Friday, February 13, 2015

Victimhood, Desi Post-Marxists, Social Justice, Racism and other random thoughts

Just some random thoughts trigerred by a question that Razib asked and a post on FB.
The question:

"Why are all South Asian American websites so Left?
Any thoughts? It's a consistent tendency that explicitly South Asian (de facto Indian) websites tend to have a Left inflection. This means that they're soaked in critical race theory assumptions, but also genuflect to broader Left liberal concerns and priorities (e.g., "black lives matter" or the boycott of Israel). My hypothesis is that it's a selection bias in the type of people who set up these websites, and read these websites. Though the average South Asian American is a liberal Democrat, they're not that political, and too busy to know much about "intersectionality." There are conservative South Asian Americans in the public intellectual space, but they are people like Avik Roy or Reihan Salam, whose focus is rarely on South Asians (though Reihan brings up his Bangladeshi background now and then)."

I think (and I think Razib would agree) that not ALL South Asian websites have a Left inflection. For example, I am sure there are a number affiliated with Hindutvadis/RajivMalhotra types that are explicitly anti-Left wing. And I am sure there are a number affiliated with various Muslim groups that are in their own world, impossible to classify as left or right, just not-WEIRD.  But that being said, there IS a very distinct leftward tilt in the highly educated westernized South Asian crowd. Since this is exactly the crowd one finds in universities and "serious" media and arguing in "intellectual" blogs and so on, their visibility is far beyond their actual numbers. And it is not just about visibility. Most people (in some sense, almost ALL people) get their views and opinions ready-made from a relatively small group of opinion-makers. The extraordinary dominance of some (not all; some process of meme-selection does go on) left wing tropes in this highly educated and influential group therefore translates into wide (mostly uncritical and superficial) acceptance of many of these tropes within the larger South Asian community.
Which then brings us back to why? I have a few thoughts:

1. Victimhood bonus. I really think this is the single most powerful motivator. Many highly educated Indians (and Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, etc) come from an elite background and any reasonably consistent left wing analysis would have them feeling guilty about their position back home. But suddenly, here in Columbia university, you can get to play victim at no cost (and with some benefits..especially if you stay in the humanities, in which case career choices and peer groups will reinforce and support that choice). It is a VERY tempting offer and only the most churlish and obstinately pig-headed can pass it up. Racialicious is delicious. And this bonus is on offer from the Left, not the Right. That fork in the road and the choice to be made are therefore completely clear and impossible to resist.

2. Marxism from back home. Marxism was really the default ideology of the first anti-colonial generation in Asia and Africa. In some places, where real Marxist revolutionaries tried armed violent revolution and got put down (as in Malaysia) or were pre-emptively slaughtered by CIA-supported generals (Indonesia) the situation was more muddled, but in the Indian subcontinent the educated elite was highly influenced by Marxism. Most of us brought that vague left wing symnpathy with us to the West (it was not very deep. But then, it never is, anywhere; most left wing parties have 3 ideologues who actually try to read Capital, the rest are lucky if they can read the manifesto) and therefore naturally gravitated to the left in the West. The Left in the West had meanwhile moved on to post-Marxist pomo poco bullshit and that actually proved more attractive to most elite-origin desis than the more "economist" and organized revolutionary Marxism of the old days. No need to be poor, no need to be hunted by the FBI, and all the benefits of being on the right side of history. Who could resist?

3. Racism. Obviously there really IS a substratum of race conciousness and of explicit, or now mostly implicit,  racial superiority in European and North American civilization. This is owned and massively condemned by the new Left (in fact, it has almost become the default organizing principle of the new Left, in place of proletarian revolution) and denied or (on the fringes these days) owned and honored by the Right. The choice is clear.

4. Ignorance. Never underestimate the ignorance of the educated human specimen. Since, unlike our working class fellow immigrants, we are mostly ignorant and simultaneously proud of our vast erudition, there is little chance we can spot blind spots, misrepresentation or total muckups in the Left wing post-marxist world after we move into it. We read the correct books, follow the correct opinion makers and become more and more ignorant and more and more proud of our vast knowledge. The clear choice is then reinforced. No surprise.

5. Truth. And last (and maybe least, or am I being too harsh?) there are elements of truth in the left wing position. The fetishization of individualism and guns and whatnot on the Right in America for example is just not very appealing. Environmentalism, healthcare, education, social justice, tolerance...on so many things the claim is that the left has the humane, reasonable and progressive position. And this claim has enough truth in it to keep the left the default setting for most educated immigrants. There is a "thinking right" and there are great inconsistences and even idiocies in the actual details of the "Left" once you get into it, but once you step ashore on the left side of the beach, you rarely even get to see those... So you keep going. Something like that.

Finally, and at a tangent to this whole business. The young people so tragically shot in N. Carolina. Some of our friends were naturally concerned that this reflects a new level of Islamophobia in this country. I had posted a link to a story about lynchings in the deep South (a century ago, things have changed a lot, even in the South) and a good friend commented that now they are lynching Muslims. My first muddled thoughts were (as usual? I am beginning to suspect I am sometimes just contrarian for the sake of being contrarian? maybe so) to deny that this is a lynching. I am copying my FB comments here without editing (you can figure out the context pretty easily) just to get thoughts from other better informed (and perhaps wiser) commentators:

Me: The "Muslim Lynching" in N Carolina, while a huge tragedy for those three good people and their grieving families, was NOT a lynching at all. That was my point. Actually this thought first came to me several years ago in LA. I was at an award ceremony for a (good) South Asian social work organization and some of the speakers were laying it on about their struggle against oppression and racism. I happened to be sitting next to a Black lady and after I told her that I did not think our experience had ANYTHING in common with the Black experience, she felt permitted to open up...and she did. She said she was happy to work in solidarity with people like us, but for us to somehow claim victimhood in the same ranks as Black Americans was, frankly, very very irritating to her. I agreed with her completely and we parted in perfect harmony :) . Since then, I have had other reasons to get irritated by the "social justice warrior" types and have had occasion to think that Neitzsche (PBUH) may have had a bit of a point about such things. As a non-aristocrat (and unlike you, not much of a Roman General at heart ;) ) I am not exactly pining for the return of aristocratic values, but I cannot help the occasional thought that White people who write for "The Nation" and whine about White supremacy and the poor huddled masses of Brown people being fooled by their superiors are, in some sense, in the happy position of whining about being so bloody superior..and of course, there are other more substantive problems with the whole identity politics run amuck thing.. .anyway, I am not sure it reflects well on us....this thought needs more serious elaboration and is liable to massive misunderstanding, so I will leave it here, but no, I dont think Carolina was ANYTHING like a lynching. It's not a lynching when the local community goes around trying to be nice to the lynched..

To which a friend responded:
It's a terrible tragedy what happened in NC. I'm sure the victims' faith had something to do with it, but it’s also important to realize that it’s extremely hard to demand an understanding and compassionate attitude from the non-Muslim US public when the later has been witnessing unimaginable scenes of carnage running on a daily basis from the Muslim quarters of the world—beheading, burning people alive, rape, and plunder, being done systematically and in keeping with the ideological framework of Islam. I believe this was a random act of terror and doesn't represent the mainstream American attitude. Comparing this tragedy by invoking lynching of black people is disingenuous or rather simplistic. In these trying times one has to be mindful that If only 10% of the Muslims are to be the extremists type, the number is higher than this, we are talking about 150 million strong diehard army which is glad to slay and get slain in their march to subjugate the entire world to their god, as per their holy book, surah 9111. It's a staggering number indeed that's diffused globally, and not to mention a good 50% of their sympathizers, the useful idiots, the clueless moderates. Eventually if moderate Muslims don't accept this as a reality they are the ones who will be the next victims, either at the hands of the extremists or the hate crimes that's bound to shoot up in the wake of atrocities which are too many to count. Islam has the crisis of ideology, an ideology that is intertwined with Muslims identity. Ultimately, it's a crisis of Muslim identity. It's not looking good for a very long time to come.

Me:   I will take the opposite tack and suggest that the "fear of Muslims" and their impending clash with civilization is itself exaggerated. I think IS type atrocities will mostly occur in Muslim countries. Most European Muslim tourists-killers going to IS will get blown up by barrel bombs and go on to meet their houri quota rather soon. Few will make it back to explode in Europe and VERY FEW will make it to America (two oceans and Canada, alhamdolillah). Neither the terrorist campaign nor the backlash will be as huge as we sometimes fear. Or at least, that is my guess for today. Tomorrow, I may be in a different frame of mind...

 Him: Technically you are correct. Omar Ali. But humans are not that objective when it comes to matters pertaining to faith and scenes of daily brutality committed in the name of religion. Perception is what matters in these situations.

Me: My thought was that we may see those scenes and think about them more than the average American. Most people have already classified "those barbarians" as barbarians. But then they have a life to live and I dont find most Americans obsessing about it...Maybe I am wrong, but that is how it seems right now.

HimThose ‘barbarians’ carry a black flag inscribed with the first kalimah. Images like these make it very easy for the mind to associate.

Me: again, my thought was that the kalima and so on are more OUR crisis and OUR problem. Hardly worth notice for most Americans...

I have to run, but what do you think??