Seems the right time to revisit this tome.
Published last year and written by Jacobin contributor Ben Burgis (who also hosts a podcast entitled ‘Give Them an Argument’), this book is a brilliant, leftist response to the purveying insanity that has engulfed the modern left in recent years. It not only criticises the various reductio ad absurdums that have been offered up as ideologies, but actually points to a way forward instead of wallowing in the sandpit of grievance.
Beginning by discussing the various cancellations of Louis C.K and Dave Chappelle (among others), Burgis introduces a point that is so staggeringly obvious it bears repeating to the wokerati:
There’s a deeply embedded idea in the American progressive imagination that comedians are bold important truth tellers who change society simply by speaking truth to power … One problem with this fantasy is that speaking truth to power is wildly overrated … the powerful know the truth.
So, stop this puerile, celebrity obsessed nonsense that comedians are ‘holding the powerful to account.
Going on to discuss how online outrage mobs are, largely, unable to change the world but do offer up a potent image of lefties being humourless scolds, Burgis points out how this not only alienates potential subscribers to the good fight, but also reduces politics to performative art that has no connection with the average working-class person. And, when you start engaging one upping each other in woke points, you hand a loaded gun to your political opponent (hence why the likes of Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro revel showing footage of people criticising the use of gendered language and jazz hands being used instead of clapping (in case it triggers victims of trauma).
The fact that it has got to the stage where pointing all of this out seems like an eye-opening experience is genuinely tragic. And making great use of the late, great Mark Fisher’s infamous essay on leftist Twitter (‘Exiting the Vampire Castle’) demonstrates that this has been going on for some time, but Burgis posits the theory that the Vampire Castle is worse than Christianity “…in the sense that it drops the pretence to love the sinner "and merely hate the sin.”
Ultimately, Brugis urges us to drop the purity tests and embrace grassroots efforts at organising and interacting, something like swapping broken brake lights with other drivers to ensure interactions with the cops are kept to a bare minimum. Not only, as Burgis states, does this act as a bit of noteworthy street theatre, but it also builds goodwill and teaches us to be kind to our fellow people. Thus, barriers are broken, and people start hearing ideas they may have not encountered due to their ideological bubble.
Old fashioned ideals, yes, but needed more than ever in this increasingly fractured world.
Ben Burgis, 2021, Cancelling Comedians While the World Burns: A Critique of the Contemporary Left. Zero Books. ISBN-13: 978-1789045475
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.