Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tragedy, Attention, and You

Here's something I wrote somewhere else back after the last attack on Paris, and I feel that it's applicable again in light of the bloody month the world has had:

By now I should really know better than to be surprised, but Salon's editorials on the Paris attack have been uniformly terrible. There are lots of reasons, some good and some bad, that our media and political classes pay more attention to deaths in France than in places like Lebanon--one of the most significant is simply that more Americans have been to Paris than to Beirut. France is an old ally, and was (is?) our sister republic. France is also deep within NATO, what is normally thought of as a safe zone, while Beirut is on the periphery, right next door to the IS. It's unfortunately not surprising that an attack there doesn't surprise anyone.

If you can't help yourself from trying to drum up a narrative of false balance, all you're doing is handing ammunition over to the bigots you think you're fighting. From their own mouths IS carefully planned and orchestrated this attack, purely to demonstrate their reach and capabilities.

It's a tiresome and moronic whine directed at activists using the BlackLivesMatter that "All Lives Matter!", or that more blacks are killed by other black people than by the police, because both of those things are beside the point. Focusing on an injustice that strikes home to you doesn't negate or dehumanize all the other injustices that are happening at the same time. It's just being a human being to react to the things that hit home, and trying to twist every story into the same narrative is condescending and regressive, especially to the victims you'd like us to remember.

This issue is big and complicated, Salon, and your reporting and opinion pieces have so far been inexcusable. You wouldn't tolerate this sort of grand-standing by the right over the Charleston shooter, and you would be right not too. The fact that you're so wrapped up in your own leftist crusade against imperialism that you can't even separate the cause from the victims is one that you need to come to terms with, and if you can't you should fire your editorial staff and start over. Shame on you.

Substitute place-names as appropriate.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Trump Is Beautiful, Don't Vote For Him

"One of the moderators asked, in effect: if you’re so opposed to Hillary Clinton, why did she come to your last wedding? It seemed like a revealing, even devastating question.

Trump’s response, delivered without pause or embarrassment: Because I paid her to be there. As if she was the wedding singer, or in charge of the catering."

This honestly could not be more beautifully stated. Trump may be a deranged loon, but he's a deranged loon with no filter between his personal and public lives, and while in some ways that makes him dangerous--especially when facing the "other", i.e., brown people from other places, it also makes him useful when it comes to opening the door into the inner worlds of wealth, class, and politics.

Trump is, as the almost spot-on author of the Politico piece puts it, a class traitor. He gleefully jokes about what not even political enemies will say about each other--he's not an outsider as the media often likes to label him, he's an extremely privileged insider with nothing to lose. He is dead wrong about almost every policy he has put forwards, and is wrong for the same reason he loses more often in business than he wins. He is a "straight shooter", in that everything he says shoots straight from his id. And the party has no way to reign it in, and that terrifies them. If he loses, he goes back to his life as a billionaire dilettante. They have nothing over him.

Now where the author gets it wrong is that by projecting his own socio-economic and political concerns onto Trump, he assumes this is part of some cohesive strategy or ideology, when the opposite is true. Trump is a mischievous imp, the schoolyard bully who has discovered that all of the administration's punishments are toothless, and that none of them can possibly match the fun of pulling up the underpants of nerds and snapping towels in the locker-room. He has terrific inside information into the corruption that money brings to politics, but don't for a second think he's out to change it. Teddy Roosevelt was a rich kid who developed a conscience thanks to his ideology, there's no danger of that with the Donald. He'll say what it takes to win, even if it's true.

His goal isn't to say the truth--he just can't help himself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Edmund Burke, Father of Conservatism, Sorely Missed

Something interesting from the Economist: Freedom Fighter: The Early Thinking of Edmund Burke

I've said for a long time that Conservatism from its roots was a liberal ideology, one of gradual reform rather than violent revolution. The modern concept is an appropriation by reactionaries who wish to hold back progress, rather than found it on stable social evolution.

Personally I tend to lean more towards Paine than Burke, but we on the left need an intelligent and principled opposition, which sadly we just don't get. No ideology can police itself adequately, and no dialectic can occur in an echo chamber.

We desperately need a new Edmund Burke. Sadly, I don't see anyone poised to assume the mantle. Like it or not, we're stuck with these guys:

Friday, December 25, 2015

Maajid Nawaz and the Problem of the Well-Meaning Racist

Maajid Nawaz very eloquently explains something that has bothered me for awhile, but which I feel is difficult to talk about as a white radical.

It's also a good example of why I try to hold my own 'side' to higher standards, not because I'm against them but because I expect better. When what is holding back the growth and development of the Muslim Left if our own Western Left, we need to reaffirm our principles and abandon the same tribal group-thinks we spend so much time criticising the Right over.

'This is the “racism of the anti-racists,” the new Orientalism. Increasingly today, it is the defenders of everything black and brown, every Oriental and exotic religious and spiritual practice, those who have taken to portraying their cultural sophistication by being able to pronounce Eastern culinary dishes with correctly accented syllables, who are guilty of the most patronizing and debilitating form of racism and bigotry.'

As Maajid Nawaz says, these aren't Western Liberal Ideas, they are human ones. And if we succumb to parochial instincts of tribal identity and continue to stimy those struggling for what we already take for granted, then we fail not just our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community, but advancement of the entire human family.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hitler Was Not Donald Trump

You would think this would go without saying, but liberals, my people, you are fucking embarrassing me. Adolph Hitler developed an ideology based around what is essentially blood magic that caused the murder of millions and the misery of hundreds of millions. Donald Trump is a racist buffoon.

If Hitler had been as dangerous as the Donald, the world would have been a better place. There would be more people alive today (especially Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals), because at least so far Trump has not advocated anything like the cultic murder religion embodied by National Socialism’s sadistic race theories. He’s your drunk uncle who doesn’t know very much and is scared of brown orphans.

But you know who did do things similar to what Trump has said? Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That’s right, the great liberal hero locked up thousands of Americans and their families for the crime of being of the same racial background as some other people who attacked us. It was a little something called the Japanese Internment, and it was a horrific crime. Donald Trump wants to do that to Muslims--he does not, as far as I can tell, want to exterminate them from the face of the Earth. So let’s criticize him for what he has actually said he wants to do by comparing it to something actually similar to what he said.

To do otherwise is just as dishonest as what the reactionary right tries to do by comparing Sanders’ socialism to the terror of the Bolsheviks. It’s called poisoning the well, and it’s a fallacy when they do it, and even more so when we do it. Because if we’re going to claim to be on the side of reason, we’d damned-well better act like it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Appropriation of Yoga or The Revolution Eats Its Children

A pretty good analysis of how the left can eat it's own. It's not phrased that way, of course, but the meaning is basically the same. Slate does a good job identifying the problems with this particular case, that of a Canadian university banning a yoga class because of concerns about cultural appropriation, but misses what is in my view the bigger picture--that the idea of cultural appropriation is itself incoherent.

Sure, there is a real problem underlying things like black face and sorority girls wearing Native American headdresses, but the problem lies in our specific colonial and imperial history, not in some universal concept of pre-hegemonic cultural purity. You can't say with a straight face, or in the same breath, that these people are both our equals and that their cultural practices or religion or whatever is somehow more pure and sacred than any other. The history of the world is, in essence, the long story of cultural fusion of one type or another, and despite what you might think from the leftist press, there is nothing new about conquest or empires. It begs credulity of us to accept artificial divisions of this kind, and incidents like this will increase unless we liberals take a sober look at the principles we uphold.

We can, I would argue, make a better case for our opposition to things like black face by taking it on specifically due to the history in our culture of using shoe polish to belittle and dehumanize the oppressed for the very fact of their being oppressed and disadvantaged. The same is true of the drunken Indian trope, usually performed by a white actor in Native American garb, which is so heavy with the spoils of colonial triumph that in our culture it--rightly--is becoming unconscionable for inebriated college students to don the same costume in mimicry of the suffering we inflicted.

But the general rule of cultural appropriation will push us into absurdities like the one reported by Slate above.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Yankee Go Home, or Why Richard Dawkins is Wrong About the Civil War

Anyone who knows me (the overwhelming majority of all none of my readers) has probably heard me say the following:

The two most obnoxious animals in the American ecosystem are the Southern Evangelical and the Yankee Progressive.

Neither will give you a moments peace. Now I know that Richard Dawkins is not himself a citizen of our great republic, but for the purposes of this brief polemic I'm willing to extend him that honor.

To most people the venerable scientist's statement will seem unnecessary to even be said--we all know the stats about the disparity between Northern and Southern states when it comes to income and education levels, and the greater denial of science such as Darwinian evolution and climate change in the former Confederate States. So why are my hackles thus raised, like the proverbial wildcat cornered in the henhouse?

Before I get to that, let me first and foremost tell you what this polemic is not: it is in no way a defense of the Confederate States of America or that horrific institution called slavery that they fought to preserve. Southern slavery, distinguished from other historical forms by it's singularly racial nature, was an abomination that haunts us to this day. And the clumsy attempts of many of my fellow Southerners to whitewash this history and preserve their generals as heroes and gods has done much to prevent our society from healing from these ancient wounds.

But here's the thing that sticks in my craw about the triumphalist yankee's narrative, and that's that it draws a clear line between us and them, as though the south created and maintained it's economy in a vacuum, and all the Northern citizen could do was look on in horror and disgust. This is, of course, absolutely false. In large part, this civilization that the good professors paeans as "The Greatest on Earth" was paid for in the main by cheap southern cotton and tobacco, two plants acquired from the ground almost exclusively by removing the skin and sweat of the African slave. Whatever moral qualms the average citizen of the north, or their political representatives, may have had were more than salved by the immense fortunes built on manufacturing and shipping the finished goods to a world hungry for the produce of the unpaid labor of millions of southern slaves.

The very foundation of our early republic was built almost exclusively upon the back of the negro, in the most literal sense: Washington DC itself was built primarily through slave labor. And the proof of this is so obvious that most history text books in both the North and South present it with no comment--our good President Abraham Lincoln went to great pains to make clear he did not intend to abolish slavery. So while it's true the South started the war in order to preserve slavery beyond the next generation, Lincoln's radical notion was simply that it not spread to the new territories. Territories, it must be stated, where slavery served almost no economic purpose anyways. The North was drunk on the products of the institution that equally disgusted them, and if you can't imagine how both emotions could be held by the same person, you no-doubt-liberal of the modern world, feel in your pocket for your cell phone and tell me how often the misery of it's production bothers you at night. This is the foundation that allowed the North to create what Dawkins calls unabashedly, "the Greatest Civilization on Earth." Without the south there could have been no Great North, and without the rapacity of the North's markets the impetus for the goods of slavery would have been greatly reduced.

The second great mistake Dawkins makes is that in comparing post-war regions, he is ignoring the fact that the North was victorious and essentially untouched by the war, and that the South was defeated and that its heartland was destroyed in the conflict. This was the first step in assuring that the current and near past South would come to be, the second was an act of mercy when the revered President Lincoln saved the sons of Brutus by allowing the white masters to return to their plantations almost wholly unmolested. The desire of the Southern Radicals (mostly Republican, it should be noted) to reshape southern society post-war not withstanding, both Lincoln and his successor, Johnson, ensured that the same political order would continue to dominate in the South after a brief interregnum. By the time Reconstruction was fully under way cheap cotton was again flowing northwards, picked almost entirely by the same people who had done so previously, only now as indentured share croppers. This is the final sin of the national tragedy that was the Civil War, and made Jim Crow and segregation essentially inevitable, and a legacy we are still trapped with today.

So yes, Mr. Dawkins, criticize the failings of the South. Lord knows I do, and not always in a spirit of brotherhood. But nothing about the current situation was inevitable, and most of it was created unintentionally by the well meaning mistake of one of America's greatest heroes. So in light of the temporary citizenship I with the authority of this unread blog have bestowed, I say with deep affection:

Yankee go home.