Thursday, June 30, 2022

Cancel Culture, Progressive Organizations, and Generalizing

An interesting article by Ryan Grim in Intercept describes how a variety of progressive organizations in recent years have found themselves paralyzed by internal conflicts involving accusations of racism, sexism, and similar offenses. Pretty clearly, the accusations are a mix of responses to real problems, responses to imagined problems, and weapons by which one member of an organization can attack another.

Being Black has by no means shielded executive directors or their deputies from charges of facilitating white supremacy culture. “It’s hard to have a conversation about performance,” said the manager. “I’m as woke as they come, but they’ll say, ‘He’s Black, but he’s anti-Black because he fired these Black people.’” The solution, he said: “I buy them to leave, I just pay them to leave.”

Inner turmoil can often begin, the managers said, with performance-based disputes that spiral into moral questions. “I also see a pattern of … people who are not competent in their orgs getting ahead of the game by declaring that others have engaged in some kind of -ism, thereby triggering a process that protects them in that job while there’s an investigation or turmoil over it,” the foundation official added. Such disputes then trigger broader cultural conversations, with battle lines being drawn on each side.

It sounds as though many on the left recognize the problem:

During the 2020 presidential campaign, as entry-level staffers for Sanders repeatedly agitated over internal dynamics, despite having already formed a staff union, the senator issued a directive to his campaign leadership: “Stop hiring activists.” Instead, Sanders implored, according to multiple campaign sources, the campaign should focus on bringing on people interested first and foremost in doing the job they’re hired to do.

One interesting question is whether it will occur to progressives to generalize their experience. If their ideology, including the willingness to enforce it at the organizational level by attacking other members of the organization for being insufficiently progressive, makes organizations unable to accomplish anything, what happens to the country if most people became progressives? 

Which, presumably, is what they are trying to accomplish.


back40 said...

One observation is that there is heightened conflict between populists and authoritarians on both left and right. The turmoil among progressives is clearer when viewed through this lens. It's like the self abnegation of the "never Trump" right.

This seems to be cyclical, more pronounced in some eras than others, but never ending.

Anonymous said...

Did communists recognize that their dialectic struggles were destroying their own organizations? - Bobbo

Michael Wolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Wolf said...

"One interesting question is whether it will occur to progressives to generalize their experience." I'm going to go with a strong no, sadly.

"Everyone is conservative about what he knows best," as Robert Conquest said. I've seen this a million times. All my progressive colleagues were up in arms when legislation was on the table to subject our profession to government licensure. "It will severely hamper our ability to practice the way we know best, instead farming out 'standards of practice' to bureaucrats who don't know which end of their ass is up!"

And they were totally correct about that.

It didn't stop them for one second from being totally supportive of govt licensure for doctors, lawyers etc.