Friday, August 27, 2021


From: Larry

A great read...

There are a lot of words like this on the Left, seemingly radical words that, on further examination, stand for nothing in particular. Consider the proliferating calls to "decolonize" things as varied as universities, museums, the wellness industry, and your bookshelf. Or maybe, if you've spent time on certain parts of Twitter, you've seen calls for "reeducation" or been threatened with it yourself. There are many, many things you can be reeducated out of: white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, fatphobia. The big one is being a "settler," and reeducating settlers is a crucial step toward decolonization.

"Settler" is a disparaging term for white Americans (even later white immigrants are considered settlers, since they eventually assimilated into settler society). Its popularity owes a lot to Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, a 1983 polemic by the American Maoist J. Sakai. If you "read Settlers," you'll learn that all white people, regardless of their class position, are oppressors and enemies of the "true" proletariat, i.e., black people, indigenous people, and other people of color. In other words, according to this view, the majority of Americans are illegitimate occupiers whose interests, opinions, and preferences can be safely dismissed with a wave of the hand (pending their reeducation).

It's difficult to wrap your head around what any of this might mean in practice. In an influential essay, the academics Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang insist that "decolonization is not a metaphor." It is not a grandiose way of talking about reading more authors of color, for instance. It is a literal demand for the decolonization of the United States, which presumably entails the abolition of all its existing political, cultural, and economic structures.

If decolonization really isn't a metaphor, then you might ask how, exactly, a real-world settler could be talked out of owning a house. But such questions just go to show you're still thinking like a settler. Tuck and Yang finish their essay by advocating for what they call an "ethic of incommensurability," which "stands in contrast to aims of reconciliation." "Reconciliation," they write, "is about rescuing settler normalcy, about rescuing a settler future. Reconciliation is concerned with questions of what will decolonization look like? What will happen after abolition? What will be the consequences of decolonization for the settler? Incommensurability acknowledges that these questions need not, and perhaps cannot, be answered in order for decolonization to exist as a framework."

There is something I deeply admire in this paragraph, something rather wonderful about how smoothly it twists itself out of the way of any incoming questions. The most delightful part is the innocent little "perhaps" hiding in front of "cannot" in the last sentence. As rationalizations go, it's surely one of the more elegant examples you could find. Decolonization and its cousin reeducation are supposed to be opaque, and this is supposed to cause discomfort.

Of course, this vision's combination of vague menace with a total lack of any specifics makes it singularly unappetizing to the average person. But one shouldn't assume that it's intended as a real vision of the future or, indeed, that the Left has any real interest in such a project. Like all dystopian fiction, it is not so much a warning about the future as it is a description of the present, when the vast majority of Americans are already quite "uncomfortable" and subject to constant "reeducation" by their self-styled betters in politics and media.

Words such as "reeducation" and "decolonization," that is, are not descriptions of things that are going to happen but of things happening right now. They drape in romantic and revolutionary garb the dreary reality of human resource struggle sessions, moralizing lectures, and bureaucratic behavioral nudges. "Reeducation" is particularly versatile, as it conjures images of Gulags but can also describe something as innocent as a simple conversation. One can deploy the former meaning as a chest-thumping snarl — "Even some leftists are going to find themselves up against the wall when the reeducation comes" — and then, when the objects of your threats are uncooperative, pretend to be wounded that they don't even want to have a discussion.

This is the real "ethic of incommensurability." Discomfort is at once the mark of guilt and the desired outcome of every behavioral intervention. Our rhetoric and actions are intended to make you uncomfortable, and the fact that they actually make you uncomfortable is proof that you are a deserving target of our aggression. Translated into art, it's like a rather good M.C. Escher drawing. But in the interpersonal realm, it's the hallmark of an abusive relationship.

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