The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 5, part 2: The Years of Magical Thinking, part 3.

Of Safety Pins  and Solidarity, Carrot and Kings

It is incredibly hard to get people to change their thinking, the only thing that generally does it is exposure and trauma, but the latter often backfires completely and retrenches thought. So the in the wake of Trump’s election, everyone wants to show solidarity, to protect the weak, or reaction.  Well, everyone who thinks that is actually happening–or who doesn’t regularly visit Stormfront.

So there is the Safety Pin campaign.  Debating it has become all the rage these days on social media, like debating the strategic important of riots but with much less consequences or compelling riot porn footage.  The crux of the debate is as follows: Safety pins are small acts of solidarity that can make people feel like they have allies versus safety pins are more about self-congratulations and white people still benefit from white privilege, so its silly.

That is an incredibly bastardized form of the debate, but lets go a bit deeper. Landess Kearns wrote a piece for Huffington Post on the increased use of safety pins. Here is the crux of the argument:

By fastening a safety pin to their clothing, people are declaring themselves allies to groups who have been maligned by Trump, to show that they stand in solidarity with anyone who might be afraid.

And as we’ve been dismayed to find out in the days following Trump’s election, it appears that there is reason to fear. People across the country have shared stories on social media of violence and hate speech directed at them in the wake of Trump’s victory. Racist graffiti was spotted around the country and minorities reported experiencing harassment the day after Trump was elected.

These frightening instances illustrate why the #safetypin idea ― which was inspired by a movement following Brexit in the United Kingdom ― is so timely. It’s a tiny gesture, but it speaks volumes, assuring people they are not alone.

I have heard, again anecdotally, a few black people in red states see waitresses with it and felt safer, or at least validate them.  That said, the issue is that it doesn’t speak volumes for a variety of reasons: it is a low cost gesture, it is easily coopted (as we shall see), and it has to be backed with genuine concern.

These were  the primary reason why I saw it called embarrassing though. So this brings me to another article, one that I really want to parse for second. Christopher Keelty wrote an opposing open letter to white people saying its embarrassing. Open letters to entire racial demographics are, generally, a bad idea, but regardless.  What is Keelty’s problem:

Let me explain something, white people: We just fucked up. Bad. We elected a racist demagogue who has promised to do serious harm to almost every person who isn’t a straight white male, and whose rhetoric has already stirred up hate crimes nationwide. White people were 70% of the voters in the 2016 election, and we’re the only demographic Trump won. It doesn’t matter why. What matters is there’s a white nationalist moving into the Oval Office, and white people — only white people — put him there.

So there is strange problem with collective guilt here.  Yes, as Kealty points out later, Trump voters will be coopting the gesture or even doing it sincerely.  The problem is 70% of the voters in 2016 weren’t even 47% of the country.  Trump won from abstainers more than anything else. 47% of the electorate didn’t vote. 1/3 of Hispanics voted for Trump as well.

These facts can’t be said enough and yet collect blame is assigned. Kealty then goes on to say,

Remember the white guys in the 1770s who wrote all about freedom and equality and inalienable rights? Remember how they owned and sold slaves? Yeah, if that’sthe spirit you want to evoke, go ahead and wear your safety pin. I’m sure lots of white people will smile when they see it. They might even congratulate you. But immigrants and people of color will recognize it as a symbol of your privilege.

That was actually divided too. Something can be done from privilege and still be a sincere gesture of solidarity. So from marginally lame argument to particularly illogical response.  Showing someone you are an “ally”–a term I have come to particularly dislike in the way it used in left liberal circles–is always from a place of privilege.   You have the relative social safety to show Solidarity.

However, both the authors are white, well-educated, writers for Huffington post, and by Kealty logic, he has self-implicated by speaking for people of color in the first place. Furthermore, Kealty is absolving all sorts of people of responsibility. If the logic goes that even if one is not a racist, but voting for Trump enabled racists so Impact < Intent.  This same logic goes to liberal too:  they empowered Democrats who helped make everyone poorer except for the upper middle class and above since the 1990s, so they enabled the policies that would make Trump appealing.  Impact < Intent, therefore everyone is implicated.

But if everyone is implicated, then no one really is.    The same when blaming all white people for the appeal of nationalists.  Lastly, Kealty’s answer is the following:

I recommend carrying a big sign. You can make your own, it’s easy. On the sign you should write, in big bold letters, “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

And hey, if you want you can use your safety pin to fix it to your shirt.

But if Kealty is pointing out that such virtue signaling is coming from a place of privilege, then this STILL does undo what his one criticism applies.

In the 32 flavors of symbolic political magical thinking, this the battle between Armenianism and Calvinism.
Kealty, however, did get to a practical point. Symbolic politics, even #BLM, is easily coopted.  There are already reports of white nationalists using the safety pin as well. Meme war is accelerated and this makes symbolic protest and symbolic gestures almost obsolete immediately. In fact, there are memes showing white nationalists using safety pins as a stance against “globalism and loxism.”  Also, sadly for Kealty, when I search his article on Google, the fifth link was a discussion board on the article on Stormfront.
So the debate itself is already irrelevant. Meme wars are agitprop blitzkrieg.

2 thoughts on “The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 5, part 2: The Years of Magical Thinking, part 3.

  1. Pingback: The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 5, part 2: The Years of Magical Thinking, part 3. – sageinsightblog

  2. Just as a point of fact: I am not an editor for Huffington Post. I was invited, after publishing this essay on my own blog, to be a “Contributor,” which means I can upload work there and HuffPo editors *might* flag it to get extra promotion on the site. There’s no compensation, contract of any kind, or authority. In general I would oppose giving my work to HuffPo for free like this on moral grounds… but since the popularity of that particular essay crashed my personal site anyway, I made an exception.

    I appreciate the critical response–I think you make some valid points that stand on their own. I just wanted to clarify my non-role with HuffPo.

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