Reform and revolution in the age of online “social justice” campaigns

I’ve been trying to lay off pop culture political commentary these past few weeks, fearing that writing yet another article about the poverty of intersectionality theory or Flavia Dzodan and the narcissism of “identity” might distract me from more worthy ventures. But sometimes History itself intervenes and moves one to respond — that is,  if History can still be said to be happening (which it isn’t). Twitter activist Suey Park’s half-baked reflections on “reform and revolution” were bound to strike a chord with me. As an admirer of Rosa Luxemburg and her contribution to Marxist discourse on this subject, I couldn’t help but feel dismayed at the way these terms were being thoughtlessly bandied about, emptied both of content and relevant context. (Parks insists that “context” isn’t important, but that’s really besides the point).

Maybe I should be more forgiving, and regard Park’s political and historical illiteracy as the result of mere ignorance rather than deliberate effrontery, a cynical ploy to raise her profile as a leading voice for the oppressed. She did manage to land an interview conducted by the mainstream leftish media outlet Salon, after all. Enough equivocation, though. Here are her thoughts on the perennial dichotomy of reform versus revolution, from the viral marketing genius who brought us #notyourasiansidekick:

SALON: What is the best way to work with white people, to get them on our side?

SUEY PARK: I don’t want them on our side.

SALON: You don’t?

SUEY PARK: This is not reform, this is revolution.

SALON: So what do you want to see happen in your revolution?

SUEY PARK: I mean it’s already happening I think. The revolution will not be an apocalypse, it’s gonna be a series of shifts in consciousness that result in actions that come about, and I think that like, at this point is really like, ride or die, in terms who’s in and who is out. I don’t play by appeasement politics, it is not about getting my oppressors to humanize me. And in that sense I reject the respectability politics, I reject being tone-policed, I think we need to do away with this idea that these structures are…that the prisons can undergo reform and somehow do less violence as a structure.

Without claiming to be an authority on the matter, this is something I’ve actually written a lot about. So I hope the reader will excuse me if I share my perspective, fully aware that my arguments might fall short or fail to convince.

One doesn’t need to insist upon rigid designation or fixed points of reference to demonstrate that Park’s interpretation of “revolution” evacuates the word of any meaning it might have once possessed. This isn’t about positing some changeless synchronic language where words always just mean one thing and nothing else irrespective of shifting usage and convention. It’s about a specific (conservative) adaptation to changed political circumstances, a rationalization of defeat. For Park’s redefinition of revolution as “a series of shifts in consciousness resulting in actions that come about” is not simply an attempt to bring the concept up to date, to show what “revolution” might mean in the 21st century. Rather, it expresses deeper misgivings about the pervasive helplessness felt throughout contemporary politics, but in a way which occludes the possibility of its overcoming. Because radical social transformation no longer seems imaginable, Park’s rebrands revolution as something that’s already happening anyway. Much like Chávez’s “21st century socialism,” this basks in fresh air of postmodern ahistoricity, reassuring everyone that they’re remaining faithful to the good old cause while abdicating any real responsibility to the immense practical tasks set by that revolutionary socialism in the past.

To me, at least, it’s outrageous that anyone could characterize our moment as one where revolution is “already happening.” If anything, we’re entering a long night of political reaction. The vaporous political energies of 2011 have all but dissipated. Egypt has gone rapidly from promising liberal democracy to military dictatorship in just three years. Libya is ruled by roaming rival gangs and armed militias, two years after NATO-backed rebels declared victory over Gadaffi. The body count of the civil war in Syria continues  to rise with no end in sight. Austerity prevails in the European Union, enforced by a Germany that dominates the scene both politically and economically. Protofascist elements have overthrown a corrupt right-wing government in Ukraine, replacing the pro-Russian regime with an ultranationalist one, while Putin has responded by instigating a territorial crisis in Crimea.

Revolution is “already happening”? Is she kidding? The flattery and self-congratulation of these Twitteristas never ceases to amaze.

Asked what she wants out of her whole #cancelcolbert provocation, Park responded:

I wanted to hit the irony and inability of the Left to deal with their own racism. I think as a result of the white ally industrial complex, for too long people of color have been asked to censor whiteness, they have been asked to educate their oppressor, they have been asked to use the right tone, and appease their politics in order to be heard. And in an effort to just contribute to the self-improvement of white allies that are often times just racist. So I think it’s kind of like pulling a blanket off the façade of progressivism. It forces people to deal with those conversations about race that go beyond micro-aggression and that go beyond being politically correct, to what it means to uproot racism in its entirety.

First of all, what does “white ally industrial complex” mean apart from its hackneyed, half-understood allusion to Eisenhower’s famous speech? What is industrial about any of it, exactly? Moreover, as if the concept of white people being “allies” wasn’t nauseating enough (I prefer “frenemy”), Park advances the ridiculous notion that “conversations about race” on Twitter can effectively uproot racism. The idea that this might actually involve massive systemic upheaval — or even the more banal process of different demographic groups leveraging their economic position against those who deny them comparable benefits and wages, etc. — has apparently never occurred to her. Instead, revolution will be accomplished by lobbing a few thousand tweets in any and every direction, by simple swarming force of rhetoric.

Really, this proceeds by the same incremental logic of “death by a thousand cuts” that the jargonistic concept of “micro-aggression” supposedly follows.

A few final howlers in closing, since this sort of thing really deserves only ridicule and derision. Poor cell phone reception probably granted the interview some of Park’s more lucid insights:

I think [#cancelcolbert] was just an opportunity to use hyperbole in a way to make social commentary, which is what the [unintelligible] would want to do to begin with.

Yes, indeed, that is what “the unintelligible” would want, isn’t it? Later on, Park mentioned on the revolutionary changes in technology that made her Twitter “revolution” possible in the first place:

[P]eople keep asking me, where were you in 2005 with your critical race theory critique of the “Colbert” show. And I was like, “first of all, I was waiting for Twitter to be invented, and second of all I was getting my braces tightened because I was still in middle-school.”

Her playful Wunderkind idiocy aside, this statement just reveals the delusional grandiosity of these self-appointed Twitter activists. Park is not even an aspiring technocrat, in the sense that this usually connotes management, regulation, and planning “from above.” She’s more into the idea of “spontaneous” Twitterstorms emerging “from below,” the Tweet that launched a million angry SJWs, or which at least brought her a little more fame. At the end of the day, that’s what all this really boils down to — rank careerism, and nothing more.

That’s the punchline, in fact. Don’t know why or how she let it slip, but even going by an offhand remark Park made it’s clear she makes big bucks doing this. During the interview, Park complained:

I had to cancel a whole week of gigs, and I haven’t been able to leave where I’m staying in six days due to the amount of threats I am getting. [I lost] $4,000 that I would have made in my speaking gigs…

Now of course it’s awful that she would receive threats over any of this stuff, but the 4k/week sounds pretty sweet to me. Before taxes, if she’d keep up that pace for the course of a year (this would be difficult, I imagine), she’d be raking in $224,000 per annum. How awfully oppressed.


16 thoughts on “Reform and revolution in the age of online “social justice” campaigns

  1. You know it’s all your fault though, right? Not you personally but the massed ranks of young American gender/media/critical theory graduates who have been educated beyond usefulness and can only colonise the left (and what remains of feminism in particular) through the space, time, and historical context-shrinking monster that is Twitter. The language alone gives one a headache, like a hammer on concrete. Sorry, asphalt.

  2. Twitter? What’s Twitter… :)

    Shoebox radicals on a pogram will never win the day. I mean Marx in the 18th reminds us “But the revolution is throughgoing. It is still journeying through purgatory.” Not quite there yet, hon. Remember purgatory leads to hell if my Dante serves me right.

    Poor darling that young Parks had to cancel “a whole week of gigs”, little capitalist that she is do to securitization measures. Where is her Vanguard? Militant struggles in the twitter box, oh my. But then again we have to remember Lenin who summed up revolution as the replacement of one dictatorship with another: “Bourgeois states are most varied in form, but their essence is the same: all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

    In our time the middle-class has already been replaced by the cognitariat and the precariat, the specialists and the excluded – who sit outside the gate lemming the scraps from the table of the North. The indebted one walks the famished streets excluded from his own productions. While the likes of Warren Buffet and his ilk proclaim that yes, there is a class war going on and that the Rich are winning it hands down. Dam if I don’t look around and find that his reality seems to be the one fantasy that fits the simulated models on my screen. Revolution in our time? Devolution is more likely as climate change taps waking earth and she sloughs this beast of human waste from her nightmares once and for all.

  3. Ross, what you’re really doing is continuing the tradition of snobbish intellectual dandyism disguised as revolutionary radicalism. There’s nothing wrong with the first part, but you might as well drop the leftist posturing. You’ve got nothing to lose but people like Suey Park and a world of clarity to win. I mean, who are the oppressed people you’re trying to redeem or whatever? Don’t you realize that most of them are at least as inane as Suey Park and those who are a bit smarter don’t need your help to liberate themselves from whatever they need to be liberated from?

    • Two utterly bourgeois mistakes here:

      1. The notion that one can read the intention of another person from an internet post, then reinterpret that (‘what you’re really doing’), followed by a patronising attitude. Very common in Anglo-Saxons for some reason (if you are offended by this, go intersect with somebody for support).

      2. Assume that radical politics is like some idealist mission to put the drowning women and children in some lifeboat. Sort of a thrill-seeking version of charity work. But it’s not, the drive to create new forms of society is highly egoistical. It’s putting egoism to good work, as in getting the donkey before the cart rather than vice versa,

      Ross is quite guilty of dandyism, though, He posts a 10,000+ word article on Venezuela that has no checkable sources in it whatsoever, and then pronounces truth as he sees fit. That’s just posturing. Better learn Spanish, grow a beard and spend a month in Caracas. Surely a dandy would have more fun in a south american capital, instead of discussing various deranged women on a blog.

      • Sorry, I’m not stooping to the comedy radical academic-act of using bourgeois as an epithet. Other than that I’m neither bourgeois, nor leftist nor Anglo-Saxon.

  4. I followed Ms. Park for an instant. It became clear to me that she is an offensive hypocrite as viewed from just about any angle. Among other things, hate is not revolutionary. It is just hate.
    The idea that petty divisiveness and clawing for personal privilege and attention can bring forth a transcendence of the capitalist calamity is ignorant and wrong. These self proclaimed “anti-imperialists” and social-“justice” advocates perpetuate the worst sentiments of bourgeois society.
    At the same time Mr. Wolfe wastes his evident genius on his compulsion to engage middle class elements who are playing at revolution rather than to turn his energies to the real struggles of real working people, however elementary these may be at the current moment.
    Contrary to the hysteria of the present petty-bourgeois discourse fascism is not immanent, there is much space for real discourse and the place of the mass of the toiling classes in the formation of history is evident all around.
    Middle class radicals such as Park are, if anything, frightened by the rise of social mobilization which has characterized the second decade of the 21st century. They fear the inevitable; that the workers will displace them from the stage. Thus they ratchet up their cynical rhetoric, slander the actions of working people on the streets, and distract attention from the real changes that are taking place. They glorify and exaggerate “western” imperialism with conspiracy theories that construct a narrative of the invincibility and omnipotence of power. They can only have relevance in this negative context. In the positive context, in relation to the actual movement of history, in relation to the real growth of the actual working class, they are less than a speedbump.

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