Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

The Beginning of Identity Liberalism: A Response to Mark Lilla’s “The End of Identity Liberalism”

November 19, 2016

I’ve seen arguments similar to Mark Lilla’s “The End of Identity Liberalism” from a lot of liberals, and they really, really bother me. I’m going to try and express why I think this is an entirely wrong-headed response to this election. It is, in fact, an example of liberal white fragility, and the liberal “whitelash” to becoming a minority in progressive movements.

Most obviously, Lilla ignores everything else that happened in the course of the primaries and election and makes the liberal defeat entirely an issue of identity politics. The role of the logical fallacy, particularly false equivalency, cannot be understated. But that’s a somewhat separate argument; I mention it here just to say that Lilla seems a bit myopic in where he lays blames for the loss of the election.

More troubling is the fact that for a professor, the author seems to have actually engaged with very few college students. Perhaps that should be unsurprising, he is a successful author and likely teaches very little. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be teaching at all in the fall 2016 or spring 2017 semesters.

Instead he parrots what is essentially a Fox News view of “the state of youngsters,” asserting things about the state of political discourse among millennials that seem to contradicts polls, surveys, the content of social media, and the experience of actually talking to a millennial about politics. This notion that identity politics has displaced educational content is a favorite talking-point among people who see some sort of threat in diversity, and one that is always trotted out without any evidence. It is a claim carried by the ethos of the writer, and made substantive only in that it fits into the writer’s argument that the embrasure of diversity is causing problems.

But I think that Lilla reveals a contradiction in this thought process without even realizing it. When says, “But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life,” he fails to grasp the way humans come to accept diversity. To wit: we empathize. This has been proven time and again, by numerous studies: Humans accept groups with which they have been given the opportunity to empathize.

The triumph of identity politics among the younger generation has been that millennials, through technology and education, have been allowed to empathize with ever broader groups of people. They are in fact more aware of conditions outside of their groups, which is how they empathize. That young Christians and Republicans generally support gay marriage where their parents do not is one small indication that they empathize with groups outside of their immediate “tribal” group.

The problem with this for men like Mark Lilla, is that the more you empathize with historically marginalized groups, the less you empathize with men like Mark Lilla. White men are the entrenched power group, and the default identity associated with achievement, power, success, intelligence, logic, thoughtfulness, etc. We have maintained this position by guarding it jealously. When people outside of that identity have attempted to join our institutions, we have denied them access more than we have embraced them. We have expended more energy fighting to keep them out than in welcoming them in. We do this, and then call it meritocracy. Our assertion of our own rightness in our actions has been the only justification we have needed for hundreds of years. We are not a group that it is easy to empathize with once one starts empathizing with the groups we have marginalized, or, in some cases, victimized.

As such, identity politics are as much a threat to Lilla’s way of life as they are to a Red-State Trump voter. The world and the disciplines he exists in, and has gained preeminence in, are challenged at their very foundations by a generation of people who believe in knowing the other as opposed to studying the other.

His argument about the fate of transgendered people in Egypt contributing nothing to an understanding of Egypt’s future, aside from being a bald-faced reductio, illustrates Lilla’s myopia. I agree, certainly, that American journalism has become very, very lazy—and worse, that it now designs its headlines and stories for maximum click-bait and social-media impact—but does that mean that reporting on the state of a marginalized group within a foreign country can tell us nothing about that country’s future?

Lilla fails to realize the sea change that is happening in political consciousness. Digital youth live in a world where the boundaries and histories of nation states are impediments to understanding and empathy. They mean that some people—people who these youth understand to be thinking, feeling humans of equal value to themselves—are trapped, subject to the vicissitudes of rulers who hate them, and beyond the help of American youth who feel great empathy for their suffering. Caring about the fate of transgender people in Egypt is an investment in the future of both that country and our own. Of how our relations will play out, and what shape the governments of our nations will take in the future. I would argue it has more impact on the future of Egypt than whether or not Morsi is executed.

It is also incredible to me that he implicitly asserts this empathy does not extend beyond LGBT rights, or similar. The empathy inherent in identity politics impacts positions on international conflict, because of its victims. On refugee rights, human rights, economic aid or sanctions. On working conditions in Shenzhen and in Detroit. On every situation where someone is systemically disadvantaged or victimized. At every turn identity politics asserts that the people are more important than institutions, and so it is threat to institutions. Including the institution of white academia.

One of the things identity politics has wrought is that those to whom it matters are singularly bad at the schizophrenic compartmentalization that has allowed generations of people to look at the horrors of the world and tsk-tsk and go about their day. Especially when in the course of the day they benefit directly, in one way or another, from those horrors. Lilla seems to think that empathy won’t create a political moment with implications for every aspect of global politics and economics. I think he’s as threatened as any Trump supporter, and responding with a dismissiveness that does him no favors.

Young people do feel they have a duty, and they do stay informed. Just because the thing they see as their duty is not what he would prescribe for them does not make him somehow inherently wiser or more right.



The Need for Police Body Cameras in the Wake of Ferguson

November 26, 2014

One thing I noticed while watching mainstream coverage of Ferguson was how any place reporters had set up a stationary camera, the police would shine a bright light at the camera. One CNN reporter actually commented on it, and said he didn’t know why the cops were shining a light at reporters. Seems obvious to me: at night, the light messes with the camera’s light meter, and essentially makes everything on the far side of the light source invisible to the camera. The police do not want to be watched. They want their activities to go unrecorded. They want the activities of the people they are policing to go unrecorded. They know that if anything that happens leads to legal action, they will be completely protected so long as there is no recorded proof of the incident itself. It’s the same reason the airspace over Ferguson was declared a no-fly zone, and media aircraft were kicked out.

Thankfully, the courts have decided that it is not unlawful to record the police, but why should it be incumbent on the policed to make those recordings? The White House issued a bullshit response to the original petition calling for police to be required to wear body cameras. Make no mistake, it is a bullshit response, one that boils down to, “we will do nothing,” because no politician wants to be on the wrong side of the police unions when election time rolls around.

Police need to be held accountable for criminal actions. There is a preponderance of evidence that, if nothing else, the investigation into Mike Brown’s murder was massively mishandled, to a degree that conspiracy seems much more likely than incompetence. At every step along the way, from the crime-scene tech with a dead camera battery to the prosecutor who seemed to be working for the defense, there was an absolute unwillingness to challenge the police. The people who work closely with the police, who rely on the police for their jobs and personal success, will always be unwilling to challenge the police in any situation where there could be even a whiff of subjectivity.

And this makes a police officer’s uniform a symbol of otherness, of immunity from the laws they enforce, of unchecked authority, and power without balance. It demeans the uniform, it undermines the ideas of protection, service, and justice. It makes the police an invading force, operating from a different culture, morality, and rule of law than the people they police.

Body cameras should be required for all on-duty police officers. They should be a part of the uniform. Not as a symbol of mistrust. Not as a way of saying that the police must be watched. But because the police should be representatives of the people. So that the police and the policed know that when they stand before each other they are equal in their accountability. The actions of the police are not the actions of some other, but the actions of the community. No more than a criminal should believe himself in opposition solely to the badge and gun, but not the community he preys on, or than an innocent man and his community should fear victimization by outsiders, should any community be allowed to choose ignorance, to turn away when vile things are done in its name.

Justice is not a game of cops and robbers, it is the accountability of the community to itself. Unjust laws and policies can not change, and the just ones will forever lack credibility, so long as they are enforced out of sight.

The Actual Death of the American Author: On the Granularity of Genre

August 22, 2013

A few months back I responded to Scott Turow’s arguments about how copyright infringement and digital distribution would be the death of the American author. But it got me thinking about what other pernicious threats the American author might be facing.

First, to be clear, I think an integral part of Turow’s “American Author” is that the author subsists on income from his or her writing. Hence Turow’s concern over his perceived elision of the value of copyright. An author willing to work two other jobs while writing just for the chance to tell his or her stories doesn’t really count, because this author shouldn’t give one damn about copyright — payment is a bonus, being read is the reward. So let’s take this as rote: when we talk about the death of the American author, we’re talking about the death of the American author who earns his or her income through writing.

To my mind the biggest threat to this incarnation of the American author (after our our failing education system) is the fact that marketing departments have the final say in whether or not a title will be pushed by the publisher. Most publishers will only seriously market one or two of their titles every year, the rest are orphaned almost immediately by marketing departments. If an author wants attention for his or her book, the author must take up that responsibility. This is especially true if the marketing department doesn’t have a very clear idea of how, where, and to who to market the book. (more…)

Read My Review of Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby in Quarterly West

July 12, 2012


I just had the opportunity to read and review Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby. Check it out in the current issue of Quarterly West, and while you’re there be sure to enjoy all the rest of the wonderful work on offer.

The War on Reason: Don’t Mess With Texas, Or They’ll Write You Out of Their History Books

April 23, 2012

Texas has recently done a monumental disservice to their youth by choosing to rewrite the history of this country, and their hegemonic rumblings touch on the larger issue of religious fundamentalism and its creeping influence in our country.  As a red-blooded and loud-mouthed American, I feel the need to throw my hat into the ring.

Before I address the religious issue I’d like to talk briefly about gun control, since the Texas School board feels the need to highlight the importance of the Second Amendment, which strikes me as the least important part of our Constitution. (more…)

Diablo III vs. Torchlight II, or: DRM vs. F-U-N

August 1, 2011

We just learned that Diablo III will be saddled with DRM that requires an active internet connection.  If your internet is down, or you want to play on a laptop without a WiFi hotspot, that’s just too freaking bad for you.  This announcement is generating all the usual rancor, “Burn in hell, Blizzard,” and, “ur drm iz 4 n00b fagz who eat teh p00pz,” etc.

But why do we even care?

We all know the deal with piracy and DRM, have heard the arguments both pro and con, and we all have our own rabid opinions on the matter.  I’m not going to debate the need for DRM, I’m going to debate the need for Diablo III. (more…)

What’s Up With Your Wagon Wheels, Red Dead Redemption?

July 18, 2011

I’ve noticed that the wagon wheels in Red Dead Redemption have that counter-spin effect on the spokes when in motion. Why? (more…)

Why I’m Not Excited About the Final Harry Potter Movie

July 11, 2011

I need to get this off my chest:  I’m not excited about the final Harry Potter movie, and the Deathly Hallows: Part II.  I’m just not.


The $17k Convertible Challenge: ’07 Miata v. ’02 Boxster

April 30, 2011

I recently found myself with a little money and a desire to drive just about anything other than the Subaru Outback I’ve been stuck in for the last two years, so I went out to find a fun, affordable sports-car. I took my $17k budget and hit the local used car lots for some test drives, and I wound up driving an ’07 Mazda Miata Grand Touring and an ’02 Porsche Boxster back-to-back. Then I had an opinion. So I thought I’d share it. Forgive the lack of pictures – this is another experiment in reviewing, and I didn’t bring a camera with me to my test-drive. I guess I could steal photos, but that would make me feel like a jerk.


Dammit, Jamie Oliver

April 14, 2011

I watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution the other night, and while I fully support the idea of feeding children better food, I’m a wee bit unhappy with Mr. Oliver.  You see, he’s publicly shamed the LA school district.  He’s painted them as this big, evil monster – essentially a dastardly corporation.  Watch the show, you’ll see what I mean.  He’s given the district a healthy dose of bad PR, and it’s going to cost them to fix their image.

And they are guilty of trying to keep him out of school kitchens.  They are guilty of trying to pinch pennies and continue feeding children horrible food.  But they’ve got a damn good reason.