Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Wokespeak is Grantspeak

"American Grand Strategy: Disguising Decline" (Lind).

I think I forgot to link to this very important essay by Lind:  "The End of Progressive Intellectual Life".  The roots of American decline are in its universities and stink tanks and NGOs, taken over by a remarkable collection of mediocrities.  The most obvious symptoms are the bizarre support for various paraphilias and identity-based manias, and the whole cancellation culture (with its total fear of intellectual debate), but the rot goes everywhere.  An example:

"Immigration policy provides an even more striking example of the power of Progressivism, Inc. to crush debate among actual progressives. Up until around 2000, libertarians and employer-class Republicans wanted to weaken laws against illegal immigration and expand low-wage legal immigration, against the opposition of organized labor and many African-Americans—who for generations have tended to view immigrants as competitors. The Hesburgh Commission on immigration reform, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, and the Jordan Commission, appointed by President Bill Clinton and led by Texas Representative Barbara Jordan, the pioneering civil rights leader who was left-liberal, Black, and lesbian, both proposed cracking down on illegal immigration—by requiring a national ID card, punishing employers of illegal immigrants, and cutting back on low-skilled, low-wage legal immigrants. As late as 2006, then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both voted for 200 miles of border fencing in the Southwest.

Then, virtually overnight, the progressive movement flipped and adopted the former talking points of the Chamber of Commerce cheap-labor lobby. While Democratic politicians deny that they oppose enforcing immigration laws, center-left journals and journalists keep pushing the idea of open borders, in alliance with crackpot free market fundamentalists. On April 12, 2022, David Dayen in the American Prospect wrote that “declining immigration rates since the pandemic have contributed to labor shortages in key industries and harmed Americans who rely on those services.” Dayen linked to an article in the libertarian Wall Street Journal bemoaning rising wages as a result of lower immigration. On February 20 of this year, The New Yorker published a long essay by Zoey Poll, “The Case for Open Borders,” a fawning profile of the libertarian ideologue Bryan Caplan, author of Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, which, appropriately, takes the form of a graphic novel—that is to say, a comic book.

Back in 2015, Ezra Klein, then editor of the “progressive” outlet Vox, asked Senator Bernie Sanders about the idea of “sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders.” Sanders replied in alarm: “Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.” The lobby FWD.us, funded by Facebook and other large tech corporations that prefer hiring indentured servants (H-1bs) bound to their employers instead of free American citizen-workers and legal immigrants, denounced Sanders for holding “the totally-debunked notion that immigrants coming to the U.S. are taking jobs and hurting Americans.” Vox then published an article by Dylan Matthews entitled “Bernie Sanders’s fear of immigrant labor is ugly—and wrong-headed.” “If I could add one amendment to the Constitution,” Matthews declared, “it would be the one Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Robert Bartley once proposed: ‘There shall be open borders.’” In 2018, the progressive author Angela Nagle was canceled by Progressivism, Inc. when she published an essay in American Affairs, “The Left Case Against Open Borders.” By 2020, when Matthew Yglesias, a co-founder of Vox, published One Billion Americans, the purging of dissidents and the fusion of the Progressivism, Inc. party line on immigration with the anti-union, cheap labor policies favored by the Wall Street Journal and Silicon Valley was complete."

and (after a short discussion of energy policy, which we are seeing is eating Europe alive):

"At this point in history, the foundations and advocacy nonprofits of Progressivism, Inc. do not even bother to go through the charade of public debate and discussion before imposing a new party line. Half a century of debate, discussion, and activism gradually led to a majority consensus among American voters in favor of “negative liberty” for gay men and lesbian women, whose right to be free as individuals from discrimination in employment, housing, and military service does not require other Americans to undertake any actions, and leaves people perfectly free to oppose homosexuality on religious or other grounds.

In striking contrast, in a few years the ideology of gender fluidity went from being an obscure strain of thinking on the academic left to becoming the centerpiece of a radical program of social engineering from above carried out simultaneously by progressive, corporate, and academic bureaucracies. During President Obama’s second term, Americans were startled to be told by the federal government that Title IX, a civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, actually required gender dysphoric teenage boys to join girls’ sports teams and shower with girls, and that all public school bathrooms had to be rebuilt to be unisex. States that resisted this bizarre misreading of Title IX, which eliminated legal distinctions grounded in biological sex that the statute was written to protect, found themselves boycotted by multinational corporations and sports leagues. Corporate employees and university personnel who questioned the New Party Line now did so at risk of being fired or punished. All of this happened just between 2012 and 2016, with no public debate or discussion within the progressive camp, and no attempts to persuade conservatives, libertarians, liberals, or even pre-2012 progressives—only a sudden diktat from above, accompanied by contemptuous threats of punishment. In 2012, progressives were allowed to agree with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the time that marriage should be between a biological man and a biological woman. By 2020, you were a hateful reactionary conservative bigot if you did not agree that some men can be pregnant and some women have penises."

and, the mechanics, and history of this sort of purity enforcement on the right (you should just read the whole essay):

"Who decides what is and is not permissible for American progressives to think or discuss or support? The answer is the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Omidyar Network, and other donor foundations, an increasing number of which are funded by fortunes rooted in Silicon Valley. It is this donor elite, bound together by a set of common class prejudices and economic interests, on which most progressive media, think tanks, and advocacy groups depend for funding.

The center-left donor network uses its financial clout, exercised through its swarms of NGO bureaucrats, to impose common orthodoxy and common messaging on their grantees. The methods by which they enforce this discipline can be described as chain-ganging and shoe-horning.

Chain-ganging (a term I have borrowed from international relations theory) in this context means implicitly or explicitly banning any grantee from publicly criticizing the positions of any other grantee. At a conference sponsored by the Ford Foundation that I attended more than a decade ago, an African-American community activist complained to me privately: “Immigration is hurting the people in the neighborhoods we work in. The employers prefer illegal immigrants to young black workers. But if we say anything about it, Ford will cut off our money.”

Shoe-horning is what I call the progressive donor practice of requiring all grantees to assert their fealty to environmentalist orthodoxy and support for race and gender quotas, even if those topics have nothing to do with the subject of the grant. It is not necessary for the donors to make this explicit; their grantees understand without being told, like the favor-seeking knights of Henry II: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” In the last few years, even the most technocratic center-left policy programs—advocating slightly higher earned income tax credits or whatever—have often rewritten their mission statements to refer to “climate justice” and “diversity” and routinely sprinkle Grantspeak like “the racial reckoning” and “the climate emergency” throughout their policy briefs in the hope of pleasing program officers at big progressive foundations.

Thanks to the takeover of the American center-left by Progressivism, Inc., there is literally nothing for a progressive public intellectual to do. To be sure, there are plenty of other kinds of mental work that you can perform as a member of the rising generation of young progressives even in the absence of a functioning public intellectual sphere. You can keep your head down and doubts to yourself, as you work on the technocratic policy that appeals to you the most: raising the minimum wage or free school lunches, perhaps. Or you can write endless variants of the same screed denouncing Republicans and conservatives as rabid white nationalists threatening to create a fascist dictatorship right here in America. Or you can join mobs on Twitter and social media to take part in Two-Minute Hate campaigns against individuals or groups singled out for denunciation that day by Progressivism, Inc. Or you can try to obtain fame and bestseller-status and wealth and tenure by getting the attention of the MacArthur Prize committee and editors at The Atlantic by auditioning for the role of Designated Spokesperson for this or that “protected class” or minority identity group (non-binary Middle East or North African (MENA), for example, not low-income Scots-Irish Appalachian heterosexual Pentecostalist).

You can even be a professor. High-profile American progressive academics like Paul Krugman and Jill Lepore and Adam Tooze who moonlight as public affairs commentators are not public intellectuals—they have the pre-approved left-liberal opinions on all topics that are shared by nine-tenths of the U.S. academic bureaucracy, from the richest Ivy League superstars to the lowliest adjunct at a commuter college. Back in the early 1990s, when as a young neoconservative Democrat I worked for The National Interest, our publisher Irving Kristol exploded in comic exasperation one day: “People are calling professors intellectuals! Professors aren’t intellectuals. Intellectuals argue with each other in cafes and write for little magazines. Professors are boring people who take out their dusty 20-year-old notes and give the same lecture over and over again.”

Unlike academics who recite the approved current center-left positions on all issues, genuine intellectuals, even if they happen to be employed by universities, are unpredictable and aggravating. They criticize their own allies and appreciate what other schools of thought get right. They do not indulge in contrarianism for its own sake but tend to be controversial, because they put loyalty to what they consider to be truth above party or faction. Needless to say, such people tend to perform quite poorly when it comes to the boot-licking, rote repetition of political slogans, acronym-juggling, groupthink, and “donor servicing” that constitute the forms of intellectual activity favored by big foundations and NGOs, whether of the right or of the left.

Young progressives who remain invested in the life of the mind rather than the life of the party may take some solace from the fact that we have lived through this kind of foundation-driven extinction-level event in our nation’s intellectual life before. In “Why Intellectual Conservatism Died,” published in Dissent back in 1995, I wrote that “instead of boldly attacking falsehoods wherever they are found, conservative editors tend to print only what they believe will confirm the prejudices of the program officers. The addiction to foundation dollars has reinforced the disastrous ‘no enemies to the right’ policy. The last thing the foundations want is for one set of grantees to criticize the policy views or intellectual standards of other grantees.”

Sound familiar? In hindsight, the end of the Cold War under Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush witnessed a golden age of discussion and controversy on the American right, as neoconservatives debated paleoconservatives and religious right thinkers, and national security hawks debated isolationists and foreign-policy realists. Around 1992 that window suddenly closed, as right-wing foundations like Bradley and Olin made it clear that the only nonprofit organizations and journals that would receive funding would be those that espoused a new version of “fusionism”—uniting neoconservative fantasies of American world domination in foreign policy, libertarian fantasies about privatizing Social Security, and religious-right wishful thinking about a Christian or Judeo-Christian revival.

Thanks to blacklisting and censorship, foundation-imposed groupthink triumphed on the right, consolidating Conservatism, Inc. and driving away those of us who sought to put the life of the mind above the life of the party. A decade later, President George W. Bush attempted to implement fusionist conservatism with a rigor that Reagan never attempted. In foreign policy, the Bush administration used 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq and attempted to realize the conservative fantasy of an American global empire, plunging the Middle East into chaos and bringing Iraq War critics Barack Obama and Donald Trump to power. In domestic policy, Bush tried to partly privatize Social Security, creating a voter backlash. The 2004 Bush-Rove campaign against gay marriage, calculated to bribe working-class Evangelicals into voting for the party of tax cuts for the rich, backfired and led to majority acceptance of gay men and lesbians and the defection of many younger Protestant Evangelicals.

On today’s center-left, as on the bygone center-right, the groupthink imposed by behind-the-scenes donors and their favored nonprofits and media allies is resulting in electoral disaster—this time, for Democrats." 
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