Cultural centrism is, in short, the Joe Lieberman of cultural criticism. The left makes its money on cultural critique, discussing every topic from representation in feature length films to the moral fortitude of video games. Many on the far left, however, can’t really bring themselves to be thought of as totally on the far left. Some seek identity markers like “dirtbag” left, others rely on cultural centrism, the brand of cultural positioning that allows one to politically identify as on the moral left, while still not having to actually do any sort of intellectual labor and examine a culture the moral left is critical of.
The best way to understand cultural centrism is to understand Angela Nagle. Nagle is a really bad writer who found herself in favor of some left leaning tastemakers: the socialist publication Jacobin, and the left leaning podcast Chapo Trap House. How she ended up there is a mystery, but in a world where people who claim to be leftists are few and far between, leftist writers are somewhat of a commodity. For whatever reason, certainly not because she’s qualified, Nagle decided to write a book, Kill All Normies, about the alt-right. What should have been a frank and straight forward look at the newest wave of fascism that’s plaguing the country instead serves as a perfect example of the moral cowardice and ideological emptiness that is cultural centrism.
Nagle’s terrible book was liked by a lot of other people like Nagle, who know very little about the subject matter she chose to write about. She writes in an authoritative voice, and that’s where we’ll start to explain cultural centrism. In talking about GamerGate, a decidedly one-sided affair where first one woman, then many women, were harassed for being women who are sorta related to the video game industry, she makes sure to criticize some of the key female targets of harassment, as well as their video games (despite acknowledging she doesn’t really understand the medium of video games nor really have much experience with the game she’s criticizing).
Does Nagle actually even care how good the video games of women harassed during GamerGate are? Or about the moral fortitude of those women? Of course not. What she’s doing instead is trying to place herself in the center position where both sides of GamerGate will not see her as on a side. She tips her hand by stating that “neither side” will see her views as accurate, but it’s a transparent attempt to mask her spineless pleading to not be considered on a side by anyone so she doesn’t have to be accountable to her views. If this were a one time occurrence, it might be forgivable, but Nagle’s commitment to centrism plagues the entire book.
Another example, arguably a far more damaging one, is when Nagle describes the identity politics often associated with Tumblr as “puritanical.” She doesn’t delve too deeply into this (and has already been hammered elsewhere for using such a term and not clarifying its meaning). The term’s use here is just meant as a nod to those who find the pronoun checking and vocab purging of this slice of politics exhausting. It’s a quick and easy way for Nagle to make sure that you understand she doesn’t actually think too highly of these types of concepts, and she doesn’t actually expect you, the reader, to have to engage with them seriously. Her goal here is to give her audience a means with which to feel like they can understand and further look down on the alt-right, but not have to, ya know, do anything about it.
At its core, cultural centrism isn’t about actually maintaining any sort of hybrid ideology, it’s primarily just about either protecting oneself from accountability and giving oneself a manufactured authority to increase the size or the engagement of the audience. Nagle is one example, but this happens everywhere. The aforementioned Chapo Trap House and Jacobin both do it; tons and tons of left leaning Twitter users do it; it’s a plague.
These people are like dogs on a long leash, but still tethered to the politics they claim to oppose. They want to capitalize on the growing left trend, or maybe they really do believe in it, but they still feel that nagging urge to not delve in too deeply, for commitment is the first step toward accountability, and accountability is the first step toward recognizing ones own flaws. In a political and cultural landscape where the left is making such little progress, pushing this particular brand of cultural centrism, where the far right can be readily mocked but all action and idea taken from the left can be casually dismissed in the guise of sincere or humorous cultural critique, the trend of cultural centrism is likely to be with us for a painfully long time.
Dylan James Harper is the Chief Political Editor for CSUITEMUSIC.com
Read more from Dylan at http://www.dylanjamesharper.com