06 June 2017

The irony of antifa

The current issue of Time has an article on the recent conflicts over free speech in Berkeley CA, which pit Republicans and alt-right provocateurs against the so-called "antifa" movement and its "black bloc" stormtroopers. I don't know where "antifa" as a word came from; I know it's meant as an abbreviation for "anti-fascist," but it sounds more like an incomplete thought, though I may just be reading that into it. Antifa activists defend vandalism, declaring their intent to "physically disrupt and shut down things that need to be shut down immediately." What usually needs to be shut down is "hate speech," as practiced by Republicans, conservatives, populists, etc. Reporter Katy Steinmetz notes that "Many on the left say the words free speech are now being used as a cover for spreading hate in America." Many who say that act on an assumption that "hate speech" is not entitled to the protections granted by the First Amendment to political speech. They contend that "hate speech" is "dehumanizing" in some way. While no examples of this dehumanizing effect are given in the article, the argument usually goes that "hate speech," defined very broadly, seeks to drive certain people or points of view from the public sphere through insults and intimidation. In practice, it seems, antifa tries to shut down anyone who dares say that they or their causes are wrong. The college Republican Club reports constant harassment and bullying and complains that "they are projecting stereotypes onto us ... and they're also projecting their worst fears onto us." One can imagine what the stereotype is, yet the Republican who spoke to Time is a guy named Naweed Tahmas. I don't know his exact ethnic background, but his alleged mistreatment by Berkeley leftists suggests that antifa isn't simply concerned with the familiar white devil -- or so one assumes when they can't say that only the white devil is against them -- but with a wider range of affronts to their dignity.

Their beef isn't necessarily (or exclusively) with "hate" in the usual sense of bigotry, but rather with a more generalized, indiscriminate "hate" they infer from American conservatism as a whole. Antifa may be the ultimate (if not inevitable) reaction of an essentially hedonist ideology to a denial of its fundamental premises. It would be "hate," in this case, if you rejected, or perhaps even questioned the concept of entitlement, because you'd be disputing someone's right to live. For some, it would be enough simply to challenge someone's right to be himself or herself (or either at any given time), though this presumably puts antifa in the position of defending someone's right to be himself even when in doing so he challenges or threatens others' right to be themselves. The ones who don't share that right to be themselves, it seems, are the people on the right who for some reason aren't granted the same sort of privileged "other" status of, well, others. Maybe that's because such people are the exception that proves a rule, the ultimate "other" that is not an "other" but the enemy of all "otherness," the "hate" that everyone else can hate without being "haters." Whether you believe any of that or not, we're dealing with people, most likely including relatively privileged people in objective terms, who are enraged by any idea that seems to threaten their presumed guarantee of a place in society, that seems to impose "or else" conditions where hedonism says they shouldn't be. Antifa suggests a belated embrace by a decadent American left of a radical paradox of political hedonism, a recollection that "or else" can't be abolished except on "or else" terms. The problem, of course, is that antifa applies this lesson to hapless college students and trivial media celebrities, always going for the cheap victory of shutting down some talking head by chasing him or her out of a college town, while the victim retreats to social media and almost invariably wins the rhetorical war. The only sense of power they can hope for, it seems, is the petty power of a bully whose powerlessness in the wider world is all too obvious. These fools actually think they can silence ideas in the 21st century. They're not the only fools to think that way, but they may be the most foolish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDWraqkKXfY

What you are seeing in the fascists who call themselves antifa is hatred towards those they have decided are their enemy, which seems to be anyone who holds a different view to their own. They are, in fact, exactly what they claim to hate. This should be no surprise, since most of them seem to be white people who hate white people. They need to be stood up to, and the violence they dish out needs to be visited upon them. These are the type of people who, when they realize they can't change opinions with words, will always resort to violence and such people need to be forced to understand why violence is the wrong answer. Preferably by putting them in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.