I spent the spring of 2013 going on weekly nature walks with a successful columnist for a large left-wing newspaper. We’d spend a couple of hours each week exploring a forested part of town while talking about philosophy and social justice.
Every day, after we parted ways, my stomach would be tied in angry little knots. When you’re obsessed with politics, it’s not always easy to spot the sources of your anger. The world is such a broken place that your life can easily overflow with unpleasant feelings. Figuring out which stream of bullshit is hitting you in the face is often difficult. Months went by before I realized that something was wrong.
The source of my anger became clear to me when we were having a discussion about the morality of BDSM. She was a sex-negative feminist. I didn’t mind. I think the world benefits from tackling humanity’s dark underbelly from a variety of angles. I was glad she was asking questions that made people uncomfortable, especially on an issue that I’ve always found fascinating: the pleasure that people can find in pain.
Her criticism of BDSM was great, but her solution to the moral questions it poses? It terrified me. She told me she wanted to create a future where our environment was designed to prevent us from having certain thoughts. You fantasize about getting slapped by your boyfriend? Not if she can help it. Does the idea of getting pegged by your girlfriend while she calls you a sissy make you hard? Your brain needs a good scrubbing, then.
In her perfect future, all sex is soft and gentle. Every time you get it on, the scent of vanilla wafts through the air. You’ll only make love (fucking will be outlawed) on a bed of rose petals. Enya music will play in the background while you engage in your ninety-second bout of state-sanctioned missionary sex. When you’re done, you’ll both get up and turn to each other and say:
“I respect you and care about you as a human being. You are more than a sexual object that satisfies me on a purely physical level. All praise be unto Bell Hooks and the Divine Matriarchs of Intersectionality.”
This will be followed by an hour of ululating while kneeling repeatedly in the direction of San Francisco.
Okay, maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe her dystopian fantasy won’t feature a never-ending Enya soundtrack. I can’t imagine it being anything less than terrible, though. Even a theocratic Christian state leaves room for sinning. I’m not what you’d call a practicing Christian, but I love the idea that human beings are fallen. We’re imperfect and we enjoy things that can be downright destructive and unhealthy, and I think being flawed is integral to the human condition. Remove our ability to do the wrong thing, to think bad thoughts, to feel bad emotions, and you strip us of our humanity. We are fragile little monkeys at the mercy of powers that dwarf us. Coming to terms with our weaknesses and imperfections is one of the few ways we have of making our time on this planet bearable. A life without friction and conflict sounds a lot like death.
My hiking companion believed that our society could be perfected. She argued that culture needed to be controlled in a way that limits the field of human possibility so that we can no longer entertain oppressive thoughts. She didn’t see the irony in wanting to end oppression by snuffing out the very possibility of moral and intellectual dissent. She was convinced of her own righteousness, of the absolute truth of her moral positions. She was going to immanentize the eschaton, to build heaven on Earth in the here and now, and she was going to do it with the help of critical theory and postmodernism. Human agency would have to be sacrificed at the altar of Foucault, Althusser, and Bourdieu. Our ideas, our tastes, our sentiments, our pleasures, all of them subject to the whims of our intellectual and moral betters, self-appointed arbiters of human perfection who will place firm limits on what us plebs can and can’t experience.
I wouldn’t have found her ideas that terrifying if she was a nameless nobody—a random Tumblr crank or a mentally ill drug addict yelling at people on the sidewalk. That’d be fine. Instead, she’s a columnist for a paper that gets millions of views every day. She has a book contract. TV shows invite her on to talk about feminism. She’s a respected part of her community. She’s part of the mainstream, and the mainstream has lost its bloody mind.
I ended our weekly nature walks feeling angry, because the chauvinism at the heart of her politics had always been present in our discussions. It just hadn’t jumped out at me until she flat out told me she wanted to control what people could think and feel. Suddenly, her intersectional feminism took on an ominous character. Her politics weren’t about creating a better world. They were about conquest and domination. She was going to oppress everyone in the name of ending oppression.
Once she came out and said it, I started seeing this totalitarian impulse everywhere the New Left has influenced. The media is currently drowning in delusional idiots who dream of controlling culture from top to bottom. Our universities are pumping out cultural authoritarians by the truckload. These people are setting the stage for a violent backlash that will make Russia in 1917 look like a trip to Disneyland. I don’t think the academics are going to be on the winning side of this fight.
I’m an old school French anarchist. My heart belongs to the working class. It always has. The idea of bourgeois English intellectuals trying to control working class culture? It pisses me off. My hiking companion’s moment of honesty made me realize that there can be no alliance between the working class and the raznochintsy, those good-for-nothing intellectuals graduating from our universities.
Raznochintsy is an Old Russian word that I’ve chosen to reinvent for a modern audience. The history of the word is a bit complicated, but it was formerly associated with Russia’s educated class. You didn’t have to be an intellectual to be a raznochintsy. You didn’t have to be an academic. You just had to be educated. In this essay, I rant about intellectuals and academics, but really, I’m ranting about the raznochintsy, which includes the intelligentsia, but isn’t limited to it. You can be a barista at Starbucks, but if you’ve got a liberal arts degree, you’re a member of the raznochintsy.
The raznochintsy use morality as a way to seize control of popular economic justice movements. They swoop in with their sophistry, marginalize workers in the name of minority rights, and then take over their movements. In the end, both workers and minorities are left out in the cold as the raznochintsy seize control for themselves.
Among the innovations of the English raznochintsy is the so-called progressive stack, an organizational tool used at activist meetings to structure the order in which speakers are heard. Under the progressive stack, a black lesbian billionaire would get to talk before a homeless white man, even if the topic at hand was poverty. The chief conceit of the progressive stack is that class privilege is the least important of all privileges.
I’d like to introduce readers to an alternative to the progressive stack: the academic stack. Where the progressive stack allows university graduates to order around the working class, the academic stack turns the table around, and puts the raznochintsy in their place.
Under the academic stack, university graduates are considered hostile to the working class until they prove otherwise. Their efforts at policing morality are considered to be in bad faith. They don’t get to speak until everyone else has already spoken. When their time at the podium comes up, the audience is warned about the speaker’s status as a member of the raznochintsy. STEM graduates are treated with far more leniency than liberal arts graduates. Ivy leaguers are treated like lepers. Experience with manual labor bumps you up the stack, while intersectional feminist dogma gets you booed off the stage. The basic rule of thumb for the academic stack is that worker voices trump raznochintsy voices.
The academic stack assumes that the raznochintsy, in general, and liberal arts graduates in particular, crave power for themselves, and use social justice advocacy as a way to achieve it. Working class people, be they white or black or autistic transgendered Laotians, are simply tools for the raznochintsy’s own self-advancement. They set us against each other in order to better dominate and control us.
Democrats often go on and on about the way that Republicans pit poor whites against poor blacks. The inverse is also true: Democrats pit poor blacks against poor whites. Pasty-skinned liberal arts graduates who slam “white” people aren’t talking about themselves when they use that word. They’re talking about poor Southerners who toil away in the fields or in the mines, or blue-collar workers in flyover America, or janitors cleaning out toilets in Ivy League universities. White, when used as a pejorative by the raznochintsy, is code for working class. It’s a dog whistle used by affluent Democrats who are waging class war against normal people who don’t know their Dada from their Derrida.
There’s a reason that the mainstream media’s love affair with intersectional feminism happened just as the 2008 recession hit: intersectional feminism empowered affluent Yankees to delegitimize the rage of working class whites. The progressive stack and similar nonsense defanged the Occupy Movement the same way accusations of racism undermined the Tea Party. Populist movements on both the Left and Right were destroyed by identity politics, and that was by design. Privileged intellectuals, writing for multimillion dollar mega corporations like Gawker and Vox, have used identity politics to undermine the possibility of solidarity between working class whites and minorities. When white millionaires accuse working class people of racism, you should ask yourself if their own position in society benefits from that accusation.
Minorities are being hustled by the progressive elite the same way that working class whites are being hustled by the conservative elite. In order to liberate ourselves from their machinations, we must recognize that we are being played by both sides. It’s not a question of Right against Left, but a question of betrayal. Both sides of the aisle are being abused, and our abusers benefit from us attacking each other instead of attacking them.
The academic stack won’t be enough to put a stop to their manipulative tactics, but it’s a start. It recognizes that the credentialed classes are attacking us, and it places strict limits on their ability to influence our social activism. The stack’s chief concern is in limiting the ability of the raznochintsy to manipulate social status in order to dominate our activist efforts. Our communities should tackle discrimination from the bottom up, not the top down, and that means that the intelligentsia should be denied a leading role in addressing these issues.
I started this essay by complaining about a B-list feminist’s dream of total cultural domination. The academic stack is my response to her authoritarian fantasy. Progressive academics use moral policing as a way to control others. If we don’t resist the Academy’s new role as moral guardians of our society, we’re in for serious social conflict in the years ahead.
It is time for us to stack the raznochintsy the way that they stack the working class.
Marc Elliot is a proud member of the lumpenproletariat who has no intention of ever becoming a respectable citizen. He likes pizza, weirdos, and dogs. In the summer of 2001 a member of a biker gang stole his water gun. He’s still mad about it.