To the Left, who deserve a much better beating than I could ever give them. And to the people, who deserve a much better Left.
“Offline, I don’t have any radical aspirations.” – Natalie Wynn, “Canceling | ContraPoints,” 52:29 to 52:33
Among the online “Left,” there are a handful of people who could rightly be called “celebrities.” These people exert almost a frightening amount of influence over the movement. They are most young peoples’ introduction to “Leftist” politics, and their every opinion is met by thousands of loyal fans who can’t wait to repeat their newly memorized slogans. These influencers are usually media creators, and they have often found themselves platformed on YouTube.
The members of “LeftTube” or “BreadTube” often set the stage for what conversations are to be had by the movement at large. They work as a sort of barometer for measuring the state of the online “Left.” They are popular because they appeal to the broadest sections of the people. And, with over 800 thousand subscribers on YouTube and over 245 thousand followers on twitter, perhaps no progressive celebrity has had quite the same impact as Natalie Wynn, host of the YouTube channel “ContraPoints.”
The goal of this article is simple: to provide a systematic critique of Ms. Wynn. The goal here is not to moralize, to out-woke, or to make jokes at her expense (although I will certainly not be able to resist the urge toward this last one). I criticize Ms. Wynn merely because of her influence, because there are hundreds of thousands of people taking in her content with some regularity and having it shape the way they view the world. An analysis of Ms. Wynn is really an analysis of the potential her particular trend has within the “Left.” I do not believe she is uniquely heinous or idiotic. But I do believe she is uniquely popular. So if you want to blame anyone for singling her out, don’t make it me. Blame the more than one million people who have watched almost every video she has put out in the last year. They are the ones who have made it necessary to point out these grave shortcomings, the ones who have given Ms. Wynn’s bland liberalism its power and radical dressing. This is not about being sectarian. This is about revealing limits.
“I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you” – 1 Corinthians 4:14
Part I: Class
The largest and perhaps most relevant trend within the “Left” is that of Marxism. Most real critiques of capitalism take Marx as their starting point, and the largest socialist projects in history have pretty much all claimed to be upholding the truth of Marxism. Central to Marxist politics, and central even to many non-Marxist radicals, is the question of “class.” Class struggle, class warfare, and the building of a classless society are all common themes to the movement.
If Ms. Wynn is to have any real footing within the “Left,” then she must at least have a basic grasp of these topics. These are about as mainstream as you can get, and they are foundational to a radical politics. I am not going to say that she has to be an expert, knowledgeable in every aspect of obscure Marxist history, but she should at least have a decent understanding.
So what is her understanding of class?
Section 1: The Failed Critique of Marxism
Well, she rejects the Marxist definition.
“I’ve always found the Marxist analysis of class difficult to apply to the present day. . . Like, ‘bourgeoisie and proletariat’?. . . Marx’s typical examples are a factory owner and a factory worker. Now, I could be out of touch, but personally, I’ve never met a factory worker, or a factory owner for that matter. What’s supposed to distinguish the bourgees from the proles is that the bourgees own the means of production and the proles work for wages. But what about a bartender who owns the bar she works in? What about YouTubers? Which side of the revolution are we on?. . . I feel like a class analysis with only two classes must be overly simplistic.” – from the video “Opulence|ContraPoints,” section 3 “Class,” 14:07 to 15:15
This is packed with so many baffling claims and misunderstandings that it is hard to even know where to begin. But for the sake of showing the total bankruptcy of these claims, and for what is probably some undiagnosed masochistic tendency, I will go through all of it.
(a) The Factory
To start, she criticizes Marx’s use of the factory as a common example. The problem here is that she doesn’t understand Marx, on two levels. Firstly, it is just incorrect to say that Marx spoke primarily of the factory system. It is true that he thought the factory system was the one most suited to capitalist production and would therefore become increasingly generalized, but it was still in its infancy when he was writing. In Capital, it takes him until about halfway through chapter 15 to even start giving real discussion to the factory system. When he does, her other major misunderstanding is exposed. For Marx, a factory is not a big, dusty building with industrial waste spewing out its sides and top. It is a specific way of organizing production. In the factory system, machinery has taken over the dominant role in production, the machines have been connected or combined in various ways (usually through a common power source), and the division of labor has simplified the role of the worker to a degree almost unprecedented. It is the system where machinery becomes essential, and the worker becomes replaceable.
“In handicrafts and manufacture, the workman makes use of a tool, in the factory, the machine makes use of him. There the movements of the instrument of labour proceed from him, here it is the movements of the machine that he must follow. In manufacture the workmen are parts of a living mechanism. In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism independent of the workman, who becomes its mere living appendage.” – Marx, Capital, chapter 15, section 4
Going by this definition, even something like a modern movie theater would count as a factory. The building is powered and run by a series of machines, from the registers at the concession stand to the projectors in the theater. The workers are interchangeable, shifted from cooking, cleaning, or sales duties at will because all of these tasks have been simplified to the point where no real skill is required. The laborer is merely the overseer of the various machines. Some theaters even have a position designated to one person who does nothing other than walk around all day making sure the lights, screens, and other various parts are functioning efficiently. I say all of this not as a hypothetical example but as a person who worked in a movie theater for over two years.
For Marx, then, even a fast food place like McDonald’s or Burger King would fall into the category of a “factory.” In fact, Marx’s judgement that the factory is the system of organization most fit for capitalist production has been shown to be true, as almost all workplaces in industrialized countries follow this same logic and set up. Ms. Wynn is completely wrong to treat the factory as some far off place. There are factories all around her.
Moreover, Ms. Wynn is completely wrong to treat the factory as some far off place. There are factories all around her! She says that she has never seen a factory worker or owner, but has our dearest Mademoiselle Natalie even looked around her own city? She lives in Baltimore, which has dozens of large factories in and around it, even if we are to use her vulgar definition of a factory.
Even by her definition, she’s just empirically wrong and can be disproved by a quick glance around her own home. But her definition is not Marx’s definition, and so it can not be used to critique the latter. She has managed to be wrong in a way completely unique to her own position and has not yet even begun to criticize Marx, whose position she has not even understood.
(b) Capitalists, wage laborers, and everything else
Her explanation of the relationship between the capitalists (bourgeoisie) and wage laborers (proletarians) is simplistic, but I do not take particular offense to it. What is deeply wrong here is that these are merely particular classes and not definitions of “class” in general. The Marxist definition of class is not “bourgeoisie or proletariat.” Instead, bourgeoisie and proletariat are groups which fit the definition of “class.” A better definition would be “A group of people sharing common relations to labor and the means of production.” By framing it this way, Ms. Wynn has limited the discussion to only two classes and installed a false limit into Marx’s approach. Then, she attacks this false limit.
She insults the idea of an analysis with only two classes as being “overly simplistic.” Lucky for Marx, he never made such an analysis! He was consistent in his belief that “the actual composition of society. . . by no means consists only of two classes, workers and industrial capitalists” (Theories of Surplus Value, chapter 17). As early as 1848, we can read:
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” – Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto, chapter 1
This is not found in some rare text that only the scholarly and academic have the time to look into. This is the opening paragraph, of the first chapter, of the single most famous and accessible piece of Marxist literature in history. And it lists quite a few more than two classes. Ms. Wynn wants to criticize Marxism, but she hasn’t even done an entry level study. Hell, she didn’t even take the time to read the Wikipedia page on the topic! Instead, she constructed her neat little version of Marxism that is just dull enough for her to pass over without much thought. But she goes on.
“What about a small business owner who still contributes labor to the production process?” she says, taunting the strawman. Again, Marx has already thought of this and talked about it at some length. The name of that class is the “petty bourgeois,” or what Marx sometimes calls “small masters.” These people own capital, but have not yet accumulated enough to free themselves from the production process. They may employ other people, but there is still a need to combine their own labor with capital and so they are not capable of becoming full capitalists. Marx explains:
“We saw in a former chapter, that a certain minimum amount of capital was necessary, in order that the number of labourers simultaneously employed, and, consequently, the amount of surplus-value produced, might suffice to liberate the employer himself from manual labour, to convert him from a small master into a capitalist, and thus formally to establish capitalist production.” – Marx, Capital, chapter 13
Marx talks about this class frequently throughout his work, both in Capital and the Manifesto. The petty bourgeois are often only in a transitional stage though. Small businesses collapse with great frequency, and the goal of almost every small business is to become a big business. That is why Marx sometimes ignores them when talking, because the petty bourgeois of today are usually the bourgeois and proles of tomorrow. What role the small masters will play in the revolution depends on the small masters. They may not see the need for revolution, and in that case will almost certainly attack the proletariat with just as much gusto as the big capitalists. Or, they may realize their own sensitive position, recognize the better future that is possible, and side with the proletariat.
So the answer to Ms. Wynn’s question of “What side of the revolution are we on?” is simple. That’s up to you. But the fact you seem so uncertain about your position on the revolution certainly seems like an answer in itself!
(c) Natalie, petty bourgeois
I do feel the need to take a moment here to point out that Natalie is in fact petty bourgeois. She owns the equipment she makes videos with. She is self-employed. She even hires on help for most of her videos, necessarily creating an employer-employee dynamic even if some might insist it isn’t. As of writing this (January 4th, 2020), she has 11,062 patrons on Patreon. Assuming every one of them pays only the $2 a month minimum, she is making $22,124 a month, $265,488 a year. That is assuming a minimum and not factoring in the likely thousands of dollars she makes from YouTube, or all the donations and merchandise sales. I don’t think anyone will find it strange that a white woman making $300,000 a year wouldn’t see much need for a revolution, or for any real radical social change. And further, of course she is going to reject a methodology that will correctly point out her power and privilege in class society. She doesn’t understand Marxism in the least, but there is a good chance this is a purposeful laziness, an attempt at eschewing responsibility.
Section 2: Natalie Wynn’s Class Analysis
If Ms. Wynn is going to reject one of the most respected definitions for “class,” then certainly it is because she has an alternative that puts it to shame. She must have something she wishes to put in that place where Marxism once was. What is her substitute?
“My favorite book about class in America is Paul Fussell’s Class: A Guide Through the American Status System . . . Fussell is not as concerned with economic relations between classes as he is with status . . . things like education, style, taste, and attitude towards money.” – “Opulence|ContraPoints,” section 3 “Class,” 15:15 to 15:35
The trade-off here is fatal for any progressive movement. One of the reasons that Marx’s analysis is so potent is because it takes the material relations between people as its object of study. No matter how anyone feels about the proletariat, the fact that they are only able to live by selling their labor to others is undeniable. No matter how anyone feels about the bourgeoisie, the fact that they make their living and profit by exploiting labor is undeniable. Marx transforms social analysis into a science, with material objects to study. Of course, Marx acknowledges that these material relations will be reflected in the minds of the people, but never does he take those reflections as the true starting point.
Part of the reason Marx puts emphasis on the objective instead of the subjective factors of class is precisely because only this approach can lead to actual practice. If I understand my oppression as happening because a certain group is depriving me of resources and exploiting me in the workplace, then I can organize with others who share my predicament to do something about it. But Ms. Wynn would have us look instead for salvation in thought. She is an idealist, which (as I’ve explained before) means she is basically excluded from radical politics.
The basic point being this: For Marx, your objective class position determines your “style, taste, and attitude.” For Natalie, it is the direct opposite.
Even if one were to completely accept the argument she presents, what exactly would they do after that? If class is determined more by these subjective factors than anything else, then how am I even supposed to know who belongs to which class? With Marx, I could have analyzed their mode of being. Here, I am in desperate need of a psychic. How do I know a person’s inner opinions about the world? How can I make any actual statement about their “taste” which could hold up to argument? What if this person simply lies about their taste, or what if their outward expression of taste is only coerced and not representative of their deeper desires? Even if I can come to a complete understanding of the “style, taste, and attitude” of the other, what do I even do with this information? I imagine class war would consist mostly of debates about “style”?
Class here becomes a nebulous cloud. We can’t define specific classes. We can’t clearly identify who belongs to each class. Even if we can jump these first two hurdles, we don’t have any idea what practice could even possibly result from this. Ms. Wynn wants to ditch Marxism for being “overly simplistic,” but it seems like her solution is to become so complex that we must submit to incoherence.
And I am not exaggerating. What we are dealing with here is utter incoherence.
(a) We Live In A Classless Society?
Ms. Wynn continues her discussion of class, making the following remark.
“People who have wealth, but not class, are actually very popular in this country.” – 17:29 to 17:31
Now, not only does she say that economic position is not the main determinate of class, she posits a complete break between the two. A person could be wealthy and also classless. This is an important turn because it drags us, screaming, into an even deeper level of madness.
In her view, class is subjective, but it is also optional. It is not determined by wealth, and in fact there is no necessary connection between the two. We have already explained how her previous argument has made discovering a person’s class position impossible, but this pushes us even further back. Who is to even say this person belongs to a class in the first place? Taking this to its logical conclusion, who is to say anyone belongs to any class? If class is not tethered to anything material, and its subjective side is nebulous, then it is really nothing more substantive than the fleeting opinions one keeps to themselves. It may as well not exist for anyone other than the person experiencing it. The Wynnite, who really wants to follow the teachings of The Prophet, would have to reject that class is even really social. And, they would be just as justified to declare class as nonexistent, or to say that it has already been abolished. A move Ms. Wynn herself makes.
“I feel like Donald Trump represents a victory of money over class.” – 18:36 to 18:40
Money, instead of being a feature of capitalist class society, has actually annihilated class! Brilliant! Then, as if with the goal of making her position even less defensible, she continues.
“So the old class system is dying out, and in its place, we have universally adopted the mindset of the nouveau riche.” – 18:47 to 18:53
That’s right. Her actual position is that class distinctions have been destroyed by capitalism, that we now live in a world that is practically classless. All of those silly Marxists and anarchists should breathe a sigh of relief, we have already reached our society without class! Communism is here, and the war has been won!
Ms. Wynn has not just tried to redefine “class” in the absence of Marx, she has effectively tried to define it out of existence. What she posits is an oxymoron, “classless capitalism.” There is no essential difference between the capitalists and the wage laborers, no real difference between the rich and the poor. It is all a question of degree, but not a question of quality, not a question of class. This is the ultimate death of radical politics, the complete denial that an enemy even exists, the complete rejection of any class-based political approach.
But her position is not just inconsistent with the world around us. It is also internally self-destructive. So far, Ms. Wynn has taken two positions which can not be reconciled.
- “Class” is entirely subjective, the inevitable implication being that it can not be judged. It is a matter of personal style, taste, and attitude, not material reality. Therefore, it exists only in the individual’s head, and we can not say anything definitive about it. In fact, Ms. Wynn denies that we can even say it “exists” in some cases.
- “Class” has basically died out as a meaningful distinction between people, and we have all instead adopted a universal, mental, “class” position.
So we can not say anything substantive about class, but we can also definitively say that it no longer really exists. She makes a lot of different, contradictory, statements about class in this video, but these are the two main points. It belongs to a realm of personal thought, but also we can make definitive claims about its existence.
We can’t know anything about it. But we know things about it.
Class is a Kantian “thing-in-itself,” a thing beyond our perception or knowledge that we somehow can still define. Ms. Wynn’s position carries within it all the baggage of Kant despite claiming to be so very modern!
(c) Why all the Gymnastics?
If this worldview she has adopted is so unintelligible, then why has she chosen it? After all, as dear old Fichte would have said, “what philosophy a [person] chooses depends entirely upon what kind of [person they are].” I believe the answer is quite simple. It is for the same reason she rejected the Marxist definition, because it allows her to avoid taking responsibility or acknowledging her privileged position.
If we abide by Marx, we would have to say that Natalie is petty bourgeois and has a level of economic power disproportionate to most of her audience. We would have to say that she is not “working class” in the pure sense implied by the term “proletarian.” We would have to say she is privileged. And worst of all, she would have to admit all of this and take responsibility for it. She would have to acknowledge her privilege and do something about it, use it to actually support the movement. By rejecting Marx, she can then lean on these subjective factors to squirm out of any judgement. She can say “But look at how tacky my taste is, I’m definitely lower class!” It stinks of the false ‘so relatable’ content that we get from other celebrities, the embarrassed need to insist that they ‘started from the bottom’ and are ‘just like you.’
Any good faith or charitable interpretation of this is shattered by one of her remarks later in the video.
“Why am I so tacky? I think it’s because I’m a transsexual, which lowers you at least a class. If you were born upper class and you’re transsexual, you’re middle class now, bitch.” – 27:48 to 28:00
She has taken the identity opportunist route and claimed that is it literally impossible for her to be upper class, impossible for her to be privileged. A look at her relations to labor or the means of production would say otherwise. A quick glance at her Patreon would say otherwise. But she assures us, it is logically impossible for her to be privileged.
Now is there any question why she makes these logical leaps? Is it not clear that the source of these gymnastics is that it is easier for her to back-flip than to take responsibility?
Part II: Individualism
Section 1 – Personal Responsibility
It is not just in issues of class that she reveals her inability to hold herself accountable. This is a consistent issue. She perpetually places herself at the center of her videos, relating most topics back to her own experience. Much of her time is spent psychoanalyzing herself, and she often feels the need to contrast her personal opinions and priorities with those of the general “Leftist” movement. Her conclusion is usually that the movement must take a backseat to Her.
“Instead of worrying about my pores, shouldn’t I be helping stop the impending climate catastrophe that’s gonna destroy the planet if we don’t change the economy in like 12 years? . . . It’s just hard to focus on climate change when there’s so much else on my mind. I guess I’d just rather think about The Aesthetic than The Apocalypse, and that’s The Darkness.” – “Beauty | ContraPoints,” 19:21 to 19:47
She not only admits that she places her own happiness over the needs of the entire planet, but she actually wants sympathy for it. Oh how “hard” it must be for you to place the entire planet above your pores! Poor, pore, Natalie!
This is in no way to belittle the struggles of gender dysphoria or body dysmorphia. It is merely to prevent these struggles from being so blown out of proportion that they become more important than preventing the goddamn Armageddon.
This is also an expression of her idealism. She has no sense of the material, and so all ideas or feelings are judged just as they are to her. It isn’t about what will objectively help people, it’s about what will satisfy her the most. It’s about what she would “rather think about” instead of what we should rather dedicate our energy and practice to. She makes the subject, an individual human consciousness, her starting point, and so she is trapped in these petty thought experiments with no ability to step outside of her self for a moment. Her worldview is quite literally self-centered, a point only driven home by the fact that she uses the titles of her own videos to explain her position (The Aesthetic, The Apocalypse, The Darkness).
She has no concept of tying herself to a movement, and would rather seek to tie the movement to herself. To further illustrate that first claim:
“[Leftists] notice an injustice, we problematize it, we critique it, and then we cancel it. But what’s next, when we’re done critiquing things, what are we supposed to do? Because I’m aware that conventional beauty standards are a racist, sexist, ableist, fatphobic, transphobic social construct designed to preserve power relations and sell products, but does that awareness mean I desire any less to be conventionally beautiful? Well, no, I want it more than ever. The problem is that the intellectual exercise of critiquing things doesn’t usually affect my desires very much. So what am I supposed to do, sit here in silent contemplation until my desires finally align themselves with the interests of the international proletarian revolution? Oh f*ck the revolution, I want to be a pretty rich girl.” – 25:07 to 25:53
The way that a person really involves themselves with a movement is in practice. You actually go out and do something. Ms. Wynn posits the question of what to do after thought as some sort of sage riddle, but the answer is simple. After you think, you do. Again though, she has no real notion of practice, and so she can only imagine that what follows thought is more thought. For her, criticism is followed by reassessing “desire” and not action.
Not only does desire come after criticism, but criticism is submitted to the whims of desire. She not only neglects actual practice as an option, but she refuses to even bring her own opinions into agreement with her views. Ms. Wynn refuses to even see her own arguments through to their conclusion the moment that conclusion might interfere with her wants. She won’t change the world, but she also won’t change herself.
She is completely uninterested in having the needs of the people dictate her actions or opinions. The world be damned, as long as the host of ContraPoints is able to enjoy some guilt-free fun. This is what is meant by my claim that she refuses to tie herself to the movement. She doesn’t want to help people. She wants “to be a pretty rich girl.”
But what does this imply? If she doesn’t want to be integrated into the movement, then why is she a part of it? Why even put in the effort? Because she wants to be a celebrity. She wants respect and admiration, fame and wealth.
“I don’t wanna be ContraPoints anymore, I wanna be Gigi Gorgeous.” – 25:53 to 25:56
That’s who she looks up to. That’s her role model. She doesn’t care about making an actual impact in the lives of others. She cares about being famous. Ms. Wynn is not interested in joining a movement. She’s interested in being the center of one.
Fuck the revolution. I want to be a pretty rich girl.
(a) Acknowledging ≠ Taking Responsibility
On occasion, Natalie will make a point of bringing up her own privilege. But, as you should expect by now, this is never followed with her talking about how she will leverage her position to aid the working class movement, or any movement for that matter. It is treated as if she is paying her moral taxes to the “progressive” base, and is always undercut. For example:
“I guess I just don’t feel beautiful. And I know a lot of people think I’m pretty, and I know a lot of other people have it worse than me, and I know I should be grateful, and I know I’m privileged to be able to get plastic surgery, and I know I shouldn’t care so much about this in the first place. But the truth is that this just eats away at me, and I’m losing a lot of time and life to this pain.” – “Beauty | ContraPoints,” 22:43 to 23:02
She acknowledges the fact that she is privileged enough to get gender reaffirming surgeries. However, this is followed almost immediately by a “but” and couched in a wall of self-pity. Again, I understand that she is struggling with gender dysphoria, and I do not seek to belittle that, but using it as a way to avoid being criticized for privilege is just low. It is a return to that identity opportunism from earlier, an attempt to use being trans as a “get out of privilege free” card.
Section 2 – Canceling “Canceling | ContraPoints”
Ms. Wynn’s avoidance of personal responsibility and need for self-indulgence hit its fever pitch on January 2nd, 2020, when the video “Canceling | ContraPoints” was released. Sitting at just over an hour and forty minutes long, this absolute behemoth of a video was inspired by her own “canceling.” You can be sure that Natalie will pull out all the stops and make her longest video yet if it is for the noble purpose of defending herself!
I am not going to sit here and talk about the reasons she was “canceled.” Honestly, because I don’t care. The point of this article is to critique, not to moralize. Even my arguments about her being self-centered are not meant primarily as a moral judgement (That said, it is impossible to divorce them from that element). I critique her unwillingness to integrate with the movement because it is a poisonous way to approach organizing, because it is useless to radical politics, because it is internally incoherent and posits a nonsensical break between thought and action. Following these same lines, what I am critiquing is not the content that got her excommunicated by the Holy Left. I am attacking her defense, which in its blinding wisdom crafts an argument which in the last instance claims that it is impossible to judge anyone.
Her argument against cancel culture is broken down into parts, each discussing a particular thought process she sees as flawed. These are discussed in chronological order below.
Cancel culture trope one, presumption of guilt. (5:42)
Here, she outlines the fact that accusations are often taken as proof in and of themselves and critiques this way of thinking. Credit where credit is due, this is fine so far.
Cancel culture trope two, abstraction. (7:19)
This is where things start to get out of hand. Ms. Wynn is now seeking to criticize the replacing of concrete claims about a person with abstract claims. This is firstly pedantic. Is it really so important that we not shorten “x has a history of taking part in behavior that implies they are racist” to “x is racist”? Abstraction is fine and necessary in many cases. Criticizing it on principle is just foolish.
Secondly, it is a cover for obfuscation. She insists that we can not say “x did y” but should instead say “x was accused of y.” I hope we can all see the problem here. You could literally always do this in any case where there isn’t empirical evidence. “Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault” would technically be the ‘correct’ way of framing it by this logic, but it would be wrong. Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted people. To frame it only as an “accusation” is to delegitimize it, to push it into the realm of possible. But then, Ms. Wynn truly falls off the rails.
Cancel culture trope three, essentialism. (9:01)
“I also want to point out a linguistic shift that’s happening here. When the claim was ‘James Charles tried to trick straight men,’ the verbs in the sentence were ‘try’ and ‘trick.’ So what we’re criticizing here is James’s behavior, we’re criticizing things he did, allegedly, trying to trick straight men. But once the claim morphs into ‘James Charles is toxic and manipulative,’ the verb in the sentence is ‘is’, to be, so these adjectives are characteristics of James, and it’s now not his actions we’re criticizing, but his personality, his toxicity, his manipulative-ness. This is what I’ll call cancel culture trope three, essentialism. Essentialism is when we go from criticizing a person’s actions to criticizing the person themselves. We’re not just saying they did bad things, we’re saying they’re a bad person.” – 9:01 to 9:50
To Mademoiselle Natalie, it is wrong to judge a person based on their actions. She believes that there is or can be a strict division between who a person “is” and what they “do.” Again, we only need to follow her logic through to its conclusion to discover that not even she would support it.
What about Harvey Weinstein? Would it be wrong to call him a rapist? After all, that would be “essentializing.” We would be taking his actions and using them to judge him as a person. Is there really anything wrong with this? Do we need to distinguish between a ‘murderer’ and ‘one who murders’?
This seems like a “my mistakes don’t define me” tumblr post, and not the cute kind.
The truth is that the easiest way to see who a person is, in essence, is to look at their actions. A person who is not capable of or driven towards an action by something internal will not do it. And a person who is truly driven towards something internally will externalize it in practice. Further, the only existence a person’s “essence” has for any of us is in what they do. Ms. Wynn has once again demanded that we call upon a psychic before making any judgement about a person. Her approach is completely wrong, and has already been dealt with beautifully, about 200 years ago.
“As a man is outwardly, that is to say in his actions (not of course in his merely bodily outwardness), so he is inwardly: and if his virtue, morality, etc. are only inwardly his — that is if they exist only in his intentions and sentiments, and his outward acts are not identical with them — the one half of him is as hollow and empty as the other.” – Hegel, The Shorter Logic
Cancel culture trope four, pseudo-moralism or pseudo-intellectualism. (11:41)
This is a non-argument. She is accusing everyone of faking their moral outrage, which might be a decent point, but she has already burned away her ability to make that judgement. After all, is she not “essentializing” or speaking abstractly?
Cancel culture trope five, no forgiveness.
Again, another would-be argument that is completely shattered by her own previous premises. She wants to say that ‘cancelers’ are just refusing to accept genuine apologies, but how can she assure us that apologies are genuine? Is she basing this off the person’s actions? Or is she abstracting this from the apology itself? She wants to say we can’t judge people, but then insists that we judge them positively.
Cancel culture trope six, the transitive property of cancellation.
“Cancellation is infectious. If you associate with a canceled person, the cancellation rubs off.” – 24:11 to 24:17
Ms. Wynn insists that you can not judge a person based on who they associate with. This is really an extension of the previous claim about “essentialism.” Choosing to associate with someone is an action, and she has already said you can’t judge people based on their actions. This point is redundant, but she must pretend it is a separate rule so that it can deal specifically with what she has been accused of, associating with ‘bad’ people.
Cancel culture trope seven, dualism.
Her claim is that you can’t say someone is necessarily “good” or “bad,” because most people are a bit of both. Again, this would be fine, except it violates her own principles. How is she even capable of saying that people are a mix of both? If she can’t judge them at all by their actions, by their outwardness, then how the hell can she say this with any seriousness? Is she weighing souls with Anubis?
Later on, she makes the following comment:
“There’s not really anything ambiguous about this, it’s just abuse. But I don’t think it feels like abuse to the people who are doing it. They feel like they’re punching up because I’m a celebrity with a platform and lots of Twitter followers.” – 78:43 to 78:46
I bring this up as just another example to drive the point home. She apparently knows what “they feel,” and yet has insisted throughout the entire video that you can not know how a person really feels. She has never given us an alternative route to take, so we are left wondering what exactly was the method that allowed her to make such keen judgments, if she is not using their actions or associations in her analysis. Could it be that she’s bullshitting?
The video is a bloated mess, but the core of it is really built on two premises. Firstly, that it is impossible to make real judgement about people as people. Secondly, that she is great at judging people as people. It’s all quite brilliant, just what one might expect from the Oscar Wilde of YouTube!
Section 3 – Repeating Ourselves, or KantraPoints
The reader will hopefully have noticed that we have actually ended up at relatively the same place as at the end of part one. If not, a summary might help.
Part I: Class
Natalie’s argument follows this pattern:
- “Class” is a subjective experience, separate and distinct from material reality.
- Class is entirely subjective, the logical conclusion being that it is therefore impossible to make any statement regarding it.
- Class does not exist.
Part II: Individualism
- A person’s “essence” is distinct from their actions, ie, their subjective experience is separate and distinct from material reality.
- A person’s “essence” is entirely subjective, the logical conclusion being that it is therefore impossible to make any statement regarding it.
- She can still judge people.
As I have said before, she is echoing Kant. Each time, she forces an unnecessary divide between a person’s consciousness and their material reality. Each time, she then says that the truth lies in the mind and not the being and is therefore beyond our reach. Each time, she then still tries to make definitive claims about the topic. Not only is she a crude idealist, but she isn’t even a particularly clever one. The only reason this isn’t more blatant is because she is so inconsistent in her views that one must really sit and study her work to see the method, the skeleton on which everything is hanging.
Part III: Contra-ContraPoints
“None of this is sponsored by the way, this is just me supporting corporations out of the kindness of my heart.” – “Beauty | ContraPoints,” 20:15 to 20:21
Why is this important? Because her theoretical approach is suicide for any revolutionary. The move to idealism means abandoning practice. The move to her brand of subjective idealism means abandoning any rigorous critique. And the final move requires us to say that Natalie Wynn is the only person who can make real judgements. It’s important because we have to avoid personality cultists and replicating bourgeois celebrityhood. It’s important because at least a million people out there right now are being influenced by her, and more will certainly find themselves in that position.
Every ContraPoints fan should really be asking themselves some hard questions about their Prophet. Has she really done her research? Can she really be trusted? What is she “Contra” to? They’ll find that she’s contra to Marx. She’s contra to revolution. She’s contra to practice. She’s contra to personal responsibility. But one thing she is not “contra” to is capitalism. In fact, her limp idealism and emphasis on the self is right in line with capitalist ideology. She’s just a liberal, no more radical in essence than a Hillary Clinton supporter. That’s what I meant earlier when I said she wasn’t particularly bad. This is all really average stuff in liberal politics. They’re all idealists. They’re all opportunists. They’re all supremely self-centered. Hell, a lot of them even play “radical” in much the same way she does.
But what we need right now is not liberals who play “radical.” We need real, material, change. We need revolution. We are facing a combination of crises that a lot of us probably never thought we would live to see. The planet is entering a period of ecological crisis that threatens our very existence. The economy is sprinting towards another crisis when most countries haven’t even recovered from the last one. With waves of mass protest sweeping the globe and the various imperialist powers fiercely competing over limited resources, World War III has almost never looked closer. We are entering, and have entered, a great revolutionary moment. The opportunities we will have for global change in the next 10 years may be the difference between peace and extinction. We don’t have time for more liberals. They had their chance, and they got us here. If Natalie wants to remain a liberal, then we don’t have time for her either. If she wants to radicalize, then I would completely support her in that.
And if you, the ContraPoints fan, want to radicalize, to really try to change the world, then you have to accept that you will be making that journey without Natalie. But you will be making it with the masses and with over a century of practice and theory to learn from. It may seem difficult, but you will never find work so worthwhile.