Browsing Category

Social Justice

Politics, Religion, Social Justice

Dear Alt-Right and Postmodernists – Actually, Truth Doesn’t Depend On Power

July 13, 2017
evergreen-state-pc-mob-accosts-liberal-professor

In one debate after another on any issue with regards to religion, race, gender, or fairness, there is one maxim of faith you’ll hear repeated over and over again with an evangelist’s zeal – objective truth doesn’t exist.  And what we hear to be the truth is merely based on power – power invested in the state, the media, the church, or the academy, just to name a few of the many nodes from which it emanates.

Downstream proponents of instersectionality repeat this constantly.  One merely has to take a look at websites like Everyday Feminism to see this trope constantly carried out to shut down any criticism of their own movement.

One can be appreciative of this article for spelling out exactly what ideas are at play here.

“We are authorities on our own experiences and nobody else’s. Objectivity is often a sign of privilege and distance, not expertise… , nobody can ever argue from an objective or neutral perspective on things like social justice – because society treats no identity with neutrality. In other words, no matter who you are, your perspective will always be affected by the privilege or oppression you face…At risk of oversimplification, black feminist thought centers the lived experiences of marginalized people. It argues that subjectivity is valuable because people’s lived experiences are valuable – because people’s spoken truths are, in and of themselves, truths…”

Much of this rhetoric has its origins in Critical Race Theory, which explicitly credits its own origins to the Postmodern philosophers of the 1970s.  They too spell out exactly the way by which they can dismiss even the concept of an objective point of view – because power is all that really exists, and knowledge is never, in any way, separate from it.

Michel Foucault, in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, spells this out explicitly and articulately. 

“Perhaps, too, we should abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where the power relations are suspended and that knowledge can develop only outside its injunctions, its demands and its interests.  Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge.  We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.  These “power-knowledge relations’ are to be analysed, therefore, not on the basis of a subject of knowledge who is or is not free in relation to the power system, but, on the contrary, the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of these fundamental implications of power-knowledge and their historical transformations.  In short, it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge.”

Who else seems to subscribe to this way of thinking?  The populist movement that put Donald Trump in the White House, seeing itself as an oppressed minority, is now also tearing down the edifice of truth with zeal.  They too see their right to their own truth, their own alternative facts, and view their own fight against ‘elitist’ versions of truth in the same framework of the oppressed against the powerful.  The powerful are usually some combination of the media, Hollywood, academia, and urban cities (though the media seems to consistently be the favorite target).  And despite an exhaustive and unprecedented catalogue of Trump outright lying, it doesn’t seem to matter.  He’s their guy.  “They believe they’re getting lied to constantly, so if their hero tells lies in order to strike back, they don’t care” said Republican Strategist Rob Stutzman, who worked against Trump in the GOP primaries, a description of the kind of real-politik struggle of narratives that postmodernists see as being the reality of the world.

One New York Post columnist laid it out just after Trump’s victory.  His comments about suffering at the hands of a ‘dominant culture’ could make any Critical Race Theorist or Gender Theorist proud in another context.

The factory workers, the veterans, the cops, the kitchen help, people who plow the fields, make the trains run, pick up the trash and keep the country together and keep it moving — they are all now winners. As one, these cogs of our daily life rose up in a peaceful revolution, their only weapons the ballot box and their faith in the future.

Trump voters had the courage of their conviction to go against all their betters, all the poobahs and petty potentates of politics, industry and, above all, the fraudulent hucksters of the national liberal media.

And who, at this extraordinary juncture, dares say that Trump is not worthy of victory and of the salute of his countrymen? He has done what nobody thought he could, overcoming the doubts and scoffs every incredible step of the way.

No candidate in modern times and perhaps ever has suffered such abuse at the hands of the dominant culture. Virtually every day, nearly all the front pages and broadcasters in the entire country vilified him in an attempt to destroy him.

The late-night comics made fun of him like so much trailer trash, Wall Street saw him as a threat, Hollywood looked down on him and even the pope added his two cents of disdain.

It was dirty pool, against any standard of fairness and decency, but that was not the would-be assassins’ biggest mistake. It was that failing to destroy Trump, the elite smart set unleashed its contempt on his supporters.”

Anna Katherine Mansfield in the Washington Post articulates how similarly Trump supporters prioritize experience over objectivity.  Their demands that people listen to their ‘experience’ and ‘their truth’ are heavily praised when placed in a minority context in the mainstream of the media and academia.

It’s certainly easy for Trump supporters to “know” without proof that the mainstream media isn’t trustworthy: It hasn’t represented their point of view, their truth, in years, and therefore is inherently suspicious… Facts don’t matter if the emotional impact is real.

With this complete eradication of the concept of truth, the effects of the post-truth era are manifest.  From denial of basic truths about discrimination against minorities to truths about climate change, the economy, and vaccines, the ability to dismiss truths as illuminated via the scientific method – still the most powerful tool we have for doubling our lifespans and putting rockets into orbit – seems greater than ever before.  I say this of course being completely cognizant of the lies of the Bush years, and aware that some mythical Golden Era of truth never existed in American politics.  This doesn’t change the fact that the frequency of lies and the manner in which they occur are unprecedented in recent history, and it’s not an accident that Trump won an election in a zeitgeist so carefully prepared for his arrival by embracing alt-truth for decades.

To a certain degree, all of us who embraced relativism are at fault for this current state of affairs.  How can one challenge lies if we’ve spent so long attacking truth as a concept for generations?  One person I’ve connected with on social media, Nicolai Gamulea Schwartz, parodied the predicament perfectly – “There’s no such thing as truth, therefore there’s no such thing as lies. They’re all nodes in a semantic network of power.”

If we want to try and change this – if we want liars in power to be accountable for skirting the truth, if we want children to be vaccinated and climate change dealt with as a real problem, we have to attack this disease at its source.  So the next time you may feel tempted to do so, check your factual impairment – please stop walking around saying everything is about power. Your second-rate unconscious plagiarism of Lyotard and Foucault isn’t, for lack of a better word, “true”.

Yes it’s true, people in power often try to impose their narrative upon those with less power.  This is an observation that Postmodernists aren’t incorrect for pointing out.  It is a totally different observation, however, from whether or not any such a narrative is true.  To this author, this is exactly where the postmodern account goes wrong – equating narrative with truth.

I don’t doubt that this equivalence is reinforced with the best of intentions.  Plenty of real suffering was inflicted upon the powerless by the powerful in the name of some objective truth that was anything but.  One need only go back to the history of pseudo-scientific explanations used in the 19th century to justify racism and slavery to see what damage this can cause, or how conquering civilizations unleashed unimaginable cruelty upon the conquered thinking they did so for the conquered’s benefit, bringing God and civilization to the savages.

But the idea that one can only correct for this only by undermining truth itself is misplaced.   Who here can look at such 19th century pseudo-science and affirm it as science today, any more than a chemist today affirms alchemy?  Subjecting such questions to scientific scrutiny and peer review leads to an overwhelming number of identical conclusions to those desired by the postmodernists, but without the Trumpian chaffe that has accompanied it.  To say otherwise is to claim that aspirations to racial and gender equality are in and of themselves irrational – a position all too welcome by the Richard Spencers of the world, whose rhetoric and justifications often sound all too similar to the postmodernists themselves.

It’s also not crazy to point out that yes, often personal bias does get into scientific analyses.  People do have different perspectives and sometimes objectivity gets clouded by them.  The whole purpose of the scientific method  and peer review is to weed them out, and refine such views.  This leaves conclusions that are still never perfect – just better than all the others.  Calculations made to send rockets into flight always have a margin of error.  The point is not that they will be perfect – only that they, unlike alternative methods, get the rocket into the air.  No amount of ‘personal experience’ or ‘alternative facts’ even comes close to accomplishing this, and it is rather odd that we think that they will do so on other vitally important questions of equality and human rights.

And the other important thing about such calculations is that they actually do keep their truth value regardless of who sits on the throne or in the White House.  If Medieval Europe were sent these tools via a time machine into the Dark Ages, they would be true even if nobody understood them.  This is completely different from the types of nightmare scenarios cited by scholars like Howard Zinn, where narrative defeats narrative and the affirmation of the truth of that narrative only depends on the position of the powerful.

So yes, when the Arab imperialists kicked the Romans out of what is now modern-day Israel in the 600s and built a Mosque on the temple mount, that’s a clear example of imposing a narrative based on power. It was the same almost a thousand years later when the Spaniards forced the Native Americans to forgo their local Gods and accept Jesus and Mary instead.  But at no point, either when nobody in Europe believed in Jesus or when everyone did, when all of Arabia believed in the revelation sent by Muhammed or none of them did, were their narratives ever true. Truth never did, and does not, depend on “power” – truth depends on evidence.

Nobody should really care about critical theory challenging the ‘prevailing’ narrative simply for the sake of it being prevalent. Try challenging untrue narratives instead, both of the powerful and the powerless, for the sake of a real truth that will benefit both groups.

People in the United States now constantly question the truthfulness of whether vaccines cause autism.  The reason?  Being made by for-profit companies, their motives are suspect.  This is one of the exact critiques of science made by Jean-Francois Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition – that science and technology, often originally performed by or made for profit-seeking interests, should be suspect as something that serves and reinforces the interest and power of those very profit-makers.  The truth, of course, is that they could have been created by people with the most suspect motives in the world, and it doesn’t matter – vaccines work, and they do not cause autism. Meanwhile American children are once again getting diseases they have not seen in a generation, and all because a legion of delusional parents think they are bravely challenging the status quo.

Certainly I would never pretend that lies have never been pushed by powerful interests in the scientific and medical communities.  It’s vitally important to challenge these interests when their power and the truth do not intersect, such as when tobacco companies tried to buy off doctors to tell consumers that cigarettes were safe.  But this challenge too isn’t to overthrow science and reason, but to affirm them.  To try and destroy the truth simply because at times it does intersect with power is also dangerous.  That measles is now a concern parents must contend with is a testament to this.

So no, your position in the power hierarchy, whether on top, or on the bottom, has absolutely no say on one’s command of the truth.  There’s no such thing as “white physics” or “Native American vaccines”.  Power dynamics are still important, and the extent to which bias exists in the narrative of those in power, it must be mercilessly weeded out. But we must return to that place in the discourse where there is in fact a truth to be found, not a nebulous grey area into which we can insert whatever favored ideology we prefer.  Language is descriptive, and though powerful, it alone is not reality itself.  There is something beyond a language game that allows humanity to transcend its boundaries and manipulate the Universe itself.

When having to choose between power dynamics and the truth, we should demand the truth – truth based on real, peer-reviewed evidence – every single time.

Politics, Secularism, Social Justice

Censorship has crossed over. The left reaps the whirlwind.

June 30, 2017
WOODLAND HILLS, CA - JUNE 02:  Kathy Griffin  speaks during a press conference at The Bloom Firm on June 2, 2017 in Woodland Hills, California.  Griffin is holding the press conference after a controversial photoshoot where she was holding a bloodied mask depicting President Donald Trump and to address alleged bullying by the Trump family.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Those who only a number of years ago were touting the merits of deplatforming offensive speakers, using mob action to shame wrongthinkers or get them fired from their jobs are now reaping the whirlwind. Offense has crossed over, and is serving a new master.

But a moral position on speech with the defense of the oppressed at its core couldn’t cross over, surely?  Of course it can. Ideas can and do often cross over in small units, disassociated from their origins. If you don’t believe me, just look at one of the perfect analogies of this phenomenon in the natural world – the curious case of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics were first discovered in the formal sense in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, and first synthesized in a more massive scale in 1942 by Ernst Chain, Howard Florey and Edward Abraham. But with their incredible, paradigm-changing success, the general trend of antibiotic resistance came to be understood as inevitable. Naturally, as antibiotics were so effective at killing bacteria, over time the few that mutated to possess resistance would be the ones left behind. The rise of such bacteria was an inevitable consequence of Darwinain evolution, a consequence we feel all too acutely now as traditional antibiotics become less and less effective.

But at that time, perhaps nobody could’ve predicted one of the methods by which such bacteria could become resistant – the passing of resistance factors from one bacteria to another through horizontal transfer via transposons, plasmids or viruses.  Bacteria can pass the genetic material for resistance alone from one to another, including completely different kinds of bacteria.

In this sense, the overexposure of one strand of bacteria to antibiotics becomes the advantages acquired by another strain, and the danger to our health incurred in one area becomes incurred in another. Overuse of antibiotics is no longer a limited problem, it becomes a universal problem. We need not wait for all bacteria to spontaneously mutate into more virulent forms. The virulence now crosses over, and without a renewed public effort towards the development of new antibiotics, soon it will be ubiquitous, our health defenses set back over a hundred years.

Such is the reality of information, be it genetic, linguistic, or ideological. In any space of survival, as Dawkins described in ‘The Selfish Gene’, it is the individual unit that is vying for survival, and without any concept of consciousness at all, it will collaborate with other snippets if it helps itself propagate in whatever relevant environment it happens to find itself competing in.

So therefore it should be no surprise, that certain cultural conventions – acting just as Dawkins described them in “The Selfish Gene”, where the concept of the meme was first codified – are now crossing over from left to right and back again in our politics and discourse. Much for the worse.

Over the past 4 to 5 years or so, certain conventions regarding speech and offense became more and more common and ubiquitous among the left. A new memetic complex of postmodernism, critical race theory, gender theory, and identity politics seemed to merge, breed, and finally re-emerge into the zeitgeist as the modern ideology of so-called Social Justice, along with a new, more muscular brand of political correctness not seen since the 90s, now more fully armed by the organizing power of the internet.

For those of us just old enough to have not spent our entire youth in the bubble, the results were surprising.  Speakers deemed too offensive, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Bill Maher, were subject to constant attempts at forcing retractions of their invitations.  Nobel prize-winning scientists making self-aware satirizing jokes about sexism were not given groans for poor taste, their employment was unapologetically terminated.  A rocket scientist who successfully landed a spaceship on a comet was shamed in public and reduced to tears for wearing a tasteless shirt.  Offensive speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos, whose words were deemed to be doing violence, was met with actual, riotous window-shattering violence.  Maoist struggle sessions were mandated for defending the right to wear offensive halloween costumes at Yale.  Just recently at Evergreen State University, a professor who did not agree with a request that certain students not be made to leave campus on the basis of their skin color was met by a mob that barricaded professors in their own offices and wouldn’t even permit them to go to the bathroom by themselves.

Some people concerned about these events, I among them, warned that such trends would be dangerous, because such trends can and do cross over. Such postmodernist conventions are always couched in language saying that such behavior is permissible and laudatory in the name of challenging the powerful – but inevitably, as Christopher Hitchens predicted in 1994, the powerful majority eventually decides they want in on the victimhood business too.

Since the election of Trump, and the elevation of his movement, we have seen that this same brand of censorship has indeed fully crossed over. Once a proponent of deplatforming herself, Linda Sarsour recently came under intense pressure to be subject to it, with condemnations of her speaking at a CUNY graduation coming from the father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl and hundreds of holocaust survivors. Reza Aslan had his CNN show cancelled for calling the president a ‘piece of shit’ on social media. Kathy Griffin was similarly let go from CNN’s new years eve broadcast for performing an ‘artistic’ stunt in which she held up a mock-up of the President’s severed head. A college professor defending a race-segregated Memorial Day celebration for Black Lives Matter in a mocking tone on Tucker Carlson was let go from her job for doing so.  Another professor, harshly criticizing Trump’s election, went into hiding as her speech to a classroom was secretly recorded by a conservative student and posted online, sending hateful comments her way as well as people sending photos of her house to let her know they knew where she was and imply potential threats to her safety.

These meme may have been birthed as a tool to help the powerless.  Once it has undergone horizontal transfer, it becomes a new deadly weapon to further the interests of the powerful.

This is the problem more generally with identity politics. Forming coalitions of minority interests to pursue an agenda isn’t bad in and of itself – a consistent liberal demand for equality coming from such coalitions only benefits all when it crosses over to the majority.  But when it becomes tribalism for its own sake, rather than a tool for the furthering of equal civil rights, it only benefits the majority once it crosses over, if only because the majority is still the largest tribe.  Postmodern identitarianism is more likely to give us Richard Spencer than new meaningful civil rights legislation, a trend illustrated clearly by the fact that the rhetoric used by identitarians of multiple racial stripes often sounds strikingly similar.

As some of you may know, I am generally not a fan of Reza Aslan.  Linda Sarsour, for her vile statements regarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali and anti-semitism, excites me even less. I don’t care for Kathy Griffin, the college professor on Tucker Carlson is a joke, and I’m grateful that Milo’s own words served as the catalyst of his undoing. But I do worry very much when more and more people must fear for their jobs when they wish to criticize the President, even in a profoundly distasteful or stupid way.  Our Democracy depends on the ability to do so, and the chilling effect on free speech that these trends has created is real. ( It’s certainly true that there was a deluge of beyond-tasteless criticism directed at Barack Obama when he was in office, but this transferred plasmid of silencing and firing had not quite passed over yet in quite the same way. Times were simpler then.)

Now with this and other tenets of anti-free speech sentiment having crossed over, we’re experiencing a new wave of what I’ve heard described as “patriotic correctness”, a similar desire to censor and shame those who dare to blaspheme against our national leaders or symbols. Holding up such an ideological conception of truth and a disdain for free speech may have been advocated within leftist academia with the very best intentions of helping the marginalized, but now instead it has created the era of fake news and alternative facts within the majority, only making it harder to hold their feet to the fire.

Given that many obvious basic historic inequities exist and are concerning, there are those who advocate that true consistency in ethics, rights, or speech misses the point.   Given the nature of power, they assert, there must be a corrective mechanism enacted that constantly challenges the prevailing narrative of those in power. There should indeed be free speech for some, not others.  And this idea, consistently applied, should in theory produce the more fair and equitable society we desire.

How many of you feel that is what we are achieving now?

When such conventions cross over – as the inevitably do – who do they end up helping, the powerful, or the powerless?

Are we pressing forward, or have we merely reaped the whirlwind?

Politics, Religion, Schism Podcast, Secularism, Social Justice, Terrorism

The Postmodern Condition, and How to Fight It – Schism Podcast no. 4, with guest Reza Ziai

June 15, 2017
derrida

UdsTdK97_400x400On this episode of the Schism Podcast, I talk with Reza Ziai, Lecturer of Psychology at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York, about Postmodernism, what it is, how its pervasiveness has affected our discourse, politics, and more, and how the Enlightenment is in need of a vigorous defense more than ever.

 
Read his articles at Areo Magazine.

 
Follow him on twitter at @Reza_Ziai
 

Politics, Religion, Social Justice

Fake Racist Fliers Posted on Campus – Don Quixote’s New Windmills

March 28, 2017
college-diversity-council-admits-posting-fake-racist-flyers-campus_0

As reported by National Review, the students and faculty of Gustavus Adolphus College were shocked to find openly racist fliers posted on their campus, only to find out later that they were in fact fake, posted on purpose by campus social justice groups.

The Diversity Leadership Council at Gustavus Adolphus College admits that it — with the help of other social-justice groups — planted fake racist flyers on campus “to educate” people about racism.

The flyers, according to a photo obtained by Campus Reform, stated:

A NOTICE TO ALL WHITE AMERICANS
IT IS YOUR CIVIC DUTY TO REPORT ANY AND ALL ILLEGAL ALIENS TO U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT
THEY ARE CRIMINALS
AMERICA IS A WHITE NATION

On Monday, the Diversity Leadership Council published a Facebook post explaining that it had posted the fake flyers to “promote, preserve, and protect on-campus diversity” and “to help educate our peers and campus community about issues of bias, and the importance of being an active bystander.”

“We want to help put an end to bias-related incidents that happen on our campus, social media, and in our communities by forcing individuals to have dialogues about forms of hate and bias,” the post stated.

It has been speculated much as of late if intersectionality is a religion, and this incident certainly tends towards confirming this thesis.  Religions and the religious are always very careful to find confirmation of their own narrative, and if no such evidence currently exists, it is incumbent upon the true believers to create it, lest the greater good of the enterprise be lost to the masses.

Religious ideologies cannot exist without an ever present enemy to fight at all times, especially when there are other problems that seem currently beyond solution. During the time of the plague in Europe, people conjured up as many causes for the scourge as they could, and the victims of the resulting vicious reaction included Jews, Romani, pilgrims, and even people with simple skin diseases like psoriasis.

Colonial Salem Massachusetts similarly couldn’t seem to help itself in conjuring up yet more witches to kill.

Very recently some politicians in Pakistan, a country facing many complex challenges, saw fit to declare that the real problem facing the country was the scourge of blasphemy on social media, a cause against which they are trying to enlist Facebook in its aid.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised therefore that in a time where young people feel the stability and accomplishments of their parents’ generation slipping away from the expectations of a normal educated middle-class life, they channel such frustrations into a religious panic of their own, with an enemy that, if it does not actually exist before their own eyes, must be created out of thin air.

What is Don Quixote to do if his delusion breaks and he realizes those are windmills after all?

No doubt racism exists and must be steadily fought, but it is rather peculiar that people seem to see it in the very places in this nation and the world where the leftist Utopian dream on this issue is the most actualized as it has ever been in history. And it is notable just how similar this movement is to earlier moral panics and fervent religious revivalism.

A good narrative needs confirmation, and the artificially constructed hate crimes we have seen since Trump’s election bear witness to the zeal of those so insatiably eager to confirm it.

Ironically the greatest casualty of this behavior is the narrative itself, for crying wolf does indeed make people think twice when the real wolves arrive.

Politics, Religion, Social Justice

Charles Murray at Middlebury – Asking forbidden questions while leaving the road to bigotry.

March 18, 2017
FILE - In this Thursday, March 2, 2017, file photo, Middlebury College students turn their backs to author Charles Murray during his lecture in Middlebury, Vt. The college says it has initiated an independent investigation into the protest in which the author of a book discussing racial differences in intelligence was shouted down during the guest lecture and a professor was injured. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File)

In part thanks to the recent dust up at Middlebury, there seems to be a lot of talk once again about Charles Murray, The Bell Curve, and whether or not there is a correlation between race and IQ. And as usual, whenever people venture towards this third rail, tensions and passions run high, as it is one of the most forbidden conversations to even initiate within polite, liberal society.

The reasons for people considering this conversation dangerous aren’t totally unfounded. It’s certainly true that in past generations, a supposed statement of ‘inherent’ inferiority, backed up by bogus pseudo-science, was one of the many tools of justification that members of the powerful majority used to oppress the disempowered minority. It’s certainly understandable why some would want this to be one of those truths best left untouched, as the ramifications for subjecting the question to even the most rigorous, dispassionate scientific scrutiny would, in their view, still become a weapon too dangerous for any faction with an agenda to hold.

This raises an interesting philosophical question – are there some areas of inquiry where we really are better off simply not exploring it?

Is this one area where the best acquired scientific truth won’t set us free, but instead will become the whip of the slavemaster?

There is a similar air of emergency around similarly skeptical treatment of the modern cult of identity. Are there 37 genders? Is someone really a different race by simply identifying as such? Many of the same justifications are given as to why we simply cannot subject such claims to scientific evidence and scrutiny, as if a straight line can be drawn between the idea of proving Rachel Dolezal’s status of white or black and giving a green light to fully oppress marginalized people who depend upon this view of identity, most notably transgendered people. Many academics, with the best of intentions, do all they can to fully insulate such topics with an armor of ideology against such inquiry, attacking the very nature of scientific investigation itself as just yet another tool of powerful interests that does not deserve any special consideration – or any consideration at all – in illuminating these questions.

Does it really do society a service if certain topics are given the mandate of silence like a religious blasphemy law, similarly in the name of serving some greater good?

Lost in all of these conversations, I believe, is the real crux of the matter as to why many believe such inquiry is dangerous, and what in fact has caused it to be dangerous in previous generations – the link between the ‘truthfulness’ of claims as a kind of binary switch as to whether or not people deserve equality before the law and full civil respect as an individual in society.

Phrenologists of the 19th century spread many bogus claims as to the supposed inferiority of African Americans. Of course such claims are embarrassing under the light of modern science – but perform a thought experiment where we lived in a possible universe where such claims were true. Under what scenario therefore does it still become morally justifiable – when it is abundantly clear that African Americans are still shown scientifically to be full human beings – to therefore infringe on their rights? Even if this spurious claim were shown true, their rights are not therefore subject to any change.

Some really believe you can change from male to female based solely upon ‘identifying’ as such, while others believe this to be a mental illness or delusion. But ironically, many of the people taking the latter position also profess a belief in an all powerful God that is supremely interested in our masturbation and sexual habits, one that sends burning bushes to talk to us but cannot be bothered to extinguish genocidal modern dictators. If we run a thought experiment where trangenderism is a delusion, how would it be any more delusional than the fairy tale that so many religious Americans worship on Sundays? Indeed there is far less evidence for their magic sky man, and yet in the case of religious belief our modern moral zeitgeist has perfectly separated out debating the claims of believers from from whether or not the truthfulness of their claims would in any way affect full access to their equal rights within society and under the law.

It is perfectly clear to us as to just how respecting one’s beliefs is fundamentally different from respecting the right to hold such beliefs. Every religious believer in America believes in a set of truth-claims that are fundamentally at odds with all of the other truth claims, and they similarly regard the other claims as incorrect, delusion, dangerous, or some linear combination of all of these possibilities. And yet nobody thinks declaring a talking burning bush to be laughable delusion is the very singular thing that opens the door wide to anti-semitism, or the hatred or oppression of Jews as individuals within our society.

Once we understand how immutable the granting of universal rights is and must be within our modern liberal democracy – a position that, in all truth, certainly was not so for much of our history – and provided we fully dedicate every ounce of our political will towards that proposition, the untouchable areas of exploration are no longer demons hiding in the mist. Is homosexuality natural? It doesn’t matter, even in a universe where it was the most unnatural choice possible, it would have absolutely no impact one iota on the access that person has to their universal human rights and full equality before the law. (Homosexuality is of course observed in a plethora of other species, making this debate about its status moot and more or less settled).

Can one change their race or gender simply by virtue of how they identify? This is, again, irrelevant as to whether or not individuals who do so should in any way have their full equality curtailed. Believing in magic Prophets on flying horses – a belief shared to varying degrees by approximately 1.6 billion people – or in a socialist Jew magically rising from the dead after three days – shared by 2.2 billion Christians to varying degrees – are far more ridiculous than changing one’s race or sex could ever be. And yet the cornerstone of our civilization is built upon universally respecting the freedom to live in such beliefs, a foundation that makes it possible for the old warring tribes of of the Middle East to settle in a place like Dearborn Michigan and manage to go about their days without any fear of rocket attacks or theocratic massacres, despite being racially and culturally identical to those who suffer ceaselessly form such scourges in their countries of origin today.

Even if every claim Charles Murray made turned out to be completely true – a position I do not share – this has absolutely no impact on whether or not racial minorities deserve every measure of equality within our society, nor does it in any way diminish the need for continued political action to make such equality more and more the reality of our time. Room for blasphemy does not by definition make room for bigotry. Disagreeing with your Muslim or Jewish friends on the truth claims of their religion in no way gives a green light towards infringing upon their rights as people. Both using the truth-claims of their beliefs to oppress and insulating such beliefs by conflating the two as the same only hinder the progress of our civilization, and the furthering of the project of maximizing human flourishing.

If non-binary genders or changing racial identities are similarly faith claims based upon experience, and not necessarily based on empirical evidence, those that espouse these ideas too deserve the same protection and freedom we grant to all other believers. Fighting to separate out rights from truth claims only aids both the defenders and critics of such beliefs. Areas of exploration are only dangerous if rights depend on them – the elimination of this dependency is the only project that makes the title of ‘universal human rights’ worthy of such description.

Politics, Religion, Schism Podcast, Social Justice

Schism Podcast Episode 2 – First Week in the Wilderness. Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, Corey Booker, DNC Debate, the Path Forward

February 1, 2017
IMG_3931

 

On this episode of the Schism, I reflect upon Week one of Donald Trump, and the first stumbles of the Democratic party and liberalism generally in the wilderness.  Linda Sarsour, Corey Booker, and the DNC debate are hard reminders of just how entrenched in the failed dogmas of the past we still are.

 

 

Politics, Religion, Schism Podcast, Secularism, Social Justice

Schism Podcast Episode 1: Why We Are Here, Filmmaker Jay Shapiro, “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”

January 22, 2017
10731095_10100798214593446_2448911534656956603_n

After months of procrastination by perfectionism, here it is – the first episode of the Schism Podcast.

Much thanks to all who encouraged me and all who lovingly poked fun at me for doing it.

Special thanks to Evan Vicic, my audio guru who was able to point me in the right direction in terms of audio equipment and editing, so that I was able to do this without making a total technical fool of myself.

In this episode I discuss what brought me here, and have a great conversation with filmmaker Jay Shapiro, who is filming a movie version of “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” with Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz.

Hope you enjoy this first rudimentary step forward.  Please leave suggestions and comments below for what and how I can do better in the future!

Politics, Social Justice

Hillary Clinton Supporters Don’t Care about the Poor. Identity Politics is their New Religion.

March 16, 2016
2015-10-08-bernie-hillary_1444329242384_24963683_ver1.0_640_480-640x400

Today has been yet another day where the micro aggressed Hillary Clinton supporters  reared their ugly head, with critiques pouring out all day over social media serving the same old myth – “if you dislike Hillary Clinton, you are a sexist.”

I must admit that this election cycle has been eye-opening to me. I woke up to realize that the Democratic Party is in fact far less liberal that I imagined. It is the party of the identity politics left, in the same way that the Republican Party is the party of the religious right.

Identity politics and political correctness are the only truly sacred values, to be compromised for nothing else.  And it is because of this willingness to betray every other liberal value upon this golden altar identity politics – the beneficiary of which is big money – that we need to start identifying “liberal” support for Hillary Clinton for what it is, a perfect example of “the regressive left”.  

Maajid Nawaz coined this term regarding the subject of Islam and terrorism to describe well-meaning liberals who will sacrifice all concern for universal human rights in the name of multiculturalism.  I believe this example fits because what you are seeing are liberals more than happy to sacrifice every liberal economic value – indeed spend hours upon hours denigrating plans for universal healthcare and free public education as if they are Republicans – in the name of ‘feminism’ and the modern brand of social justice.

It has been astonishing and dispiriting to see see how many “liberals” are publicly declaring that they don’t actually much care about the poor. They support “free-trade” – one of the very signature issues fueling the rise of Donald Trump –  fully.  This morning I listened to an NPR story where Florida mayor Bob Buckhorn showed exactly what side of the free trade debate he stood on.  After hearing an interview with a woman exposing just how free trade ruined her life and her marriage, the mayor made it clear that making any such connection was erroneous.

BUCKHORN: Well, I think that’s an unfair portrayal of trade in general. I mean, why would we not want to knock down over 18,000 barriers to 40 percent of the world’s global economy? I mean, I think opening up trade is a good thing. I think – we really ought to be focused on how the economy is changing and how the workforce, the skill set needed to compete in a global economy is changing.

I don’t know that you could blame trade and opening up opportunities for American jobs and American businesses for that particular situation. So obviously the trade deals, TPP in particular, have been a long time in the works. Senator Clinton has come out in opposition to that. TPP does correct a lot of NAFTA’s issues. So I think moving forward trade is a good thing. We just have to make sure that the impact on American workers is a positive thing.

Indeed, one friend of mine, a friend I had always thought of as a liberal, referred to the loss of the American middle-class completely as “the loss of white privilege”. I can concede that in an earlier age when jobs were plentiful he may have had a point, but whether or not white people had better access to jobs when they were plentiful is different from whether or not these jobs exist at all anymore.

Now a “liberal” can be pro war, pro Wall Street, Pro free trade, pro drug war, pro mass incarceration, and still call themselves a liberal.

Are liberals ever going to wake up and realize that this is madness?

More than that, why should people be shocked that these poor and desperate people, living in third world conditions thanks to policies the Clintons supported and enacted are jumping into the arms of Donald Trump – who at least seems on the surface to actually care about them?  Donald Trump at least talks about being willing to reverse some of the trade policies that over 20 years on appears to have benefited only a tiny percentage of the richest people in corporate America, on the backs of American workers.

It has been absolutely astonishing to see any advocacy for the American working poor either dismissed or deflected as yet another example of sexism.  It has shown the elite support for Hillary Clinton to mostly consist of what I can now identify as corporate trickle down feminism – feminism that is obsessed about how wealthy, well-educated 1% women are performing in corporate boardrooms, with almost no concern about whether or not a poor single mother is able to earn a living wage.

Perhaps one of the most clear examples of this kind of regressive identity politics can be embodied in the personage of Amy Siskind, a Wall Street 1 percenter who racked up an impressive resumé running the kind of Wall Street trading desks that destroyed the American economy in 2008.  Just before the Michigan primary, she called Bernie’s criticism of Hillary’s support for free trade agreements ‘sexist’, because her record was distinct from Bill’s.

12800371_647652058710_2753890917990230230_n

Over twitter, in an exchange that of course got me expelled from Amy Siskind’s safe space, I pointed out to her three separate instances in which Clinton vocally supported free trade.

12802903_647652393040_4185859051120952882_n

10660107_647652422980_4879280126910877649_n

12805693_647652452920_5473616310557169024_n

The response of this former debt trader?  A typical regressive smokescreen.  Don’t address the proof.  Don’t address the evidence.  Cry sexism.

12805985_187209878315771_5127380829020082612_n

I’ve had to wake up and realize that the party that I thought actually did care about the poor on some level but was forced to tack to the right to win elections in the 1990s has actually never recovered from the “New Democrat” years.  Barack Obama, with the signature moderately liberal accomplishments he has achieved such as healthcare and Wall Street reform, may be seen historically as an aberration from what is now coming back as a fully corporate party, with the only difference being the religion to which it subscribes and inspires voters to vote against their self interest.  For years, big money used religion, mostly evangelical Christianity, to inspire working voters to vote against their own interests.  Today they are doing it with a new opiate of the liberal masses – identity politics.

It is amazing that in a country that still has such a shockingly high percentage of people that are either unemployed or underemployed in such a way so as to not be able to make ends’ meet that the ‘liberals’ are absolutely obsessed with whether or not Hillary Clinton has been addressed in a way that pleases the PC gods.  That comments about her hair they find unsuitable light up social media like a Christmas tree shows that this segment of the party in fact may not get it .  They may not understand the storm of discontent that would vote for Bernie Sanders, but if left with no choice may create the hurricane of Donald Trump, taking America in a direction for which we are unprepared and do not want to entertain.

I hope I’m wrong.  If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination – which looks likely at this point – I will do everything I can to get her elected.  But even if Trump loses this round, the Donald Trump movement is going to be with us for a long time, and we should fear round two even more if we do not make fundamental changes to the economic policies of this country.

I fear that identity politics may absolutely blind Hillary Clinton supporters to the coming storm.  That Hillary has been called fat and shrill – this is what the regressive leftists might still be talking about when Trump has his finger on the button, ready to push.

Politics, Social Justice

Killing Bernie, Perpetuating Racism: Ta-Nahisi Coates and the Social Justice Regressives

January 25, 2016
1-e1439084030627

I think I’m ready to give a name to a movement I’ve seen for over a year that really troubles me – Regressive Social Justice.

Regressive in the sense that it is willing to actually throw the meaningful policy reform it argues for under the bus in the name of political correctness.

In this presidential race, we saw maybe the first and biggest instance of this when Black Lives Matter protestors took over a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle, with one protestor saying “I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, filled with its progressives, but you did it for me,” accusing the audience of “white supremacist liberalism.”

Along with a confrontation at Netroots Nation earlier this year, it was the beginning of a bizarre chapter in the modern social justice movement: the destruction of Sander’s brand on black issues.  To be fair, some of the criticism has been policy-oriented.  But given that Sanders, on issues regarding incarceration, education, jobs, and the drug war, has been far superior to Hillary Clinton on just about every relevant metric, much more of it has been just a greater form of language and tone policing, a narcissistic obsession with vocabulary that often dwarfs real interest in meaningful policy changes.

The latest mutation of this bizarre practice now comes in the form of a new essay by Ta-Nahisi Coates, “Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Imagination”.  In the essay, Coates takes Sanders to task for saying that fighting for reparations in a likely intractable Congress could be “divisive”, especially when he is similarly fighting for his plans for healthcare and education that many allege to be equally divisive and improbable.

The need for so many (although not all) of Sanders’s supporters to deflect the question, to speak of Hillary Clinton instead of directly assessing whether Sanders’s position is consistent, intelligent, and moral hints at something terrible and unsaid. The terribleness is this: To destroy white supremacy we must commit ourselves to the promotion of unpopular policy. To commit ourselves solely to the promotion of popular policy means making peace with white supremacy.

Coates does make some valid points in this essay, absolutely worthy of discussion in the theoretical space of ideas, and unlike many other writers in his vein he is very fair in talking about Hillary Clinton’s record.  The problem I believe lies in the failure of Social Justice Regressives to realize how much branding matters, and that what makes for good theoretical discussion and what helps advance the cause can be two completely different things.  I think what he and others don’t realize is that they have tarnished Bernie’s brand so badly – and unfairly – on social justice issues that they may hand the Southern minority vote to Hillary Clinton, in which case Sanders will definitely lose this nomination.

Why should they care?  “Tough shit, that’s how the process works” you might say, except that Sanders is the first major candidate for president ever to publicly call for the beginning of the end of the War on Drugs, which, if “The New Jim Crow” is correct – I think it is – is probably the central lynchpin in the incarceration and criminalization of Black America. Bernie wants to legalize marijuana on the Federal level. Hillary Clinton is just fine keeping marijuana as illegal as cocaine.  Why does this not set off the alarm bells of the Social Justice left?  Hillary Clinton seems to be treated with kid gloves and enjoy much greater esteem within the African American community, bizarrely so when one revisits how she and her husband failed the black community immensely through the War on Drugs and “Tough on Crime” legislation.  Is it due to greater media awareness, or her ability to offer more politically correct speech that enables her to escape this as her failures on policy go totally ignored?

Voters as a whole tend to vote based on brand perception rather than details; while Coates and others may be right on the details, I believe they are assaulting the brand only to their own self-defeat.  This can and will have real-life repercussions.  Will Coates and others effectively “Nader-ize” Sanders, and thus ensure that the drug war is perpetuated for several more generations?  Will they hand the Democratic Primary to the candidate who is less in tune with the hugely simmering emotion of working class grievance than Donald Trump is, effectively handing the election to the most openly racist President we’ve seen in generations?

I hope I’m wrong and this concern is unwarranted. I really hope Coates and others, in the name of righting wrongs, do not end up perpetuating the wrongs they seek to right. We can’t afford Regressive Social Justice.

 

PS – I encourage everyone reading this to watch host Benjamin Dixon‘s response to Coates’s earlier essay on the same topic.  Hits many of the same points from a black progressive perspective.

I also suggest you follow him on twitter. I was very impressed with the wisdom he imparted here.
12495027_644750243970_5379182413621403038_n