Sunday, September 25, 2016

Intersectionalism and the danger of political bundling

One of my Facebook friends is not a smart man.  He is also very conservative.  On occasion, these traits lead him to say some ridiculous things.

For example, being conservative, he thinks the following things are bad:
  • Liberals
  • Obama
  • Political correctness
  • Islam
  • Socialism/communism
  •  Open borders
  • Atheism
  • The UN

None of these things are totally unreasonable to oppose on their own.  I oppose several of them myself.  But my Facebook friend, being a simple man, likes to lump them all together for simplicity’s sake.  The world is much easier for him to understand if he can merge each of these disfavored concepts into a common enemy, as it allows him conceptualize all of politics as one giant tug-of-war between good and evil. 

Consequently, if some immigration issue has been in the news recently, he’ll say things like Obama’s promoting open borders so his fellow Muslim liberals can complete their Sharia takeover of the US!” thereby implicating four of his favorite boogeymen in one sentence.  Or maybe he’ll hear Rush Limbaugh say something about Obama importing atheist South American socialists to finish installing cultural Marxism!”, and that will resonate with him not because it makes any sense – South Americans are predominantly Catholic, with more conservative cultures than our own – but because it links three more of his least favorite things, so it comports with the worldview he already holds.

He’s not alone in this regard.  These theories appeal those who feel very passionately about rudimentary conservative principles, but lack the education, fair-mindedness, or access to unfiltered information to develop a more cogent interpretation of reality.  Some of them go on to be Alex-Jones type conspiracy theorists, going so far as to link it all with the Illuminati or new World Order or One-World-Government-scheming from the UN.

Educated people like you and I recognize these are crackpot theories.  We roll our eyes at conservative efforts to wrap up everything they hate in one bundle, just so they can denounce the world’s demons in one breath.  We can debate Obama’s merit as a president, and Islam’s merit as a religion, and socialism’s merit as an economic ideology, and the merit of immigration restrictions as policy, and the merit of the UN as an institution – but we should recognize that each of these things are separate issues, such that some of them can be good while others of them are bad.  It’s important to compartmentalize. They are not a package deal.

Unfortunately, arch-conservatives are not the only ones who make this error.  People of all political persuasions and intelligence levels often are guilty of the same thing.  Consider the following list of things progressives think are bad, and ask yourself how many on the left are convinced they are fundamentally linked:
  • Abortion restrictions
  • Sexism
  • Racism
  • Homophobia/Transphobia
  • Police abuse
  • Nationalism/excessive patriotism
  • Hawkish foreign policy
  • Capitalism
  • Pollution

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to help a progressive person’s cause on, say, racism…until they threw in something like “and it’s all to fuel the profiteering of the prison-industrial complex!”

Of maybe we’re discussing foreign policy, and I’m nodding along with how the US must reign-in its militarism abroad and resist the urge to intervene further in Syria…but then the person blurts out “and I’m so tired of imperialistic Western colonizers raping the Middle East of its resources!”

I am proudly pro-choice, but it’s seemingly impossible nowadays for my pro-choice peers to have a conversation with (or about) my pro-life friends without attacking them as draconian misogynists – as if we are incapable of fathoming that pro-life beliefs could possibly stem from anything besides the hatred of women.

I am appalled by many things our government does, but it does not follow that patriotism is unwarranted.  I too am committed to avoiding catastrophic climate change, but too many on the left see overthrowing capitalism as a prerequisite to doing so.  Those things are not inherently at odds.

Just like my conservative uncle, progressives like to bundle their bad guys.  They are committed to a narrative of the world which identifies one enemy – selfish white men – and projects that boogeyman as the root cause of all the world’s woes.  Why is global warming happening?  Because rich white men in the oil industry prioritize their profits over everyone else’s wellbeing!  Why did we go to war in Iraq?  Because rich white men in Halliburton traded blood for oil!  Why do we see so much police abuse in this country?  Because it helps the profits of rich white men to divide the proletariat by demonizing black men, rigging the criminal justice system and fomenting racial hatred!  On each of these issues, I agree with left-leaning policy proposals – but I cannot agree with the arguments and assumptions of those advocating such proposals, which ultimately makes it tougher for me to join them in advocacy.

The biggest culprit here is what the left calls “intersectionalism” (for those who don’t know what that is,
this is a good primer).  The study of intersectionalism is important and commendable work – I laid out specifically what I like and don’t like about it here - but it has an unfortunate tendency to promulgate this bundling fallacy, even masking it in an academic sheen.  Any analysis of racism or sexism that doesn’t criticize capitalism in the same breath is now criticized in far-left circles: “it doesn’t include an analysis of class,” they’ll say (by which they mean, of course, an analysis of class which they find sufficiently anti-capitalist).

the Korryn Gaines case I wrote about last month.  To me, Gaines was pretty clearly killed because she pointed a shotgun at Baltimore County Policemen.  I suppose it’s fair to debate her death within the broader context of police abuse; could police could have deescalated the situation in some other way?  Maybe it’s fair to debate it within the context of gun control; why was a mentally unstable person able to get a shotgun in the first place?  And of course, our country’s racial history and current events played a role in why Gaines held such anti-police views in the first place. In conjunction, this analysis poses real questions about whether Korryn’s death would have happened in another country, with limited access to firearms, less racial tension, and less aggressive policing tactics.

But the far left won’t stop at linking those three things.  To some, Gaines’ death was proof of the need for reproductive justice, because “black women live with the harsh reality of not having full control over the ability to choose to parent…and to parent the children they have in safe and well-resourced environments.”  Both white women and white men have been killed by police for far less violent provocations than raising a shotgun, but don’t tell that to the Crunk Feminist Collective; to them, Gaines death was proof that both blackness and femaleness compound police maltreatment.  It’s become the chic thing to analyze every progressive cause within the context of other progressive causes.

The danger of this intersectional bundling is that it has made the left’s confirmation bias academically acceptable.  We all develop explanatory ideologies to help us understand the world around us.  Once we forge this worldview, we all instinctively filter new information through its framework, and then ultimately decide whether it fits or doesn’t fit.  The intersectional approach programs left-wing people to make it fit.  It teaches them to scour each new story or development or piece of information for links back to the list of social causes they think they already understand, thereby enabling regurgitation of memorized leftist dogma and shunning the task of analyzing the issue anew.

The CFC concludes their aforementioned article with the heart of what I’m talking about, writing, “when we pursue a social analysis that fails to robustly consider patriarchy alongside challenges to white supremacy and capitalism, we’ll miss the convergence of violent logics.”

I counter: when you pursue a social analysis that demands you implicate all three of those things any time you implicate one of them, you obscure the debate with unnecessary ideological baggage.

Progressives talk so much about privileged people “derailing” the conversation, but taking gratuitous shots at capitalism in conversations that previously had nothing to do with economics does exactly that.  Insisting we can’t address police abuse without first addressing capitalism’s supposed role prevents or shuts down productive discussion on the issue of police abuse, by deterring people who don’t share your assumptions on capitalism.

Likewise, opposing a hawkish foreign policy will require building a coalition of peace-loving people that is considerably larger than the group of people who presently think capitalism is to blame for those policies.  Lots of people – myself included – think our foreign policy has little to do with capitalism, and you need their help.

Sometimes there really are connections between issues that people don’t recognize at first glance, and it’s helpful to point them out.  But there aren’t always connections, and even when there are, not everyone is going to agree about them. That’s okay; it doesn’t need to be a package deal.  I don’t need to buy all of what you’re selling me to buy into some of it.  Clumping together distinct issues for shorthand convenience is not progressive, it’s just lazy.

Like modern conservatives, modern progressives believe a lot of things that are pretty much bullshit.  If they won’t accept progress on anything until we agree with them on everything, they will be waiting for a mighty long time.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

An example of bipartisan hypocrisy

Demanding accountability from police departments is not the same as “attacking police” or being “anti-police.”  It’s a merely effort to make policing better.  Those of us who want to reform the criminal justice system recognize that most policemen are good at their jobs, and respect the important and difficult work they do every day.  But occasionally, a cop proves to be not so good at their job, and when that happens they need to be identified and fired – just like bad employees in the private sector.  Police Unions shouldn’t make it so difficult to hold policemen accountable.

Now, if only the left understood this same concept in regard to teachers…

Monday, August 29, 2016

Libertarianism’s effectiveness is demonstrated by the INeffectiveness of policy

In an online discussion, someone asked me to describe what it meant to be a libertarian in a sentence.  I responded as follows:

“Libertarian means respecting individual liberty as an important value in and of itself, and recognizing the tremendous boons in prosperity, safety and human happiness that can be attained through respecting everyone's personal autonomy and right to choose how to live their own life with as few restrictions as possible.”

They then asked, “How have these principles been demonstrated effectively through policy?”.

It’d be more accurate to say they’ve been demonstrated through the ineffectiveness of policy.  “Policy,” in the context of governance, is just another word for law, which is enforced by law enforcement at implied or literal gunpoint.  Therefore, libertarians see “policy” as nothing more than systematic coercion and violence, whereas we see liberty as the absence thereof.  Asking libertarians to prove liberty works “through policy” is like asking a pacifist to prove how their ideas have ever helped anyone win a war.  In both cases, it hasn’t, but only because our ideas involve quitting the whole business of making war and policy altogether!

In practice, “respecting everyone’s personal autonomy and right to choose how to live their own life” usually means abolishing policies which DON’T respect those things.  That includes things like the war on drugs, alcohol prohibition, laws against sex work, laws against selling your organs, abortion restrictions, all forms of censorship, sin-taxes (and really taxes in general), etc. 

The evidence that libertarianism generally produces better outcomes than authoritarianism lies in the demonstrable ineffectiveness of those policies.  I would be happy to demonstrate how each of these policies have proven horribly counterproductive if you like.

Should American voters feel guilty for dead Syrian children?

A picture of a wounded and shell-shockedSyrian child pulled from the wreckage of an airstrike has recently circulated the internet.  One of my friends posted it with the following caption:

How can you sleep at night, voting for THIS???

Here’s three reasons Americans should sleep just fine at night, no matter for whom (or whether) they have voted for (or plan on voting):

1. This particular child was injured in a Russian/Assad airstrike, not an American one.

2. Even if it were an American strike, nobody "voted for this," because people don’t even have the option to vote for individual policies.  Our system allows them to only vote for packages of party positions, only offers two packages with a chance to win, and gives them no real control over what those packages contain.

3.  CIA drone strikes weren’t even acknowledged as a thing the public could be aware of until the Obama Administration, when they ramped up in use so drastically that the government to no longer maintain plausible deniability.  Since that time, Americans can be divided into two groups: those who voted for Obama, and those who didn’t.  Those who didn’t cannot possibly be held accountable for the foreign policy Obama has implemented.  And those who did can hardly be held accountable either, because Obama didn't campaign on military intervention in Syria in either election; in fact, he marketed himself as the more dovish of the two major candidates both times.  So even if people could vote on individual policies, the closest approximation of which policy they voted for in this case is the opposite of more drone strikes.

4.  Even single-issue voters, who voted ONLY to support a more aggressive interventionist foreign policy, could well believe that such airstrikes save more children than they kill.  Far more children in the Middle East (and civilians of any age) are killed by car bombs or mass executions at the hands of ISIS than are killed by US strikes.  Eliminating the ISIS threat could easily be seen as a long term humanitarian priority to reduce the outcome depicted in this picture.  Some of them may even wonder how cynics like you and I can sleep at night, voting to allow ISIS to pillage the Middle East unimpeded (from their view).

Practicalities aside, we can sincerely disagree on the best way to reduce tragedies without feeling guilty about the remote possibility that we may be wrong.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Some overdue nuance on police shootings

“Social media's reaction to the Orlando shooting is the most frustrating instance of confirmation bias I can remember. Everyone sees only what they want to see. The entire right wing cannot fathom it resulting from anything besides Islamic extremist terrorism. The entire left wing will not admit it relates to anything besides the need for gun control or mental health research. And whenever these brainwashed culture warriors accidentally meet, neither knows what to do besides demonize the other. We self-select into a comforting echo-chamber of people and pages that reaffirm what we already believe, and on the rare occasion someone breaches that bubble of consensus, we would rather Google "tell me why I'm right" for ammunition in our argument than deal with the cognitive dissonance of considering dissent.

The entire country is allergic to nuance, and this November we will reap what we sow.”

Today, I just want to add that everything I wrote there also applies to how most people react to police shootings.  If you're anything like the people I see discussing them, you're probably wrong about a lot, no matter which side of the cultural divide you're on.

First, white police apologists…get the following things through your skulls:

Racial disparities in the criminal justice system do not solely result from black people committing more crimes.  It is statistically proven, over and over again, that police patrol minority neighborhoods disproportionately, pull minorities over disproportionately, and arrest and charge them disproportionately.  Judges and juries are statistically proven to sentence blacks more harshly and set their bail higher, other things equal.  That this is inconvenient to the worldview you find most reassuring doesn’t make it less true.

Second, even to the extent that such disparities do result from blacks committing more crime, that’s still a problematic consequence of historic marginalization COUPLED with over-criminalization, the war on drugs, and “tough on crime” mandatory minimum laws – which are each bullshit, and which white people voted for and have a responsibility to undo.

Third, white people need to realize that police cannot legally or ethically kill somebody just because they’re a criminal, or resisting/fleeing arrest, or a dirt bag in general.  Lethal force is only justified when the suspect poses an active threat to the life of the cop, or of someone else.  Accordingly, if we are to have any semblance of a civilized society, policemen MUST be held legally accountable when they kill people they had no reason to believe were armed or dangerous – even when that person was a dirt-bag criminal!

Fourth, white people should realize that while policing is dangerous work, it is also voluntary work, and signing up to do a risky job does not give you extra leeway with the laws governing how to perform that job.  They should also realize that it’s not actually as dangerous as many other professions, and that they don’t really need armored vehicles or SWAT teams to serve a warrant.  They should concede that police training in this country is far too militarized and aggressive, which causes many policemen to escalate tensions at the slightest hint of non-compliance instead of de-escalating situations before they become violent.

Perhaps most importantly, white people should recognize that BLM is not a “terrorist organization.”  They are not even causing racial division.  They are merely revealing racial division, which has been here all along, but which many white people were too white to have noticed.  This division exists in part because for most of our country’s history, there have been a shit-ton of police shootings, especially of black people.  For most of our country’s history, white people much gave their unquestioning trust that these shootings were justified and necessary.

Turns out, a lot of them weren’t.

Video evidence is quickly revealing lot of them still aren’t today, so I cannot fathom how bad it must have been in the 60’s, 70’s 80’s and 90’s, while white people were pretending the damn Civil Rights Act had fixed racism.

The enormous upheaval of the Black Lives Matter uprisings is merely white people’s helpful newsflash to this state of affairs.  No matter what your cheery suburban elementary school teacher may have led you to believe, some ineffective, polarizing legislation from the 60’s did not resolve the prejudices of the Jim Crow south in the span of a single generation.  Get over it.  You don’t need to agree with everything they propose, but at the very least, consider BLM as your wakeup call to a situation which many less fortunate than you have known all along.

Now...BLM sympathizers…

You’re not off the hook.  You need to understand the following:

Racial disparities in the criminal justice system do not solely result from bigoted cops treating black people differently than they do whites.  Even if we implement all our desired criminal justice reforms, violent crime will still be more prevalent in impoverished communities than it is in the suburbs for a whole host of socioeconomic reasons.  Consequently, residual racial disparities in the criminal justice system would likely continue even in a perfectly just society.

Second, not everyone killed by police is a victim – in fact, most are not.  There are roughly 1100 police killings every year.  Many of them are filmed, but only the most egregious make it onto social media.  The rest are predominantly justifiable responses to armed and dangerous people (usually white people) who are threatening innocent life.  Police deal with armed robbers, gang shootouts, hostage situations, serial killers, school shootings, and high speed chases on a daily basis in this country.  To be frank, the world is a happier place without such people.  It is both legal and ethical to kill these people while they are in the act of trying or threatening to kill others. 

Accordingly, statistics about the total number of black people killed by police in a given year are completely meaningless absent context, since they clump together the Eric Garners and Philando Castille’s of the world with all the people who actually had it coming.
  None of this means we should be any less vigilant in keeping the police accountable – it just means we should have a filter, and reserve judgment.  Don’t be gullible.  Left-leaning, quasi-media clickbait outlets like Salon, NowThis or have discovered it is extremely profitable to stoke up racial tension as much as possible.  Reporters in search of controversy descend like hounds each time a black person is shot by police, hoping against hope that the circumstances will allow them to make it into the latest viral horror story of police abuse.  Sometimes it is – sometimes it isn’t.  Be able to tell the difference.

Third, BLM should realize that part of the reason police are trained the way they are is because we live in a country with 330 million guns, and a lot more violent criminals than other democracies.  Accordingly, the more laid back European model of policing wouldn’t really work here.  Teaching police to diffuse the situation and be less jumpy is a good idea, but disarming police altogether would enable more crime and result in a whole lot more dead people, including (but not limited to) more dead cops.

Finally, BLM should understand that not everything is explained by race.  In the wake of the Korryn Gaines case I described here, the people at Atlanta Black Star convinced themselves that Gaines was only shot because she was black.  To prove it, they created this really bad video comparing Gaines to a white woman named Ashley Sterling, who were able to arrest without having to shoot her.  The comparison was horrible from the outset – Gaines fired a shotgun at officers, whereas Sterling was unarmed – but the most absurd part of the video comes here:

Let’s read that again: “After police TAZED Sterling, she ENJOYED THE LUXURY OF AIR CONDITIONING en route to the police station.”

That made me snort out laughing the first time I watched it.  I can’t help but wonder: If an unarmed black woman were tazed while she lie pinned to the ground, surrounded by multiple policemen, and then a white police sympathizer had dismissed any criticism of such abuse as giving her "the luxury of air conditioning", would anyone in BLM agree they treated that person luxuriously?

The article continued that “Ashley Sterling lived to have her day in court.  Korryn Gaines did not.”  They conveniently omit that Gaines was in fact offered a day in court – she just declined to show up.

Such a preposterous reaches and half-truths makes the job of resentful white anti-BLM reactionaries way easier than it should be, serving up low-hanging fruit to those eager to classify all of BLM as unreasonable zealots.  Don’t overplay your hand, people.  Don’t make air conditioning arguments.  That’s not evidence of racial disparity, and there isn’t always evidence to be found, because not everything that happens to black people in our country results from racism. Our movement will be stronger and more effective if you stop pretending otherwise.