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The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting
The leftish has learned well
The headline above is from Sun Tzu, in The Art of War.
Along with another Sun Tzu line, it makes me think that perhaps the leftish has grown bloated and lazy in victory.
The other line (also from The Art of War) is
“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
In short, I'm noticing that I rarely see the modern brand of leftist really engaging in discussion about the issues that rile conservatives. Instead, they try to meme their opponents onto the canvas, mock them or simply assert that whatever an opponent is trying to say must be suffocated, rather than discussed.
Perhaps what happens when you win - as resoundingly as the leftish has won the culture war, under the umbrella of western liberalism - is that you forget how to fight in the ways that earned you the win. Like a muscle that becomes flabby, without use.
In the case of leftishist social liberalism the rhetorical flair and determination that delivered victory has grown weak. Which may be one reason why the leftish has become so unserious, petulant and dismissive. Or just goes straight for the nuclear option of shutting down open resistance.
Reading him makes me wonder whether the dynamic depicted in the famous Colin Wright meme (made viral by Elon Musk) perhaps isn't the best frame for describing what has happened. Because the sense I have is that the left didn't move in a leftward direction at all, but dissolved into a different thing altogether.
Read deBoer in the context of that idea.
It feels like the leftish (not the left, which seems to currently be in hiding in places like Freddie deBoer's head) is the residue of a great army that won something that they now have no idea how to consolidate or even really defend.
It seems decadent and lazy.
This reveals itself in the turn taken by the left-leaning journalism that I still regularly track.
Here's an article from a left-wing title I formerly supported with a monthly donation of 10 GBP.
The story is supposed to be about the recent NatCon conference in Britain.
In brief, the account they give of the conference is:
'Har har, look at those far right stupid posh eccentrics and their silly ideas'
That's it. That's the analysis of NatCon offered by openDemocracy.
It's a shame. openDemocracy has good writers and really good investigative journalists, but seems increasingly to rely on the kind of smug irony that deBoer is always lamenting in American leftish chatter.
It leaves me wondering whether it’s that the leftish doesn't understand right-coded perspectives or is afraid to discuss them for fear of revealing how natural and kind of innocent much of the right's worries and complaints really are.
An impression I have is that this impulse to mock, rather than reflect, does flow somewhat from fear of amplifying it.
Fear of right-coded ideas is a constant. It's understandable in some cases (given how the political right was responsible for all manner of grotesque acts during the 20th century) but in many others this fear now seems somewhat quaint to me.
During the Brexit period there was always a kerfuffle over the phrase 'will of the people'. It carried the rhetorical heft of a kick in the bollocks, every time people like me heard it. To be clear, I utterly loathed that phrase.
It was considered to have 'fascist' overtones. It still is. It is understood by bien cosmopolitan pensants to be dangerous rhetoric. Even last week it caused a minor stir, when a couple of British Conservative politicians used the phrase in a newspaper article. A prominent liberal commentator published a piece about it:
The subheading on that piece is 'Ministers are playing with rhetorical fire'.
Of course, references to a 'will of the people' doesn't really have to signal fascist currents. Not if you think about it. It doesn't reflect fascism any more than 'democracy', 'freedom' or any other political buzz term that people use to sell their ideas.
It's just a catchy phrase signifying what the majority of people who express a preference want. But it is held in very poor standing by the religious leftish because what the majority of people often want is less of what the religious leftish wants them to want. Which is usually something to do with immigration and painting people who don't particularly want a more 'diverse' set of neighbours and shops as closed-minded bigots.
Never mind that both Brexit and Remain voters shared a preference for immigrants who are most like them, because that rather spoils things for the leftish.
Also, call me slow, but I suddenly realised something so basic that it's embarrassing.
What annoys liberals about 'the will of the people' as a phrase - or a concept - is that it appeals to the preeminence of the collective over the individual. In other words, it's just a small c conservative phrase. It may be 'old-fashioned' at this point, but I'm sceptical that it's potentially evil.
But this is how conditioned many of us come to be, immersed in a culture we have never thought to reflect on. Like fish who don't know that they're in water.
As Chatty Geepeetee helpfully explains, for anyone unfamiliar with that analogy:
"The saying you're referring to is often expressed as "Fish don't know they're in water." It is used metaphorically to highlight the idea that individuals may be unaware or oblivious to the environment or circumstances they are immersed in, particularly when those conditions are so familiar or pervasive that they are taken for granted.
The phrase is often used to point out how individuals may fail to recognize the influences, biases, or assumptions present in their own surroundings or experiences because they have become so accustomed to them. It serves as a reminder to critically examine one's own perspective and consider the broader context in which they exist."
I think that this is why many of us in the liberal sphere almost never do reflect on our own principles, let alone attempt to understand others'.
I've thought often about how fruitless political discourse is in an environment that actively discourages thinking and celebrates the team sport of being as dismissive as possible about how people who don't think like you might see the world.
Somehow I came out of school, having studied 'politics' without ever touching on what 'politics' actually is, beyond accounts of various discrete events that had happened, involving people with different badges, objectives and names. Just the dramas, really, rather than the values in play and the currents they formed.
This is why, of course, most of us were genuinely shocked about Brexit.
We were fish who didn’t recognise water.
It's why, when I was steeped in anti-Brexit Twitter I was as outraged as everyone else in my circles by a phrase used in a speech by the then Prime Minister Theresa May.
You'd better believe that we weren't just upset about Britain's exit from the European Union. It felt existential to us. Even today, coming up to the seventh anniversary of that vote, there are people who seem to feel exactly as they did on the morning of June 24th 2016. And I remember that feeling well, so I feel for them. It was genuinely awful.
Theresa May tried to explain something interesting when she said:
"If believe you're a citizen of the world, you're a citizen of nowhere"
Of course, Remain Twitter immediately adopted 'Citizen of Nowhere' as their display names. I'm sure this included me. It's embarrassing now, but there it is.
It took years to personally understand what she had said.
The Prime Minister of your country says something that you just don't understand. And then you're furious about this thing that you literally didn't think about at all, because it just sounded bad in some way.
But I understand it now. I see that it is an idea with equal validity to the celebration of cultural diversity. It seems as if there could be interesting conversations to be had about the qualities of both ideas - the pursuit of fewer borders or the maintenance of culturally discrete communities.
But in the spaces I occupied, online and socially, there was no exposure to such discussion. It's team sports all the way. And the places where such discussions do take place seem few, such as IQ2.
What openDemocracy's account of Britain's recent National Conservatism Conference betokens is not just fear of the 'far right' (a label now routinely applied to any set of ideas that aren't explicitly promoting social liberalism) but a profound incuriosity about the world in general and what makes people really tick.
This has been another curious noticing. The leftish seems to be a lot less abstractly bright than I once believed it to be.
I find it odd that highly educated people are so overrepresented as participants in leftish spaces whereas I'm forced into right-coded spaces to satisfy intellectual curiosity about things like the work of Ian McGilchrist and what it might tell us about the direction of our shared life.
There’s always more philosophy in Unherd or Quillette than The Guardian, which I find strange.
Almost everything of personal intellectual interest in the past three years has come onto my radar from right-leaning websites, journals and commentators who seem keen to understand how the world came to be as it is. Whereas the leftish-leaning sources I follow invest more in describing how the world should be. It reminds me of school and the difference between the serious lessons and RE (religious 'education').
An impression I have, after reading widely about that recent National Conservatism Conference, is of a right-leaning culture that knows it lost the war and now has the luxury of complaining a lot but also genuinely exploring ideas that aren't stupid ones, such as we see being imported from America, like closing jails and abolishing the police. It's full of bumbling eccentrics, of course, with the inevitable smattering of idiots, but also a kind of intellectual freshness that contrasts vividly with an increasingly dull establishment hegemony.
It's short on recommendations for what actually needs to be done - as amusingly described by somewhat frustrated visitors to the conference, like Brian Chau here or Helen Dale here - but that's probably because conservatives aren't used to being technocratic social engineers with their hands on the levers of power and process.
No doubt this is partly why they're easy to mock, for the Brahmin leftish writers of openDemocracy who think it's funny that they're concerned about such trivial matters as how badly birds and bats get along with wind turbines because obviously renewable energy is a panacea etc.
This tiresome, poor faith lack of engagement by the leftish over reasonable scepticism about the technocratic blob is a luxury that flows from victory. Like the Treaty of Versailles was a luxury that flowed from victory.
Victory can make you stupid, while inspiring the vanquished to get their act together.
With victory comes responsibility not to be an asshole about it.
Presumably this is why we must now call everyone without pronouns on their LinkedIn bio 'far right', because there seems to be a bumbling attempt among conservatives to work out what they stand for, apart from flags and not standing for climate science. And no one wants the far right to be ascendent, except the actual fringe that constitutes the real 'far right'.
If that conference is anything to go by, ordinary conservatives have a way to go with their interesting thoughts. But, unless I'm occupying some unusually insightful spaces at the moment, the intellectual vigour appears to be with conservatives. Which means that the leftish's programme of mockery and speech suppression is probably a good strategy. Because if they have to start discussing things, they're going to be badly out of practice.
Fake news is politically agnostic. It's good business though.
Here's a funny one to end with.
Some people are predictably up in arms over over the Kremlin publishing a list of Americans subject to financial sanctions by Russia. According to a Bloomberg article (reproduced in the Washington Post) this is the beginning of more Russian interference in another US presidential election, because the targets of these sanctions are opponents of Trump.
It looks like a re-launch for Russiagate. And ̶w̶e̶ ̶a̶l̶l̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶ ̶ those of us who paid attention know that the original was nonsense.
Never mind that Russiagate was an unfounded conspiracy theory.
And, of course, the list of sanctioned Americans isn't particularly angled at Trump's enemies anyway, as Matt Taibbi explains.
I'm old enough to remember when fake news was believed to be a right-wing thing. Then we found out that it was good business, especially for young economically struggling men in Macedonia, that had no discernible effect on the 2016 US election outcome.
Essentially, that Bloomberg (and also Washington Post) article is fake news. But what the people fuming about it don't realise is that it doesn't matter. It looks like a threat to Trump's reputation (only to people who don't understand Trump's appeal, though) and therefore a deliberate attempt to undermine his campaign.
But any negative impact on Trump is a convenient by-product and will probably be infinitesimally small anyway. The point is outrage and the resulting attention for the publication.
Stupid stuff like the Pope endorsing the Donald was always just ad revenue chasing and so is this one. Nobody will change their minds and so it will have no impact on anything except the publisher's bottom line.
That's how fake news works.
Given that only 9% of Americans accepted the proof that Russiagate was a hoax, there remains a good market for this kind of content.
In Britain leftishist people are always angry about the Daily Mail, assuming that right-wing views form downstream of that newspaper. But they don't. Publications produce content that will appeal to a certain type of reader and that's all that happens.
Readers of a paper like the Washington Post might not even really believe that Putin wants to help Trump in 2024. But they will enjoy and share that story.
News, after all, whether it's real or not, is mainly for entertainment purposes.
It's just a consumer product.
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