What makes life shitty?
A couple of days ago, I wrote this tweet:
The most important context for this statement is that I’m a socialist. I think capitalism is a fundamentally exploitative system. It affects all of us who don’t accumulate profit from the labor of others. Those effects manifest themselves economically, but their consequences are wide-reaching. They isolate us from each other, put us in competition. They make people desperate and scared. This happens to all kinds of people, and as a result they often have shitty lives.
This explains why many white men have shitty lives, even though the most powerful people in the world are usually white men. We live in a system that exploits most people, and while it disproportionately distributes that exploitation to marginalized groups, it doesn’t stop there. It exploits anyone it can.
But liberals don’t acknowledge that. Liberals would be satisfied with a world in which exploitation and wealth were evenly distributed across demographic groups. The left doesn’t want that. We want no exploitation of anyone. That necessarily means that white men shouldn’t be exploited either. I think that we sometimes don’t get this across. I think that sometimes white men who are poor or lonely see discourse around white male privilege or power and so on, and they think, what privilege? What power?
The explanation is simple. While those who hold power and privilege are almost always white men, because of the racist and patriarchal history of our society, not every white man holds that power and privilege. You can’t just invert these statements. As the Mad Hatter told Alice, “you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
Unfortunately, liberals and leftists do sometimes invert these statements. We hear talk of “white mediocrity.” There are those among us who say things to the effect of, “white men who are poor had all the privilege in the world and they still fucked it up, what losers.” Don’t even pretend you haven’t seen people saying these things. If you’re on the left, and you’re on the internet, you’ve seen it.
So, lonely and/or broke white men sometimes feel the left offers them no explanation for their suffering. You know who does? Jordan Peterson. He says to them, I know you feel bad, and let me tell you why. And then he feeds them a bunch of hateful bullshit. More and more people are going for it. He has the number one bestselling book on Amazon.
My wish is that these guys could hear from us instead. We could tell them the real reason they feel bad, which is that we live in an exploitative, atomized society. Of course, to some degree, feeling bad is natural. But a lot of what makes us feel bad is unnecessary. It is a direct result of a system that places profit over people.
So I said as much on Twitter. To my surprise, it made a lot of people angry. Part of it, I think, was a misreading of the final pronoun. By “them,” I didn’t mean “Jordan Peterson types,” I meant “young white men with shitty lives.” I was saying, young white men would necessarily have to be a part of a mass movement. (If you don’t think so, and would prefer to reject them, I don’t think we’re part of the same movement, because you’ve based your allegiances on the illusion of biological racial difference rather than human solidarity.)
I elaborated in a second tweet, that repeated the disclaimer with which I began my first tweet:
I think it’s really important to make this distinction. Again, we have a long history of white supremacy and misogyny in this country. They didn’t come out of nowhere, and they certainly aren’t the result of a response to the contemporary left, or “identity politics,” or “political correctness,” or “postmodernism,” or whatever Jordan Peterson and bullshit artists like him say.
Nonetheless, if people are looking at the left and thinking, what they say doesn’t describe my life, and besides, they hate me because of the body I was born with, we didn’t get our point across. We’ve made a mistake. And we have to pay attention to our mistakes, because we’re not winning. Because Donald Trump is the president, for christ’s sake. Do you honestly think we’re doing everything right?
At this point, not only are leftists on Twitter really mad at me, so are the alt-right guys. Both are flooding my feed. I’m not sure if this post will clarify much. But one thing I’d like to point out is that my positions on these matters are on the record. I believe that:
- Jordan Peterson is a bigot and a charlatan.
- There should be no compromise with fascists, and we have the right to fight them by any means necessary.
- Peterson cronies like James Damore need to be prevented from shaping our society in any way.
I’m not saying our primary task should be converting alt-righters. I don’t think we should do that at all. I’m not saying white men are the most important people to recruit. Quite the opposite; I want a more diverse left. I think we should dedicate all our strategic resources to making that happen.
I simply believe that these precepts are not incompatible with acknowledging that capitalism harms everyone whose labor is exploited for profit. I believe that we have an explanation for why white men sometimes have shitty lives too. And it’s completely compatible with the multifarious explanations for the oppression of others. I’m not calling for us to compromise one bit. I myself am a person of color who wants and needs white supremacy to be defeated. I think if we express our real beliefs, we’ll win people over, and we have a chance of taking power.
But if we operate on an ethic of neoliberal bootstrapping, that those born with the privilege of being white men have only themselves to blame if capitalism exploits them, we’ve not only consigned ourselves to defeat, we’ve betrayed our most crucial values. And we’re letting down the marginalized people who deserve to have all of us, including white men, fighting for them, and for us, together.