It’s never easy to look yourself in the mirror and own up to your mistakes. For a long time, I balked at the very idea. Part of it felt too reminiscent of Stalinist/Maoist self-criticism, in its ritualized form of самокритика or autocritique. Whenever a person demands that someone else “self-crit” online, the image that most readily comes to mind is that of medieval flagellants — lashing their own backs while begging forgiveness for their sins. Quite often it feels forced and insincere, as if the people who yield to the demand are just going through the motions in order to be quickly absolved and be done with the matter as soon as possible.
But another reason I refrained from public self-criticism is that my views change rather gradually, to the point where I only notice that I’ve changed my mind well after the fact. Sometimes I think a certain degree of stubbornness can be a virtue, insofar as it means you stick to your guns and don’t just bend in the direction of a shifting wind. Other times, however, it is clearly a vice, especially when you are in the wrong. Even then, when I recognize that I no longer hold my former position on a given issue, I am reluctant to announce that this is the case. Not because I’m unwilling to admit I was wrong, but because I’d prefer to demonstrate this through my actions moving forward instead of dwelling on the past.
Unfortunately, though — or maybe fortunately, for those who like to keep score — the internet has a long memory. I’ve certainly said plenty of stupid shit in my time, things I either regret or simply don’t agree with anymore. There were things I shouldn’t have said, situations I should have handled differently, arguments I should’ve considered more carefully before posting or tweeting or whatnot. You can probably find evidence of them if you look hard enough. Really it shouldn’t even be that hard, as I have not made much of an effort to scrub Twitter or other social media of dumb controversies I’ve been involved in (unless someone specifically asked me to take something down).
Perhaps it would help to be a little more concrete. Just to give one example of something I’ve changed my mind on, or have rather come to a better understanding of, take trans struggles. When debates over gender fluidity first came up several years ago, I knew virtually nothing about the issues trans people have had to deal with. I’m still far from an expert, obviously, but to get a sense of how ignorant I was at the time, I only learned what the prefix “cis-” meant around 2013. Before then, I had no idea what any of it meant. Or really what a whole host of related terms signified. By late 2014 or early 2015 I’d rethought my views.
Much of the discourse on this topic, to be fair, was pretty new back then. And it’s still evolving, though it seems to have stabilized a bit. Regardless, I could’ve done more to learn about it before shooting my mouth off or weighing in on the matter. For example, when Facebook introduced its exhaustive list of fifty-six new gender options four or five years ago, I poked fun at it on social media, since I figured the more customizable taxonomy was introduced so Zuckerberg would have more data about the users of his website to sell to ad agencies. Looking back, I don’t think what I said was too egregious or intentionally hurtful, but probably came off as insensitive all the same.
There’s still a lot of work I have to do on this, I realize. Often I forget someone’s preferred pronoun (they/them is especially hard for me to get used to, for whatever reason) but would never purposely misgender anyone. Please, if I’ve fucked up, just let me know and I will make every effort not to repeat the mistake. Back when I started to read about the debate within feminism between trans-exclusionary radfems and transfeminists, it seemed a really trivial thing to get hung up about. I even sympathized at first with the radfems, who insisted that people were just “language policing” them and looking to shut down open debate.
Years of seeing the bad faith engagements, if not outright bigotry, by transphobic radfems has erased any sympathy I might have had with them. At this point, the radical feminists who oppose measures like the bathroom bill — allowing trans individuals to use bathrooms in accordance with the gender they identify — are indistinguishable from evangelical Christians. I do think some of the rhetoric used by trans activists can seem overly aggressive and off-putting, particularly to those who are unfamiliar with the terms of the debate, but I have no patience left for TERF ideologues committed to baiting trans people under the pretext of having a dialogue.
Julian Vigo and Meghan Murphy are odious figures, while Michael Rectenwald and Spencer Sturdevant are just out-and-out reactionaries. The former pair insist they are “human rights consultants” and feminist lawyers, while the latter pair present themselves as freethinkers challenging the thought-taboos of the Left. Even those with more leftist credentials succumb to this crap, though. Paul Cockshott is a well-known Marxian economist, to provide a further example, but lately all he seems able to do is bang on about homosexuality and “transgenderism” on his blog. Christine Delphy is a noted materialist feminist, with several translations of her works put out by Verso, but on her blog at least she is busy repping Julie Bindel and Murphy of late.
Nevertheless, I still think articulating a materialist critique of identity politics is a crucial task for revolutionary Marxists today. Despite its status as a bugbear for rightwing types, who associate it with “cultural Marxism,” it remains one of the chief ideological obstacles to building workers’ power today. Of course, it will not do to simply replace one form of identity politics with another, say vulgar workerism, as this is in many ways the Urform of every identitarianism that came later. And we must take pains, in our critiques of identity politics, not to echo reactionary talking-points. Here an old distinction might prove useful: i.e., the notion of criticizing something “from the left” versus “from the right.”
So I am certainly not disavowing everything I’ve ever written or argument I’ve ever made. J. Sakai’s Settlers is still a bad book, even if I appreciate some of the stuff he has written about contemporary fascism. “Decolonial theory” is still mostly academic crap. Contemporary art still mostly sucks and art in general needs to be abolished. I hope I’m not just going soft, but I don’t have an appetite for controversy like I did when I was younger. Polemic is still necessary at times, but perhaps more sparingly than in the past. Online drama is mostly idiotic, and gets in the way of the vital work that needs to be done, so I sincerely apologize to anyone I’ve offended and hope to be better.