Let me explain.
I’m inspired to write after reading libertarian David Friedman’s comment at Slate Star Codex, the blog run by a rationalist, polyamorous defender of hedonism who is nonetheless critical of today’s leftism. Friedman writes:
Scott [Alexander] clearly isn’t a conservative. He’s not too far from the position of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians, but hasn’t identified as part of that group. He has a leftish feel but clearly doesn’t identify with the organized left.
I’m afraid this still isn’t enough to spare Scott the “conservative” tag, even if wildly off the mark given the meaning of the term historically. That’s because right now, in 2015, everything hinges on identity politics. Scott gets minus points for being white, and into women, and his efforts at rationalism are becoming synonymous with insensitive male-ism. You might’ve noticed there’s a revolt underway against the practitioners of abstraction and thinking for its own sake, due to their inherent disregard for the race and gender of those participating. For the largely white and male rationalist crowd, the conversation is more important than who’s doing the conversing. But progressives disagree.
They’ll see your deconstruction of Gödel and raise you a “but, you’re a dude.”
(As you can see from this map, the rationalists are included among the “neo-reactionary” movement, though dubbed techno-commericalists/futurists. That’s no coincidence, but it says more about the unity of the left than the coherency of the NRx ideological eco-system. There’s nothing inherently reactionary about tech boosters.)
But beyond the identity politics uber alles at work, there’s been a gradual pushback against hedonism among the young and educated, something I’ve noticed here in the Bay Area (and of course “as California goes, so goes….”). If not a revolt, it’s at least a kind of jaded indifference bordering on mild hostility of the familiarity-breeds-contempt variety. Lifestyle liberalism is so standard ’round these parts that you may as well consider it the status quo. Do-what-you-want expressive individualism is the establishment. Channeling Slavoj Zizek, there’s a recognition that sex and drugs and rock n’ roll is practically an imperative of every American at this point. The left is beginning to strike out at that – and its essentially libertarian core.
So with me-first fun so standardized, one gains no points anymore for what in the 80s would have been a righteous “Fuck You” to the Moral Majority. One gets points now for political leftism, not lifestyle leftism. Partly because the latter doesn’t allow leftism to distinguish itself from mere libertarianism, which is synonymous with consumerism, corporate propaganda, and the modal (read: fuddy-duddy) American.
In the same way that Burning Man is now considered an almost literal parade of douchery, polyamorous white guys who smoke weed invoke meh.
Perusing OKCupid, I’ve seen enough backlash against Burning Man and poly types to be certain that fans of these things are increasingly unfashionable. In fact they often look 90s, come to think of it, i.e. passé. Fishnet stockings, platform shoes, hot pink hair, the whole cyber-goth look – it’s out of date. (And that super tall Dr.Suess-style top hat? How Marilyn Manson!) The millennials writing for Salon are buttoned-down, educated – they kissed a lot of teachers’ ass on their way to getting that degree – and perfectly yuppie. But it’s the pierced weirdos who are often to their “right,”* even when the assignment of the “right-wing” label to such individuals is demonstrably wrongheaded. At least by most people’s standards. So why the tag? Because, well, these people aren’t lefty. Or not exactly. Above all, they’re not modern progressives. Their ideology is often very idiosyncratic, scattershot, individualist…and contrarian.
As Corey Robin, a currently in-vogue Marxist/progressive thinker explains it, the “beyond left and right” descriptor – a label perhaps appropriate for these ideologically lonely libertarians, e.g. – has always been code for some kind of reactionary. Because you see, anyone not on board with grown-up Marxism – or in this case, the Salon crowd – is “objectively capitalist,” because they sap energy from what should be a united lefty movement. It doesn’t matter if such people are more convincingly against the status quo. Indeed, it’s communists today who come to the defense of teachers unions, while the right wants to burn the whole educational-industrial complex to the ground.
The raucous and heterodox New Left is now most at home, at least in its political economy form, on the libertarian “right.”
Progressives of course don’t like creationists and bible-thumpers. But Rick Santorum and his ilk aren’t really the relevant enemy for them. Not anymore. It’s the generally liberal – but insufficiently progressive – libertarian in the office who represents the biggest threat. And to a lesser extent any wayward, off-script lefty or old-fashioned liberal. And they’ve only just begun taking them on. The narcissism of minor differences may one day explode into a genuine chasm.
*Note the industrial/goth aesthetics at Trigger Warning, a site whose core mission is demolishing the pop-progressive zeitgeist
UPDATE: Though Mr. Alexander in the comments here was upset to be described as one among a broadly de facto group of conservative writers who share in common a disdain for the modern left, he immediately went on, the very next day, to launch a long criticism of SJW discourse on his blog. Yes, his post is balanced by criticism of mirror-image style discourse on the right, but my point (see original post) is that this above-it-all rationalist take is exactly what’s being jettisoned by a new kind of partisan and (at least rhetorically) militant left. They consider it just so much Enlightenment-style BS that only white dudes enjoy.