How the populists came to power

Jair Bolsonaro was elected president in Brazil. Donald Trump in the US. In other countries, similar politicians are gaining popular support. Some are calling these politicians “populists”. I don’t really know what they mean by this term. The populists that I know better are Getúlio Vargas, Brazil’s president for almost 20 years in the mid-20th century and Juan Peron, a leading political figure in Argentina in the same time period. What they had in common? Both fought the communist influence in Latin America, favored the labor movement and were anti-liberal. They were also extremely personalist, leading to something that could be understood as a cult of personality. I completely fail to see important similarities between Trump and Bolsonaro on the one hand and Vargas and Peron on the other. But I can see some similarities between Trump and Bolsonaro. The latter two both came to power against what the left became in the last few decades.

Once upon a time, there was a young German philosopher called Karl Marx. He was very well read but wasn’t very bright on economics. Anyway, he decided that he would correct the classical liberal economic theory of Adam Smith. The result was that Marx concluded that in the center of the economy, and actually in the center of history itself, was the class struggle between the workforce and the bourgeoisie. Of course, although appealing on the surface, Marx’s economic theory is pure nonsense. Maybe Marx himself knew it, for at the end of his life he was more interested in living a peaceful life in London than in leading a revolution. But this didn’t stop Marxists from starting Revolutions throughout the world, beginning in Russia.

Ludwig Von Mises brilliant pointed out that Marxism would never work as the economic foundation of a country, for it ignored private property. Without private property, there is no price formation and without prices economic calculation is impossible. In doing so, Mises founded the Austrian School of Economics. The economic debate between Austrians and Marxists ensued, but arguing with a Marxist is like playing chess with a pigeon. He will climb on the board, knock down the pieces and believe that he won. Regardless, facts don’t care about your feelings, and reality proved again and again that Mises was right.

However, at the same time, something else was happening. In Italy, a Marxist named Antonio Gramsci concluded that armed revolution was not the best way to power. He believed that a cultural approach would be better. Some German scholars in Frankfurt concluded pretty much the same. Their question was “why the proletariat will not follow us?”. The answer was that they were too alienated by capitalist culture.

Following Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, Marxists all over the world gave up studying economics and decided to study culture. They concluded that everyone can feel oppressed. The class struggle seized to be between factory workers and factory owners and turned into a fight between man and woman, black and white, gay and straight. Identity politics was born.

And that’s how the “populists” came to power. It is not so much that the common people (and especially conservatives and libertarians) are crazily in love with Bolsonaro or Trump. It is just that people eventually get tired of being called oppressors. The left, once legitimately concerned with the conditions of the poor, ignored that the best solution for poverty is the free market. Instead, they decided they would crush the common people they swore to protect, calling them homophobic, misogynists and so on. Common people answered by voting for whoever was on the other side of the political spectrum.

Gogol Bordello and Multiculturalism

Donald Trump is about to be President of the United States. Trump’s victory is the result of a great plethora of political and cultural attitudes. It is not a “white-lash” (both candidates failed to attract the hispanic and black audience); it is not because America is, beneath the diverse veneer, intrinsically racist, sexist, xenophobic, islamophobic, homophobic, etc., etc.; it’s not simply that Bernie might have won had the DNC not been skewed in Hillary’s favor, nor is Trump’s unexpected win simply a retaliation from general conservatives after a double Democratic term. One of the largest elements in Trump’s victory is the cultural shift toward political correctness, and the backlash from not only conservatives but apolitical entities as well. People on the left won’t understand (except maybe accelerationist Marxists), but the infiltration of academia by progressive ideas, the shifting of institutions into liberal political pandering, and the emerging call for the repression of free speech has bent a great migration of non-Republican and nonpartisan minds into the Trump vote.

Establishment-left politicians are effectively finished after the failed Clinton campaign, just like the old-school GOP is finished following the election of their ugly duckling. What emerges from the left wing will most likely be more radical and extreme than Donald was to his political label. The movements all function under one shared umbrella, one unlikely to back down now that its worst nightmare is in charge for four years. Moving on from these facts, and recognizing that political correctness is a feature of the direction of left politics in general, I’ll comment on my first real experience with the anti-neoliberal left.

As a freshman in college, I took an introduction to Multicultural and Gender Studies course (the sheer fact that cultural, ethnic studies and gender/sex studies are combined implies the sort of ideological commitments necessary to teach these classes). My professor, unlike many in the major, let us be led into her viewpoints, rather than beginning sharply from her own and forcing us to abruptly commit or retaliate (as happens in Political Scienc classes). This approach is more gentle, more clandestine, leading to a greater deal of brainwashing. A few weeks in, she asked, “What is race?” I answered promptly, “a social construction.” MCGS155 was, in a sense, the first class I became utterly submissive to my teacher, and participated at any opportunity. When asked, “What is gender?” I vocally distinguished between the genitalia (sex) between our legs, and the identity in our heads. Thus far, the beliefs I was committed to then are the same I possess now.

Over the semester, however, I was taught lessons that were more sinister, more nefarious, and at times wholly offensive to the reality of the world. When my professor explained that she needed a male professor to negotiate her wages at my university (because women are not taught how to negotiate or argue, while men are tacitly trained to be argumentative and authoritative), I thought it made perfect sense, and it does. Then I was asked, gradually, to believe all women’s experiences were like this, all the time. Gender and racial monoliths began a glacial formation. Through the acceptance of small-scale experiences, a larger picture began to manifest in my mind: that of systematic discrimination and, eventually, oppression.

Prior to taking the multicultural and gender studies course, the word “oppression” was rare to encounter, especially when applied to a contemporary setting. Oppression was what the victims of Transatlantic slavery faced, for me. Indeed, outside of academia and far-left politics, that’s what oppression is: forced servitude. When leftist vocalizations of “oppression” take to the social field, the primary apolitical connotation is slavery, and so slapping the label on our government or culture can only arouse the most sincere feelings of empathy and rage. “Oppression” was used in my class to describe the conditions under which any and all minorities live in the United States. Using such an authoritative word, I began to understand American society as functioning modern-day slavery. Toni Airaksinen points out that women’s studies classes are built on the conjectures of “patriarchy, intersectional oppression, and social constructionism.” To note that “oppression” does not realistically describe any specific group’s position in American society would be to upset my professor, the major, and an entire national field of study.

The epitome and eventual product of my brainwashing was an extended argumentative essay, in which I concluded that Gogol Bordello was, among other things, cultural appropriation, offensive to diasporadical cultures, faux-ethnically inclusive, and, in some mystical sense, racist. I argued that Funkadesi (a South African-styled, funk/hip hop group liked by Obama) was the true gender and cultural warrior. As a teenager I used to enjoy Gogol Bordello as fun, raunchy music; within three months, however, I’d called them “insincere,” “promoting global fornication” with a “condescending attitude of hemispherical and cultural superiority.” My class, effectively, destroyed the fun in life.

Even as I wrote the anti-Bordello essay (calling Eugene Hütz a “homogenizer”), I felt that what I was arguing was somehow off. When I hung out with friends, friends who enjoyed Gogol Bordello, my conscience nagged that I ought to confront its problematic elements and put an end to their uninformed participation in oppression; another part of me, more internal and sensible, told me uninformed participation is a staple of human aesthetic enjoyment, and launching into a leftist tirade was not only off-kilter but immoral and misanthropic. After I passed the class I learned to reneg the Anglo-Saxon hatred and reinterpret Gogol Bordello not as cultural offensive, but culturally celebratory, inclusive, and self-aware. 

An element, one that I now consider essential to far-leftist politics, that dominated the course was its utter lack of appreciation for any actual social progress throughout history. This is done singularly and topically. In the beginning of class, we discussed the image of America as a “melting pot”; this ideal was rejected in the 1980s as assimilative: the Western Caucasian template would dominate the pot, as minority groups lost their identities (i.e., globalization). The great celebration of the census bureau that we might all mix together our distinctions and emerge more wholesome was decimated by my professor’s politics. Then, we discussed multiculturalism: instead of the stew of the melting pot, American immigrancy and citizenship would come together as a mosaic or kaleidoscope, with our distinctions still celebrated even as we learned to function together. Multiculturalism, for the second third of my semester, seemed enlightened: different groups would no longer be processed into a Western canon. However, this too was to fail as equally problematic. (Those of you outside of culture and gender studies who might think multiculturalism is still upheld as the ideal, guess again.) My teacher proposed that our society must enter something like a post-multicultural state. Multiculturalism was too tokenizing, too uninformed, too patronizing; somehow, the Caucasians had won again, and we had to move on to new philosophical horizons.

This tradition of dissatisfaction with formerely satisfying solutions is across the board with modern leftist movements. Just lately, a (brilliantly un-self aware) Guardian writer Zoe Oja Tucker wrote about college-aged men being severely punished for a sexist sheet of paper, all while desperately holding on to an ideology that says this sort of punishment is culturally nonexistent. The far-left has been eating itself alive for a while, like when Canadian Black Lives Matter protesters shut down a Gay Pride parade. One might suspect that post-multiculturalism will be answered by a sort of apartheid, and indeed, that seems to be the case with new segregationist options offered for minorities. (The pre-Civil Rights are back, but the positions have switched.) Meanwhile, by squabbling over increasing theoretical accuracy, legitimate gains that have been made are seen as neutral events, or political façades for continued oppression. Thus, the entrenched Marxist doctrine (which informs much of the left’s perception of politics nowadays) that society is composed of only two groups, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, at once twists into the cultural Marxism of “oppressor” and “oppressed,” and simultaneously loses its secondary category to internal disputes over minute aspects of the ideology itself, enlarging at once the first, privilege-possessing class. Progress in women’s rights, gay rights, etc. are even seen as PR-masks for the real tyranny – that of capitalism – by Marxists. So when law is passed specifically to aid the working class, not even this can satisfy the theory of endless, eternal oppression. The dissatisfaction with solutions is also seen with Marxists’ continued rejection of campaign voting: even though an increase in the third-party vote would alter American politics for the next campaign, Marxists across the board have rejected participation, dismissing the entirety of presidential elections as a corporate charade. (In essence, never doing anything for their own progression. Yet this dead philosophy hangs on.)

Leftist political scientists don’t care about legitimate social progress, because the great bureaucracy of professionalized philosophy requires tedious publishing year after year, and if ever theoretical perfection (or genuine satisfaction) were reached, the opportunity for tenure is lost. Thus, utter shit is churned out, like studies on online drinking photos promoting “regimes of gendered power,” dildos as tools of oppression, critical analyses on testicles, or studies on how to convince young women they are systematically oppressed. Freud would probably have castrated himself before he saw his methodology used for such off-base and imbecilic purposes today.

Feminism fought and won victories: in its first wave for voting rights, in its second for sexual freedom and abortion rights. It is not fighting for equally protecting legislation anymore. It is now fighting a culture war, and the only way to fight a culture is by seeking to replace it with a new ideology, and there is no immediate reason to assume the new one will be better than the old one. Third-wave feminism might best be described with a quip occasionally offered by its constituents: “if you’re not offended, you’re not paying attention.” (Or: “if you’re not finding oppression: look harder.”) Thus, the quality of “uninformity,” i.e. ignorance, discussed earlier, so despised by leftists and attributed to any of their opponents, is reckoned as the price to pay for not being enraged all the time. We must be offended constantly, or risk ignorance; this sort of position, of course, propels the lack of satisfaction with actual social progress, disturbs the sense of civil mobility, and leads to a rejection of enjoyment of almost anything.

Some outsider thoughts on modern feminism

A few years ago I enthusiastically embraced the feminist label. Its ideals felt realistic and egalitarian and I hadn’t yet encountered any of the radicals that receive so much attention now. Enrollment in a gender studies course familiarized me with the vocabulary and recent postulates. Now, the outspoken members representing the movement have betrayed the basic principles of the earlier feminist movements and created a toxic environment to make social progress.

Modern feminism and its millennial spin-off were ostensibly about challenging oppressive narratives, yet now the presiding narrative is decidedly feminist and decidedly oppressive (for issues like free speech, equal protection, due process, scapegoat culture, etc.). It is the dominant culture: gender studies degrees are available at every university. Television and other media have learned to pander and cater to feminist ideals for viewership and left wing brownie points. Feminists, in debates, have searched for things to find sexist or oppressive that only ten years ago were not and still much credibility has been given to their furthest reaches by mainstream journalism, legislation and dictionaries, which are the ultimate democratic platforms. Given this, it must be concluded that feminism is the establishment, and, as with any establishment, those who would oppose get their voices silenced or skewered

So, it can no longer be pretended that feminism is an underdog idea. And as usual, the status quo comes with its share of censorship. When someone is critical of feminism I have often seen their views get conflated with some form of bigotry à la fallacious generalizations and stereotypes. Judging Zoe Quinn, videogame developer, for allegedly cheating on her boyfriend with five men can get the speaker accused of slut-shaming, which just isn’t the same thing at all as the original judgment. Pointing out that obesity is unhealthy can get someone grouped as a body-shamer. The other day, a Facebook friend of mine posted “…do not tell people they lost weight. do not tell people they gained weight. please. it is not your place” [sic]. The discussion on weight, apparently, belongs only to an individual with themselves. 

Of course, movements never refer to their policing as “censorship” when it can be avoided, epitomized by this euphemization on a popular feminist website: “Since we are not the government, this isn’t censorship — this is how we institute anti-oppression.”

This is the same movement that, in the last few years, has extended no-platforming from the exclusion of burgeoning fascists to the exclusion of intellectuals who lack zeal for mainstream feminism. The same movement that pushes safe spaces and harasses faculty for not using trigger warnings. The same movement that leads to the defunding of schools when their programs don’t align properly with the agenda. The same movement that, should its vocalists be taken literally, would have the next generation coddled in ignorance and isolation.

If you haven’t been following Gamergate and anti-GG, it’s unclear what the battle is anymore — if creative expression needs to be strangled anywhere it runs free, if select feminists are trying to force women into activities they statistically don’t enjoy, or if anything perceived as a “men’s playground” needs to be dissolved. In the debate, opponents would just as soon swear to Gamergates’ collective misogyny as to the conclusion that women supporting Gamergate are out for male attention. Another paradoxical incantation is that women game as much as men yet more women need to be invited into the gaming world.  The contradictions are seemingly intrinsic to young feminists. The jeer of “masculinity so fragile” is near ubiquitous on websites for edgy young adults, by the same visionaries who affirm an oppressive patriarchy. Feminists on social media claim to deplore racism but are socially protected in general vilification of what they perceive to be dominant. The movement is supposed to fight for trans rights but instead millennials consistently humiliate the authenticity of the experience by convoluting the gender identity field with absurdities. The mental gymnastics required to quasi-validate certain feminist ideological commitments are too demanding even for the most trained in manipulative rhetoric.

Segregation is unity. Advantages are equality. The same radicals that are, or are masquerading as, modern feminists would ace interviews for the Ministry of Truth.

Some of the accepted ideas of the main movement are questionable, regardless of the extremists. One of feminism’s fundamental staples that I’m reluctant to believe concerns sexual objectification in advertisements, mainly that it disproportionately happens to women. I’m in further disbelief that sexual objectification is inherently a bad thing and not just a signature of a sexually-liberated society. Also, the idea that Barbie dolls teach men that women are objects is as ridiculous as the argument that videogames cause violent behavior. Human beings distinguish between plastic and flesh. And human beings, including men, are not inherently evil or misogynistic.

Alongside that, it doesn’t take more than attending one social gathering to understand we do not live in a rape culture. Yet writers for popular magazines, under the guise of feminism, claim that men believe they have a right to rape, rape is as American as apple pie, rape is the norm, and rape jokes create a rape culture. The White House even stated America has a “tolerance” for rape. You do not have to do research to understand how despised rape is in North America, yet people masquerading as feminists have already convinced the major sources of information that our culture is immersed in it. It is unapologetic bullshit. 

Now, modern feminism does cover important points. Intersectional feminism (the fact that this branch exists alone should raise some questions about the inclusiveness of its root movement) has attempted to carry the weight of racial disparities, such as in the criminal justice system. To blindly carry on writing about feminism without addressing its faults is naïve, as foolish as criticizing its entire movement without addressing its modern accomplishments. It would be ignorant to say it’s a wholly progressive movement for tolerance and it would be dishonest to say it’s inherently anti-male. In the post-information age there is no sure fire way to decipher true from false news aside from the utilization of personal experience; a federally-backed statistic can come out and another that completely contradicts it, equally credible. All information is politicized before presentation. Cyphering through the truth of the matter takes critical thinking and experience to form educated conclusions.

A number of people have had the experience with feminism such that it would be unethical to not describe themselves as feminists. Conversely, a number of people have had the experience with feminism such that aligning with it would be unethical and morally reprehensible. This movement boils down to your personal encounters with it – such is the consequence of a peoples’ ideology that is progressing heavily online without positively identifiable leaders. Your core values aren’t adequate for identification because there are numerous other, similar movements for the millennial progressive and feminism in different situations isn’t any particular way. To each individual feminism means something different and these different perspectives are all valid so long as the experience they’re built upon actually transpired.

So, what does feminism really stand for? At its best: socio-economic equality of the sexes; the canonization of new ideas, particularly about gender and intersectional marginalization; implantation of merit-based diversity in the workplace and political sphere; and liberty for women across the globe. At its worse: censorship, most efficaciously of opposing viewpoints and politically incorrect comedy; racial hatred manifest as appropriate political opinion; reactionary rhetoric; first-world problems; and victim manufacturing.

I support sex workers. I support LGBTQ+. I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-diversity. I think MRAs are ridiculous. I’ve been all these things ever since I could form an opinion. You can want liberties and social equality without being a feminist, and in fact, more people want equality than identify themselves as feminists. This consideration alone should demonstrate the lack of need for the label. But only one thing is certain: if you support the restriction of free speech outside of genuinely dangerous scenarios, you are sympathetic to fascism. Modern feminists would do well to distinguish themselves from neofascists.