Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

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.



There Is No Time for Despair

November 9, 2016
I have been sick to my stomach with fear for the last twelve hours. I am terrified. I fear that people will die in our streets because we’ve validated racism and hate. I fear people will die overseas to satisfy grandiose rhetoric. I fear the environment and the land–the actual soil and air–will be done irreparable harm. I fear our national conversation and our 250-year old democratic experiment will take decades to recover from this choice, if it recovers at all.


But this is not the time for despair.


This is the time to pick your fight. Immigrants rights, civil rights, gay rights, environmental protection, international understanding, nuclear proliferation…whatever it is that you feel strongly about, fight for it now. Find a non-profit, a charitable organization, and don’t just give a few dollars, dedicate your time. Don’t just share hashtags and opinions, don’t just put your voice in the fight. Put your time in the fight. Put your hands in the fight.



Protester outside Trump tower. (Image source)


Show the people who chose fear and hate that we are not beaten, we are not silenced: We are energized. We are invigorated. The fight is on our doorsteps now, and we must not back down.


For my part, I looked up my local Sierra Club chapter, and found they need writers to volunteer time, so I will likely volunteer there. If anyone has suggestions for other proven environmental groups where I could volunteer in the Los Angeles area, I’d love to hear them.


Please also be vocal about what you are doing. We need each other now more than ever, we need to know that none of us are giving up, we need to know that each of us is fighting. That will get us through the next two years to the mid-terms, and the two years after that to the election, and the decades after as we come to understand the full repercussions of this choice.


[Update: I thought I’d include some resources for finding places to volunteer:

I’d also like to encourage you to share any worthy organizations in the comments.]

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.

Paul Ryan Finishes 3rd in Indy 500

October 16, 2012

In a first for any Vice-Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan took third place at last weekend’s Indianapolis 500 race. “I wanted to show the voters how hard I can push,” said Ryan, “It’s important for them to know their leaders are capable of being winners.”

Ryan spent most of Saturday at the Four-Seasons in Indianapolis at a twenty-five-thousand-dollar per plate fundraising lunch, leaving in time to arrive at the Indianapolis track in the closing minutes of the three hour race. Once there, he gained access to the track and proceeded to step out onto the raceway, flagging down then race leader R. Bobby during lap 199 of 200.

“I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Bobby. “First I was like, ‘What the eff is someone doing on the track?’ Then I was like, ‘Hot damn, that’s our future vice president!'”

Ryan, using his finely honed speaking skills, quickly convinced Bobby to surrender his car. The delay allowed the second and third place runners to overtake Bobby’s car, but after getting his seat belt fastened and smiling for a barrage of photos, Ryan took off and managed to hold on to third place for the last third of the final lap of the race.

“He’s really a guy who goes all the way,” Janna Ryan, Paul’s wife, told reporters. “He’d drive five hundred miles every day if he thought he could save one little baby from being murdered by liberals. That’s how much he cares.”

Bobby, when asked if he would still vote for Ryan, even though Ryan had cost Bobby the race by taking credit for his hard work at the last minute, said, “Well, of course I’m voting Romney-Ryan! I hate socialists and dead babies, and I know that Obama will make us all one or the other if he wins a second term. You know, since he didn’t do it in his first term. This is his last chance! He has to be stopped!”

When asked how he felt about his third-place finish, Ryan said, “What race were you watching? I came in first. Who’s saying I didn’t? The lame-stream media? Not that it matters. What matters is that I’m a hardworking guy, and I finished the Indy 500 in less than a minute. That’s a good time, right? I mean, it sounds right to me, and I’m a numbers guy.”

What This Country’s Coming To…

August 3, 2011

“The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Thursday that would require Internet service providers (ISPs) to collect and retain records about Internet users’ activity,”  (thanks,

The lovely ass holes (go to their websites and send them anonymous hate-mail while you still can) responsible for this bill are calling it, “The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.”  They claim that they just want to keep our children safe from those nasty internet kiddie-pornographers.  Which is a fat, steaming load of bullshit.


Romney Form Committee to Investigate Cracking Corn and I Don’t Care

April 12, 2011

I guess Mitt Romney’s committee to investigate forming an investigative committee for a Presidential bid decided an investigative committee would meet with a favorable response.

I hate this guy.

I hate this guy and I hate his stupid bid for attention and money. Most of all I hate that now I have to listen to people talk about him and his potential Presidential bid. He can’t win; he’s a Mormon and no matter what he says that’s not the same as Kennedy being a Catholic.

Instead I want to talk about how humanity took its first steps into space fifty years ago today. I want to talk about how people are rising up against dictators around the world. I want to talk about anything at all that’s important and relevant, and try and ignore the fact that I’ll be seeing Mitt’s smug, punchable face in YouTube clips and television ads for a solid eighteen months.

Net Neutrality Is A Big Fucking Deal (Updated)

May 3, 2010

Seriously (warning, that’s a PDF, but a good read). For real, we need thisTell Genachowski not to be a damn lackey.  If the FCC backs down on this, the internet absolutely ends its life as a public space and becomes 100% corporate domain.

It’s like what happened to Facebook, only it’s the whole internet.

(psst…I totally ripped off all my links from this guy, you should just read his thing.)

(Update: Win!)