With (Imaginary) Friends Like These (or why we should stop worrying about what “a worker” thinks)

With (Imaginary) Friends Like These (or why we should stop worrying about what “a worker” thinks)

Hello everyone. You may remember me from such articles as DSA is Doomed, or from my appearances in such outlets as JacobinThe Outline, and The Daily Beast. Or maybe you saw my most recent work:

Since Catherine is repeating my bit by making up a worker to make a claim against DSA, I figured now would be a fine time for me to divulge the motivation and context for my original contribution to the discourse, as a way of addressing the silliness of this anti-PMC mess.

It was 2018 and I was living with my parents and feeling terribly bored, so I decided to write about my experience as a member of multiple DSA chapters. The essay started earnestly before I realized the satirical potential of what I was writing. All I had to do was take legitimate complaints–the tendency for overwrought debate, the dearth of average working-class membership, the over-representation of college graduates–and punch it up. So I did. And then I had my brother, who is more conservative, read it over so he could give me his thoughts. I asked what he thought of the essay to see if it passed the smell test. He gave his seal of approval by replying “where’s the joke?” So I knew I had something.

Then I sat on the essay because I didn’t know what to do with it. There’s not really an outlet that publishes satirical political essays, and the outlets that do usually have a designated columnist like Andrew Horowitz pumping out the articles. Which is to say, they’re not looking for random submissions from the public. So I waited. And waited. Until finally the perfect opportunity arose.

Quillette had been the talk of Twitter during the summer of 2019. Chapo Trap House did a couple of reading series where they made fun of their atrocious articles, and other atrocious articles went viral thanks to hate clicks. For instance, in July they published pro-Amazon propaganda where a worker talked about how much they liked their job at an Amazon warehouse, which was dutifully tweeted out by Amazon PR. And in June 2019 they published a book review which seemingly endorsed craniometry, which is like half a step removed from phrenology. My point is the interest in, and engagement with, Quillette was on the rise leading into the month of August.

This made for perfect timing because during the first weekend of August, Atlanta hosted the DSA national convention. I wasn’t a particularly active member of DSA at the time–I attended Labor branch meetings but otherwise mostly kept to myself–so I was pretty far removed from the matters being debated at the convention. I knew there were a couple of interesting proposals being considered, and that people online were passionately going back and forth over who was right. However, that all got lost in the frenzy of salacious video clips making the rounds on social media. The clips were no longer than 30 seconds, but they portrayed DSA in a bad light, and it served as fodder for dunking. The clips even ended up on a Tucker Carlson segment. They went viral because it affirmed a popular caricature of DSA and the socialist left in general, so of course I had to jump on this opportunity and lean into it.

I made my bones lying about being a construction worker living in Queens, New York–the best borough of the best city in da world. And I did it to prove a point: it did not matter who I was, what mattered was what I said. I tricked Quillette into publishing my fake story not because I wove an especially convincing lie, but rather because my words confirmed the ideological narrative of the Left that Quillette loves to push. Psychologists call it confirmation bias, but I call it over-eagerness. In the pursuit of ‘making a point’ you get wrapped up in some silly story which ultimately turns out fictitious or otherwise wrong.

Enter Catherine Liu, someone I know next to nothing about. Apparently she is a socialist writer, as well as a professor, and her primary concern seems to be the PMC (Professional Managerial Class). She even wrote a book about it. I’m not reading the book nor am I going to learn who Catherine Liu is, because frankly I don’t care. What I *do* care about though is the inane tendency for socialists to parrot right-wing critiques of DSA, that somehow the organization alienates working people because of its essentially ‘PMC’ nature.

In the years before Trump, we had another name for ‘PMC’ on the internet: Social Justice Warrior or SJW. Social Justice Warriors were caricatured and pilloried as hysterical fanatics always searching for and rooting out social oppression in all its forms: racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, you name it. I vividly remember watching a Ben Shapiro clip on some guys couch in college, where Ben ‘debates’ a kid in the crowd. It was a perfect juxtaposition for Ben to portray himself as the rational master of facts while the crowd-member came across as a strawman come to life.

I bring this up because oftentimes anti-PMC rhetoric is simply repackaged 4chan shitposts. It’s just getting mad about stuff you see on a screen, which forms the basis for a very two-dimensional politics. It’d be one thing if cultural critique of the PMC resulted in a constructive criticism of the organizational structure of DSA, or introduced novel canvassing techniques, or suggested like a code of committee conduct–but it never does. Cultural critiques of the PMC never amount to anything actionable, which makes cultural critique of the PMC useless. All we ever hear is how certain mannerisms are alienating, but there’s hardly ever an alternative proposal than “behave differently”. In this way, Catherine Liu and Robin DiAngelo are alike.

By manipulating an individual’s perception of friend and foe, reactionary forces can turn potential comrades against each other. Donna Minkowitz made the point nicely when she explained the mission of Quillette–the reactionary outlet of choice for anti-PMC dissidents–was to “stand anti-elitism on its head by casting the most disempowered people in society as an elite somehow constraining the most worthy.” Catherine Liu is only the latest person to engage in this perversion of socialism, but she certainly won’t be the last.