Welcome to the third dimension of the political compass
Consider the following questions. Is military action that defies international law ever justified? Should mothers have demanding careers? If economic globalization is inevitable, should it above all serve humanity or the multinationals?
Based on your answers, the online political compass quiz will place you and/or your preferred political party in one of four political compass squares (a larger square divided into four equal parts by the left-right and authoritarianism- libertarian spectra), which are, namely, the authoritarian left, the authoritarian right, the libertarian right and the libertarian left. What is essential, however, is that within each square, how far do you slant (the center or) either end?
Meghan Daum’s groundbreaking book, The Trouble With Everything, was the book that sparked the Boomer vs Millennial debate that swept across Western media not too long ago. Republished this year, her dissertation had started as “the problem of feminism” but turned into a left-on-left critique of cancel culture. Nuance is her main argument and “strength” is the quality she stands for, something she lacks among millennials who, she says, have replaced it with false “fairness.”
Since I myself posted an opinion titled, “It’s the tact and not the grit that thrills Youngistaan”, in the summer of 2008, that’s nothing new to me. For me, the spotlight on cancel culture in higher education, media, publishing, and politics that she herself did as a leftist is her unique intellectual contribution.
Heralded as the antidote to rape culture, cancel culture is a concerted attack on free speech by left-wing libertarian cabals Daum refers to as the “corporate wokescenti.” This usually happens through blackballing and the use of social media and leads to the victim losing their job and being denied opportunities. One of its important effects is the stifling of any serious inquiry into the real state of women’s rights.
Intrinsically elitist, the culture of cancellation certainly does not speak about the condition of Afghan women beyond a few token words dispensed only if necessary. After all, he is known to favor multiculturalism when it comes to anomalies in the law of persons. At the same time, through its irrational victim-worship and its demand to have a grievance in order to be counted, cancel culture renders invisible the implicitly feminist achievements of happy role models whose cheerfulness nevertheless comes at a personal cost (in time, opportunities and relationships) that they voluntarily paid for.
The fact that I was able to read his book practically in one sitting testifies not only to an ideational congruence with but also to the quality of Daum’s writing. It’s clean, elegant and humorous, and doesn’t dump its trauma on the reader. This restraint, I find it admirable.
Since the witch-hunt of cancel culture activists has claimed big names like Jordan Peterson and Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore, it’s unlikely Daum has gone completely unscathed from his gaze. My own critique of his work will be from the Indian’s point of view.
Daum argues that professional women are no longer expected to do the bulk of domestic chores in the West, so she can legitimately ignore such a request without feeling offended. Although I myself have not been “triggered” by the same suggestion, to say that equal division of domestic labor is not prevalent in Indian households where both spouses earn income by working outside is an understatement. Informing a speaker that such a request is not kosher in the face of inescapable opprobrium takes a certain degree of radicalness.
That she resorts to memoirs and reports when the analysis is expected from Daum is my next quibble. On the scarecrow of women’s safety, for example, which she rightly accuses millennials of propagating, she finds it sufficient to quote Camille Paglia from 2016 simply saying that back then women took risks, rather than to explain that it is not only important to do so, but also to take responsibility for all kinds of consequences. Which does not necessarily mean automatically pardoning the rapist, but lighter sentences, which Germaine Greer demanded in 2018 and quickly reversed herself.
To a lesser extent, I find it problematic that Daum cites Paglia and Hoff-Sommers to establish his worldview because both have moved away from classical feminism, Paglia with her work on masculine-feminine archetypes which veers too close to stereotypes and Hoff-Sommers with her patriarchal apology and status quo have been repackaged into equity feminism, and both have now pivoted.
In India, the government grossly underpays ASHA workers who continue to provide invaluable service to the community (they alone have led to a decline in infant mortality over the years), and families deny women base agency in exchange for chaperones and women’s seats. But society puts women on a pedestal as “goddesses”. With their screaming demands for safe spaces, lights, cameras, panic buttons, GPS and special protections (by men and on the part of men), aren’t young Western women setting themselves the same trap? ? In the name of empowerment, do they denigrate each other? With reports of increased spitting, public urination and honking in these countries as well as collapsing infrastructure and bridges, the question arises: have globalization and contact with Indians corrupted the West?
Although bans and violent threats against books and art dominate the headlines in our country, cancel culture in media, publishing and academia is alive and well, drawing unapologetically from the Western media trends. Although fourth-wave millennial grievance feminism imposes wealth and male protection as conditions of a woman’s security while punishing dissent, it is official feminism, respectively, left and the liberal establishment. On the left I would ask this question, isn’t this eerily similar to the original illiberal sin of liberals, the undoing that you, yourselves, were subjected to at the hands of right libertarians before the fall of the ‘Soviet Union ?
Coming back to the political compass, I invite the reader to carefully skim through the quiz and consider the design of the questions. Although the tendency is to extremes in signaling one’s loyalty, going too far at both ends of the left-right and libertarian-authoritarian spectrums (towards the sides of the large square) and one finds oneself in the directly opposite square not only out of perennity , but also according to the agenda that benefits from it. The spectra are then no longer linear but circular, and the compass itself is above all a sphere. How about that?
I let my reader ponder.
The Trouble With Everything: My Journey Through The New Culture Wars
By Meghan Daum
p. 256, Rs 2,173