Education, Florida, Politics, Universities

Right-wing Manicheanism

Thursday, 10th June 2021

The Florida state governor, our own mini-Trump, has another “red-meat for the base” bit of legislation. No surprise here at all. These people feed on the fear and anger and hate of those they oppose. And schools and universities are always a great target.

So yeah, just another day in white supremacy. They know full well that banning critical race theory will only stoke the conflict, draw the battle lines all the more starkly, take another step towards justifying any action coming out of the hate they’ve nurtured and replicated in others.

We can decry and reject this really stupid state law, and it is just ignorant and racist and all the rest of it. But what next? The war of all against all? I know that’s what some people want. But that’s not what I want. But what do we do in the face of all these provocations, all this division, all of it being driven by the contemporary right wing in the US and elsewhere? I guess, at the most basic level, we don’t give in to the hate. That’s easier said than done.

There are holes in this new law, as far as I’m concerned. I teach critical theory. I don’t teach hate, or anti-Americanism. I don’t have to. All I have to do is to teach people to read culture, to see what’s going on, not in the way that conspiracy theorists think they are connecting the dots and seeing through the illusions of culture in their Gnostic view of the world.

No, it’s simpler than that, and doesn’t require a conversion experience the way that quasi-evangelical politics does. It just requires not thinking that what you think you know right now is all you need to know, and all that can be known. It just requires you to be a human, not a god (either in your own right, or by thinking you have a direct line to the divine, which amounts to the same thing). So, we spend most of our time in the course figuring out how things are meaningful – not what they mean, but how they mean. And by the time we get to race and gender and all the rest, it isn’t a discussion of how everything someone believes is bad, but how there’s room in the world for people who aren’t like you. No hate necessary, or desired.

So I’ll continue doing this. I’m quite sure I’ve had people in the class spoiling for a fight, just hoping for something that can go up on Turning Point USA or on some right-wing talk show. And they are disappointed. I’m not there to change their minds or politics or religion or anything else. I tell them that right up front, and often during the course. What I don’t tell them is that, if any mind-changing is going to happen, they’re going to do it themselves, because they come to realize that other people aren’t the demons or caricatures they have been told.

There is no equivalence here, politically. This is what the right is trying to do to the left, in laws like the one just signed and in many other ways. It is very tempting to reciprocate with equal caricatures and equal hate, and some people end up there. But the fact is, the driving force of this dynamic is not on the political left. There’s nothing to be gained on the left by this fracturing of the body politic. The left wants health care for everyone – the right wants it for only some. The left wants religious freedom for everyone – the right wants one religion to have priority over others. The left wants all people to thrive – the right wants whites to thrive. The actions demonstrate this over and over and over again.

“The right” in this case means the current right, the Trumpian right, the burn-it-all-down right. There are ideas that have been supported by politicians and commentators who identify as right wing that are worth considering. But it’s worth noting also that what we call right-wing today would have been different a decade ago, and two decades, and so forth. These reified categories, right and left, are also a product of this battle. They solidify and are honed into iron cages, defining groups into armies and preparing for the war. This is, maybe, the fundamental difference – this right wing, this current manifestation of the political id, absolutely requires this Manichean division between good and evil. It does everything it can to create it. The current manifestation of the left not only does not require it, it stands against it. The world of diversity is not the world of Manicheanism.

So, when I teach critical theory, I’m teaching a way of thinking in a space of diversity. I’m battling a Manichean world. The world DeSantis wants is the Manichean one, because it feeds the id of the current right wing, the id that wants the war, that wants to be able to tell the difference between their people (who are good in all ways) and the other people (who are bad in all ways). And that’s the world I’m trying to dismantle.

Related Posts

Comments are closed.