Self-loathing on the campaign trail, 2016

My last post dealt with fear. This post, by con­trast, will deal with loath­ing.

Self-loath­ing, to be ex­act.

As soon as it be­came clear Trump was go­ing to win the elec­tion last Tues­day night, a wave of des­pair swept over lib­er­als and pro­gress­ives alike. Even left­ists who’d up to then feigned in­dif­fer­ence to the res­ult now joined in the out­pour­ing of emo­tion that fol­lowed Clin­ton’s de­feat. Gen­er­ally this took the form of an­ger, an­guish, or grief. Usu­ally it was some mix­ture there­of. One re­ac­tion was par­tic­u­larly use­less, however: guilt.

White guilt, to be ex­act.

Nu­mer­ous think­pieces and ed­it­or­i­als ap­peared over the course of the fol­low­ing days. Rep­res­ent­at­ive titles in­clude “Dear White Wo­men: We Fucked Up” in The Huff­ing­ton Post, and “I am Ashamed to be Part of the Demo­graph­ic that Elec­ted Trump” from Af­fin­ity Magazine. Sarah Ruiz-Gross­man wrote in the former: “I am ashamed of my coun­try and ashamed of white people. But more than any­one else, I am ashamed of white wo­men.” Cas­sie Baker soun­ded off in the lat­ter: “I can­not even be­gin to con­vey how em­bar­rassed and ashamed I am that this is what it has come to.” Pub­lic an­nounce­ments of this sort had already be­gun to pour in on so­cial me­dia the night be­fore. Laurie Penny, a fre­quent con­trib­ut­or to The Guard­i­an and New In­quiry, con­fessed on Twit­ter: “I have had white lib­er­al guilt be­fore. Today is the first time I’ve ac­tu­ally been truly hor­ri­fied and ashamed to be white.” An­oth­er au­thor, who has writ­ten for Marx­ist pub­lic­a­tions like Sal­vage and So­cial­ist Work­er in the past, echoed Penny’s sen­ti­ment on Face­book: “Not sure if I’ve ever felt as ashamed to be a white Amer­ic­an man as I do today.”

Hon­estly, though I’ve been known to be a bit cyn­ic­al, I won­der what such state­ments ac­tu­ally aim to ac­com­plish. Of­ten they seem like vir­tue-sig­nal­ing rituals of atone­ment, meant to con­vey to oth­ers what a good ally someone is. Either that or as­suage their guilty con­science. And the same goes with the safety pins act­iv­ists have star­ted to wear, as in the af­ter­math of the Brexit vote this sum­mer. Ruby Ha­mad put it bluntly in an ed­it­or­i­al pub­lished by The Sydney Morn­ing Her­ald: “Safety pins are mean­ing­less acts of solid­ar­ity made to as­suage white guilt.” “Make no mis­take, that’s what the safety pins are for,” Chris­toph­er Keelty wrote with equal blunt­ness in a blog entry for The Huff­ing­ton Post, “help­ing white people feel bet­ter.” Chris­toph­er Lasch dia­gnosed long ago the nar­ciss­ism that mo­tiv­ates many in­di­vidu­als com­mit­ted to act­iv­ist causes: “Polit­ic­al move­ments ex­er­cise a fatal at­trac­tion for those who seek to drown the sense of per­son­al fail­ure in col­lect­ive ac­tion.”

The most egre­gious in­stance I wit­nessed came in a com­ment thread just hours after Hil­lary con­ceded the race. “Keep hav­ing the urge to apo­lo­gize to all the people of col­or and Muslims who I en­counter,” he re­vealed. He then re­solved to him­self (and every­one else who was read­ing): “Go­ing to talk to my Muslim im­mig­rant cowork­er to­mor­row. Just want her to know that we value and re­spect her as part of the com­munity, be­cause I can’t even guess what she’s feel­ing right now.”

Ima­gine be­ing this poor wo­man sit­ting in the break­room, drink­ing a cof­fee, en­joy­ing your Bo­ston creme — a beacon of light in a world gone to shit. Sud­denly, the of­fice soft­boi slides in next to you and clasps your hand.

“Fatima,” he says, “YOU’RE WEL­COME in Amer­ica.”

Grin­ning to him­self, he gets up and re­turns to his desk, to tweet about his not at all ran­dom, en­tirely pre­med­it­ated act of kind­ness.

One could equally ima­gine a scen­ario in which Muslims and un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants are be­ing her­ded onto trucks by Trump storm­troop­ers. Vali­ant white al­lies run to­ward them, trip­ping over each oth­er to shout “I’m sorry for my priv­ilege!!” louder than the rest, as the doors shut and the con­voy drives away.

Don’t get me wrong. Ac­cus­ing someone of be­ing “a self loath­ing X” is something I find ut­terly ab­hor­rent. Nine times out of ten, such ac­cus­a­tions are made by na­tion­al­ists look­ing to den­ig­rate oth­er mem­bers of their com­munity for not show­ing enough pride in it or loy­alty to it. The ver­sion I’m most fa­mil­i­ar with, of course, is that of “the self-loath­ing Jew” — i.e., any Son of Ab­ra­ham who doesn’t demon­strate suf­fi­cient love for Is­rael. It’s a phrase that ori­gin­ated with Theodor Less­ing’s 1930 book, Der Jüdische Selbsthaß, an ex­ten­ded po­lem­ic against as­sim­il­ated Jews who re­fused to join in the project of build­ing a Zion­ist home­land in Brit­ish Palestine.

Epi­thets have like­wise been dir­ec­ted to­ward Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans un­will­ing to ad­here to black na­tion­al­ism, dubbed “Uncle Toms” or “do­mest­ic Negroes” by their de­tract­ors. This is ba­sic­ally what is meant by alt-right white na­tion­al­ists when they refer to oth­er whites as “cucks” — men who like to see their wo­men get fucked — what used to be des­ig­nated by hate­ful terms like “nig­ger-lov­er” or Juden­fre­und. Hope­fully this ex­plains why I’d be the last per­son to ac­cuse someone of be­ing “a self loath­ing X.” Un­less, of course, that per­son is lit­er­ally say­ing he or she is ashamed to be Jew­ish, or black, or white. Be­sides be­ing self-in­dul­gent and ali­en­at­ing to normies, this only con­firms the worst sus­pi­cions of na­tion­al­ists.

Com­plaints about the un­fair bur­den of “white guilt” are nearly ubi­quit­ous on the European and Amer­ic­an far right, so I won’t both­er re­pris­ing them all here. In­stead, I’ll just provide a gen­er­al sketch. Suf­fice it to say, for the time be­ing, that it’s a re­sponse to sup­posed vili­fic­a­tion of white people in his­tory text­books and pop­u­lar me­dia, which hold them re­spons­ible for all the world’s past wrong­do­ings and present ills. Most of­ten this is seen as a ne­far­i­ous plot per­pet­rated by uni­versity pro­fess­ors and Hol­ly­wood moguls, nearly all of whom turn out to be Jew­ish.

This in­si­di­ous anti-European nar­rat­ive, so the story goes, is then un­wit­tingly im­bibed by un­sus­pect­ing whites, in­tern­al­ized as a kind of “eth­no­mas­ochism.” Guil­laume Faye, a French journ­al­ist as­so­ci­ated with the Nou­velle Droite, de­scribes this as “the mas­ochist­ic tend­ency to blame and de­value one’s eth­ni­city, one’s own people.” Ac­cord­ing to Charles Ly­ons, an­oth­er neor­e­ac­tion­ary writer from France, it’s a col­lect­ive psy­cho­path­o­logy pro­voked by a con­cer­ted pro­pa­ganda cam­paign to make whites feel guilty about how they have treated oth­er peoples. Europeans are in­trins­ic­ally ra­cist, as a kind of ori­gin­al sin for which they must feel guilty.

Para­noia not­with­stand­ing, this is a fairly con­veni­ent catchall ex­plan­a­tion. Fur­ther­more, it at­tains a scin­tilla of plaus­ib­il­ity from the fact that there doubt­less is a tenden­tious habit among aca­dem­ics to present European im­per­i­al­ism as a unique evil per­pet­rated on the world. His­tor­ies and coun­ter­his­tor­ies writ­ten in re­cent dec­ades have sought to un­der­mine the tri­umph­al­ist ac­counts of Whig his­tor­i­ans, who de­pict West­ern de­vel­op­ment since the Renais­sance as fol­low­ing a path of lin­ear pro­gress down to the present. In so do­ing, however, they’ve bent the stick a bit too far back in the oth­er dir­ec­tion, over­com­pens­a­ting. Ja­pan­ese and Ot­to­man im­per­i­al­ism ought to show that bru­tal chau­vin­ism in mod­ern times is not the ex­clus­ive pre­serve of “the West.”

Be­sides, there’s also a more sin­is­ter as­pect to all this. Re­turn­ing to Laurie Penny’s tweet men­tioned above, in which she stated she felt “truly hor­ri­fied and ashamed to be white,” the ex­change that took place af­ter­ward is in­struct­ive. An­oth­er Twit­ter user, “Hopp­ing Bunny,” in­no­cently in­quired: “You wouldn’t hap­pen to be Jew­ish, would you?” This is the back and forth that fol­lowed.

Laurie Penny: Half Jew­ish.
Hop­ping Bunny: Every. Single. Time.
Laurie Penny: Every single time what?
Hop­ping Bunny: Jews are not white. No need to feel guilty then. Please stop pos­ing as white.
Su­per Mo­ni­ac: Ser­i­ously, every time I come across some “white” per­son hat­ing on whites, they’re ac­tu­ally Jew­ish.

I guess that settles it, then.

8 thoughts on “Self-loathing on the campaign trail, 2016

  1. Pingback: Self-loathing on the campaign trail, 2016 — The Charnel-House – radicalsubjectivityblog

  2. Historically, world-wide, liberals do have a lot to feel guilty about and to answer for; not the breast-beating and self-flagellation expressed by some well meaning but very callow folks such as Laurie Penny and friends. One irony in that vacuous exchange is that, only considering their deep involvement in progressive causes in the thirties, forties and fifties in the United States up to putting their lives on the line during the sixties civil rights campaigns, Jewish people have nothing to feel guilty about.

    Now back to liberals and liberalism in general. The working masses have not been able to grasp since the ’30s what political theories and actions are necessary which favour their own self-interest.

    Since the end of the Second World War, western liberalism has been able to thwart such understanding since it was glimpsed in Canada by supporters of the Regina Manifesto and in the U.S. by supporters of Eugene Debs.

    Aside from the U.S. election results, all you have to do in the contemporary agora is observe the people out and about on an average day on the streets and sidewalks and public transit.

    Those that aren’t tragically suffering from mental illness (and there are plenty of those) have an air of either anger and despair or are so completely self-absorbed in their own bubble-world of portable smart devices, they are oblivious to any thought of mutual cooperation which would ease everyone’s journey through the workaday world.

    This may simply sound like an old fashioned rant by an old man, but the idea of giving up one’s seat at the front of the bus to a frail elderly person or a heavily pregnant woman has become an anomaly, instead of common practice. As I used to say, “Good manners are the KY of social intercourse.”

    Such has been the juggernaut of the widely received and then promulgated misrepresentation of history, by mass media, pop culture and within our formal educational institutions that we have raised up generations of truly ignorant populations. Notwithstanding the high rate of literacy and education of Canadians and Americans, the inability of most the 99% to understand their position and power (or lack thereof) within our society as a member of a given class has been thoroughly entrenched since the 1940’s.

    I actually think the chattering classes of the mainstream media and the entertainment industry are not purposely promulgating the idiocy so apparent on both sides following the election, but are actually delusional. The network comedians, Colbert, Fallon, Meyers, Cordon, et al., are among the worst, all in a state of shock following their year-long derision of Trump and his hillbilly followers, as these talk show “sophisticates” liked to think of themselves.

    Nothing could have reinforced this view more than seeing Dave Chappelle (he of the “Niggar Family” skits) on Saturday Night Live make some funny zingers and then conclude by talking with great admiration about Obama who Dave, self-described in his monologue as a “rich nigger”, seemed to have deemed worthy of admiration by the rest of America’s blacks.

    All these talking heads, white, black or brown, truly still believe in the “if you work and try hard enough, anyone can become rich and famous one day” mantra. And, of course, many of them are very very rich indeed and spend their personal lives hanging out with each other, reinforcing this patently ridiculous notion.

    It appears the newly literate factory workers and supporters of the Bolsheviks on the eve of the 1917 revolution were a historical anomaly, partly insofar as they were a product of their times with attention spans longer than a few minutes and information in print tended to sink in better than a five-second sound bite. They had been weaned on Iskra and Pravda and, along side the Bolshevik cadre on their shop floors, knew what was to be done to move forward the interests of the class they also knew they were inextricably a part of.

    But, as Trotsky admitted in “Socialism in One Country” written near the beginning of the world-wide depression of the late 20s and ’30s:

    If you admit the possibility of its [the then current capitalist stagnation] flourishing anew for a period of decades, then the talk of socialism in our backward country is pitiable tripe.Then it will be necessary to say that we were mistaken in our appraisal of the whole epoch as an epoch of capitalist decay. Then the Soviet Republic will prove to have been the second experiment in proletarian dictatorship since the Paris Commune, broader and more fruitful, but only an experiment …

    As for our planet’s future under Trump, check out his potential Cabinet nominees, largely a frightening bunch of social and political troglodytes, including those short-listed for head of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior (hint, Sarah Palin anyone?) – their level of mean spiritedness only challenged by their ignorance or stupidity.

    Since another juggernaut is upon us, consumerism on steroids on the ever earlier launch of Christmas shopping hysteria, may I paraphrase Tiny Tim:

    God help us everyone!

    • “Aside from the U.S. election results, all you have to do in the contemporary agora is observe the people out and about on an average day on the streets and sidewalks and public transit.”

      This is obviously an observation to found in dense urban formations and, frankly, unchanged in the 40 yrs that I have lived in and experienced cities like NYC, SF, PHL, etc. I tend think that is the real culture of cities and the experience of the vast majority of city dwellers contra the perception of cities as some sort of cultural Utopian, the ultimate yuppieville where all is cool. If you have a lot money and power, cities are a playground, if you don’t they are socially brutal and thoroughly dehumanizing landscapes unless you exist within an enclave that has its own sort of internal compensating economy that places social cohesion and community well-being above money…you know the kind….where there is one menu for the yuppie invaders and another one for the locals.

      The suburbs are also riven with the same sort of dynamic but the dearth of genuine public space allows you to really only experience others in traffic, all hermetically sealed in their freedom or at the temples engaged in ritual consumerism.

      Out on the margins and in the hinterlands, long abandoned, is the only place I have found any measure of freedom and solidarity. Close to the earth’s edge provides a different context and forms a different kind of soul. It has been noted in the election the role of the hinterlands in Trumpf’s rise, something attributed to the very ancient dynamic of extracting too much surplus from the landscape and the peasantry.

      Any map of material flows delineating the areas of extraction and of concentration clearly mark off the cities as the centers of accumulations, as the center of power that are generating the imbalances and ravaging the planet – and of course – these centers are the progressive strong holds. I have known many progressives whose daily corporate life is inextricably bound up in the looting of the hinterlands and the peasantry here and aboard and I would venture to say that a progressive identity is little more than mask turned inward that serves more to deceive one’s self about the nature of one;s complicity in the crimes of empire than reveal any sort of stable set of preferences or true ‘self’.

      Progressives are, I would hate to say it, largely ignorant asses and they do not even know it or understand how that could possibly be because in their minds they are so good and so smart and so superior. It is a fact of nature to them that every human being is a middle class liberal white person trying to get out – sort of an apex of human evolution everyone is aspiring to. That is, of course, what ‘education’ is all about – manufacturing copies.

      The combination of “education” and middle class affluence produces a obnoxiously arrogant morality play that always places them center stage. The ruling elites love to roll doobs and blow smoke up the ass of these poor souls. But we should always keep in mind that they will always betray any effort perceived to threaten that position.

      Whatever support for poor and working slobs they claim to offer, would quickly vanish if it altered for one moment, the material and psychological comforts that underpin their existence – this is why their message is always ‘everyone can have what we have’.

  3. Someone I know told me of a post-election conversation with a black woman. She said, “Now you see how we’ve felt for hundreds of years, worried or scared about something.” His response was to say that as a white person he felt terribly embarrassed.

    When I questioned him about this, it became clear to me, and to some degree to him, that a primary driver of his response was that he felt that he needed to “do something” and that all he felt that he had to give her was shame and an accompanying sense of indebtedness to her. Because he is thoroughly enmired in a traditional loyalty to the Democratic party, meaning that his political subjectivity and imagination is nullified, it did not occur to him that what she was really interested in was some guarantee of solidarity in action on his part. As he related more of the conversation, it was apparent that his shame didn’t do much for her, at all. But, given the confusion prevailing in an already withered catchall party, a response conveying the idea of “Never Again” just wasn’t available to him.

  4. There’s an important distinction to be made between guilt and shame that you didn’t include. I know this may seem like mere semantics, but it is important from a psychological standpoint in that narcissism is associated with shame rather than guilt. Guilt involves recognizing you’ve done something wrong and a move towards a corresponding act to try and remedy it. Shame is more about one’s ego/ideal image being tarnished. That’s what is at work here. They feel dirty and feel as though being white makes them look bad. It’s not as if any of them feel as though they did something wrong, took a mistaken action. They’re worried about looking bad.

    So of course the remedy is going to be to do something to correct that image, to overcompensate, to make loud public displays tolerance and disgust at their ethnic group. That was the main motivation behind these cries of “I’m ashamed to be American.” Everybody needs to be told they aren’t one of them, one of the bad ones.

  5. excellent points and not splitting hairs. anyone surprised at the election of trumpf is pretty clueless as to the nature of our society…they do not know or understand this country, its history, very large swaths of its people and its system of social control, governance and power.

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