A refutation of “Modernity”.
This is a critique of the piece “A Manifesto against the Enemies of Modernity” by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. Found here: https://areomagazine.com/2017/08/22/a-manifesto-against-the-enemies-of-modernity/amp/
I mostly follow Helen (sorry James!) and I know that you desire long form critique over snide insults. So I have done my best to formulate one. Also twitter is a bad platform for engaging in more in-depth discussion.
First of I must make clear that I support the radical edge left-wing of politics generally. I am still researching so I may change my position, however at the moment I could be seen as the “opposition” to this piece. In addition due my limited knowledge, I fully admit I could be wrong on a number of points due to lack of said knowledge. This is also the first time I have written something like this. So to say the least I am treading new ground.
I will not be going through the piece point by point, but instead will be looking at the ideas present in the manifesto and critiquing them.
Firstly I agree that the Left-right spectrum is often insufficient for explaining political positions. However the alternative rubric you suggest conflates too many disparate ideologues into one side or another. Are Marxist anti-capitalists post-modernists? In addition it is not entirely clear what “modernity” in this context advocates. (I will get back to this later.)
Secondly, I would agree that the extreme element of liberal Identity politics is mostly useless. As it does not solve the issues that continue injustice effectively. As it is best used in conjunction with other political movements
Thirdly, you rightful identify that there are people on both wings that who want radical change, and that the moderate centre is collapsing. You also rightly point out that “centrism” by itself is meaningless and doomed to fail.
I found it odd the conflation of radically different ideas. The intermixing of philosophy and politics haphazardly also confused me. As philosophy and politics, while they intersect often, are applied very differently. The piece is also light on context, it jumps between the USA and Britain as if they are somewhat interchangeable, without considering the mired differences between.
I may have missed something but I am unsure of the practical application of this peace. What are advocate for people to do? To stand for modernity within the current political parties and structures? Ultimately the piece is light on specifics.
Side note: “Liberal” has been used as a somewhat derogatory term for a long-time by the radical left. For example, left-communists sometimes snidely call anarchists “liberals”.
Firstly I must criticize the use of ad-hominem against ideas or groups you perceived to be wrong. For a piece attempting an appeal to rationality, you have done a terrible job of explain why these ideas are bad. Your use of buzz words without explaining them, is also poor.
Secondly the piece shows a poor reading of history. I could be wrong here, but it reeks of whiggish post-history. As it completely whitewashes the fact that most of the progress that you so value, was advocated by the radicals, not the moderates. Workers’ rights, Gender equality, Minority rights were achieved in spite of “modernity” not because of it. Those who stood for those rights were imprisoned, and killed for their beliefs. The status-quo is not neutral, it actively benefits some, while oppressing others.
Your piece also seemingly misinterprets much of the radical left and right.
You seemingly ignore the anti-capitalist left in favour of criticizing those who disrupt university too much. Indeed you wave off the “failed Marxist experiments” as irrelevant. Despite the fact that anti-capitalist ideas and movements have gained more and more support since 2008. While I would also criticize these extreme idpol groups, what power do they have? What political parties advocate extreme idpol? As far as I can see, the right wing dominates the world. This extreme idpol is seemingly restricted to online, and some universities.
On that note, your description of right-wing politics is also simplistic. While the right often presents itself as united front, it is often as fractured and divided as the left. Often kept in power by playing dirty and bending the rules to their advantage. (The establishment left also does this sometimes!) In addition there is a faction of the right that holds to an objective understanding of rationality, objectivity, and truth. Using the tools of modernity against it. Historically we have seen that “moderates” are often powerless against this.
I do however understand the need to keep things simply on occasion, so I cannot fault you for this reductionist thinking too much.
My challenges to Helen and James:
In conclusion while you identify that modernity has come under attack. You do not identify why people are attacking it. Why so many people feel that the system has failed them and are willing to back radical change to try and fix it. Until you identity this and reflect you cannot move forward in addressing the problems. I could write a lot on why the current system has failed, and many others have, so I will not address it here.
What is the society you advocate for? Both the left and right have visions of society that they desire. What do “modernists” want? Is it just the same as now but shinier? More Neo-liberalism and rampart exploitation of the environment? More crushing of the poor and marginalized in favour of profit? Why does your piece ignore material conditions? It is the steady decline of people’s economic well-being that has led to the precarious time we live in after all.
In addition, I challenge certain underlying assumptions. Do you recognize that the western world’s relative prosperity has been built and sustained by the continued exploitation of the third world? That our current system, if not changed, is heading to a horrible crash when continual growth is no-longer possible? That historically, and today, that democracy has be upheld by, and primarily benefits those with power and dispossessing those without it?
Side note: Again who is espousing extreme identity politics? Political parties, activist groups, point me to them! Be specific! More could be said on this article, but I want to cut this short. Helen and James I hope you do no take this as a personal attack, as I genuinely am seeking dialogue and understanding.