The Left Has Turned Into a Guild Hall

If you think the American left looks like an association of market actors, it’s because it is.

This article by Oliver Traldi looks at woke as a guild rather than an ideology. The difference he says is that the rules of a guild keep changing. Join the guild or have no prospect of satisfying employment.

Three years after I took my bachelor’s degree in classics into what was at that point the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, many of my college classmates joined the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. A central criticism of Occupy was that it had unclear goals. As a response, one of my classmates drew a diagram. It had something like forty circles with words and phrases in them—“white supremacy, “the carceral state,” “environmental collapse,” things like that—and arrows connecting them. This is what it’s about, the image was meant to say. All of this. And I think it also meant: To understand what it’s about, you have to understand all of this.

I was thinking about this old chart as I watched a video of a few New York protesters berating a group of police officers for their lack of education. “You guys go to clown college for twenty-six weeks,” one says in the video, and another cuts in, “You know, a hairdresser has to go to school for longer than you do. Half of you don’t even have a college education . . . You can’t even read a fucking history book . . . You want to sit here and tell me that you’re educated enough to make demands about shit you know nothing about.”

The word “educated” is a strange one. In this usage it seems to be halfway between “aware” and “trained.” The raising of awareness is, of course, a traditional activist goal. Being trained, on the other hand, provides a professional credential. The common online refrain “It’s not my job to educate you” has come under fire based on the first sense of the term. If one is organizing for a political goal, it is in fact one’s “job” to make others aware of the real-world conditions that motivate their organizing.

We can understand the phrase better by thinking of the second meaning. The sense in which it’s not an activist’s job to educate you is the sense in which your education serves to enter you into a certain kind of guild. Your ability to understand what the activist is saying serves your interests, not the activist’s, because it involves tools that are useful for social and professional advancement. This explains why colleges have begun rescinding students’ acceptances for things they say on Snapchat: such students clearly aren’t fit to be “educated” at all, if these things made their way to administrators. Read more


  1. I think maybe my replies with URLs don’t get to the rdln moderator(?) but you can search for Keri Smith talking to Trigger Nometry “How I left the social justice cult.”

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