Rhetoric and Ideology: A Twitter Response

Rhetoric and Ideology: A Twitter Response


Hello, and welcome to this thing. Today, I’m taking some choice comments I’ve
seen on twitter and talking about them for a little bit. I’m not going to name names because I don’t
think that the particular individuals making these arguments are relevant to anything I’ll
have to say, but if you hang out in similar circles, you’ll likely know several examples
of what I’m talking about off the top of your head. So this video is going to be about bizarre
takes, and some related statements, about leftists, dogwhistling, racism, a bunch of
stuff like that. There’s going to be some discussion of sensitive
topics like political violence, terrorism, bigotry, things along those lines, so if that’s
not something you’re up for, go ahead and give yourself a break from this one. With all that stuff out of the way, here we
go. Part 1 – Leftist rhetoric One take in particular that I’ve seen parroted
around online is the idea of leftist rhetoric being equivalent to, or at least reminiscent
of, far-right rhetoric. As a slightly more specific example, I’ve
seen people say that leftists saying things like “kill all landlords” is hard to distinguish
from those on the far-right talking about things like race wars or beating up antifa
“members” On some level, these kinds of complaints about
leftist rhetoric online kinda resonate with me. I’m personally not the biggest fan of violent
rhetoric generally, but that’s because I border on being a pacifist. Still, I can easily recognize a few crucial
distinctions here. First, leftists don’t commit violence on
nearly the same scale in the name of their ideology as far-right extremists do. Far-left extremism, from what I can find,
is a negligible concern compared to far-right extremism, which over the last decade has
been responsible for 73% of extremist-related deaths in the United States. Another 23% were attributed to Islamic extremists,
who any reasonable person could also identify as right-wing, but they aren’t relevant
to the specific types of far-right extremism that people are using as a basis for comparison
between the left and right. The remaining percentage, according to the
ADL, could not be categorized in those other groups, which does not mean that they were
all far-left extremists by the way, but for the sake of being charitable to this argument,
we’ll assume that they can be attributed to far-left ideological positions, although
just to be clear, once again, that is not necessarily the case in reality. Now, if we are to assume that this remaining
3% represents far-left extremist violence, even though I would
consider this level of violence to be bad, we can see that this issue is one of far smaller
proportions than that of far-right extremist violence. If you don’t trust the ADL’s numbers on
this, I welcome you to find numbers that suggest that far-left extremism is more dangerous,
but unless these numbers start to become closer to 60/40, where the violence isn’t completely
equal, but around the same ballpark, then this argument will still mostly hold. The scale of the problem is not comparable. Also, if you want to pivot and talk about
death tolls from states that represent certain ideologies, then feel free, but that’s not
particularly relevant to what we’re talking about right now. Secondly, the ideological positions of the
far-left and far-right aren’t comparable. I’m hoping to make a video laying this out
in more detail eventually, but the rhetoric of these positions does not make the substance
of them any more similar. If we compare general tenets of far-left ideologies
to general tenets of far-right ideologies, we can see a much clearer distinction. Again, if you want to argue about the failings
of states in the past, that’s a separate conversation. We’re not talking about the historical attempts
to implement these ideas, we’re talking about the ideas themselves. Talking about both is interesting, but not
helpful here. If we look at leftist ideologies, we see,
in general, that they are against oppressive, hierarchical institutions, and want to create
more egalitarian institutions. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways,
talk to a Marxist-Leninist and you’ll get a different answer than if you ask an anarchist,
but this general opposition to at least certain oppressive, hierarchical institutions is baked
into most leftist ideology. There’s also a heavy emphasis on systemic
analysis and critique, focusing on the systems in a society rather than individual people. These two positions blend together into a
generally pretty anti-capitalist stance, because leftists, when they analyze the capitalist
system, see an oppressive, hierarchical institution. If we look at far-right ideologies, there
is often a heavy focus on individuals over systems. There’s also a more hierarchical approach
to social organization, with a sort of social darwinist perspective. Right-wingers in general tend to believe that
the strong survive and thrive, and as you go further to the right, this idea becomes
more and more naturalized. Conservatives tend to focus on people’s
utility and ability, but if you go further right, fascists tend to naturalize qualities
like laziness or intelligence. Thus, the strong aren’t strong based on
merit, but based on innate qualities, and in the same way, the weak aren’t weak because
of their failures, but because their essence is weakness. This social darwinist perspective, combined
with an individualist focus and a hierarchical social organization, leads the far-right to
an inevitable conclusion that hierarchical organization should be defined along the lines
of things like race, sex, ability (as opposed to disability), and purity. Far-right ideologies believe not just that
the strong survive, but that the strong, in order to survive, must maintain dominance
over the weak. Because they don’t focus on how social structures
contribute to problems, but individualize these problems instead, they inevitably scapegoat
those who are “weaker” than they are. So we can see that the cores of these ideologies
are not even remotely comparable. On the left, we have an opposition to oppressive
social systems and a focus on systemic analysis and critique, and on the right we have an
individualist, social darwinist perspective that naturalizes qualities related to “strength”
and “weakness”. Now hold on there, bucko, you might be saying. We were talking about leftists saying stuff
like “kill all landlords”, and now you’re making it about these broad, wishy-washy ideas
of oppression and hierarchy. Why are you trying to pivot away from that? Well, for one, please don’t call me bucko,
but also, while this might seem kinda unrelated, it’s a necessary foundation for understanding
why this statement, “kill all landlords”, is not equivalent to something like: Thirdly, thanks to that super smooth segue,
the ideas being expressed are not equivalent. Last I checked, every human, regardless of
race, sex, ethnic background, gender identity, or political orientation, was equally capable
of being a landlord or not being a landlord. If you are a landlord, you can choose to stop
being one. Sure, that’s probably not great for you,
you probably make more money as a landlord than not, but you are still capable of giving
that up if you want to. You can’t choose to stop being black. You can’t choose to stop being gay. You can’t choose to stop being trans. You can’t choose to stop being disabled. When people express the sentiment “kill
all landlords”, because I’m capable of being charitable to people’s arguments,
I can recognize that they’re expressing frustration with the fact that we live in
a system where people can own what is effectively your property. Landlords take large amounts of people’s
paychecks in exchange for occasional maintenance and handling things like utilities. If you can’t pay them, they kick you out
onto the street. I know for some people, that sob story there
won’t do anything to change their minds about landlords as part of our system, but
for those on the left, quite a few of whom happen to be relatively poor and live in rented
apartments, this aspect of the system provides a constant threat to their ability to live
their lives. Whether or not you care, you should surely
be able to sympathize with their frustration at this. Do I think they should be calling for people’s
deaths on twitter? In my opinion, probably not. But I honestly I find it hard to blame them
for it, and I recognize that their aim is not to kill people who are fundamentally awful
people, but to eliminate a class of people who have made the choice to worsen people’s
lives. Does that make saying “kill all landlords”
good? For those of you who haven’t been paying
attention, I don’t think so, personally. Do I think it’s an understandable frustration
aimed at a group of people who made and continue to make choices that make people’s lives
harder? Yes. In the same way that people threaten to kill
people who annoy them at work, or who always leave messes in the kitchen, or who keep forgetting
to do the laundry. It’s an expression of frustration, and as
long as they don’t start actually doing it, then I don’t see a need to go out of
my way to condemn it in the same fashion I condemn people who have an ideological opposition
to people of other races. A related take I’ve seen thrown around a
little is the idea of “crypto-tankies”, people who attempt to pass themselves off
as reasonable, moderate people, but who secretly hold much more extreme, authoritarian views,
and defend the ideological purges of countries like the USSR. Now, that is almost definitely a thing. I haven’t personally met a person like that
or seen one, but that is a wholly unsurprising notion to me. However, the take I’m alluding to actually
has more to do with rhetoric and imagery borrowed from the Soviet Union than actual positions
espoused by these supposed “crypto-tankies”. The argument basically goes that, similar
to alt-right and alt-lite figures, who have extremist, far-right views that they couch
in more moderate rhetoric and signal to their supporters with dogwhistles, there are people
who lean further to the left who utilize dogwhistles to signal their support for authoritarianism
and to veil their apologia for Stalin. The dogwhistles that are being pointed to
as evidence that one is a “crypto-tankie” is use of Soviet imagery and rhetoric, which is why I keep using the USSR as my example country. Now, if the internet was politically literate,
I could just say that anarchists utilize these things as well, and that demonstrates that
this is clearly a move to reclaim imagery associated with leftist views that was demonized
during the red scare, but half of the people watching this probably don’t exactly know
what an anarchist is or what they believe, so we’ll walk through it a little slower. The USSR did some bad shit, like killed people,
which is the only thing I should really have to list to demonstrate that. The USSR was also not communist in the way
that people might think. Communism is usually used, on the left, to
refer to a stateless, classless, moneyless society that’s based on the idea of egalitarian
social organization and the old standby, “from each according to their ability, to each according
to their need,” to paraphrase. Now, calling the USSR communist runs into
a problem there already, because anyone can see that the USSR had a state. There’s a lot of background to lay out to
fully explain this, but to reduce it to its most basic form, the USSR was an attempt to
form a communist country that would be able to stave off outside influence and pressure,
but ultimately did a pretty bad job of that for a lot of reasons. Now, if you’re thinking I’m going off
into unrelated territory again to distract from the argument, please, have some patience,
we’ll get there. I wrote a whole script ahead of time, it’s
all planned out, just trust me. So the USSR wasn’t exactly communist, even
though it tried to be, but if you’re not aware of that, it’s likely at least in large
part thanks to the red scare. The red scare was a propaganda campaign that
sought to demonize communism and socialism in the United States, and other countries
too, but I don’t know much about the history outside of the U.S. You might’ve heard the name McCarthy before,
as in McCarthyism. Joseph McCarthy was a US congressman who was
on the front lines of this propaganda effort, creating lists of supposed communist sympathizers
operating not just among the public, but within several government agencies like the FBI and
the CIA. There’s a whole dimension of this related
to gay people and racial minorities that I don’t have time to talk about here, but
basically these lists were an attempt to supress leftist political activism in the US and also
served as a proxy for targeting minorities without the bad PR of looking racist or homophobic. The red scare, as a propaganda campaign, didn’t
seek to educate Americans about the ideological pitfalls of leftist ideology, but instead,
as the name suggests, scare people. Ideological nuances and distinctions were
actually disadvantageous to creating an environment that was toxic for leftist ideology, so everything
got kinda mixed and mashed into an amorphous blob of socialism/communism, where the only
things Americans knew about communists were that they hated freedom and they killed millions
of people. So what the hell does any of that have to
do with use of imagery and terminology associated with the USSR? Well, having historical context in mind is
always good regardless, but also, this excessive demonization of leftist ideology in America made use of these symbols attractive to counter-cultural movements. As an alternate example of this phenomenon,
think about the use of satanic imagery among people who are critical of religious institutions. Satan is the unambiguously evil antagonist
of God in the Bible, but the point of using imagery associated with him isn’t to condone
the suffering he is purported to have caused, or the evil he supposedly represents. The point is to demonstrate the break from
cultural hegemony, to take up the symbol of the outsider and demand to be let in. This is what people are doing with terms like
“comrade” and use of the Soviet flag. They’re demonstrating that they want to
depart from the current hegemony that liberalism has over our political environment. If you think that using those particular symbols
in that way is bad or disrespectful or something, then that’s a different argument than we
were discussing. The argument we started with was “people
who utilize Soviet imagery and terminology are crypto-tankies, similar to how those on
the far-right using Nazi imagery are crypto-fascists”. And, as I explained earlier, Soviet imagery
is not used with the same intent or ideology behind it as Nazi imagery, either historically
or now. There’s a lot of general misunderstanding
of leftist ideology online, but a particularly frustrating aspect of that misunderstanding
is that people often have no distinction between different leftist ideological positions. They tend to all be very similar and rooted
in similar values and analysis, but vary somewhat in priorities and approach. Take, for example, Marxist-Leninists. They tend to hold the position that a revolutionary
vanguard needs to seize control of the state apparatus in order to achieve a communist
society. The reasons for this are primarily as a response
to outside pressure. More specifically, because they believe that
a country moving toward communism is vulnerable to imperialist wars that would kill large
portions of the population and prevent the country from reaching a point where they are
stateless and classless. Contrast this with anarchism, an ideology
predicated on skepticism toward hierarchical institutions and abolition of unjust hierarchies. Anarchism as a method of analysis is used
in tandem with various other methods of analysis, but as its own political ideology, it seeks
to abolish all coercive power structures possible. For them, the state is a big nono, as it maintains
a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and is designed to serve the interests of
a particular class. For them, this is the definition of a state,
so therefore trying to make a state wouldn’t make any sense, it’s entirely contrary to
the foundation of their ideology. They are okay with government, which they
differentiate from a state, because governments are essentially just decision-making bodies,
and anarchists seek to create governments with as little coercive power as possible. These two ideologies are both leftist ideologies,
and both seek to achieve a classless, stateless society, i.e. communism, but their approach
is pretty different. If you’re arguing online, though, someone
on twitter could confuse these two ideologies for one another, since adherents of these
ideologies would likely describe themselves, in brief, as communists. If you tried to say an anarchist was supporting
the USSR, anyone who knows what anarchism is would be able to easily recognize the absurdity
of that statement. The last twitter take I’ll share here is
somewhat related to this. There’s been an apparently ongoing twitter
argument about whether or not capitalism as a system is the cause of racism. One take I see from some people who lean more
liberal is that leftists blame capitalism for racism. Again, a little background is necessary here
to understand my qualms with this. On the left, there is a vocal subset of very
dumb dumdums who make silly arguments saying that class is the only thing leftists should
be concerned with. Class is the struggle that unites us all,
regardless of race, sex, gender, ability, etc. so our focus should be on the abolition
of class over all other issues. These people are referred to as class reductionists. They aren’t too popular, because telling
people “Hey, you know those struggles you face?
Yeah, can you ignore those for a sec and focus on my problems, thanks” is, shockingly, a message that does not resonate with people
who suffer from systemic racism, or transphobia, or ableism. Surprisingly enough, telling people to ignore
issues that prevent them from living their lives freely is a bad strategy. There’s an idea called intersectionality,
which is basically the opposite of class reductionism. It attempts to analyze the struggles people
face and the ways different systems of oppression interact with one another. For instance, if a poor, gay black man is
shot by a white police officer for shoplifting, there is a race element involved, but also
a class element, and an element of homophobia. Which one is to blame? Intersectionality attempts not to reduce it
down to picking one explanation, and instead attempts to figure out how these various factors
contribute to that particular situation. Most leftists I pay attention to tend to subscribe,
at least to some degree, to intersectionality as a method of analysis. So, that background was necessary to establish
that the general case I see made by leftists is that capitalism doesn’t necessarily cause
racism, but that it exacerbates racism. So as an easy example, slavery makes sense
to go to. Slavery was a popular thing because it allowed
people to get free coerced labor. They didn’t have to pay people to do work,
and slave-owners had no requirements for the conditions their slaves had to be kept in. From the perspective of a business owner,
this is a golden opportunity. If people were presented with this kind of
prospect today, I don’t doubt that there would at least be a lot of discussion of it. This would allow a business to maximize its
profits, so it makes sense as a business decision. Obviously slavery wasn’t purely a capitalist
thing, but the point is that within that framework, slavery is far from illogical as a source
for labor. There is a PR aspect to this though, obviously. Today, slavery probably wouldn’t become
a thing in the United States again, because that idea is pretty unpopular here. But if racist ideology that specifically dehumanized
and objectified racial minorities became a more permissible and pervasive thing, then
the idea of using this large labor resource we just “found” on this “new” continent
called Africa makes more sense to the average person. And obviously, if you own a business and have
no conscience, then you would be incentivized to promote this racist garbage, because then
you can buy slaves and use the free labor to make more money without worrying about
your public image. Again, to be completely clear, this kind of
incentive is not the only reason that racism is a thing. This example is attempting to illustrate that
the profit motive can incentivize people to believe and promote racist garbage. Now, I don’t blame anybody for getting confused
here. People on the left in general have become
especially sensitive to certain things thanks to dogwhistling and denialism from people
on the right. People of color on the left have had to deal
with class reductionist bullshit way too often and can’t help but be wary of it. I also think that people haven’t been doing
the greatest job of presenting their case in this matter to those skeptical people. My concern is more that we’re sort of having
a debate where none actually exists. If there’s debate to be had about finer
points, it’s not really being had when people get stuck on that first question, which it
seems like most people agree on. Does capitalism cause racism? No. Does that mean the conversation ends there? Also no. It feels to me like this sort of cynicism
some of us have developed might be permeating our perception of those who are aligned with
us. For marginalized folks, that isn’t something
I can really criticize, because leftists are still pretty bad, in some ways, at discussing
issues faced by marginalized people. I can’t remember the last time I heard a
popular leftist figure discuss issues related to trans men, for instance. I think the responsibility lies with leftists,
especially those with platforms and privilege, to be more open to the concerns brought to
us by marginalized members of our communities. Obviously that doesn’t solve the problem,
because we need to design incentive structures and systems that encourage that, or, more preferably,
ones that amplify those marginalized voices. But I’m an idiot, I don’t know how the
hell to do that. If there’s one common thread between each
of these twitter discourses, it’s miscommunication. A large part of the problem with twitter,
as a platform, is that it encourages a certain performative approach to discussion that usually
ends up leading to muddled discussions and miscommunicated points. Character limits certainly don’t help, but
the structure of the site encourages users to write things in catchy or inflammatory
ways in order to get likes and retweets. Talking points do better than complex arguments. I find it difficult to be overly critical
of people who give in to a system that is attempting to have them engage in a certain
way, so instead of calling people dumb or saying they should try better, I’d encourage
people, in the short-term, to move to a platform that better accommodates the discussion they’re
attempting to have. If you’re trying to dunk on someone, twitter’s
not a bad place to do that. If you’re trying to explain a nuanced position
on the intersections of capitalist incentive structures and racist ideology, maybe talk in dm’s or on discord,
or on the phone, I don’t know. Wherever works best for the conversation. Preferably we’d redesign twitter, but that’s
a little bit outside the scope of what we’re capable of doing right now. Hey, this is the outro to this video, so if
you don’t care about outros, you can close the browser tab now. I wanted to say thank you to all the wonderful
people who’ve subscribed to my channel, gee golly that’s neat. I’m working on another video that’s somewhat
related to this one, just have some finishing touches to add, but I wanted to give myself
an incentive to finish it ASAP rather than put it off for a few more months, and releasing
a new video is my way of doing that. I’m doing livestreams sometimes, so if you
wanna hang out and talk for a bit about random stuff, you can follow me on twitter, @Icon_Comics,
to see when I’m streaming. I haven’t picked a solid time block yet
because my schedule is going to be radically different in just a few weeks, and I don’t want
to get into a routine only to break it a week later. It’s weird, but it makes sense to me, so
that’s what I’m doing and you can’t do anything about it. I also have a CuriousCat where you can direct
any questions you might have for me, I’m always happy to help clarify anything that
you need some help understanding. Anyway, thank you all for watching, and I
hope you have a good day.

6 thoughts on “Rhetoric and Ideology: A Twitter Response

  1. Very good and concise distinction between leftist/right-wing ideology. I appreciate your measured explanation/defense of "kill all landlords" which, I myself have expressed the sentiment. I don't rly see myself as a pacifist in a pure sense, but anywhere that a systemic change can be achieved through pacifism is appealing. Like yeah don't kill all landlords if they've already been successfully abolished.

    And your discussion of intersectionality, again, is very concise and pretty easy to understand :3

    If I were to place this vid somewhere based on who may be most receptive to this vid it's def ppl who have at least a foundational grasp on leftist ideology, but I don't think it's necessarily exclusionary when it comes to ppl outside of that demographic.

    Overall very good video! You do the words good. It gives me like radical 2017 lefttube vibes in terms of topic and tone.

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