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TYT vs MR, Emma vs. Ana - What the left can learn from this

Sunday 16 April 2023, by mond

I am a big fan of TYT - I even have a T-shirt

I am a loyal TYT viewer since about 2009. I get most of my news about US Politics from Cenk, Ana and John. I also watch Majority Report (MR) and other channels like this. All in all they are trustworthy sources of information and come with a genuine left wing point of view. While I am certainly a bit more to the left then TYT, I still agree with 95% or more of their points of view. It is really valuable to have a trustworthy news channel that is an alternative to the right wing and/or neoliberal propaganda of the corporate media. The dominance of right wing and neoliberal media is not only a problem in the US but also here in Europe.

So it kind of hurts to see the quarrel between Ana from TYT and Emma from MR that recently started on twitter. While healthy differences of opinion can help to bring the left discourse forward, I think there are a few aspects missing in this discussion. From my point of view it is necessary to disentangle the 3 different aspects and look at them separately in order to bring back the discussion on a rational level:

"person with an uterus" - what started the controversy

For those who where not following the story: Ana complained that she thinks that writing "person with an uterus" and "birthing-person" instead of "women" and "mother" could be used.

Her objection then raised the objections from the left who wants an inclusive language that does not alienate trans- and non-binary people while on the same time getting a lot of applause from the right wing.

3 aspects of this discussion that need to be disentangle

1.) The "culture war" that the right wing is waging. Why the right is focusing so much on such issues.

2.) The question of populism: How much should the left give up their values in order to be successful?

3.) The question of language and the power to define it. What in the german language we call "Definitionsmacht". How can and should we use language to win?

If this where all only about the quarrel between Emma and Ana I would not care to write this article but since all 3 aspects above are interesting topics in their own right it makes sense to talk about them.

I also hope that this disentangling will help to bring the discussion back to a rational level.

"culture war"

In all honesty both the left and the right are fighting on the field of "culture". We want a different world and thus we want a different culture. If e.g. we want gender-neutral inclusive language or if we try to get rid of racial slurs then this is a culture war. We want to change something in the minds of people and hope that this will also help to change our behaviour to the better. And of course the right and the neoliberal also do this. E.g. when creating euphemism like "green coal", etc, etc..

What the right is lately doing more and more is not so much trying to bring in their own culture but waging a defensive war against cultural changes from the left. The campaign against "woke" and against "critical race theory", etc. It seems they found it is easier and more efficient to ridicule the left then being e.g. openly racist or openly opposed towards social justice. So they can claim they are only against the "social justice warrior" and not against social justice itself. They can claim they are not racist or misogynist but only want to protect the language, etc, etc..

Of course it should be clear what their real agenda is. They are of course opposed to the underlying social progress and of course want to ridicule the left in every why possible in order for the right wing to gain influence.

Seen from this point of view Ana/Cenk and TYT are on the wrong side of this issue. By tuning in into the right wing propaganda they are not helping the left here and it the criticism they received should not surprise them.


As it is obvious that the right has some success with their anti-woke propaganda the question is: should we tune it down? Either to have more success at election or (in the media) to come across as "less extreme" to the people we want to win over. To some degree this is a legitimate discussion to have. After all: If our parties and our candidates do not win in election we will not have as much political power to change things or maybe will not even have a prominent stage for our message, etc..

All in all I am not a big fan of populism. In the most extreme form one would just pick any position that is popular and would not care at all if this goes against our values just to win power. Certainly there is a red line somewhere. If one only picks what is popular then there is no progress at all and we are stuck with the status-quo. And the status quo in the end means: Neoliberalism, the rich getting richer while 10 Million world wide starve and we destroy the climate and countless wars and nationalism and racism.

So all in all I am not a fan of populism but I understand that in some situations one might have somewhat pragmatic view on certain issues. Ideally one could combine both: Campaigning for popular issues that are aligned with our values (e.g. higher wages) but at the same also changing the discourse and bringing it more to the left. Bernie Sanders did this rather well for the most part. Even thought he did not win he change the discourse and the US is not able to talk about socialism again.

One of the dangers of drawing this line, of course is that the popular issues are usually the ones that a majority is concerned with and that issues that would only benefit smaller and marginalized groups are seen as less important. Fighting for higher wages is popular as many are affected while fighting for the rights of trans- or non-binary people, even if not very radical seems less advisable from the populist point of view. But of course: each of us is in some kind of minority and if we tolerate discrimination against one minority we potentially tolerate discrimination against any and all, or as the saying goes: "Nobody’s free until everybody’s free". So yes: populism is a slippery slope towards loosing the core value of the left: Solidarity.

So, seen from this angle, TYT was again on the wrong side. Canceling solidarity with a small and marginalized group that is currently widely discriminated and villainized by the right is certainly not a good thing.

It should also be noted that just by "tuning it down" does not mean the right will not still viciously attack it anyway: If they e.g. want to run a campaign against inclusive language they will still find someone out there who happens to use it in a somewhat unfortunate way so that it becomes possible to make fun of it.

Language and "Definitionsmacht"

After considering the 2 aspects above, I think it should still be possible to openly discuss our strategy within the left. Just because something is meant well does not mean it is always helpful. As long as it is clear that we are on actually on the side of the oppressed and marginalized we must be able to discuss strategy to helps them best - and of course: Not discuss this over their head but with them. In the end they should know best what they think can help them and what does not.

Certainly naming someone by a body part is not a nice thing to do. We need inclusive language but this does not mean that we should not have a debate about which terms or symbols to use. The rainbow flag looks nice and in general a colorful rainbow brings up positive emotions. So this is an example of a symbol that was chosen well. As for e.g. gender neutral language (more of an issue that we have in e.g. the German language where every words is always associated with a gender) this is also true. We can choose different ways of representing this. One thing is for sure: If you try to change language to something new then initially that will always sound odd to those that are used to the old language. And I would argue that this is why we need that language in the first place: This way, when ever someone write or reads the text then they are reminded that the issue at hand also might have a gender aspect, etc.. so the "inconvenience" of that language is not a bug but a feature.

And how ever nice the language or the symbol is: the right will still try to ridicule it anyways. Still that does not mean that we should not have a discussion about which language is preferable. "birthing person" certainly is nicer then "person with an uterus". One could argue if it would not still be possible to use "mother". While "mother" is currently associated with a female person this could be change to include also persons that identify as male. In order for this to work we would need a campaign around this that transports that re-definition. This might work or not. It is in the end a matter of "Definitionsmacht" - who is powerful enough to define the meaning of our language. I do not want to advocate for this approach here. And as a white, male, CIS person I am not in the position to do so anyways. Just as a thought experiment. Considering the argument from above, that the new inclusive language should to some degree be "inconvenient" I would rather argue against the idea.

The point here is: This is where I would give Ana, Cenk and TYT the benefit of the doubt. It must be possible to openly discuss our strategies within the left. Hopefully they are also considering the points 1 and 2 mentioned above.

"woke washing"

Not directly related to the discussion around TYT is the point that Slavoj Žižek often makes against inclusive language and such. That this is a cheap way for corporations to brush up their public image. They seem to be in favor of diversity, etc. while at the same time producing weapons, polluting the environment or engaging in mass surveillance, etc. This is sometimes called "woke washing".

Yes but this should not be an argument against inclusive language. It just should be a reminder that we still also have more to do in many fields and that we might also need to work on the language that we use there.

Franz Schäfer (Mond), April 2023.

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