Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Empathy as Self-Justification

June 23, 2017

So, Katha Pollitt is complaining about liberals being asked to show empathy and understanding for those voters that didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Her main argument seems to be that liberals already show more empathy than those people and so being constantly reminded to show empathy is annoying. The problem is that she does so by completely ignoring what empathy actually is and instead ends up claiming to have and be showing more empathy simply because of the policies she supports, and in so doing shows that she doesn’t actually have any empathy or respect for the people that she’s complaining people keep telling her to have empathy and respect for.

She starts off by misrepresenting the situation:

And that’s not even counting the 92,346 feature stories about rural Trump voters and their heartwarming folkways. (“I played by the rules,” said retired rancher Tom Grady, 66, delving into the Daffodil Diner’s famous rhubarb pie. “Why should I pay for some deadbeat’s trip to Europe?”) I’m still waiting for the deep dives into the hearts and minds of Clinton supporters—what concerns motivated the 94 percent of black women voters who chose her? Is there nothing of interest there? For that matter, why don’t we see explorations of the voters who made up the majority of Trump’s base, people who are not miners or unemployed factory workers but regular Republicans, most quite well-fixed in life? (“I would vote for Satan himself if he promised to cut my taxes,” said Bill Thorberg, a 45-year-old dentist in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “I’m basically just selfish.”) There are, after all, only around 75,000 coal miners in the entire country, and by now every one of them has been profiled in the Times.

First, it’s not like we haven’t been seeing a large number of articles appealing for empathy for those who would be impacted by, say, the death of the ACA, focusing on people with health problems who were only able to afford treatment with the ACA but who now can’t. So there are more than enough counter-narratives from the liberal side to balance the narratives from the conservative side.

Second, one of the reasons for all of these articles is in fact that people were not expecting them to vote for Trump. Thus, there is a lot of interest in figuring out why they did so. Pretty much everyone already knows why those 94 percent of black women voted for Clinton, and at least all of the liberals like Pollitt think they know why those “well-fixed”, “regular” Republicans voted for Trump … although her summary is almost certainly wrong for most “regular” Republicans, as extreme exaggeration starting from a basis of stereotypes and bias tends to be. For liberals specifically, the interest and admonishments happen because they want to see how they can get these votes back. Pollitt herself hints at the importance of this when she talks about how these areas have, under the existing system, disproportionate power — citing the “3 million more votes” line yet again — but ignores that Obama and Bill Clinton managed to win enough votes — or, at least, enough apathy — from them to win elections, while Hillary Clinton didn’t. There’s certainly reason for liberals to want to see if they can pick up those votes and thus win elections, and denying that any changes need to be made might start to slide into “repetitive insanity” mode.

Pollitt then moves towards “two wrongs make a right” territory:

But here’s my question: Who is telling the Tea Partiers and Trump voters to empathize with the rest of us? Why is it all one way? Hochschild’s subjects have plenty of demeaning preconceptions about liberals and blue-staters—that distant land of hippies, feminazis, and freeloaders of all kinds. Nor do they seem to have much interest in climbing the empathy wall, given that they voted for a racist misogynist who wants to throw 11 million people out of the country and ban people from our shores on the basis of religion (as he keeps admitting on Twitter, even as his administration argues in court that Islam has nothing to do with it). Furthermore, they are the ones who won, despite having almost 3 million fewer votes. Thanks to the founding fathers, red-staters have outsize power in both the Senate and the Electoral College, and with great power comes great responsibility. So shouldn’t they be trying to figure out the strange polyglot population they now dominate from their strongholds in the South and Midwest? What about their stereotypes?

Well, first, because they have the power to, in fact, determine who will win the election, it is in the best interests of liberals to figure out how they can get these people to vote for them. That means understanding them and what they want. These are people who, at least, won’t turn up to vote for just any Republican and might even (gasp) vote Democrat on occasion. That they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton means that something in what Hillary Clinton said didn’t appeal to them and even turned them off. If you have no interest in figuring out what that is and how you can use that to your advantage in the next election, you either have to believe that they will always vote and vote Republican — which, given Bill Clinton and Obama, is flatly false — or else you have to decide that you don’t care if you win or not. You can do the latter on a basis of principle — promising them what they want violates your moral principles — but a) Pollitt here is not suggesting that those specific people are the evil and selfish ones — for her, those are the “regular” Republicans — and b) any liberal who wants to take that tack can’t have ever argued that people should have held their nose and voted for Clinton despite disliking her. You can’t stand on principle only when it’s convenient for you and still be a person of principle.

But the issue here is that this is definitely “two wrongs are all right”, where someone who presumably thinks that morality and moral decisions should be based on empathy is saying that that only counts when the other person is doing it, which is invalid. To use a personal exmaple, I, personally, believe that basing morality on empathy is a really bad thing to do and oftentimes borders on being evil. By Pollitt’s logic, people who base their morality on empathy should not bother applying empathy to me or trying to understand me, even if they need me to work with them on things. This is despite the fact that since I lean Kantian/Stoic and definitely lean towards rationalistic morality they actually could convince me of their side by simply appealing to why the action is right rather than by asking me to think of how I’d feel in that situation (to which my usual reply is that I can see how they feel but that, in and of itself, doesn’t make the action right or wrong). I can justify not trying to climb the “empathy wall” for them because for me that’s not relevant to making moral decisions. They cannot. Thus, Pollitt would be justifying acting immorally towards me on the basis that I don’t share her morality. That seems to contradict her line in the post that she wants to help all people (more on that later).

And at the end of the day, this is all false anyway; there are lots of attempts to get those people to feel empathy for those people that Pollitt is concerned about. It seems that for the most part it’s had as much impact on them as the liberal calls for Pollitt to show empathy for those who voted for Trump had on her.

What difference does it make if I think believing in the Rapture is nuts, and hunting for pleasure is cruel? So what if I prefer opera to Elvis? What does that have to do with anything important? Empathy and respect are not about kowtowing to someone’s cultural and social preferences. They’re about supporting policies that make people’s lives better, whether they share your values, or your tastes, or not.

Um, no, that’s not what empathy and respect are about. She’s trying to pull a “deeds, not words” argument here, but it doesn’t work. Empathy is about understanding who people are, what they want, and why they want it, and respect is about not looking down on them for those things that they want that are different from what you want, and treating them as having an equal right and justification to pursue their own wants and needs even if they don’t want what you want. To take on her examples, I don’t care for either opera or country — the predominant music form of those areas — but I can at least potentially understand why they might prefer those to what I prefer, and I don’t look down on them for liking things I don’t like and not liking the things I like. Pollitt here seems to, in general, do both, and liberals in general, in fact, have been acting that way for a while now, and arguably that’s what cost Hillary Clinton the election: the idea that Clinton and the Democrats only had any respect for them if they thought “the right way” and wanted “the right things”. They never tried to understand what they wanted or why they wanted it, and when they did usually argued that what they wanted was wrong and they were bad people for wanting that. That is not a way to get people to vote for you.

Sorry, self-abasing liberal pundits: If you go by actual deeds, liberals and leftists are the ones with empathy. We want everyone to have health care, for example, even those Tea Partiers who in the debate over the Affordable Care Act loudly asserted that people who can’t afford treatment should just die. We want everyone to be decently paid for their labor, no matter how low they wear their pants—somehow the party that claims to be the voice of working people has no problem with paying them so little they’re eligible for food stamps, which that same party wants to take away. We want college to be affordable for everyone—even for the children of parents who didn’t start saving for college when the pregnancy test came out positive. We want everyone to be free to worship as they please—including Muslims—even if we ourselves are nonbelievers.

What should matter in politics is what the government does. Everything else is just flattery, like George H.W. Bush’s oft-cited love of pork rinds. Unfortunately, flattery gets you everywhere.

The problem is that she defines herself as “having empathy” entirely on the basis of the things that she thinks are right or important and thus carries on the idea that those who disagree are evil or ignorant. But that’s not necessarily the case. Let me use the example of the ACA. A large number of the ACA’s strongest supporters in my experience are liberals who either a) have serious medical problems themselves or b) know people who have serious medical problems. So of course their “empathy” is going to kick in towards finding a way to help those people. Many of them are also people who are mostly self-employed — or, again, associate with people who are — and so don’t have health insurance through their jobs, and hold out little prospects of getting it. So, again, that they find health insurance to be the most important issue is reasonable, given their context. But not everyone is like that. A poor family working a labour job that is generally healthy is likely going to less concerned about their health care than about their job, even if they think the ACA benefited them. Those coal miners and manufacturing workers? They had to note that Clinton was at best not saying anything about helping them with their jobs and was at worst promising that they’d lose their jobs. Now let’s take a middle class manufacturing worker, or worker in general. Many of them had health insurance through their jobs before the ACA. And what I learned is that much of the time, for these workers, their health insurance premiums increased. So they actually ended up paying more for what is arguably the same health care that they had before. They aren’t likely to see it as all that great a deal given that … and they’d have a point.

And all that people like Pollitt will do is chide them for not having empathy, and point to their trying to help certain specific people with an appeal that certain things “just ought to be covered” as their argument. I’m not saying that Pollitt et al are right about that. I’m not saying they’re wrong about that either. I’m saying that if you don’t understand what these people want, you aren’t going to be able to demonstrate to them that you a) care about what they want and b) can make their lives better. So all you’ll end up doing is coming in, putting things in place “for their own good” that actually leave them, specifically, worse off than they were before, and then end up angrily denouncing them as selfish, ignorant, and evil when they refuse to support you because, well, what you do keeps hurting them instead of helping them.

This is why Pollitt’s empathy is self-justifying. She defines the actions that show empathy, and is willing to stick to them no matter how much it hurts some people, and then when she is asked to consider people other than those she most empathizes with hides behind “But my actions really show that I care, no matter what they think of it”. Which is … a bad argument, but highlights the problems with empathy: it is easier to empathize with people you understand. Those other liberals are asking Pollitt to come to understand more people so that she can properly empathize with them, and Pollitt is mustering lots of reasons to avoid doing that. That’s not something that someone who wants people to act out of empathy can do, as it ends up with her only applying empathy to those she thinks “deserve” it, for whatever reason, and hurting people for their own good. And she — and many liberals — don’t seem to see that.

And, as Dukat said, that’s bad.

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Did I Ever Mention How Much I HATE Appeals to Empathy?

December 30, 2016

So, over at Brute Reason, Miri is talking about how liberals failed to empathize with conservatives, which to sum up is essentially that they didn’t realize that conservatives really were terrible, evil, racist and sexist bigots out to hurt women, LGBT people and blacks/people who are not white even if it meant that they lost in the bargain. It’s how she justifies this that I want to talk about here, because she appeals to, you guessed it, empathy. And not only empathy, but her own super-duper special ability of empathy that can cut right through all the clutter and get at what these people are really thinking.

I know this because I listen to right-wingers and read what they write.

And because I have a relatively high empathic ability, which I train for hours each day in the course of my job, I can actually put myself right into a hypothetical conservative’s shoes and see why they’d feel what they feel given the beliefs that they have. If I had those beliefs, I would also feel (and vote) the way they do.

And when I put myself in the headspace of a white conservative, and run a simulation in my mind of their beliefs and values, their support for Trump and other Republicans makes complete sense to me.

So, the question is: how does she know that she’s right? How does she know that they really have the beliefs that she’s imputing to them, and that she’s not importing other beliefs and values that she has into the simulation and thus coming to a conclusion that works for her? It seems to me that believing that these people actually were bigots and thus it’s not that the Democrats and liberals failed to address reasonable concerns has some potential benefit to her mental image of herself and liberals and Democrats, and so doesn’t she have to be concerned that she’s coming to the conclusion that she likes best rather than the one that’s really true? So, then, on what basis can she argue that her empathy-based rationale is, in fact, the correct one?

Well, she can’t really do it on the basis of her past history and training. As I’ve talked about repeatedly on this blog, simulation and empathy break down when the person you are trying to simulate/empathize with is, in fact, radically different from yourself. It’s a lot easier to empathize with people who are mostly like you than it is with people who are completely different from you, which is one if the reasons I despise using empathy to determine things like moral obligations. So, in the past it might well be the case that her successes with empathy were due to similarities or even a limited scope than with superior empathic ability. Additionally, as a therapist she is in a position to fall for confirmation bias, where she can assume that her conclusions are always correct, and that when she succeeds it’s because she got the conclusions based on empathy right, and when she fails it’s not because her empathy failed, but for other reasons, including that they were deluding themselves into thinking that she was wrong about those empathic conclusions. So she needs an objective way to tell if her empathy is working in these cases.

She also can’t do it by appealing to the argument that it makes the results of this election make sense, or that it in fact predicted a number of things in the past. It’s way too easy to make any theory fit past facts, and the sample size is too small anyway. This would then run the risk of her rationalizing the results to fit her theory, and also run the risk of her missing another explanation that would explain the results equally well if not better.

So, how would you go about determining if your empathy is working or not in a specific case, if you can appeal to history with other groups, and you can’t appeal to predictions? Well, typically, the easiest way is to ask them if you’re getting it right. Sure, you can do long-term predictions, where you predict what the person will do over a number of relevant situations and not that your predictions work out, but that’s not what we have here. So Miri, then, ought to look at what conservatives say and determine if her views of their beliefs and values and actions really works.

Unfortunately, when it comes to discussing how to have actual empathy towards conservatives, she actually neatly cuts herself off from any such testing:

1. We take them seriously.

When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

2. We learn to read and listen critically.

On the other hand, we can’t take people’s statements so literally and interpret them so shallowly that we fail to understand what they actually mean.

Which essentially means — or at least runs the risk of meaning — that when they say things that align with your theory, believe them, and when they don’t, then they “really” mean something else. This is a recipe for never having to or being able to correct any misconceptions, because every time they tell you you’re getting it wrong you read out the code words and interpret them in line with those misconceptions. You can do this if, in fact, you already do know that you are interpreting them correctly, but Miri does not and cannot know that. Given this, she tries to make some arguments on that basis, but she isn’t careful to separate what she knows and believes from what they know and believe. Take this part:

There’s little evidence that they voted “against their interests,” because as much of a failure as Trump will be at improving their economic circumstances, that wasn’t the only interest they had. They were also very interested in reducing the number of people of color (especially Muslims) in the United States, maintaining Christianity as the dominant American value system, making sure that women don’t take what isn’t theirs, and preventing LGBTQ people from further corrupting American culture. They accomplished all of this and more by electing Trump.

Sure, many of them shot themselves in the foot economically in order to do that. But there’s nothing surprising about it. Psychological research (which I unfortunately can’t find right now, so feel free to take this with a grain of salt) suggests that people may willingly lose money in order to harm someone that they want to harm.

But even if we take it as a given that electing Trump does shoot them in the foot economically, we’d still have to establish that they knew and believed that it would when they elected him. If they really thought that he was their best choice economically and that their economic health was the most important thing to him, then Miri’s analysis here fails. And this holds even if Trumps platform wasn’t perfect; they would be voting for what they perceive to be the best, not what is a) actually the best and b) what is perfect or ideal. Heck, a number of liberals thought that Clinton was far from perfect, but thought that she was the best option; the same courtesy ought to be extended to conservatives, methinks.

So, again, we have potential confounds in Miri’s claim to be properly empathizing with conservatives, and she’s shut herself off from any possible evidence that could overturn those confounds.

And then we get into identity politics:

Conservatives don’t simply believe that climate change is a hoax; they really, really need to believe that climate change is a hoax. If they stop believing that climate change is a hoax, they will lose part of their sense of who they are, not to mention cause conflict with their friends and family and also start fearing that we’re all literally going to die. That’s some powerful motivation to keep believing that climate change is a hoax. Avoiding cognitive dissonance is a much stronger drive than your calm and reasoned arguments can possibly provide.

Okay, two questions here:

1) How does Miri know that climate change being a hoax is actually part of their identity and their sense of who they are?

2) Even if she’s right, how is it that a specific matter of fact became so critical to their identity?

Any matter of fact does not become part of one’s identity naturally. If people think that opposing climate change is part of their identity, it likely became so as the result of other commitments, beliefs, and identities that they have. One obvious one here is the idea that stopping climate change is a liberal position, and opposing it is a conservative one. If they see themselves critically as conservatives, then of course they’d make opposing climate change part of their identity. But this would only be because they identify as conservatives, and climate change is seen as something critically part of the identity of conservatives and individuals. Thus, if this is correct, then one could make great strides in changing that by decoupling the issue from the liberal/conservative divide. After all, there’s no inherent reason why positions on climate change would be necessarily liberal or conservative positions; there would be conservative or liberal approaches to combating it once people accept that it is happening. So turning it back into a matter of fact as opposed to a political football seems like a good start.

And all of that presumes that they do see it as an integral part of their identity, as opposed to simply not being convinced by those claiming that it exists.

Ultimately, Miri claims to really understand Trump supporters, but has no way of testing her conclusions or demonstrating that they are correct. All she has is her belief in empathy, which could very easily be impacted by her own beliefs, and that she’s built up a strong framework to defend no matter what evidence is adduced against her. Thus, empathy pretends to be objective while, really, being far more subjective than it should be. If anyone wants to claim that they are right based on “proper empathy”, the minimum reaction ought to be being skeptical, if not being outright hostile.

Identity Politics: Adam Lee

December 16, 2016

So, for the last post in “Identity Politics Week”, I return to the Left and a a post by Adam Lee, entitled “Why America Needs Identity Politics”. Obviously, then, this will be an attempt to demonstrate why identity politics is necessary and appropriate and the way to go, despite the Democrats likely making the most focused use of it that we’ve ever seen and losing the election anyway.

He is responding to by Mark Lilla in the NY Times, arguing that the time has come to end identity liberalism. Lee starts his own post by quoting Lilla saying this:

In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

Lee responds thusly:

Notice how Lilla begins his argument: by framing activism on race and gender issues as a “distortion” from the true message of liberalism.

Notice how Lee immediately drops the focus on identity that Lilla was very clear about to instead focus on activism. As we say in Zvan’s post, this is a fairly standard liberal tactic: defend identity politics by focusing on specific issues that don’t necessarily require identity politics and seem reasonable, and then insist that the only right way to solve them is to use identity politics. The presumption seems to be that you can’t possibly appeal to anything other than identity to correct these grave injustices, as if, say, appealing to them as injustices couldn’t possibly work. This is at best a conflation of characteristics with identity, and at worst reflects the same sort of thinking that spawns racism and sexism in the first place.

He takes it for granted that he has the right to say what liberalism is “really” about and what’s a deviation from the right path.

But … why shouldn’t he take that for granted? Surely he has as much right to say what liberalism is really about as Lee does, or any other liberal does, or in fact as anyone else does. On what grounds does Lee suggest that he doesn’t? His race? His gender? That he disagrees with Lee?

Ironically, Lee then goes on to exercise the right to say what liberalism is really about:

In its best form, liberalism is about recognizing and guaranteeing the basic equality and dignity of all people. It strives to break down all artificial distinctions, whether of class, of race, of gender, or of any of the other excuses that are used to justify treating others as lesser-than.

And if Lee had remembered to consider identity above, he’d see the problem here: identity politics means appealing to these precise artificial distinctions that he feels liberalism, in its best form, tries to break down. It elevates specific different traits, circumstances or issues into an identity, and then both assumes and promotes the idea that if you have those traits, circumstances or issues that they critically define who you are and not only how you will vote, but how you ought to vote. No matter what other traits you have, what other “intersections”, it is assumed that your well-being is defined by that specific grouping, as if that completely defines who you are. But it is not unreasonable to think that, for example, a gay person might find themselves more concerned about their economic situation than about the legalization of same-sex marriage, even if the latter one can be seen as violating their rights.

Identity politics doesn’t break down artificial distinctions, it instead embraces them. That fact alone would seem to prove Lilla’s point.

Was the fight for women’s suffrage a distortion? Was the civil rights era a distortion? Was the fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality a distortion? Has liberalism been wrong all along, and only Mark Lilla can put it right? Or is this just another version of the march of progress where social causes that were wildly controversial and divisive in their day become obvious common sense as soon as they triumph?

What do these things have to do with identity politics? These are, indeed, all about breaking down artificial distinctions, by promoting the idea that being a woman doesn’t mean anything wrt the right to vote, that being black doesn’t mean anything wrt the ability to work and intelligence, and that being gay doesn’t mean anything wrt being married. In a sense, these all took away a trait that was considered to define that specific group’s identity and argued that it was instead a meaningless consideration. Identity politics, on the other hand, would say that, for example, at least wanting the right to get married is an important part of the identity of someone who is gay, and in fact that their sexuality is an important part of who they are, important enough that they should identify with the party that gave that to them and against the party that opposed giving that to them.

So far, Lee is trying to defend identity politics by appealing to injustices, not to identities. But we ought not need to have or recognize a specific “identity” in order to recognize and oppose actual injustices. Any time a liberal appeals to an identity instead of an injustice it’s pretty much a sign that they don’t have a good enough argument to establish the injustice.

Lee quotes Lilla again:

Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop.

Lee replies thusly:

This implies, astonishingly, that it’s wrong to recognize the diverse groups that make up an electoral coalition and speak to their specific wants and needs. In Lilla’s mind, the only right way to campaign is to treat all your supporters as a blended, amorphous mass with no distinct interests.

The problem is that he reaches for an “implication” without bothering to address why Lilla thought it an error:

This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

And this is not only absolutely true, but an issue with identity politics. Once you start dividing people up into identifiable groups and encouraging them to identify with that group, they will, of course, feel a bond with that group. If you then fail to mention that group, it will feel like you don’t care about that group, which means that then it will feel like you don’t care about them. Which is, in fact, exactly what happened: white people — and white men in particular — didn’t feel that the Democrats cared about them and their interests. No surprise, then, that they refused to vote for them.

It may have escaped him that the reason Republicans can do this is because they don’t have a diverse base to appeal to. They’ve tied their fortunes to a specific demographic group and a specific set of interests. Their one-voice, one-interest strategy simply wouldn’t work for the Democrats’ rainbow coalition, which draws together people from very different backgrounds and circumstances.

As I talked about wrt Zvan’s post, this is an issue for the Democrats if they insist on using identity politics. Sure, groups will react badly if they aren’t mentioned, but just mentioning them isn’t going to be enough. If the Democrats try to wrangle this multi-interest strategy on the basis of identity, since the interests of these groups clash there will be times when they have to choose one group over another. If you do that too often, at a minimum the outside groups will feel unappreciated and feel that while you talk like you have their interests at heart, you really don’t. And then they won’t be very enthusiastic about you winning the election.

And this seems to have happened in this election. There was a lot of grumbling in liberal circles about the Democrats choosing Clinton over Sanders and ignoring the wishes and desires of specific groups of traditional liberal or Democratic voters. The response from the liberals was always that Trump was so bad that they needed to vote for Clinton anyway, even if they didn’t like her and even if they liked someone else better. But you can only play the “boogeyman” card for so long before the groups whose interests you’re ignoring decide that, at best, they aren’t getting anything out of the deal and see no need to support you. And lots of liberal voters decided that the Democrats weren’t really interested in them after all, so felt no need to be interested in the Democrats.

Lee then goes on to repeat one of the most ridiculous things that he continually talks about:

And it needs to be emphasized – because Lilla entirely overlooks it – that despite the undemocratic outcome made possible by the electoral college, Clinton won the popular vote by a hefty margin – 2 million votes and climbing. This is hardly proof that “identity politics” is an electoral dead end.

There were almost 130 million votes cast just for Trump and Clinton. Two million out of that is somewhere between 1 – 2%. That is not “hefty”. That is, in fact, rather pathetic. For comparison, Lee often calls Trump’s electoral college win “slim”, even though the difference in college votes is 15%.

Clinton lost the electoral college, and had a lower percentage of the popular vote than Obama had for his first term (oddly, it looks now like she has about the same number of votes that Obama had for his second term). This all came in an election where identity politics played a huge role, and likely a larger role than it has in any other election previously. Clinton went all-in on identity politics and her advantage over her Republican opponent dropped two million votes over what Obama had over Romney … who was known to be milquetoast but not as the anti-Christ, and who was mostly supported by his own party. In what strange world is this not seen as evidence, and strong evidence, that identity politics didn’t work? They went all-in on identity politics, against an opponent who seemed to be even more vulnerable than usual to identity politics and had a number of clear flaws to appeal to, and they still lost ground in pretty much every measurable metric. In what way did playing identity politics help here?

Lee then tries to dismiss the economic interests argument:

If economic disadvantage was the force driving Trump voters, you have to explain why they supported a candidate who promised to take away the hard-won safety-net gains they’ve achieved under Democrats. In particular, as I wrote last week, many white people who are desperately dependent on Obamacare backed a party that’s made destroying Obamacare its overriding goal, with no plan for a replacement.

Paul Krugman’s back-of-the-envelope math suggests an astonishing 5.5 million people voted to cut off their own access to health care. Coal miners in particular have benefited from a provision of Obamacare that helps them win compensation for work-related lung disease, and many of them are now dismayed and worried because they didn’t think they might actually get what they voted for.

If economic insecurity was the force animating Trump voters, this is an unsolvable paradox. However, the “whitelash” hypothesis explains it neatly: racist rage blinded them to the ways they were voting against their own tangible interests.

Lee links to a few posts that talk about these issues — you can find them there — and it turns out that the conclusions are … less than accurate:

1) For Obamacare, one of them notes that Trump after the election walked back his rhetoric about completely doing away with it. The problem? During the campaign I heard one of his speeches, in full, on CBC, and he was already talking about replacing it with something better. So for people who actually heard that, there would be less fear that they were going to completely lose their health care coverage.

2) For the coal miners, that was one specific clause buried in the text. It is not likely that many of them made the association, and even if they did many of them might well have believed that he did indeed care about them and so would keep that or at least do something to help them … unlike Clinton’s infamous comment about putting a lot of them out of work.

So, Lee here seems to be accusing them of deliberately voting against their own well-being and interests based on information and beliefs that he has, but that they didn’t necessarily have. You can’t justify assigning deliberate motives on that sort of basis.

But let’s assume that it wasn’t really this that convinced them, that they were instead voting on identity. It makes more sense to assume that the reason they voted for Trump wasn’t because they were just racist, but instead because Trump promised to care about them and their interests, and the Democrats promised to ignore them. Why in the world would anyone vote for a party that explicitly said and acted like they didn’t care, and not only that, thought that they were inherently evil for caring about their own interests? Identity politics, then, caused the issue, by dividing the people up into groups and then ignoring one group to the point of calling the whole group evil.

And this is the natural result of identity politics. In order to identify as X, you need a ~X, a group that is outside of your identity that you can compare yourself to to say that you are not them. This is probably natural and so there isn’t much you can do about that. But identity politics means encouraging people to associate themselves with that group and to align their own interests with that group, and to consider the other groups as not sharing those interests. This, then, creates Us vs Them thinking, and the idea that your interests and their interests cannot both be promoted at the same time; one side has to give. And while the Democrats have been pushing the narrative that the Us vs Them is everyone else vs whites, identities don’t always follow the political will of the Democratic party. And so people may see that the Us vs Them are, for example, trans people vs feminists, or any number of other breakdowns.

And as this continues, coalitions become harder to form, as each individual grouping feels that promoting the interests of that group will, in the long run, hurt their own interests … even if, in the short-term, their interests are aligned. We saw this clearly in the atheist movement, with many atheists refusing to align with Catholics to oppose creationism in public schools, and then atheists refusing to align with conservative atheists, and then atheists that weren’t feminist enough, and then atheists that weren’t trans-aware enough, and so on and so forth. When you see anyone with differing interests as an enemy, it’s hard to build any kind of stable alliance.

Lee quotes Lilla again:

Finally, the whitelash thesis is convenient because it absolves liberals of not recognizing how their own obsession with diversity has encouraged white, rural, religious Americans to think of themselves as a disadvantaged group whose identity is being threatened or ignored. Such people are not actually reacting against the reality of our diverse America (they tend, after all, to live in homogeneous areas of the country). But they are reacting against the omnipresent rhetoric of identity, which is what they mean by “political correctness.” Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists.

Lee replies:

Lilla doesn’t notice how his argument contradicts itself within the same paragraph. Which is it? Are angry white voters reacting to the intrusion of identity politics into their lives? Or did they invent identity politics when they founded the KKK as a movement dedicated to upholding white supremacy in America? You can’t have it both ways.

Lee again ignores the point: whites in today’s society have come to see themselves as an identity group that is under threat because liberals have defined them as a unified identity group and then claimed that their interests are not only not of interest, but are harmful. Lee’s argument that this is a contradiction relies precisely on the presumption that whites have always seen themselves as a unique and specific identity group, an argument that will see ludicrous to the Polish, Irish and Catholic groups that were predominantly or entirely white and yet were actively discriminated against in the United States for a long, long time. The KKK appealed to identity politics … and so do liberals and the Democrats. The problem Lilla is talking about is how the focus on identity politics created the very group that the KKK wanted to appeal to, and that they ultimately failed to create or at least maintain.

Until the liberals did it for them.

Especially in our society, being a white man is considered the neutral, default identity, while everyone else is implicitly treated as a special case. Like the confused and angry fellow who insisted that atheism needs to be kept pure of “ideology”, many people – even allegedly liberal columnists – believe that white men banding together to advance their own causes is just the natural state of affairs, unremarkable, unobjectionable. But when women, people of color, and other minority groups do the same, it merits scolding from concern trolls who warn of disaster if we don’t stop reminding the world that we have our own concerns.

The problem is that white people, in general, don’t band together to promote their specific interests as white people. White people only act in solidarity with each other when they feel that they are being attacked as white people. Guess what the liberal identity politics has succeeded in doing?

This is the crux of the argument. Even a brief glance over American history would show you that women, blacks, Latinos, and, yes, atheists have been subjected to discrimination in targeted and specific ways throughout the span of our country’s existence: Jim Crow, redlining, mass incarceration, coverture laws, workplace harassment, English-only laws, immigration restrictions, religious tests, and on and on. In many cases, the harm done by those prejudicial laws and norms lingers into the present day. We can debate the best way to fix these injustices, but first we have to recognize that they exist.

What does this have to do with identity politics, though? Let’s take, for example, religious tests. These applied to many more groups than just atheists, and arguably were applied to any purportedly minority religion. Remember when people worried about JFK being Catholic and running for President? What identity are you going to assign all the people impacted by that? What Us vs Them are you going to create to oppose that? Instead of running things on the basis of identity, run on the basis of shared specific interests. Appeal to injustice, not that it hurts a specific group. After all, how can you expect people not in the affected group to care about the issues if you present it as an issue that impacts that affected group but not them? You’re either falling back on injustice or you’re failing.

As I said in one of my earliest posts, you can’t fix a problem that you can’t see. Lilla wants us to defeat racism without acknowledging its existence – an impossible feat. It’s like trying to treat a sick person without diagnosing what’s causing their illness. As long as you refuse to admit what’s causing the injustices that plague America, your solutions will always be aimed at the wrong targets.

But there’s nothing in Lilla’s post that says that you should refuse to acknowledge that racism exists. Instead, he’s arguing that you shouldn’t divide things up into identity groups that you then divide into the good and the bad, the ones you care about and the ones you don’t. Why does Lee think it impossible to define racism and then point out the specific cases without having to make it all be one big identity group?

And this response can be put to him: You can’t defeat racism, the idea that there are significant inherent differences that make the races different from each other, by accepting that there are significant enough inherent differences between the races that you can build identities based only on them. If there are no significant differences, then there is nothing to hang identity on … and if there are significant enough differences to hang identity on, then maybe those differences and treatment are, in fact, right.

The question of how to reach people who’ll vote away their own well-being to reinforce racial hierarchy is a hard problem indeed. I don’t have any simple answers to offer.

You start by removing the conflation between position in the racial hierarchy and one’s own personal well-being. Guess what identity politics explicitly doesn’t do, and in fact promotes?

Identity Politics: Vox Day

December 14, 2016

After and during the election, Vox Day constantly opined that ideological politics was over and it was the time of identity politics. At times, Day almost seems apologetic about that, implying that he uses the tactics of his enemies — which includes identity politics — only because they use them, and you need to fight fire with fire. But in these two posts, Day settles himself into the identity politics that he most subscribes to: that there is something special about whiteness and the white races of the West, and that the real problem in America and other places is replacing white people with people who are not white.

Note that Day isn’t actually a classical white supremacist in any way. He constantly argues that when it comes to intelligence, for example, whites aren’t the most intelligent. Asians are. But underlying his entire philosophy is the idea that the white cultures of Europe and North America are the ones that are civilized and are the most capable of it, and that the way for those cultures to survive is for them to remain predominantly white.

Which, then, leads to his frustration with these questions:

I find it very annoying when someone decides it is an optimal use of my time to ask me to contemplate their personal situation and ascertain a) if their current political position can be characterized as Alt-Right, b) what variant of Alt-Right best describes their current political perspective, c) what the Alt-Right makes of their family situation, which inevitably involves some amount of interracial sex or adoption, d) if the Alt-Right has taken into account their family situation, which inevitably involves some amount of interracial sex or adoption, or e) if the Alt-Right is aware that its political theories violate the individual’s current theological perspective.

He tries to respond through translating the questions through an analysis of Keynesian economics:

How, then, would one regard an individual who asked the following questions?

  1. Can my current financial position be characterized as Keynesian?
  2. What variant of Keynesianism best describes my current financial position?
  3. What do Keynesians make of my financial situation, which inevitably involves some amount of debt or investment?
  4. Have Keynesians taken into account my financial situation, which inevitably involves some amount of debt or investment?
  5. Are Keynesians aware that their economic theories contradict my current theological perspective?

Now does the utter irrelevance of these questions make a little more sense? The truth or falsehood of Keynesianism does not depend on the amount one presently owes on ones’s student loan debt or credit card balance. Many people seem to be of the opinion that the legitimacy of the Alt-Right somehow depends upon whether it is good for them or not. This is, in three words, stupid, solipsistic, and erroneous.

Well, let’s examine them in order, because there’s at least potentially a bit more to the question than simple solipsism:

1 – 2) I’m currently using this financial position. It seems to work and doesn’t seem to contradict your economic model. Am I right in that, even if it differs in some places?

3- 4) This is the only financial system that makes sense for me to use. Can your view encompass it? Or do I have to reject your financial model?

5) Your view and the religion we share seem intertwined. But how can you advocate for that position and still maintain this theological commitment of that religion we share?

Any of these can be, in some way, translated to a charge that the position is not, in fact, correct, as it ignores reality or at least something that the economist seems to think true, and might even contradict it.

So let’s go back to the original questions, then:

1 – 2) Our political positions seem to broadly agree. Am I, then, a member of the Alt-Right and acceptable to it, even if I disagree on some points? Are there even acceptable variants (note that Day is explicit that there are).

3 – 4) You constantly talk about race mixing and those of other races as being inherently incapable of producing or maintaining civilization. But my other race spouse is as dedicated to your values as you are, and my children act more in line with how you want people to act than most white children. How does your view explain that? Or, if it can’t, isn’t this evidence that you’re wrong?

5) You claim to base this or associate this with Christianity. But you seem to contradict this part of Christianity. How can you maintain your view and claim that it reflects Christianity?

This leads us to the big problem with the identity politics of the Alt-Right: what they want to appeal to are certain values or cultural beliefs, but they are mistaken to think that the things they want are necessarily attached to race, religion or even nationality.

Think about it. There is a significant number of white people who are SJWs, and a not insignificant number of people who are not white who at least lean towards the values Day appeals to. A not insignificant number of the immigrants that Day dislikes really do want to come to the United States because they see American values as being in and of themselves good. They really do see America as civilized and their own nations as backwards. They have no interest in converting America into a copy of the nation they’re leaving. Moreover, many of them are willing to work hard and at whatever jobs they can get to get ahead, and have no interest in government assistance … often moreso than a lot of white Americans. Is Vox Day going to prefer lazy, entitled, SJWs to these people only because they share his race? Shouldn’t Day push to kick out the people who don’t share the proper values and keep those who do, no matter what their skin colour is?

Moreover, by associating it with racial or even national culture, he ends up including a lot of values that are irrelevant. I would rather associate with someone who works hard and respects other people and celebrates Ramadan than someone who doesn’t do that and celebrates Christmas. When you try to pick an identity as a proxy for virtue, you end up including things as virtues that are, at best, indifferents (long time readers will know what that means, but if ya want a hint, read the name). Virtue does not align perfectly with race, or even with culture. I know; of the people that I’d work with again in a heartbeat, there is one person of Polish — and so white — descent, and one who is Egyptian. And there are a number of others from the Middle East, from India, from Canada and, well, pretty much everywhere. And this also goes for the people I’d never work with again if I could help it. All racial groups can have virtue and vice, and Vox Day really wants virtue. But he insists on selecting on the basis of race.

Note that this doesn’t even have to impact his policies. Swamping the existing American culture through immigration may indeed destroy America, not not necessarily because they are bringing in too many “brown people”, but because they are bringing in too many people with cultural commitments to values that at least contradict those of America. If someone thinks that American values are inferior to those of those other cultures, then that would seem like a good thing … but very few people really think that. What we’d want to do is, ironically, something like what that “racist” Trump espoused: let’s try to bring in people with the right set of values. But you can’t determine that by the colour of their skin.

The second failing of identity politics is that determining what identity to focus on is always difficult, because it’s not clear what identities mean. As a Stoic-leaning philosopher, you could indeed read off what that should at least mean for the values I have and what I think are virtues and vices … but to what degree is that an identity as opposed to a philosophical position or worldview? And as a white man, you can easily point to that as an identity, but what does that say about me? I clearly disagree, often strongly, with both sides in this debate. You can’t read my virtues from my skin colour, gender, or social or economic status or class. The logical thing to do would be to stop trying.

But identity politics forces you to try. And that’s one of the things that’s terribly wrong with it.

Identity Politics: Stephanie Zvan

December 12, 2016

Welcome to Identity Politics week! This week, I plan to have posts every day about identity politics, featuring both sides of the divide. At the end of it all, hopefully everyone will be clear why I think identity politics is a really, really bad idea, for both sides, and why we really, really, have to get past it.

I’ll start with a post by Stephanie Zvan arguing against the left abandoning identity politics. She starts by trying to set up to argue against the “strawman” definition of identity politics:

So, strawman identity politics. This is the Bernie Sanders et al version, in which representation is happening for its own sake regardless of positions on issues. Since no one in the Democratic Party is saying Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina should be in office, and since many people stop being impressed with Tulsi Gabbard when they know her positions, we know this is a strawman, but let’s pretend it’s not.

Which really is indeed a strawman … of her opponents’ position. No one is arguing that identity politics means that any candidate will be chosen regardless of their views. There certainly will be positions and views that they could hold that would disqualify them from consideration. But the idea is that in general their “identity” will at a minimum be considered more important than the opponents feel is proper in determining who gets what positions. If we look at the specific Sanders case, the idea would be that the Democrats found Clinton’s gender and the possibility of electing the first woman president and appealing to diversity more important that their actual positions, as Clinton was far too conservative and had far too many skeletons in her closet to be the best candidate, and Sanders might have been promoting better ideas and getting castigated for it. For example, Sanders’ view that we should address poverty itself and by doing that improve the lot of black people is the anti-thesis of identity politics … but seems like something that might work, and certainly sounds like a better argument. There is no reason to white people to oppose trying to alleviate poverty in general, but trying to alleviate poverty specifically for black people might raise some eyebrows. The counter is that racism itself is a major factor, and Sanders’ identity-neutral approach might end up ignoring that and so not really work. But there’s certainly a debate to be had here over whether one should appeal to specific identities — ie blacks and women specifically should be appealed to — or to generalities when one plays politics.

Zvan, after completely ignoring her opponents’ case, now tries to say what it would really mean:

That leaves us with a choice to apply more rigid standards to candidates from marginalized groups than we do to white men. Really, it does. The standard test for a white male Democratic candidate is “the guy who can get elected in that district”. You don’t have to believe me on that. Ask Collin Peterson. Ask the progressives in his district. There’s a reason we have the term “Blue Dog Democrat”.

As long as we continue to have white male Blue Dog Democrats, the only thing we accomplish by insisting that candidates from marginalized groups meet different tests for ideological purity is to keep diversity artificially low. This is discrimination in action, which makes it unacceptable for its own sake.

Well, first, the standard test ought to be — even if it isn’t right now — “Out of the available candidates, which of them has the best chance of getting elected in that district?”. The only reason to merely ask if they can get elected is if there are no other candidates. Which means, then, that for marginalized groups the question should be if they are the candidate that is most likely to win. If people vote in terms of identity, then in a number of cases it might indeed be the case that they aren’t the best candidate because most people won’t vote for that candidate based on the fact that they don’t match their identity and so they worry that they won’t be able to represent them. But it seems to me that people who are concerned with not discriminating would then want to argue against that sort of identification, not pander and advance it. Yet liberals stand very much on identity, arguing that marginalized groups are marginalized because white, male, cis people can’t very well represent groups that don’t share that identity. But if you argue that, then you have to expect that people who don’t share the identity of your candidate will feel that that candidate is incapable of representing them. If in a district or a country those who do not share that identity are in the majority, and if you’re voting democratically, that is a recipe for a loss.

This also demonstrates that the liberal “rainbow coalition” becomes self-defeating when joined with identity politics. If the liberals try to argue that people ought not feel represented by someone who isn’t part of their identity group, it is in fact impossible for them to put forward a candidate that everyone feels represents them … or, at least, not without making their competence suspect. It is possible but not likely that a female, black, trans, lesbian would just happen to be the best qualified candidate; that really looks like selection on the basis of diversity. But without that, some key members of the groups the liberals are trying to appeal to will feel unrepresented. You’d have to hope that the other side comes across worse, and while the conservatives have often been doing just that, it’s not a strategy you can rely on. So, again, liberals should want to appeal to justice for all groups and equality in general, not for groups to vote on the basis of their identity.

So, on to “real” identity politics:

Now, real identity politics. This is the banding together of a group of people based on one or more shared characteristics that bring shared political challenges. Class solidarity is identity politics. Atheist activism is identity politics. White Christian nationalism is identity politics. Gamergate is identity politics. So are feminism, BLM, LGBTQ activism, etc. So is a bunch of white men in power, even if they never call it anything other than “What? This is how it’s always been.”

Except that real identity politics has to include “identity” in there somewhere, and there is no reason to assume that any of those things are or have to be something that people associate importantly with their identity. People can get together to discuss issues that relate to a specific characteristic they have without consider that specific characteristic important to their identity. In fact, this is just what white and cis people have been doing; they happen to be white or cis, but they are generally dismissive of it unless they are challenged on that specific trait. White people generally don’t get together and think about or vote based on the interests of white people … until this election, when they felt they had to because the other side was, in fact, arguing that people should vote on the basis of their racial identity and were crowing about how the shifting demographics — including people coming in through immigration — would make it so that the white people were a minority and so the interests of the current minority groups would always win. Given that they were facing a threat specifically based on identity, white people rallied around their identity, but that’s not really a general consideration. Recall that in the U.K. a lot of the rumbling was about Polish people, who are, in fact, white. Thus, identity politics rallies around the artificial divisions that the issue and those talking about it create, not about any real or inherent identity that we can appeal to.

Liberals have been creating these artificial divisions for a long time now, and so left themselves vulnerable to the other side(s) of that division rallying against them, and also leave themselves vulnerable to shifting artificial divisions that might follow from other or new issues.

As an aside, many liberals place a lot of weight on Clinton winning the popular vote, and they might argue that my analysis ignores that. It doesn’t. While Trump won the majority of white voters, he didn’t win them in anywhere near the overwhelming percentage that Clinton won the other racial groups. If he had, Clinton would have definitively lost the popular vote. Liberals, then, want to ensure that white voters don’t vote on the basis of their purportedly shared interests as white people. You can’t do that by arguing that there are different interests for minority racial groups vs white racial groups, and that minorities should vote for their own interests, and that means voting Democrat because they will work for their interests and not for the interests of — and even at the expense of the interests of — white voters. Eventually, white voters will decide that voting Democrat is not in their best interests.

One of the lessons of this election may well be that white men will not vote for anyone who doesn’t put them front and center. (Not our first opportunity to learn this, but it’s harder to avoid the conclusion this time around.)

But “not putting them front and centre” does not mean playing identity politics. There is pretty much no voting group that, over time, will vote en mass for a group that insists that they aren’t considering or going to work for their own best interests. If the Democrats keep losing the white male vote, it pretty much means that white men think that the Democratic Party is not going to work for their interests. While Zvan talks about how their “Rainbow Coalition” (which she doesn’t actually name) wins them elections, it is essentially doing so because they are trying to swamp that vote by rallying all of the other groups and appealing to them. Essentially, in response to white men — and now, perhaps, white voters — not seeing them as a party they can support, they are doubling down and trying to rally all of the other groups so that they have no need of that group. But this can only work as long as they can keep all of those groups together, and the strategy of insisting that people can’t vote for the other guy because those white men can’t represent people not of their identity works to create rifts in these groups. See, for example, the rifts in the atheist movement over feminism, between those who identify with feminism and those who don’t. Or the rifts in the feminist movement over trans issues. It is relatively easy for the Republicans to find issues that they can rally whites around, even though they have diverse interests … and especially so if the Democrats keep giving them the issue of “We, as Democrats, don’t care about the interests of white people”. It’s a lot harder to find one critically important issue that can appeal to all of the other groups, whom quite often have conflicting interests. As an example, Latinos, as far as I can tell, tend to be more religious than whites, so appealing to secular or atheistic interests might alienate them. The only way to make this work is to find a big enough issue or threat that you can use to rally all of those diverse groups and cause them to ignore the conflicts. Over time, though, those issues will fester, and groups will start to feel that the party doesn’t really care about them, and are in fact just using them.

Kinda like a lot of groups grumbled about in this election, actually.

Democracy and “Listen” …

November 11, 2016

I’ve been reading around my usual haunts, and something just struck me. In the United States, at least, white people are in the majority. Yet the progressive and Social Justice concept of “Listen” has been, as I’ve noted before, that people and most importantly political institutions need to listen to the concerns of minorities, but doesn’t need to listen to the concerns of the majority white people. Except that democracy, first and foremost, is about listening to the concerns of the majority. Thus, the Social Justice narrative was, in fact, anti-democratic. Sure, in a democracy the minority needs to be listened to as well, but in general if people are voting we expect that the concerns of the various majority groups are the ones that the political institutions will listen to and most try to implement. And that, in fact, is the whole point of democracy.

And you can’t argue that the only reason to not listen to the majority group is that their concerns are listened to by default and define, say, culture, because the whole point of democracy is, in fact, to get the people to explicitly state and vote on the basis of their concerns, because the political institutions might not know what they actually are. There’s no point in getting people to vote and doing what the majority wants if you are confident that you already know what the majority wants. Voting itself, then, presumes that every election year you want to find out, at least, if you still know what the majority wants.

The progressive approach has been to try to convince the majority group to not care about or act on their own interests, but on the interests of others. And they seem surprised that, eventually, the majority group will indeed say that that’s not how things ought to work, and actually use their political power to reflect what they think is in their self-interest. You can call that “white supremacy”. But in reality, for the United States, it’s just democracy.

Thus, for progressives to gain ground, they need to get buy-in from the majority instead of trying to guilt-trip them into it. Alternatively, they can wait for shifting demographics and hope that those shifting demographics skew more progressive, even as the shifting demographics increase the populations of groups that aren’t necessarily progressive in terms of outlook. In an election where Trump was explicitly and directly portrayed using his own words as racist and sexist, and where a number of visible Trump supporters actually are white supremacists, Trump did better among all racial groups than the milquetoast Romney did. That’s not a good sign for that strategy.

It’s time for the self-proclaimed advocates for inclusion to include everyone. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then these sorts of political disasters — in their minds — will continue to occur, even as their wring their hands and wonder why it all happened.

(Note: I think that the other side should include everyone, too. It’s just that they, at least right now, don’t make any pretense of trying to do that. Whichever party gets off its butt and actually starts to include everyone first is going to have massive success. Neither party currently seems willing to do that.)

The Early Returns …

November 10, 2016

So, I’ve been reading the early reactions to Trump’s win — on both sides — and I’m very reminded of this exchange from Babylon 5, which I think is shockingly apt:

Delenn: “I would suggest that there is a difference between being unreasonable and being angry. Ambassador G’Kar is angry most of the time, but even the greatest anger fades with time.”

Londo: “My dear ambassador Delenn, I’m sure that for you this is true, but for G’Kar and his people; they will do all that they can to destroy us, until the universe itself decays and collapses. If the Narns all stood together in one place and hated, all at the same time, that hatred could fly across dozens of light-years and reduce Centauri Prime to a ball of ash. That’s how much they hate us.”

Sinclair: “You don’t have to respond in kind.”

Londo: “Of course we do. There’s a natural law. Physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. They hate us, we hate them, they hate us back. And so, here we are: victims of mathematics.”

Sinclair: “He never listens.”

Delenn: “He will, sooner or later.”

Sinclair: “How can you be sure?”

Delenn: “Because the alternative is too terrible to consider. Without the hope that things will get better, that our inheriters will know a world that is fuller and richer than our own, life is pointless, and evolution is vastly overrated. Good day, Commander.”

Trump … wins?

November 9, 2016

I remarked on at least a couple of occasions that I almost wanted to see Donald Trump win the U.S. election because it would be funny to watch all the heads explode.

There are a lot of heads exploding this morning.

I could make that comment because I am utterly convinced that Donald Trump will neither save nor destroy the United States. There’s just too much inertia in a political system that big for any real change to happen in that short a time. Some of his policies sound like bad ideas, but even with the Republicans taking Congress on a lot of them he’s not going to get support from the Republicans.

The stock markets are falling based on the uncertainty, and things are indeed uncertain. I don’t think anyone really knows what Trump will do as President. Heck, I don’t think Trump knows what Trump will do as President. But, as with Brexit, I think the stocks will quickly return to normal levels. To be honest, these drops almost seem more like political commentary now than like anything even remotely resembling real economic analysis.

I’m interested in seeing the reaction from progressives. When those on the right lose and act out and protest, the left is quick to talk about how terrible they are and how they’d be so much better. Well, this is their chance to prove that. I’m not expecting them to do that, but if they do, then I will gain much respect for their side of the aisle. Heck, if some progressives do act out in negative ways and prominent progressives chide them for it, I’d be impressed.

As I said on Monday, the Democratic Party and progressive side in general ran a more negative campaign than a positive one, and it led to an utter disaster for them … in an election that they absolutely should have won. I hope that they learn from this, and understand that despite their constant crowing about how the Republicans are a dying party, in order for them to survive they, like the Republicans need to start listening to the people again. Otherwise, they will reflect this (altered) Babylon 5 quote:

“They are a dying party. We should let them pass.”

“Who — the Democrats or the Republicans?”

“Yes.”

On Clinton herself, I predict that it will soon be revealed that she’s had serious medical issues throughout the entire campaign. In light of that, Obama or Trump will pardon her on the basis that trying to prosecute someone that ill isn’t really in the best interest of Americans, and that she’ll fade from public view fairly quickly.

To sum up my thoughts on this, I think this sort of outcome was what America needed, where someone outside the establishment comes in and has surprising success, hopefully leading the establishment to note that they at least have to appear to appeal to the people to win elections. I wish that the person who had done that was not Donald Trump, or like Donald Trump. I wish it was someone less bombastic and less controversial. However, no one other than Donald Trump could have done this. It had to be someone well-known publicly, someone forceful, someone controversial who could draw media attention just by showing up and saying things, and someone wealthy enough to not be beholden to the party so that they became subsumed under it, maintaining the status quo. In Canada, because we aren’t really a two-party system we could get the same results with a Conservative majority and an NDP minority, which hopefully has woken up the Liberal party into realizing that they can’t just say “We’re the Liberals! Vote for us!” but in the U.S. two-party system the only way an outsider can have an impact is if they take over a party and run the table. Trump, love him or loathe him (which seem to be the only two options), did exactly that.

Oppressive Democracy …

November 8, 2016

So I recently read this post by Benny Vimes, that reflects an anti-democratic sentiment that I’ve been seeing more and more recently. Essentially, it’s the idea that people ought not vote for the candidate that they most want to see elected or that they think best represents them, or the policies that they most want to see implemented, and instead should vote on some semi-objective criteria to produce the “right” results. First, Vimes talks about Brexit:

When the effect of an action is increased power for a majority group and negative consequences for oppressed groups, it doesn’t matter what the purported reason for that action is. If your policy, action, or vote has racist, sexist, or ableist impacts then it doesn’t matter what your intention is – you are responsible for the oppressive impacts of that action. It doesn’t matter that pro-Brexit voters think of themselves as not being racist, they supported a racist action with racist impacts and that is what matters.

So, if people really did think that Brexit was better for Great Britain for reasons that themselves weren’t racist, they shouldn’t have actually voted for it because some of the reasons or effects might be racist? There is a point to be made here that people who vote have to own up to all of the consequences of their choices, and so all of the reasonable consequences of that vote, but a) that doesn’t include what other people do in response and b) might well include them deciding that, for them, the benefits outweigh the detriments and so, even with those negative consequences, the right decision for them is to, in fact, vote to support the policy. Remember, democracy is based on people voting for their own self-interest, and for what they would like or what they would most like to see, which means ultimately what they think most benefits them. Because otherwise there is no reason to give people a vote at all; the only thing that any person can be seen as being more qualified to assess than the policy-making experts is, in fact, their own self-interest. Sure, one can argue that instead of just acting on simply self-interest they should really advocate for the society they want to see, and racist/sexist/whateverist society is not one they should want, but all that means is that they should be Enlightened Egoists, not that they should be altruistic in their votes and put groups other than theirs and people other than themselves first. And in most Constitutional democracies, the smarter move is, in fact, to just vote how you want and let the legislative bodies and Supreme Courts decide if the policy is, ultimately, unfair to a particular “oppressed” group, and thus oppressive itself.

But a case might be made for direct action, where your vote explicitly supports a specific policy or candidate. Yes, you are responsible for the consequences of that decision. But Vimes goes on to include more cases than that:

Tomorrow the United States will finally conclude a long election process. A Donald Trump presidency has the potential to be the most actively oppressive presidency in memory. A vote for Hillary Clinton is the only action that can have the effect of avoiding that future. Any other action – voting third party, refusing to vote, or writing in a candidate – has the effect of increasing the risk of an oppressive future. While Clinton’s policy positions and record may not match yours, or my, preferences perfectly, it is the EFFECT of our votes that matter. A third party vote, for example, may have the effect of putting into power a fascist demagogue no matter what the voter’s intention may be.

So, Vimes includes deciding that you simply cannot support any candidate, as well as deciding to support the actual candidate that you would like to see as President of the United States! Democracy is all about each individual deciding what they can and can’t support, and voting accordingly. Vimes here is insisting that if a voter decides that they’d rather vote for someone else than the Democratic candidate that the problem is with them rather than with the political party that couldn’t give them a candidate that they feel that they can support! This is a recipe for political parties always denying that they need to actually represent the people, but instead merely winning through — valid or not — fear-mongering about how bad the other candidate is, which was a major factor in the Presidential campaigns this year, as both sides spent as much if not more time saying how risky and dangerous and scary and corrupt their opponents are as opposed to talking about how good they were going to be.

If you think that a third party candidate is better for the country — even if they won’t win — and if you think that you simply can’t support any of the candidates, that is not your problem, and voting according to those principles is not you doing something wrong. Voting according to those principles and assessments is the heart of what democracy is! Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to vote according to their conscience and not yours. Democracy is all about you voting on the basis of your own views, and arguments like this seek to take that away from you slowly, insidiously, until you end up voting based only on what they say you should consider, instead of based on what really matters to you.

(Note: if you are really worried that Trump will be very, very oppressive and think that voting for Clinton is the right thing to do to prevent that, and you can live with the things that she will do other than just being Trump, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you’re the one who’ll be responsible for a “Trump win” if you don’t. You won’t be. That will go to those who vote for Trump, and the Democrats for not running a viable alternative to Trump.)

Road to Tyranny …

November 7, 2016

So, tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. And anyone who lived in any nation that deals at all with the United States has heard lots and lots about this election. Yes, I caught discussions about it on Canadian news, British news, Russian news, and even Chinese news (and I only ever watch the business news on that last one, because there’s really nothing else on at 4:00 am). And one of the repeated themes from Hilary Clinton supports is that if Trump is elected there is a real risk that he will turn the United States into a dictatorship, along the lines of Hitler in Nazi Germany, riding at least semi-popular support and racial scapegoats to a complete dictatorship. And much of that came before he stated that he’d get Clinton arrested and wouldn’t say that he would accept the results of the election.

I’m not claiming that any of that is an actual risk, mostly because a) I don’t think Trump really wants that b) even if I’m wrong, there are more than enough safeguards in place in the American system to prevent it and c) it would only work if Trump had a political party that would go along with that to work with … and he doesn’t. What I do want to talk about is a key important point that those who fear tyrannies keep ignoring, which is that it’s not only the purported allies of those who take power that end up being complicit — even unintentionally — in the dictatorship taking power.

Dictators and tyrants taking power where popular support — ie elections — is a major component of the coup always has to involve a significant percentage of the populace siding with them, at least at first. Laurence Olivier — yes, that Laurence Olivier — narrated in “The World at War” that many people believed that Hitler needed the extremists to gain power, and that once he was secure he would get them under control, not realizing that Hitler was actually as if not more extreme than those they feared. But, then, if it wasn’t the extreme views that got him support, what did? Hitler played on existing animosities towards the Jews, certainly, which gave the people a scapegoat, but he couldn’t have done that if the German people hadn’t felt a need for a scapegoat. And in addition to finding them someone to blame, he also talked about lifting them from the struggle they found themselves in, giving them jobs and food, and as again noted in “The World at War” at least giving the appearance of equality, that rich and poor were encouraged to come together and eat the same meals, and work together. A lot of the Nazi success came from them at least being seen to be attempting to solve real problems … and winning successes that had real, tangible results, like retaking Alsace-Lorraine, which was more important as a symbol of Hitler standing up to the major powers and winning than it was as a territory for Germany to hold.

So, in addition to those who allied with Hitler at various times to give him power, the government in power that Hitler overcame was also complicit, for allowing those problems to exist mostly unaddressed. While it can be argued that the economy in Germany, for example, was already recovering before Hitler and Hitler merely took credit for it, Hitler clearly took advantage of issues and sentiments among the people that the current governments weren’t addressing to the satisfaction of the people. It would be reasonable to posit that one of those was the loss of face and power that came from not only Germany losing WWI, but also the terms of the treaty that some might say crippled Germany. The government was blamed for signing it — even if they had little choice — and blamed for not doing anything about it afterwards, and when Hitler claimed that he would do something about it and actually succeeded, he suddenly became the man who was listening to what the people wanted and doing something about it … unlike those he opposed.

The Democrats in the United States seem, to me, to be in this position. They crow about winning the White House twice in a row, and blame dirty tactics — like redrawing electoral districts — for their loses in Congress. Certainly, that does have an impact, but that always strikes as more grumbling that the other side cheats better than they do … especially given how they take an explicit pro-immigration stance — especially towards non-white immigrants — while crowing that the shifting demographics away from the population being mostly white means that in the future they’ll win more elections, because blacks and Hispanics, for example, vote Democrat more. And yet, for the most part they win their support not by promoting policies they support — many of these are socially conservative, for example — but instead by appealing to the fear that the Republicans will be terrible for their specific grouping. In no way do they really give them what they want. This election cycle, they had a mini-revolt with Sanders from their own liberal and progressive supporters who wanted them to act more progressive and less conservative. And in the primaries, or even after, did the Democrats change their policies to incorporate more of what Sanders was saying and thus to appeal to these voters? It doesn’t seem like it to me.

Even this campaign reveals these sorts of cracks. How much of the rhetoric from the Clinton campaign is talking about how the Democrats are going to do wonderful things? How much of the messages from Clinton supporters is about how great she is? And, to contrast, how much of it is nothing more than rhetoric about how bad Trump is and that everyone needs to come out to vote to stop Trump? The more positive messages — like “Make America Great Again” — are coming from Trump. His whole strategy is essentially that they are all corrupt and are killing the country, and he’s going to lock them up and fix everything.

So, in my admittedly shallow view, in order to prevent tyrannies you actually need to listen to the people and try to do what they want you to do … or, at least, explain to them why that’s a bad idea. Telling them that they’re bad people for what they feel are valid concerns and ignoring their actual concerns leaves discontentment, and discontentment is something that can be exploited … and if that discontentment is aimed at your party, it’s not going to be you that exploits it. If you leave yourself vulnerable to a surge of popular discontentment, don’t be surprised when someone you don’t like exploits it. Instead, listen to the people, don’t dictate to the people. Or else you risking having a real dictator in power.