Sunday Hot Takes, May 23rd, 2021

Intelligence and entryism.

A Stupid Man’s Smart Man — Elias Khoury, University of Michigan

Whether being called “smart” is a compliment depends on how you define that word. Take Christopher Langan, for example. Langan’s claim to fame is that he performs exceptionally well on IQ tests. His score is estimated to be around 200, which is twice the average and also countless standard deviations above it. This has led some to dub Langan, now a rancher in Missouri, “the smartest man in the world.”

But there’s a problem: Langan is certifiable. Seriously — the guy is a bonafide lunatic. Name a crazy conspiracy theory, and he probably believes it. Let’s start with the idea that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Langan, who claims to be a man of hard science, ironically takes this as an article of faith. Evidence be damned, Trump won. In Langan’s own words:

“SCOTUS leaves us with no option but to throw out the fake election and hold a real one to set things right. This new election must completely exclude Dominion, BLM, and other Democratic Party tools and gulls from any role in determining the outcome.”

By now, you’re probably starting to seriously question Langan’s intellectual bonafides. But the madness continues. Langan is also anti-vaxx and perhaps even crazier than the average anti-vaxxer:

“The Pfizer ‘vaccine’ is a genetically invasive potion which modifies human DNA and reportedly causes recipients to test POSITIVE for HIV. It allegedly does this by causing your own DNA to replicate certain viral proteins so that your immune system can manifest immunity.”

Of course, Langan’s take on both the election and the Pfizer vaccine are ridiculous. But they still fall well within run-of-the-mill conservative paranoia. So Langan, being the exceptional person that he is, has to take things a step further. Check out this tweet of his from last December:

“The Coudenhove-Kalergi Plan is a real conspiracy involving the European ruling class and the international bankers. The movement was handsomely funded by famous international bankers including Warburg and Rothschild and eagerly embraced by European royalty. There’s no denying it.”

Repeating the phrase “international bankers” should be enough to raise some red flags. But referencing the “Coudenhove-Kalergi Plan” is even more telling. Here’s the first sentence of the plan’s Wikipedia entry:

“The Kalergi Plan… sometimes called the Coudenhove-Kalergi Conspiracy, is a far-right, anti-semitic, white nationalist conspiracy theory, which states that a plot to mix white Europeans with other races via immigration was constructed by Austrian-Japanese politician Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi and promoted in aristocratic European social circles.”

So, if it wasn’t clear already, the supposed “smartest man in the world” is an alt-right kook. I don’t know about you, but anyone who uncritically swallows every right-wing myth does not fall under my definition of “smart.” IQ is a joke and Christopher Langan is the punchline.

Their Factionalism and Ours — Griffin Mahon, University of Virginia

On March 28th, I wrote about members of the group Socialist Alternative announcing that they were joining DSA. I was ahead of the curve: two days later, several “old guard” (founding) members of DSA wrote on “The Dangers of Factionalism in DSA” for In These Times.

Their article begins by rightly pointing out that DSA’s ban on members “under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization” (Bylaws Article I Section 3) is not just some structural relic of Cold War anti-Communism. It is, more precisely, a protection against specific practices employed by Communists. Namely entryism, or joining an organization with the intent of influencing its direction — by competing for leadership, recruiting members to the other group, or agitating for a split. For a history of the original tactic in the U.S. context, read this paper.

While the old guard article might have gotten some things wrong — overstating the importance of the Socialist Party in the ‘30s and downplaying the unhinged perspectives at play in Students for a Democratic Society before its implosion in 1969 — it gets at a basic truth: all political organizations need some way to exclude people who do not align with the organization. We might re-word or remove the dem-cent clause (rarely invoked) or propose that DSA change its fundamental principles, but we would still need a way to make sure we’re not just letting in liberals.

Entryism has no doubt contributed to the Left’s stereotypical infighting in the past. Yet it’s difficult to fairly debate political positions when one side’s positions imply covertly undermining the other side. Luckily Grace Fors of Socialist Alternative replied in In These Times.

There is an interesting admission contained partway through: SAlt has “more than 1,000 members.” This must mean they have less than 2,000 members — an astonishingly small number compared to the nearly 100,000 in DSA or the millions needed to win socialism. Such small size is indicative of sub-par strategy. The article lists the work that SAlt has been doing, some of it with DSA, and then briefly recounts the history of Trotskyism. This is all that contemporary Trotskyism has for strategy: being involved in everything that’s going on and justifying it via references to a particular lineage.

To counter the charge of entryism, Fors writes that only around 100 SAlt members are becoming active in DSA. This is perplexing. If the socialist movement has so much to learn from SAlt, why wouldn’t all their members join up? There must be something else going on then. 

Factionalism, in Fors’s words, comes from organizing dishonestly. Never mind that a few years ago SAlt said they wanted “access” to DSA’s new members… 

Here, however, is a simple fact: if SAlt was really invested in DSA’s success, they would simply dissolve their organization and reconstitute themselves as a caucus. That they do not do this — and we are likely all better off that they don’t — is a sign of being stuck in their ways, ulterior motives, or both.

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