I’m writing on the train leaving Washington, D.C. following a normal weekend in the nation’s capital which hosted tens of thousands of activists who interrupted traffic flows and traipsed around town shouting slogans at no one in particular under the mistaken impression that their actions would somehow cause the narrative of history to turn in their favor.
They traveled here. They made signs. They walked and walked. They screamed and yelled. They gave speeches to each other. But so far as I could tell this morning, nothing changed because of their efforts. Only the hotels and restaurants benefitted in the end. And good for them: under the free enterprise system that the activists seem determined to hobble and overthrow, customers are always welcome.
What’s striking about the Women’s March, if the New York Times is right, is that there is one more result: the organizers hate each other now more than ever before. In fact, there were two separate marches in most cities, one being the original under a new name because the founder was kicked out and the other being the break-off march that is protesting not only the patriarchy and every other imagined evil in the world but also the ruling class of the march itself, which the dissidents regard as being dominated by the wrong demographic.
Here is a report from the Times before the march.
The rift is now so dire that there will be two marches on the same day next month on the streets of New York: one led by the Women’s March group, which is billed as being led by women of color, and another by a group affiliated with March On that is stressing its denunciation of anti-Semitism.
The splintering and factionalism is so fierce that there are lawsuits brewing even over the name Women’s March. “Four organizations have sued the national Women’s March group — led by activists Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour — over efforts to trademark the name,” reports the Washington Post, arguing that no entity can own the march or the activism it has inspired.”
Thus have the groups tried rebranding: Women’s March, Women’s March Alliance, Women’s March Global, and March On. You have to choose. Remember to regard the other one as illegitimate. Here we have a movement deeply suspicious of, or entirely opposed to real property rights but very enthusiastic when it comes to the legislated fiction of intellectual property rights. It’s the modern Gangs of New York, this time fighting over trademark law.
The result: a low turnout. How is that solidarity coming along?
The hilarity here reminds me of the classic enactment of movement factionalism from Monty Python.
What Is the Goal?
There is the additional problem of deciding precisely what the marchers are for. Social justice, yes, but what actually does that mean? Many of the goals are in conflict with each other, not just in intention but especially in results. There are truly endless opportunities for fighting between the traditional gender designation of “women” and the LGBTQIA community, not to mention the rights of the non-binary community which is demanding respect so as to end the many millennia of oppression by people who hopelessly imagined the existence of two sexes.
And there’s the problem of anti-Semitism that gets to the heart of the issue. The “progressive” left, with its century-long default loathing of capitalism, has a deep history of blaming Jews for most all the problems in the world: have a look at progressive-backed immigration restrictions on Jews, then regarded as non-whites, imposed by these supposed champions of human rights in the 1920s. Combine that with the identity obsession of these movements and you create an inexorable tendency to renew these ancient hatreds.
Thus does a movement founded on big social goals turn into on itself, like the Ouroboros, expending most of its energy eating itself under the mistaken impression it could live forever this way. All political movements have this tendency but none more than one rooted in the fusion of ideology and biology.
The Women’s March asserted that it was organized by and for women as a group but this designation necessarily excluded Republican women who voted reliably for the man who is the main object of the marcher’s hate. These people, we surely all know, are not authentic women because they remain deluded about their real ideological obligations.
To be sure, it’s absolutely true that women, because they are human beings, need firmer protection of their rights, more freedom, more opportunity, fewer barriers to progress both material and spiritual.
I’m doubtful that much has been added beyond what John Stuart Mill wrote in Subjection of Women in 1869:
For, what is the peculiar character of the modern world—the difference which chiefly distinguishes modern institutions, modern social ideas, modern life itself, from those of times long past? It is, that human beings are no longer born to their place in life, and chained down by an inexorable bond to the place they are born to, but are free to employ their faculties, and such favourable chances as offer, to achieve the lot which may appear to them most desirable.
The core idea of 19th-century feminism was clear: participation in this great liberal project of human emancipation should be inclusive of everyone. It is right that all people should so aspire. But this aspiration can easily turn to pathology with the wrong theory on how best to seek continued improvement.
Most fundamentally, the problem traces to a deeply flawed understanding of the precise reason why bondage persists. If you believe that progress consists of a mathematical definition of perfect equality, and the reason we are not there yet is due to one group winning at the expense of another, and therefore the path forward is forged by disparaging and harming others, climbing over reputations and bodies to realize your own dreams, you have set up a framework for a war of all against all.
This worldview is neatly summed up in the phrase conflict sociology. Where are the irreconcilable conflicts? The varieties are essentially infinite. Find any biological trait, posit it as a collective interest, set that trait against all other traits, and then struggle for power and privilege; your outlook comes to be characterized by loathing and resentment against the collective guilt of everyone but yourself.
Are You Happy?
Just about anyone can play this game. Modern politics encourages it and rewards it. Whether this is a productive way to spend your days is another matter. It’s surely not a path to pesonal happiness. Listening to interviews with the participants, organizers, and speakers confirms this impression. This is not an aspirational gathering. It’s a gathering that seethes in resentment. It can no longer even pretend to be a united front of anything in particular.
But they will claim: White men have been running the system for centuries and look at the evil that has resulted. What do you expect us to do? First, realize that the problem is not white men; it is power exercised by anyone over anyone else. Second, realize that a politics based on retribution, bad theory, and reckless claims of collective guilt produces another round of injustices, resentment, blowback, more violence, and a return of the world that Mill said was the stuff of the past.
As for the real solution, the answer is the same here as always. Stop dehumanizing individuals by conscripting them into your chosen class structure. Dismantle the institution that weaponizes resentment, which is the state itself. Recognize that all people seek dignity and a better life. Work for the only solution to social problems, which is pure freedom for everyone and the building of society without violence, power, and exploitation. Build a society of cooperation rather than conflict.
Here is the original liberal project as Mill desribes it in 1869.
The modern conviction, the fruit of a thousand years of experience, is, that things in which the individual is the person directly interested, never go right but as they are left to his own discretion; and that any regulation of them by authority, except to protect the rights of others, is sure to be mischievous. This conclusion, slowly arrived at, and not adopted until almost every possible application of the contrary theory had been made with disastrous result, now (in the industrial department) prevails universally in the most advanced countries, almost universally in all that have pretensions to any sort of advancement. It is not that all processes are supposed to be equally good, or all persons to be equally qualified for everything; but that freedom of individual choice is now known to be the only thing which procures the adoption of the best processes, and throws each operation into the hands of those who are best qualified for it. Nobody thinks it necessary to make a law that only a strong-armed man shall be a blacksmith. Freedom and competition suffice to make blacksmiths strong-armed men, because the weak-armed can earn more by engaging in occupations for which they are more fit. In consonance with this doctrine, it is felt to be an overstepping of the proper bounds of authority to fix beforehand, on some general presumption, that certain persons are not fit to do certain things.
The freedom of choice – the absence of imposition by state authority – that Mill describes here is a much better path that the politics of identity, retribution, and destruction.