CULTURAL CRITICISM AND YOUTUBE RANTS – PART 2

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by Eli Lambe

In Part One, I looked at how right-wing Youtubers use and abuse the idea of freedom of speech in constructing their worldview, and the connection between their celebration of abusive behaviour and feelings of humiliation. I used Adorno’s Cultural Criticism and Society to frame my observations. In this part, I will look at divisions within the workforce and how this creates vulnerabilities to right wing punditry – still using Adorno as a frame.

Adorno argues that labour is divided into “manual” and “intellectual” labour. However “manual” labour encompasses a lot more than working with your hands. It’s probably more accurate to use “menial” labour, which includes factory, construction, custodial and agricultural labour (what is usually covered by manual) as well as the huge number of exploitative customer service, food service and sales jobs. These distinctions are sometimes blurry, and stink of classist value judgements, but can still provide a useful way of addressing structural divisions and how those divisions impact on solidarity and belief.

Because of the long hours, increasing job insecurity and general exhaustion that “menial” labourers face (for historically low wages), there is often little energy and time left over for diving into dense books on critical theory written by dead academics. In addition to this, without institutional access, or thousands to shell out on subscriptions, most recent criticism is just not accessible to everyone. It’s only through educational, financial or familial access to opportunities and lines of work, such as journalist, politician, academic, that one is able to access and engage with methods and resources of historical analysis and given the opportunity to question one’s own place within society.

This generates a sense of superiority that is comforting only because it immunizes them from the feelings of waste and failure

Because of this, it’s relatively easy for right-wing Youtube pundits to oversimplify and strawman historical analyses, philosophical ideas (such as “Cultural Marxism” and, more recently and bizarrely, Postmodernism, as well as ideas around gender, social construction and race) and statistical studies. They don’t have to worry that much about their audience being able to expend the energy required to find, read and independently research their sources.

The “overqualification” crisis adds another layer to this – you have people who have spent years (and racked up huge amounts of debt) training academically in universities, and who have been sold a vision of how that training should be “successfully” used, forced to take jobs where using that training is either futile or discouraged. This generates resentment from both directions – the academically trained labourer feels that they are overqualified for such work. This generates a sense of superiority that is comforting only because it immunizes them from the feelings of waste and failure, for not becoming one of the few people who have trained in their field who are able to fulfil the role they trained for. This sense of unrecognised superiority leaves them open to far-right notions of natural hierarchies, as these ideologies validate the distance they place between themselves and others. It also exposes them to the rhetoric of so-called “skeptic” youtubers, who throw around buzzwords like “logic”, “reason” and “science”  to justify their bigoted, out-of-date ideas about gender, truth, race, and “civilisation.”

Sure, some of us come to the battlefield with bright, shiny, strong armour, but so many of us are in this fight in rags, with nothing but a flimsy shield.

Even if they avoid those particular traps and continue to fight against marginalisation, it is hard to avoid adopting or putting across an attitude of more-knowledgable-than-thou, middle class arrogance. Employers then attach higher values to academic training, and begin to require such experience and training from their employees as the academically-trained-but-desperate are seen as better “value for money”, and having a degree “demonstrates a strong work-ethic”. This compounds this climate of resentment and instability. Thus, those who could work there otherwise, are further disenfranchised, and are forced into more exploitative workplaces for lower wages with longer hours, where the resentment grows, builds and is ultimately directed towards the “luvvies” who talk down to them about women’s equality and civil rights – whilst crowding out the better jobs.

None of this means that either worker is fundamentally ignorant or inherently uninterested in questioning their own position within society. Each is seeking knowledge, understanding, freedom and emancipation, but the structures of labour as they currently operate rely on these searches taking place separately. That and the manipulation of both the academically trained worker’s false sense of superiority and the practically trained worker’s resentment of the invasion of the former to prevent the building of meaningful or mass solidarity against the employers, landlords and financiers who benefit from and exploit this arrangement.

There has to be a response to this, there has to be a means of fighting back, a means of escape. There has to be something.

One response that is often touted is that these hate-figures should be allowed to speak, to put their ideas out into the world so people can see for themselves the contradictions in their rhetoric and the horrors of their actions. Some suggest that we should follow the advice given to the victim of the playground bully, and ignore them until they get bored – we should toughen up, not let it upset us so.

Adorno writes that: “Criticism is an indispensable element of culture that is itself contradictory: in all its untruth still as true as culture is untrue. Criticism is unjust not when it dissects – this can be its greatest value – but rather when it parries by not parrying.” In responding to an attack by not responding, by either ignoring it or treating it as neutral or ineffective, we do nothing to stop it falling on our necks. If you treat a sword raised against your neck as nothing to worry about, as harmless, that sword will cut off your head. If you stand there, praising the form and footwork of the swordsman, observing how sharp and shiny and praiseworthy the work of the smith is, or casually commenting on how you wish they’d reconsider slashing at you, instead of bringing up your own sword to block it, or even moving to avoid the blade, you will be beheaded. Sure, some of us come to the battlefield with bright, shiny, strong armour, but so many of us are in this fight in rags, with nothing but a flimsy shield.

 

Featured image from Pixabay

 


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