Progressive Pathologies

I’ve ranted several times about radical pathologies: schismaticism, totalitarian thought, subordination of sexual pleasure to ideology, etc. But it’s only lately occurred to me that one of the attributes of schismaticism I previously considered to be strictly radical is actually a feature of progressivism.

For a refresher, there are about four political biases with respect to means (as opposed to ends or cultural biases): progressivism, reformism, conservatism, and radicalism/reaction. Radical pathologies tend to be shared misfeatures of left-wing and right-wing radicals. The main difference between progressive change and reformist change is that progressive change tends to focus more on issues of social equality, and more importantly that it’s based on single-issue movements like feminism, antiracism, etc., as opposed to something like Kos’s netroots.

In fact, it’s that feature of progressivism that is responsible to a specific form of schismaticism – inter-movement split. While intra-movement quibbles tend to be the domain of radicals, mainstream progressives have no trouble creating clashes between different minority groups, or women and minorities, or minorities and the poor.

Feministing is a firmly progressive blog. Its post about how racism is taken more seriously than sexism isn’t some offshoot of fringe politics. Echidne has repeatedly suggested sexism is worse than racism. Progressivism lacks the totalizing tendency of radicalism – I’ve yet to see Echidne call the patriarchy the root oppression – but it brims with the “My issues are more important than your issues” problem.

Mainly it’s a problem of specialization. An antiracist activist will usually be very familiar with how racism works, at least against the group he fights for. He’s likelier to make a false positive than to miss a racist act he sees. He rarely has a similar level of familiarity with sexism, so when he spots a media article that portrays feminism as more serious than antiracism, he’ll be angry; an article that portrays antiracism as more serious he’ll either let pass or not even view as problematic.

In mainstream politics, there’s usually some coordination involved. A political party, especially a left-wing one, will have a women’s representative, a representative from each major union or group of unions, a representative from each major ethnic minority, etc. Party leaders can then design policy based on input from all oppressed groups. But movement progressivism eschews this organziation, and probably will only be weakened if it adopts it.

Unfortunately, the commonly touted political solution to that infighting just won’t work. There’s rarely such a thing as a single progressive movement; it’s only feasible when one injustice clearly trumps all the others – legalized oppression, a major war, civil liberties violations, extreme poverty.

Progressive politics is never a single movement, but a collection of several single-issue groups. To try to change the system the way Kos does is futile, since much of the popular strength of progressivism comes from its appealing to specific groups of people based on just one issue. It’s easier for the left to open a gender and race gap in politics when feminist women and minorities see not a general left-wing party but a party endorsed by the organizations that fight for their equal rights.

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