Smart-Left vs. Regressive-Left

I read lefty publications in order to take the pulse of the entirety culture-war landscape. If I just read right-wing blogs and magazines–the handful that still remain and are updated at at least regular intervals and haven’t yet departed to Twitter, Podcasting, or YouTube–my perspective would be limited.

The article What’s the harm in reading? exposes the schism between the smart-left, who oppose sentimentalism and memorializing, versus the puritanical/low-information/regressive-left. One could object that the label ‘smart left’ presupposes the intellectual superiority of the former, but how smart can the regressive-left be if they cannot be bothered to read the very thing that they are criticizing? It makes them come across as not only prudish, but intellectually lazy and dumb.

These passages stood out, with the words regressive and puritanical standing out:

The violent and oftentimes ironically ignorant backlash against Fall’s story sheds light on a troublingly regressive, entitled, and puritanical trend in the relationship between artists and their audiences, particularly when it comes to genre fiction. Readers appear to feel a need to cast their objections to fiction in moral terms, positioning themselves as protectors of the downtrodden. Trans writer Phoebe Barton went so far as to compare Fall’s story to a “gun” which could be used only to inflict harm, though in a later tweet she, like Jemisin, admitted she hadn’t read it and had based her reaction solely on its title.

Many reactions to Fall’s story, for all that they come from nominal progressives, fit neatly into a Puritanical mold, attacking it as hateful toward transness, fundamentally evil for depicting a trans person committing murder, or else as material that right-wing trolls could potentially use to smear trans people as ridiculous. Each analysis positioned the author as at best thoughtless and at worst hateful, while her attackers are cast as righteous; in such a way of thinking, art is not a sensual or aesthetic experience but a strictly moral one, its every instance either fundamentally good or evil. This provides aggrieved parties an opportunity to feel righteousness in attacking transgressive art, positioning themselves as protectors of imagined innocents or of ideals under attack.

The regressive left sees the world through a good vs. evil dichotomy, in which any sort of attempt at context or understanding that defects from this Manichean worldview is suppressed by peer pressure. Art lends itself to subtlety, but the regressive-left will have none of that unless it’s specifically delineated who the good guys and bad guys are.

This schism is also evident in regard to the smart-left’s cynicism of the #resist movement on Twitter. These low-information, single-minded leftists think that parroting anti-Trump memes and slogans will change things. The smart-left understands, correctly, that the #resist movement is not changing minds but rather is an echo chamber. They are both leftists and strongly oppose Trump, but the smart-left seeks change through intellectualism, art, and understanding, not through mindless resistance, conformity, obedience, and ineffectual activism.