I was musing on an article about the “dark web” and “dissident” (i.e. revanchist) spokespeople of various persuasions (Jordan Peterson certainly comes to mind); one person interviewed suggested that universities were indeed hotbeds of “leftist” thinking. But I think this is semantic laziness.

Universities, along with coastal cities, tend to be hotbeds of variety, of exposure to a wide variety of ideas, perhaps even different cultures. They also tend to be ahead of the curve on trends that are fermenting away in the whole culture: lively multicultural urban centres abound in, e.g. fashion fads which are seen there months or years before they are mass-marketed to more culturally quiescent locales (I am avoiding pejoratives like “stagnant” here because, let us admit it, change for its own sake is not necessarily a good thing and tradition has its own value and virtue).

I think there’s a deep confusion in North American rhetoric between “leftist” (a specific analysis of capital, finance, labour and power) and “modernist”. Much of what “conservatives” object to in, e.g. universities is merely modernism. Attitudes have shifted among more highly-educated, cosmopolitan populations on certain key issues: gay rights, women’s rights, birth control, legalisation of marijuana, religious tolerance, overt racism, racial supremacy rhetoric etc. While those attitudinal shifts tie in, occasionally, with challenges to capitalism, many of them can easily be accommodated within a capitalist system (and are being accommodated even as we speak: Hillary Clinton functions as a feminist symbol, while still being cosily in bed — politically speaking — with Wall Street banking interests; there is a small but articulate cadre of Black Conservative commenters who defend capitalism as a system while benefiting from over a century of progressive anti-racist efforts; corporations easily adjust to new social norms by generating marketing campaigns to target emerging demographics such as gay and lesbian couples, single parents, Muslim-friendly fashion clothing, etc.

Capitalism has no big problem with modernity so long as there is no challenge to the fundamental power and legitimacy of money, lending, compound interest, and the rest of the mechanisms of a capitalist system. In theory, money has no race or gender, and a Black female Muslim billionaire can enjoy power and privilege comparable to that of a White male Protestant billionaire.

So the “left/right” divide is actually multiple divides. There are social/cultural revanchists (white supremacists, male supremacists, religious hegemonists, homophobes, national supremacists and various other “team players” who want their team to win); and there are defenders of the structure and mechanisms of capitalism, including wealth concentration, social inequity, minimal taxation, sacralisation of property, etc. Muddying the waters is the overlap between culture, politics, and money — as in the cultural attachment to fossil-fuel technology, the enormous capital power and profit motive in prolonging the dominance of that industrial sector, and the often nationalised or gendered emotional spin generated to defend it (environmentalists/hippies=sissies for example, or oil industry = American excellence).

It is hard to tell sometimes, whether “rightist” forces are in love with yesterday, or in love with money. For many, there is no distinction. But for many Trump supporters from the lower classes, there’s a painful distinction: the capitalist politics of their chosen team are hurting them, personally and daily, even while their revanchist fantasies are being stroked and fostered.

Similarly it is hard to tell sometimes, whether what we call “left” forces are really ready to challenge the theory and practise of capitalism, or merely in love with tomorrow (cleaner technology, personal freedom from various vicious bigotries, etc). I agree with the author that the times are promising for a genuine challenge to the theory and practise of neoliberal capitalism (its failures are now so obvious that ignoring them takes a real effort of will and imagination). But I would caution like-minded readers against the easy assumption that modernist cultural/social values inevitably lead to a leftist analysis of finance, trade, taxation, etc. Contrary to the kneejerk assumptions of panicky right-wing mouthpieces, “Commie pinko un-American faggot” is not really a seamless package deal. It’s possible today to be un-American (in the sense of culturally diverse, non-Christian, etc) and/or openly gay, or female, or various other unmanly options — without ever feeling a need to reconsider or challenge capitalism.

I write this in haste, apologies if it is a bit of a ramble.

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.

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