Thursday 12 August 2010

I am NOT a "Trotterite"!

The Joys of Caricature: I am not now - nor have I ever been - a "Trotterite". Drawing by Murray Webb.

IT’S ALWAYS PUZZLED ME that a man of "Idiot Savant’s" dogmatic certitude should be such a wuss.

With the Comments function of his No Right Turn blog safely switched off, Mr Savant hurls down rhetorical thunderbolts upon the heads of his enemies without the slightest fear of contradiction.

Those of us with a little more respect for the rules of open debate leave our Comments function switched on and are thus required to defend our postings mano a mano.

Clearly, being held accountable for his own words is not something Mr Savant relishes – and that’s a pity, because it forces the people he attacks to come back at him directly (and very publicly) on their own blogs.

Right, now that I've got that off my chest, the first thing I’m going to say about this recent, highly tendentious posting by Mr Savant is that, in the fine tradition of Karl Marx disclaiming the title Marxist: "I am NOT a Trotterite!"

By "Trotterite" Mr Savant appears to mean any person who opposes "social engineering" – which he defines as "any moves to ensure equality for anyone who isn’t a white male".

This is, of course, very far from the more usual definition of social engineering as: "The practical application of sociological principles to particular social problems." Or, less benignly: "The manipulation of the social position and function of individuals in order to manage change in a society." (The Free Online Dictionary).

The other defining characteristic of the Trotterite, according to Mr Savant, is that he or she is passionately of the view that the NZ Labour Party should "throw women, Maori, children and gays under a bus in a quest for the votes of its traditional base" which he supposes to be "racist, sexist and bigoted" working-class males.

Obviously, we would be very foolish to take Mr Savant’s definition literally. No one I know (or have ever known) in the Labour Party has ever advocated the murder of women, Maori, children or gays. And I suspect any Labour politician who bowled up to a canteen-full of working-class males and told them how glad he was to meet so many racist, sexist, bigots, would very soon be departing in an ambulance!

So, what is it about the ideas of these so-called Trotterites that Mr Savant really finds so objectionable? Essentially, it is their refusal to regard identity politics as an unequivocally progressive and unproblematic phenomenon.

For Mr Savant the goals of identity politics are indistinguishable from those of classical liberalism.

In his own words: "[W]hen you get down to it, the core idea running through the heart of the left … is a demand for equality for all. That equality has never just been economic, but also political and social … to be who we are, not what some stuck-up ‘lord’ wants us to be … Either you stand for the equality of all, or you’re supporting lords and peasants again. There is no middle ground on fundamental rights."

The first and most obvious riposte I would offer to this curiously naïve statement is that Mr Savant fundamentally misunderstands what the Left is all about.

For the Left, the quest for equality is not an end in itself but the means to achieving its ultimate objective – a just distribution of social and economic power.

Since Mr Savant mentions the Peasants Revolt of 1381 in his posting, let's take a look at its celebrated slogan: "When Adam delved and Eve span – who was then the gentleman?" In this revolutionary challenge to the social relations of the English countryside the rebel priest, John Ball, is asking (in the language of the Bible): How did we get from a world in which men and women worked for themselves, to a world in which they work for a master?

Why is the question revolutionary? Because it implicitly calls for the creation of a new social order in England. Not a social order in which the serf is equal to the lord, but an order in which there are no lords – or peasants.

This is what Mr Savant doesn’t "get" about the Left. That it is not simply about "the equality of all", but about transforming society to the point where power and wealth are so justly distributed that the word "equality" merely describes the way human-beings interact with one another.

What Mr Savant is doing is what the Marxists (whom he also profoundly misunderstands) call "fetishising" equality. It’s why he reacts so vituperatively when the claims of his beloved identity politicians are challenged.

He simply cannot see that it matters not one whit whether the person sacking you is male, female, Maori or gay: what matters is that they are wielding power over you – power which the social and economic system has vested in them in spite of not because of their gender, ethnicity or sexuality.

Mr Savant wrongly believes "identity" to be an entirely unproblematic concept and that anyone who attempts to clarify its relationships with the distribution of social and economic power is some sort of feudal throwback.

What he’s forgetting, of course, is that the over-riding importance assigned to one’s identity - whether you were a "lord" or a "peasant" - pretty much defined the medieval mindset.

Identity and Equality – far from being indistinguishable – are antithetical.

What the Left seeks is justice.


Doughnut said...

"With the "Comments" function of his No Right Turn blog safely switched off, Mr Savant hurls down rhetorical thunderbolts upon the heads of his enemies without the slightest fear of contradiction."

It's a pity he's done that, not just in the interests of open debate, but because I think that opening the post for comments, would provide worthwhile context through the ensuing discussion.

As with many blogs and bloggers, unilateral assertions seem meaningless without the context of the forum in which they are made (e.g. feedback from the NZ blogoshere)- they allow individuals to formulate half-baked, often off-the-mark (for the perspective they appear to be trying to convey), and occasionally extremist notions. But then I suppose an unfortunate adverse effect of the breadth and openness of the internet, is the potential for (and habit of) people to insulate themselves and to cultivate entrenchment of their existing worldviews.

Olwyn said...

A fine reply Chris. I do not think that liberalism is capable of being the basis for a status quo, but is capable of contributing, positively or negatively to an existing one.

Liberals sometimes seem to ready to overlook its negative effects, especially when it has hitched its wagon to neo-con economics. Under these circumstances it can actually take away traditional barriers to exploitation: if religion doesn't matter then Sunday is a normal work day, unworthy of overtime. If women have a right to work, then they have an obligation to,so solo mums are as bullied as in the fifties, but with different justifications. And the anti-smacking bill, away from the leafy suburbs, presents yet one more thing for a powerless person to be falsely accused of.

Anonymous said...

I tend it agree with you on this Chris, and like your comments Olwyn.

You make a particularly good point here, Chris:
"He simply cannot see that it matters not one whit whether the person sacking you is male, female, Maori or gay: what matters is that they are wielding power over you..."

That is why I find Hone Harawira's comments about being uncomfortable if his daughter brought home a Pakeha so offensive, because he is essentially abusing a position of privilege he now holds as a parliamentarian. He's not simply a boy from Northland anymore - he's well-paid and influential, and should behave more like a leader.

You make a good point when you say this Olwyn,
"If women have a right to work, then they have an obligation to,so solo mums are as bullied as in the fifties, but with different justifications."

WINZ and the public at large don't judge sole parents for their relationship choices, they judge them for not being economically independent - so instead of being the extension and property of men they have become the extension and property of the economy.

Whaleoil said...

Golf clap, Mr Trotter, Golf clap, one of your best ever pieces.

Well done

mike said...

Like many socialists, Savant doesnt like criticism, but his lack of desire to take comments doesnt mean he is totally wrong.
There is no doubt that over the last 10 or so years, the labour party (and various hangers on) have become whats known as the 'Rainbow' club. ie: it gives equality to all the various lifestyle groups. Trouble is, these groups are not actually equal groups by number, nor are they regarded seriously by the community at large. Just to show how wrong this movement has been, the departure of the maori party from this cabal gives a good indication. Despite all the gestures they made to maori, their underlying feelings about the group really didnt change - they still thought they were just a pain in the arse.
You see, despite all the pandering to all the various groups, the fact is that in the long run this doesnt change the public perceptions. Most males think (deep down) that homosexuals are at best strange (and Carters recent behaviour seems to confirm that), and that lesbians are simply spoil sports. Most pakeha think (deep down) that maori simply dont want to be successful - especially those that constantly complain that the cause of their woes is colonialism. Pacific Islanders also fall into to this group, while asians are simply proof positive that if you want to succeed, then its really quite easy.
I cant recall at any time in history that proactive social engineering has ever worked. Social changes only ever happen peacfully when society agrees with the change. The only other ways are those practiced by the like of the Soviets or by some groups in the Balkans.

Tiger Mountain said...

Idiot does a lot of research and battles away at the OIA and other causes that many don’t have the time or patience for. I recall at the time comments were switched off I/S seemed somewhat exhausted by the kiwiblog like flow of idiocy he had to deal with.

But... it is still more than rich to continue to berate others in the way he does. Come on I/S, turn comments on again for a trial period, just maintain a merciless approach to bad behaviour.

KjT said...

Well it is I/S right to turn off comments, however regrettable we may think it is. It is his blog. Nothing to stop anyone debunking him elsewhere.

Victor said...

An excellent piece, Chris.

The denial of equality typically involves the denial of justice, personal dignity and our common humanity.

The only caveat I would make is that I have no interest in supporting the "equality of misery".

jh said...

By switching of his comments it sounds like Mr Savant has raised the drawbridge on his bicultural castle, 'less a filthy beast from Kiwi blog make statement such as "there's no bloody full blooded Maori left anyway!".. To which he would tiredly raise "straw man" ..."you can't cast that assertion over an entire population and culture", before turning his erudite head back to his "colonised people".

Sanctuary said...

Personally, if "Trotterist" means actually having to defend your position rather than simply trying to shut you up with a series of ad holmium attacks then I would say it was a thing to wear proudly!
I get very frustrated by the Manichean approach the likes of I/S and some of the Public Address liberals seem to immediately default to. You can say that you agree with them but suggest that maybe, just maybe, now it isn't a good time to focus excessively on the sort of nanny state issues that the public currently hate and you are subjected to a procession of sarcastic put downs and an absolute refusal to engage in a sensible debate. The whole thing immediately breaks down into trading personal abuse, which seems to be the ground identity aficionados seem most comfortable on. This intellectual inflexibility puzzles me; these people are after all what pass as the bourgeois intelligentsia in this country.
Surely they couldn't have gone through their entire university careers and lives thus far without having to leave the comfort zone of their in-group received wisdom? Then one pauses and considers the fate of Mr. Buchanan at Auckland University and one wonders... The feminists in particular seem to think an aggressive assertion of feminist orthodoxy should be adequate to shut down of contrary worldviews they don’t like, and if it doesn't often they simply have a meltdown - Julie Farley's disgraceful refusal to even read your post on abortion points to poverty of imagination that is simply appalling. Feminism as a movement is in serious trouble, total irrelevance looms for our feminists if they don’t get their intellectual house in order – and don’t get me wrong, with so much to be done I would regard that as a disaster for progressive thinking.
Russell Brown points to the CUB (Civil Union bill) as evidence that identity politics don't necessarily affect the wider appeal of the left across the broad church that is left in this country, and he is right - but only to a point. The difference between matters such as homosexual law reform and it's follow on the CUB is that the liberal-left alliance took the time to build a proper constituency for change, to convince if not all the working people then enough of them in alliance with bourgeois opinion to bring about change. To my mind the problem now - and the key reason Section 59 became such a cypher for working class resentment at the liberal bourgeois identity politics of Labour - is the angry, identity driven Generation x'ers who worked hard to rid us of the dead hand of Shipleyism have lost much of the stomach and energy for the sort of commitment and fight needed to create a new momentum for change. Instead under Clark we came to rely on the creation of an elite opinion plurality and an arrogant dualistic dismissal of opposition to make change. To my mind is what sub-50K PA working class Joe Six pack’s resented the most - being talked down to and scolded by what they perceived to be a bunch of out-of-touch middle class hypocrites in good jobs and leafy suburbs.

Tiger Mountain said...

@KjT: technically correct, but still doesn’t feel right.
@jh: 'less a filthy beast from Kiwi blog make a statement’ not totally sure where your’re coming from jh but a touching depiction nonetheless, LOL.

Anonymous said...

As a red-blooded gay socialist believer in distributive justice of many years standing, quite frankly,I think I/S has a far better grasp of the strategic, polycentric and counter-hegemonic elements of contemporary pluralist centre-left discourse than you have ever shown, Chris. Sorry. You prefer to label anything outside your blind monofocal worldview as 'identity politics' rather than critically engage with its history and underlying philosophy.

Craig Young

Chris Trotter said...

Well, Craig, that's quite a mouthful of polysyllabic political terms!

I'm not sure, however, you are all that well-equipped to use them effectively.

If you were familiar with the concept of pluralism (let alone counter-hegemony) you would not dismiss more than three decades-worth of "critical engagement" with the "polycentric" Left so glibly.

When you have edited a union newspaper, helped to found a left-wing party, launched a left-wing magazine, run the campaign which saw the first left-wing woman (who also just happened to be the first Green and the first Sikh) elected Mayor of Dunedin, maintained a left-wing column in the mainstream press for 18 years, and authored a successful left-wing history of New Zealand - then you will have earned the right to upbraid me for my insufficient grasp of left-wing politics.

Until then, Craig, I hope you'll forgive me if I take your own (and Idiot Savant's) polysyllabic "critiques" with a very large grain of salt.

Chris Trotter said...

Sorry, Craig, that sort of bile has no place on Bowalley Road. When you're ready to conduct yourself like a decent human-being - by all means, pay us another visit.