naive, helpless and dependent creatures that they are – have virtuous and compassionate intellectuals like Muireann O’Dwyer, PhD candidate in European Law and Governance at University College Dublin, fighting their corner.

 

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Top Image: Guardian

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