Thursday, January 05, 2023

Performative Brinksmanship is Obviously Stupid from the Outside

The farce that is the GOP House leadership fight continues, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has just lost the eleventh ballot for speaker in the face of a small but entrenched far-right rebellion. The knot of far-right extremists who refuse to back McCarthy has led to chaos in the GOP, with no signs of a compromise being reached. Ringleader Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has even indicated that he'd be fine if the fallout of his putsch results in Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) ascending to the speaker position (though if a compromise is reached with Democrats to thwart the right-wing rebellion, I suspect it will not involve Jeffries as speaker).

For the most part, pretty much everyone on the left-side of the political spectrum has been content to sit back, munch on popcorn, and watch the GOP eat itself alive. Democrats are enjoying making a show of unity against GOP irresponsibility; meanwhile, Republicans are literally arguing that their decision to cripple the House doesn't matter because if a real crisis occurs President Biden will be there to set things right (the infantilization of the American right continues apace). The whole thing is one ongoing trainwreck for the GOP, and I absolutely agree with what I take to be the Democratic Party conventional wisdom that we need not lift a finger to bail out the GOP unless we get some superb concessions for our trouble.

So here's my question for the peanut gallery. I'm sure the arson caucus of the GOP has its boosters among other far-right extremists. But is there anybody on the left side of the spectrum observing what's happening here and thinking "I may not agree with their policies, but this is a savvy play by Gaetz and co."? Does anybody think this sort of performative brinksmanship is smart politics?

It doesn't seem so to me -- progressives right now are laughing our heads off at a GOP in complete disarray, and rightfully so. We're not jealous of the far-right for having the gumption to take a stand; we see just how catastrophic this whole farce is for the conservative agenda (and thank god for that!).

So perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here. Thankfully, there are few if any Democratic equivalents to the bomb throwers currently making chaos in the House. Even our far-left members so far have known when to rein it in -- a quality which sometimes yields loud cries of "betrayal!" and "spineless!" from certain corners of the commentariat. I might suggest that next time such an instinct comes over you, you remember this moment. Remember how you didn't look across the aisle and marvel at the steely-eyed rebels who stood their ground and played hardball. Remember how what you actually saw was a bunch of children embarrassing themselves and self-sabotaging for their own self-aggrandizement. And then remember that it's probably a bad idea for Democratic progressives to emulate the GOP's dumbest members' most nihilist strategies.

UPDATE: And the winner for the first prominent left outlet to praise the GOP's political savvy and declare it a model to emulate is ... Jacobin Mag! Who's shocked?

On Being an Intellectual Submissive

I had an interesting experience the other day.

My wife likes to remark that, for someone as terminally online as I am, I don't know much about the standard pop-online memes and stories. I'm not very up on pop culture (I barely know who the Kardashians are, let alone what they're famous for). And while I'm aware of all internet traditions from a very specific corner of the internet, by and large I'm isolated from what the Kids (or even Adults) These Days are talking about.

As a fun game, my wife found a list of the top 50 "internet moments" of 2023 and went through them one by one to see how many I (and she) had heard of. She knew most of them. I knew maybe a quarter. And  when I didn't know, she'd gleefully try to explain some insane story about Jorts the Cat while I stared in incredulous ignorance.

Here's the thing: I loved this. Indeed, it was an experience that kind of made me "get" the phenomenon of high-powered corporate executives who are submissives.

The way that phenomenon is always described is that such persons are constantly asked to be authoritative, be in charge, make the decision, be the boss -- and so it's just freeing to let someone else take charge and be completely and utterly at the mercy of another.

The life of a high-powered corporate executive is not at all how I'd characterize my life. But what is true is that in my job (and my day-to-day persona), I'm expected to know things. I'm smart, I'm informed, I'm aware -- that's a huge part of who I (normally) am. And I've internalized this. For example, one of my emotional triggers is when I feel like I've made a specifically dumb mistake, or I can't figure out how to do something seemingly obvious. It fills me with shame way out of proportion to the actual "offense." I have an expectation (both internally and externally-imposed) that I am chock full of relevant knowledge at all times.

Given all that, I think I really enjoyed the experience of being in a situation where I did not and was not expected to know anything. Where I could sit back in doe-eyed ignorance and just be taught by someone else, with no expectation that I'd necessarily absorb, synthesize, or regurgitate the information. When it comes to popular internet memes, it's absolutely okay that I know nothing and that I sit in the recipient-learner position! That felt so freeing -- I loved it.

Anybody relate to this? I wonder if it's just a me thing or if any other academic sorts have had similar experiences.