How I became reactionary - part 1
And feel OK with it
Preface: critical feedback arrived for assuming too much prior knowledge on the part of readers. This manifests as breezing past certain terms, without explaining them. The sense I originally had was that most Rarely Certain readers are here because they already have grounding in the subjects discussed. This made it feel that defining basic terms would be patronising.
But, jargon can be off-putting and having to look things up in the middle of an article (as I constantly do when I read) introduces friction and distraction. So, welcome to the new - more inclusive - approach, opening the gates to greater reader diversity.
But it does make sense to define terms. When you're scorning those who are typically labelled 'elites', for their merely received language patterns (a ‘rules-based’ student politics signalling system, as it seems to me), shibboleths* and replacement of incontrovertibly true propositions with arcane theories, it seems wiser to speak as plainly as possible. It even seems transgressive, in a strange way. Anyway, be the change you want to see, as 'they' often say. So, if you’re thinking in a few moments 'why is he telling me what normative means', that's why.
*ChatGPT said something I never knew about shibboleths when I asked it for a simple definition. It seems worth sharing, for curiosity value. Every day is a school day around here.
"A shibboleth is a word or phrase that is used as a test of someone's membership in a particular group, or as a way to identify people who do not belong to that group.
The term originally comes from the Hebrew word "shibbólet," which means "ear of corn." In the biblical story of Judges 12:6, the word was used as a test to distinguish between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites, who were at war with each other. The Gileadites asked anyone who crossed the river Jordan to say the word "shibboleth," knowing that the Ephraimites pronounced it as "sibboleth," and thus revealing their identity.
*In modern usage, a shibboleth can refer to any word or phrase that is used as a test of someone's affiliation or loyalty to a particular group or ideology. For example, a political group might use a shibboleth to identify members who are truly committed to their cause, or a company might use a shibboleth to identify employees who are familiar with their specific jargon or procedures."
Against 'elites' (as a word)
Another passing thought arises from the use, above, of the word 'elites'. This now tops the list of terms that get in the way of conversation about the culture. We see this when people claim they can’t possibly be 'elite' on the grounds that they're barely making rent.
But we all know that 'elite' does not mean financially wealthy, in this context. It is a reference to cultural capital. Which means knowing, thinking and saying the right things. The things that your peers hold as important to know and think. We also know that it almost always means formally educated.
The permitted belief sets are typically those that most of us hold when we’re students. Reflexive rejection of 'tradition', the significance of which we don’t trouble ourselves to explore. The loving embrace of ideas such as racial and ethnic diversity being always and necessarily desirable. Relentless focus on the horrors of historical unfairness and injustice on which all of today’s nice things turn out to have been founded. And sneering contempt for the less 'enlightened' class of person who likes historical statues of people who sometimes did bad things, is comfortable with existing gender role stereotypes or sees modern art as ugly and uninteresting.
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Annoyingly, this ‘elite’ word derails what should be constructive discussions about the group who have become the standard bearers of 'Wokeism' and all of its subsidiary isms. Anyone who watched the aftermath of Professor of Politics Matthew Goodwin's publication of a book called 'Values, Voice and Virtue' will recognise how convenient this is for them.
This all revolves around the word 'elites'.
Yet we all know who they are. These 'elites'. I came to think of them as the PMC - the professional/managerial class. Social climbers and networkers with a strong attachment to building cultural capital, by having the correct beliefs about how the world is and how it should be. But PMC is too dull a term to have any rhetorical heft. Nor does it lend itself to replication by memes.
Then there are the more philosophical labels, such as 'the Elect'. But, let's face it, that's never going to catch on.
I'd like to call them the 'nu petit bourgeoisie', falling as the original petit bourgeoisie did between the traditional working class and the actual elites who pull the levers of real material and economic power. But that label will never take off either, because the original petit bourgeoisie refers to a class who traditionally leaned right. It doesn’t work for a group who see themselves as left-leaning.
Amusingly, I actually see this leftishist class as quite conservative, bent as they are on preserving a certain hierarchical status via use of markers (as in Rob Henderson's theory of Luxury Beliefs). And by offering simulacra of intellectual justifications - the scholarly equivalents of expensive kitsch around the home, or certain car badges on the driveway.
But no one’s going to agree to that, either. These people hate conservatives, so how could they be conservatives too? It just gets too complicated.
Why this diversion into terminology? Because it seems to me that the more amorphous an ideology and its proponents, the safer it is from criticism that will actually land. After all, you can't push back at something indefinable and that's what gives it so much power. The same goes for its proponents.
So, to the thrust of this piece…
Joking on FaceTime with someone close.
"Haha - I'm becoming quite right-wing"
She says: "I know. You're definitely reactionary."
Instantly I balk at this label.
The interesting part isn't that someone sees me that way. People will think whatever they will. What's interesting is that I reflexively dislike it. It feels like an insult. Especially coming from someone whose view of me matters.
I notice something I wrote about some time ago.
This is what happens when we are so disembodied and disconnected from the actual world that our identities revolve around nothing but concepts and ideas and the principles we feel compelled to aver as staunchly as possible as often as we can. Just to make our lives mean something.
A lifetime of considering myself 'left wing', 'progressive' and (let's be honest, if possibly mistaken) more intelligent, thoughtful, cosmopolitan and cool than small c conservatives, makes 'reactionary' seem bad. Uncool. Stuck in the mud. Ossified. Old.
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