After the Charlottesville riots, there was a lot of flak when Trump seemed to speak of “groups” on the Far Right and Far Left as morally equivalent, and was not willing to announce that White supremacists or KKK-like groups are morally less acceptable than, say, extreme Communist groups (or groups that claim they are just resisting fascism or white or Christian supremacy).
While I follow his reasoning: historical experience with the purposes of a group does matter, I would have a few questions. First, it appears that domestic hate groups have First Amendment protections that foreign terror groups do not. It appears that the legal consequences, in federal criminal justice, for supporting a hate group normally apply only to foreign organizations, unless a domestic organization has been found to launch a specific conspiracy to commit a specific crime (like another OKC).
Nevertheless, employers (including the federal government in the past) have certainly been able to deny employment or fire people for membership in “known” groups, and this used to be more true of membership in the Communist Party.
The question has arisen because Twitter recently announced a policy change where starting today it will suspend or close accounts of those with “affiliation” to terror groups, including domestic hate groups (usually right wing such as neo-Nazi or white supremacist). In fact, there was a high profile suspension of someone Trump had retweeted today.
Then the rather obvious question becomes, what is a “group” and what does “affiliation” mean? Is retweeting the group evidence of affiliation, or repeatedly visiting the sites (which might be detectable, at least by hacking). Twitter probably just means that people already well known to be connected to a group can’t use the platform to send sanitized messages to recruit people (and this could be motivated by ISIS more than by neo-Nazis).
Another interesting part of Twitter’s rules was the mention of the targeting of civilians for political purposes. But this is indeed what some of our enemies do, as have other aggressors in most other large wars. The US did this in retaliation, as with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Another problem is that the “Left” in the US sometimes demands that others (like independent bloggers like me) go along with their combativeness if the enemy (neo-Nazis in this case) is egregious enough or poses a specific threat to a specific protected group (blacks or Jews or even gays and trans). But combativeness (as Flemming Rose at Cato has often pointed out) appeals to the idea that “the end justifies the means” and finally can result in a group’s have intentions that are as dangerous of the enemy it replaced. I don’t like to be drawn into passing relative judgment on groups. It’s like saying that somehow Stalin (or even Kim Jong Un) is “better” than Hitler. History teaches us that Leftist regimes are often as repressive as those they had replaced (although Vietnam and China have gradually become somewhat acceptable countries).
(Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)
Recently the New York Times ran a constructive op-ed by Michelle Goldberg “The Worst Time for the Left to Give Up on Free Speech”, featuring a split demonstration poster demanding to “Shut Down Milo Yiannopoulos”.
The editorial makes a central point that democratic societies typically feel they need to take certain topics off the table as legitimate content for discussion. For example, the essay gives, the idea that women and people of color should be subordinate to white men (you can expand that to cis white straight men). The editorial relates an incident at William and Mary recently where an ACLU speaker was heckled and disrupted for supposedly working for white supremacists, which activists demand there be zero tolerance for.
There are plenty of similar examples, such as bans on neo-Nazi speech in present day Germany. The most obvious bans are usually intended to protect groups defined by race or religion (and sometimes ethnic nationality) from being targeted again by future political developments.
By way of comparison, many people believed, back in the 1950s, that there was a legal ban on discussing communism. The federal government, for example, who not employ people who could not ascertain they had never been members of the Communist party. Communism could be banned if it was construed as embedding violence (or the attempt to overthrow the US government) as part of its definition (as compared to socialism, even Bernie Sanders style). But Communism generally, as defined, did not target specific races or religions (although we can certain argue that Stalin persecuted people of faith, including Jews, and so did Communist China).
You could have a similar discussion about trying to overanalyze the roots of homophobia and gender or sexuality related discrimination and persecution in the past, and today in many authoritarian countries. Much of my own writing has dealt with this for the past twenty years, especially the three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books. I’ve generally (as in my post here Jan. 4, 2017) offered arguments that a lot of it had to do with family patriarchs keeping their own confidence in their own power to have biological lineage (procreation). I’ve also paid heed to the past public health arguments that got made in the 1980s in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before the cause was identified. In my writings I’ve paid particular heed to the history of military conscription and past deferment controversies.
A lot of people don’t appreciate my rehearsing the ghosts of the past (John Carpenter’s metaphorical “The Ghosts of Mars” (1995)), for fear that I could be legitimizing lines of thinking long thought debunked and bringing them back. Sound familiar? Is this what people fear from Donald Trump, or, more properly, the people he has chosen in his group? (How about Mike Pence?)
Goldberg doesn’t go there, but the Left is in a real quandary when it wants to shut down all biological speech The Left has demonstrated against and protested Charles Murray for his past writings on race and biology. They object to James Damore for his Google memo on biology (whether this expression belonged in a privately owned workplace is a different discussion). They would probably object to Nicholas Wade’s 2014 book “A Troublesome Inheritance” (media commentary, July 24, 2017). But then what about the gay Left’s dependence on immutability to demand gay equality? I do think there is scientific merit to discussion of genetics (especially with regard to gender identity) and epigenetics (especially with regard to sexual orientation, most of all in non-first-born men) I don’t think that replaces libertarian ideas of focus on “personal responsibility”. But if you want to discuss homosexuality and biology (as in Chandler Burr’s monumental 1996 book “A Separate Creation”) with possible political change as a result, you have to accept discussions of biology, evolution and race. Admittedly, some people can skid on thin ice when they ponder these things, as they consider plans to have or not have their own children (eugenics used to be an acceptable idea a century ago).
That brings me back to a correlated area: that the identity of the speaker matters, as well as the predictable behavior of the listener of speech (possibly creating risk for the original speaker or others connected to him) — what I have called “implicit content”, a most disturbing and sometimes offensive notion. The most obvious example in current events news is, of course, the manipulation of social media especially by the Russians to sow discord among different American classes or quasi-tribes, beyond simply influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The Russians and other enemies used fake accounts and posted fake news in supposedly legitimate-looking news sites and in advertorials. All of this follows earlier concerns about the misuse of social media, especially Twitter, for terrorist recruiting (by ISIS), as well as cyberbullying or stalking and revenge porn. The Russians seemed to have noticed that Hillary-like “elites” would not pay attention if “deplorables” could be lured by silly, divisive supermarket tabloid-like content and false flags; elites tend not to care about people “beneath” themselves in this “mind your own business” world much until those people suddenly knock at the door for personal attention (which is something that happens to speakers who make themselves conspicuous, especially on social media).
You can raise a lot of questions here. Is fake news libel? Maybe. Litigation is often impractical because it involves criticism of public figures (actual malice, etc). You get to Trump’s ideas about using Britain’s standard on libel. But a bigger idea is that the fake news fiasco shows why authoritarian leaders keep a tight lid on dissent, even on individual bloggers’ speech, perhaps maintaining that the dissemination of news to the public need be “licensed” to guarantee (alternative) “truth” (sic). That hasn’t really happened with Trump, yet at least; Trump seems to admire individual speakers even as he hates the established liberal media.
A related idea is whether political ads, and whether commercial ads, are protected by the First Amendment the same way as other speech. That topic was covered in the second session at a recent Cato conference (Oct. 3, 2017 posting here). Generally, the answer is yes. But this topic has become controversial with regard to campaign finance reform, long before Trump.
In fact, back in the 2002-2005 period, there was a concern that even “free content” of a political nature posted by bloggers like me could constitute illegal campaign contributions (as if not everything in life can be measured by money). The June 12, 2017 post here gets to that, as does this 2005 editorial in the Washington Times, which wormed its way into a major incident when I was working as a substitute teacher then.
That brings us to what I do, which is put out my own series of article and blog posts on the news, augmenting my three “Do Ask, Do Tell” books, under my own brand(s). No, this doesn’t pay its own way. I have exactly the situation the 2005 Washington Times editorial was talking about.
I’ve been at this since the mid 1990s. I originally entered the world of self-publishing as a way to participate in the debate over gays in the military (and the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy from Bill Clinton’s compromise that predates Trump’s current transgender ban controversy). I made a lot of unusual, very individualistic arguments, often but not always consistently connected to libertarianism. Generally, most of what I have said starts with the individual, apart from any group he or she belongs to. The first book sold decently (in 1997 and 1998, especially) but then became old hat. The subsequent POD books have not really sold all that well, and I get hassled about it because “other people” can’t keep their jobs based on my books, I guess. I did have the resources from a well-paid job and from stock market good luck under Clinton (Democrats can be good for the stock market, as Hillary’s elite knows). I got lucky with the 2008 crash and that turned out well for me. (Short selling?)
But you see where this is heading. In line with the thinking of McCain-Feingold, one person can have political influence, with no accountability for how the funds were raised. I actually focused on issues, not candidates (which a lot of people seem not to get), and have very little interest in partisanship. I could even claim that I know enough about policy and am temperate enough in my positions that I could function in the White House better than the current occupant, but I don’t know how to raise money for people, or for myself. I but I know the right people to get health care to work, for example. (Do the math first.)
Then, there is the issue of the left-wing boogeyman, “inherited wealth”. Yes, I have some (from mother’s passing at the end of 2010). My use of it could be controversial, and I may not have been as generous (yet) as I should be. But I have not needed it to fund the books or blogs or websites. (I I had, that could be a problem, but that’s too much accounting detail to get into right here. But I can’t just turn into somebody else’s safety net.)
I do get prodded about other things I “should” be doing, as a “prole”, because others have to do them. Let’s say, accept “the free market cultural revolution” and prove I can hold down a minimum wage job (like in Barbara Enrenreich’s book “Nickel and Dimed”). My life has its own narrative, and that narrative explains my personal goals now. They’re my goals; they don’t need to be anyone else’s. I don’t need to appear on Shark Tank to justify my own “business model”. But I’m corkscrewing into a paradox: if morality is indeed about “paying your dues” before you’re heard, then it’s really not just about group solidarity.
Both sides of a polarized political debate, but especially the Left, would like to see a world where individuals are not allowed to leverage their own speech with search engines the way I have (with an “It’s Free” paradigm, after Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film, where blog postings become “free fish”), but have to march in step with larger groups that they join. Both sides want to force others to join their chorus of some mix of relative deprivation (the alt-right), or systematic oppression (the Left). Both (or two out of three) sides want mass movements (as in Eric Hoffer’s 1951 manifesto, “The True Believer”). Religious groups often follow suit, demanding people join them in proselytizing (which is what an LDS mandatory missionary assignment is all about). It is certainly personally shameful to walk in a (Charlottesville) torchlight march screaming “You shall not replace us”, but I find carrying anyone’s picket rather shameful. Other’s will tell me, get over it. Well, you get over it only if you’re on the “right” (sic) side? I won’t bargain away my own purposes.
To me, the existential threat is being forced or coerced (maybe even with expropriation) to join somebody else’s chorus, or hiding from personal responsibility behind a curtain of “systematic oppression”, to be allowed to speak at all. Some pleas for donation to political opinion sites (from both the Right and Left) make insulting, hysterical clams that only they can speak for me, as if I were impotent and had no right to my own branded voice. They want to force me to join their causes to be heard at all. It would be more honorable to become a slave on a plantation, or at least a minimum wage worker, whose turn it is now to be exploited just as he was once the undeserving exploiter, until dropping dead. And then there is no funeral.
But, you ask, why not “raise people up” in a personal way, when they knock, in a way “you” had not considered before you were so challenged. Is it up to me to make others “all right” in a personal way if others once did that for me? Maybe. But that’s entirely off line. It doesn’t seem like “accomplishment” (maybe it’s a “creative” challenge for someone who did not have his own kids). It doesn’t replace my mission of delivering my own content first.
I just want to walk through a process that I experienced growing up in the 50s and 60s.
I came to perceive the world, even the U.S., as competitive place, where some people were better than others, and where people fit into a “rightful” station. I remember quarreling with my father on household chores about what is “low work”. To a large extent, good grades in school were the only currency (non fiat) that I knew. But I sensed that (as in Connell’s story and film “The Most Dangerous Game”) that the world tended to evolve toward “brains over brawn”. Yet, I thought, to be virtuous, a man needed both. You had to be both “manly” (and look “manly” and ahead of schedule biologically) and smart. That became my “idol” (as I confessed in a “religion” class after school in third grade). I suppose Jesus was presented that way in Sunday school, but the way “He” was to be “Followed” seemed like a moral paradox. I tended toward upward affiliation, but clinging to “better men” socially was generally not appreciated and tended to trap me. So as an antidote, as an adult, I developed fierce independence.
A rightful station in life implied the possibility of shame and the need to accept it. Through imprinting, I came to perceive upward affiliation to the edge of actual shame as sexually exciting, so, as I’ve explained in my books, I (by age 18) had called myself a “latent homosexual”. That led to my William and Mary narrative.
“Shame” (the name of a Fassebender 2011 film for Fox) required my accepting my own. Since I was physically behind my contemporaries, I did not see myself as competitive enough to have or enjoy sex with a woman. I did not view procreation or having children as important, and tended to see it as an “afterthought” behind public cultural achievements; but in the back of my mind, in those NIH days (1962, overlapping the Cuban Missile Crisis) I also thought my genes should not be propagated. They could lead to a greater or enhanced risk of disabled children (as lineage). I was personally buying into a previous generation’s acceptance of eugenics. Ironically, I needed to believe in shame to experience (gay) sexual fantasies that could become personally satisfying. In a curious way, I get what Trump was getting at in those remarks to Billy Bush on Access Hollywood (about “Days of our Lives”) in Oct. 2016 about his own sexual attractions, but as upside-down cake.
At this point, I’ll link to a couple of essays by Milo Yiannopoulos again on Breitbart, “Sexodus: The men giving up on women and checking out on society”, Part 1, and Part 2. True, fewer men today want to get married and have their own nuclear families. Milo attributes this to aggressive feminism, with the end result that marriage is a bad deal for men (and it often is, as I began to notice in the 1980s with the increasing heterosexual divorce rate in Dallas where I lived). Milo maintains some men are intimidated into believing that the slightest mistake of misplaced assertiveness (“masculinity” in the Rosenfels sense) will get them thrown into jail (or at least lead to enormous guilt), and he may be right. But my own experience was the inverse of all this. I did not have enough physical confidences so I could eroticize shame instead, (Shame and guilt are feminine and masculine counterparts in Rosenfels terminology.) So I built my own world, and managed to be stable and productive, without normal offerings of intimacy. You can talk about having children as a “choice” with obvious responsibilities that follow, but family responsibility can happen anyway — eldercare and filial piety, as well as the “Raising Helen” scenario of raising relatives’ kids after family tragedies. Childlessness could leave “you” as the insurance policy for other people with kids (second-class status, as in Elinor Burkett’s 2000 book “The Baby Boon“). The ability to offer personal warmth based on need in a family setting — building into community social capital beyond the expressive self — becomes its own moral issue.
So, in previous pieces here, I’ve talked about my soapboxes, how they maintain my independence, give me political influence (I understand Trump actually reads some of my stuff) They can be taken away, by coercion, in a variety of ways. And I would be left with the question, what’s wrong with raising someone else up instead?
Maybe that would be what I would want if it resulted from my own “content”. Yet my own writings and scripts tend to emulate the angels, the para-Jesus figures, and at least hint that people with “average Joe” cognition would become the “Leftovers” But, if I actually did work on the right project with someone else, maybe I would elevate someone even on my own social media pages in some creative way. That would have to start by working with someone I know,
But generally, I’ve resisted making someone “below” become “all right”, or at least doing so publicly as part of my own message or brand. That would undermine my own ability to enjoy Shame (think Trump, again). I’ve also resisted attempts by others espousing some sort of systematic oppression to get me to “join in” and subordinate my own work to their messages, especially when their messages are “narrow” and tend to let people “off the hook” for their own personal inadequacies. Again, that would subvert my own pattern of “upward affiliation”.
I think you can see that this can become a dangerous pattern of thinking. Given incidents around the country reported by others, this sounds like a pattern that slips from schizoid personality sometimes into outright nihilism. (“Schizoid” refers to social behavior – or particularly, avoidance of unwanted social contact and extreme narrowness and pickiness in intimate partners, where as “Aspergers” refers to developmental arrest in social capacity; some of this can be a good thing, as with Alan Turing.) I had my worst taste of this in 1964, after the Kennedy assassination. I rebounded from all that (it could have gone dark indeed) and managed to create my own world, in my own world, and become a stable individual contributor in I.T. before I switched to a largely unpaid second career in “provocateurship”, less flashy than Milo’s – but I’m four decades older.
For “shame” is related to meaning of everything around me. I think many people of my parents’ generation felt they could function actively in marriage if they knew everyone else had to. That gave it meaning, but implied that everyone has a “rightsize” or station in life. Marital initiative by men could be carried out if there was a consistent belief that masculinity meant something, even in terms of external trappings. In the days long before attention to public Olympic events in cycling and swimming, it was usually seen as girlish if men shaved their bodies; the belief seemed to be necessary then. Drag queens were OK if they really stayed just on the fringes. But, on an everyday basis, you wanted to see men look like, well, men. That was a little easier in a segregated society.
You can see how this can lay the foundations for authoritarianism, particularly on the right wing side (fascism, or perhaps some of the ideas of the alt-right, could link back to personal “body fascism”). If people love only when their visual expectations are satisfied, and resent connection to others beneath them, it’s easier to set up a system where some people are subjugated if they don’t make it. Yes, that sounds like Nazism. It doesn’t necessary get that far, but it can.
It’s also well to remember that many people who seem “weak” may be so because they have not have the benefit of political and economic stability that I have leveraged. No wonder the prepper mentality appeals to some people.
All of this is to say, them, if people want to sustain freedom, they need to learn to reach out of their own bubbles, in creative interpersonal ways, sometimes, outside the usual boundaries in a “mind your own business” society, with all its “do not track”. Commercially, it means you need to be willing to take calls from salesmen. They have to make a living, too. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to rationalize an order of “merit” maintained by a dictator. Maybe you get a “people’s republic of capitalism”.
Devin Foley has a somewhat different perspective in Intellectual Takeout. “Antifa and Neo-Nazi Propaganda: Are You Suscpetible?” You could add radical Islam to the title. The writer talks about not being willing to grow out of dependency. That’s interesting, but I think it’s also about a need to see consistent meaning.
CNN has run an op-ed by John Blake, “White Supremacists by Default: How ordinary people made Charlottesville possible.”
Yes, to some extent, this piece is an “I am my brother’s keeper” viewpoint familiar from Sunday School. But at another level the piece has major moral implications regarding the everyday personal choices we make, and particularly the way we speak out or remain silent.
I grew up in a way in which I did not become conscious of class or race or belonging to a tribe, or people. I was not exposed to the idea of “systematic oppression” against people who belong to some recognizable group. My self-concept was pretty separated from group identity.
I gradually became aware that I would grow up “different” especially with respect to sexuality. But I believed it was incumbent on me to learn to perform in a manner commensurate with my gender, because the welfare of others in the family or community or country could depend on that capacity. My sense of inferiority was driven first by lack of that performance, which then morphed into other ideas about appearance and what makes a male (or then female) look desirable.
I remember, back in the mid 1990s, about the time I was starting to work on my first DADT book, an African-American co-worker (another mainframe computer programmer) where I worked in northern Virginia said that he was teaching his young son to grow up to deal with discrimination. Another African-American coworker who had attended West Point said I had no idea what real discrimination was like, because I could just pass. (That person thought I lived “at home” with my Mother since I was never married.) I would subsequently be a witness in litigation by a former black employee whom I replaced with an internal transfer, and the “libertarianism” in my own deposition seemed to be noticed by the judge dismissing the case.
Indeed, the activism in the gay community always had to deal with the “conduct” vs. “group identity” problem, particularly during the AIDS crisis of the 1990s. Libertarians and moderate conservatives like me (I didn’t formally belong to Log Cabin Republicans but tended to like a lot of things about Reagan and personally fared well when he was in office) were focused on privacy (in the day when double lives were common) and personal responsibility, whereas more radical activists saw systematic oppression as related to definable gender-related class. Since I was well within the upper middle class and earned a good income with few debts and could pay my bills, both conservatives with large families and radical activists born out of disadvantage saw me as a problem.
The more radical commentators today are insisting that White Nationalists have an agenda of re-imposing or augmenting systematic oppression by race, even to be ultimate end of overthrowing normal civil liberties, reintroducing racial subjugation and other forms of authoritarian order. The groups on the extreme right are enemies (of people of color) as much as radical Islam has made itself an enemy of all civilization. Radicals insist that those who normally want to maintain some objectivity and personal distance must be recruited to actively fighting with them to eliminate this one specific enemy. This could lead to vigilantism (especially online) to those who speak out on their own but who will not join in with them. Ii do get the idea of systemic oppression, but I think that meeting has a lot more to do with the integrity of individual conduct. But this goes quite deep. Refusing to date a member of a different race could be viewed as active racism (June 26).
The possibility of including ordinary independent speakers or observers (or videographers) among the complicit indirect systematic “oppressors” should not be overlooked. Look at the comments and self-criticism of Cloudfare CEO Matthew Prince, about the dangers of new forms of pro-active censorship by Internet companies. This does bear on the Backpge-Section 230 problem, and we’ll come back to this again. In a world with so many bizarre asymmetric threats, I can imagine that Internet companies could expand the list of certain speech content that they believe they cannot risk allowing to stay up (hint: Sony).
I want to add, I do get the idea that many left-wing activists (not just limited to Antifa) believe that Trump was elected in large part by white supremacists and that there is a more specific danger to everyone else in what he owes this part of his base. I have not taken this idea very seriously before, but now I am starting to wonder.
(Posted: Saturday, August 19, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)
I won’t keep up with the counter volleying of rhetoric over Trump and his apparent deferral to his base. It seems like the alt-right “started it” fully intending to become combative in Charlottesville (we need not re-enumerate all the groups) and the “Left” (just some of it) believed it needed to become combative to defend itself.
I don’t join other people’s mass movements, or become combative myself to protect other people – and yes, I don’t have my own kids so I very much resent it when others expect this of me. Part of me sees simply joining up in claiming group systemic oppression as a sign of personal weakness. If I was “better” I wouldn’t need to.
We all grow up with coercion, and how we deal with becomes a character issue.
Our parents apply coercion as we grow up, until we gradually become mature enough to accept responsibility for our own choices. At an individual level, accepting responsibility for the direct consequences of personal choices certainly form the libertarian idea of personal morality. But in a real world, it’s important to take one’s part as a member of the group – family, community, religious affiliation, cultural affinity, or country. That means sharing some of the “chores” of the group (work for which usually monetary compensation is of little or no importance), common risks, and particularly the consequences of group hostility (warfare) against the group. The plot of “Romeo and Juliet” lives at several levels.
There is tension between individualized personal responsibility, and accountability to a group. A very good example is that an individual level, we don’t want people to have children until they are ready to raise them (which usually means in a legally recognized marriage, which today could be same-sex). With some people, that will tend to result in never having children. That can be bad for the future of some groups or countries, which fear being underpopulated. This tension, over procreation, as far as I am concerned, has always been at the heart of coercive behavior by many religions and many governments (now days, generally non-Western) against homosexuals and transgender. Part of the issue is that until more recent times, most cultures perceived it was important that most people perform according to their biological genders, including the capacity of males, becoming combative and fungible when necessary, to protect the women and children in the tribe – its genetic future. Consider how this plays out with our history with the military draft and controversy today over whether women should be required to register for Selective Service (or whether there should be conscription at all.) In those days, personal “cowardice” (a somewhat dying concept) had a distinctly physical aspect. Today, childless people still have to take care of aging parents (even more so as people live longer with falling birthrates), and often wind up raising siblings’ children.
All of this winds up being experienced as coercion – what you have to do, because if you don’t, someone else will have to take the risk and possibly make the sacrifice. So rather than dividing people into subgroups according to various abilities, we tend to judge everyone on one continuum, or at least I did. I would say that in “Gone with the Wind“, Scarlet O’Hara has to deal with coercion, but “you” can be offended because her slaves had needed to deal with so much more, as indeed they had.
But as I moved into adulthood, I moved into different groups. In the mid 1970s, as I entered my thirties in New York City, that group was the Ninth Street Center in New York City (the East Village), now the Paul Rosenfels Community. I would tend to cherry pick the people I met for those who satisfied my need for “upward affiliation”. That would irritate or disappoint some others. In fact, the whole idea of personal growth seemed to revolve around an existential challenge that we called “creativity”, which in turn meant learning new ways to care about and provide for other people (including, sometimes, of other races, or those who were much less glamorous or even much less intact) without the obvious catalyst of conventional sexual excitement and then sexual intercourse leading to having one’s own children, who would become “the” dependents. It was caring without an obvious personal lineage. Yet, what I sometimes experienced in the group was “coercion”. In any group, there are those in charge. There is volunteer work to be done (like washing dishes after those Saturday night potluck suppers, in the days when there was no escape from the smoke), in order to share one’s portion of the physical labor of the group.
As I move further into adult life, I became, somewhat, the Pharisee, the watcher, and recorder, being effective politically without having to run for anything or ask for money – ironically that sometimes seems as “Dangerous” (Milo-speak) as conventional partisan bickering. Yes, the capability to do this could be yanked away from me by extreme legislation or perhaps direct hostility. I see that as coercion. People have hinted, with some breath of a threat, “Why don’t you shut up and shut down online, and then volunteer for us?” Well, if I didn’t have my own mission and own message (other than letting a group be my voice) I wouldn’t be effective as a volunteer (particularly to remedy claimed systemic group oppression and victimization). But, I could be forced to, unexpectedly and unforeseeably, perhaps. Then maybe I have no choice to work for “you” in order to “live”. That kind of bargaining with my life, starting perhaps with a knock on the door, is coercion.
So then we come back to some of the more dangerous issues today for the whole country – nuclear weapons, safety of the power grid. Also, civil disorder (which, yes, was most recently perpetrated by the radical right) and terrorism from various sources, by no means always Islamist. The end result is that anyone can be placed into a situation of subservience and helplessness by the “coercion” of another or others. Anyone can wind up housed in a shelter by the Red Cross or other charity. Anyone can experience expropriation and be forced to learn how “the others” have to live, suddenly. The fact is, it is the individuals in a country who bear the ultimate consequences (and therefore “responsibility”) of what their politicians do, even if those consequences are delivered by ISIS or by Kim Jong Un. In that sense, anyone is a potential conscript or combatant. That’s why I see “victimhood” as so ugly (nothing to be proud of) and I call it “casualty-hood” and yet to survive it and rise again, from whatever station in life events place you, seems so essential to resilience and to future generations, if we are to have a future at all.
And, yet, I believe in civilization. I believe in law and order. But there are a few grave threats (like the power grid issue, which I have covered here before) that we must solve (without partisanship) if we are not to leave the world to the doomsday preppers. I would have nothing to contribute to the world depicted in NBC’s series “Revolution”. Don’t ask me to stick around for it.
I tuned on to CNN early Saturday morning in time to see the confrontations and fights breaking out in Charlottesville near Emancipation Park. I saw coverage of the report that the “Unite the Right” rally would be canceled by police order. I went to see a film Saturday afternoon and did not learn of the vehicle attack, that had happened at about 1:30 PM, until about 5 PM, even after running into friends. So my perception of the gravity of what was going on changed throughout the day. Frankly, I had not been aware that such a large assembly of “white supremacists” could congregate. And, yes, this is domestic terrorism, from a right wing group(s).
I sometimes film demonstrations, without participating In them, which some people consider the “cowardly watcher” syndrome. But not this time. But had I gone, I could have been killed as easily (by chance) as they young paralegal woman who died. Generally, I do not like to be asked to join movements against specific enemy groups by name. (We get into Trump’s “on many sides” exit.)
My first reaction concerned the statute (of Robert E. Lee) itself. I’ve seen it, having visited gay pride celebrations in Charlottesville (most recently in September 2015). I would say, we can’t deny or hide history. We shouldn’t hide the Holocaust, or hide the Civil War. But, of course, no one would support a sculpture of Hitler for the sake of “history”. The Civil War generals fought on the wrong side. Yet, we accept the idea of a Lee mansion park run by the NPS in Arlington Cemetery. We accept the monuments in Richmond (or maybe we don’t). We’ve come to the point (begrudgingly) that states should not fly confederate flags on their properties.
It’s important, however, that we remember history, even if we have to be careful about what we commemorate. Think about how these ideas apply to the Vietnam war. Some people would rather not talk about some aspects of it at all, like the military draft, for fear that it could come back and divert attention from more immediate needs of “identity groups”.
I was not aware at first how connected the Charlottesville “event” had been organized by “white supremacists”, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and then the likes of David Duke and Richard Spencer (with various “alt-right” factions). My first impression of the counter protest that it was likely to be an example of a combative, militant left (“ANTIFA”) against a militant right (as at Milo Yiannopoulos’s events). This doesn’t seem to be true. My understanding that they were mostly non-violent protestors. But I may have gotten my first impression from seeing the fights live on CNN. Some counter protestors apparently did bring weapons. Personally, I ignore “white” identity politics the way I ignore the identity politics and intersectionality on the Left.
Now, there is the question that President Trump did not call out the right-wing groups by name and condemn their existence. Trump, as did his spokespersons, blamed violent behavior on both sides. That’s generally how I feel about something like this. Yet, I would condemn ISIS, as does the President. It seems that the president should publicly condemn the KKK – a different enemy, but one that wants to use force and intimidation. You should condemn groups not of partisan or religious affiliation but because of the tactics they want to use. Consider, however, what the Daily Stormer said (CNN, and NYTimes account), that Trump had given them an out. It’s also relevant that media has reported that many participants from the (alt-right) groups carried pepper spray and tried to use it on counter-demonstraters.
Coercion, from a combative group of any ideology, can become dangerous for almost any individual in a free society, even if by happenstance. Yet, in my mind, there is no honor in being remembered as a victim, something I’ll come back to later. And there is no honor in having one’s live expropriated, possibly because of one’s own questionable karma (regardless of who the enemy is), and being forced into somebody else’s “mass movement”. It seems that sometimes personal neutrality is not good enough.
There are reports on ABC that some people are being fired from jobs today for being identified as participating with the right wing groups.
This is a grave distraction from focus on North Korea.
The recent “free speech” meltdown on the Google campus has a few angles to it that deserve exploring, and compare to some of my own past.
David Brooks, the moderate-to-conservative “moralizer” on how we can be good as individuals, called for the resignation of Google CEO Sundar Pichai, after the dismissal of Google software engineer James Damore, 28, who distributed an internal “manifesto” I enjoy reading Brooks, who for the most part is about where John McCain would be on a lot of issues and on how elected officials should behave.
Brooks points out that it is reasonable to discuss statistical genetic differences between identifiable groups of people (by gender, race, geographic origin, maybe sexual orientation) while maintaining that in employment (including the military) and public accommodations people should always be treated equally as individuals. Well, practically always. I don’t think a female could hit home runs the way Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge can. But I do think that some day that Major League Baseball will have to deal with the controversy over having a (female-to-male) transgender relief pitcher. (And, by the way, professional sports leagues have to be totally with it on the idea that sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity are all very different things.)
Before moving on from all this, I’ll add that my own youth (born 1943) created a world where conformity to binary gender roles was seen as essential to fitting into the group and carrying one’s own share of the common risks. Later, individualism took over my life, and discrimination became less urgent personally. But when external coercion happens, it gets important to belong to the “larger group”, so smaller groups (even “intersectionality”) start to matter.
Yet, Pichai and the identity politics crowd apparently would hear none of Damore’s pedantic provocations, which made him seem aloof to the real world. Somehow, even bringing up biological statistics invited enemies of various marginalized people in these groups. We’re all the way back to the demonstrations against Milo Yioannopoulos and the whole ridiculous Leslie Jones fiasco.
Damore’s 10-page memo has been called an anti-diversity “screed”. The language may seem tedious to some, analytical for others, or maybe a joke (I remember the Pentagon’s “123 words” — “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service” etc. by comparison, indeed the “mouthful of words” that Randy Shilts had so much fun with in “Conduct Unbecoming”). His comment on empathy is interesting – people really do need emotion for “Staying Alive” (like John Travolta). It’s also important to remember that biology relates to the likelihood of having kids and family responsibility, which Google has wisely tried to defuse by offering paid parental leave, regardless of gender. Vox published a “Big Idea” page that “ladysplain’s” the issue of sexism in the technology workplace.
It’s important to remember that this was an internal memo; it was published online only after it became controversial. I once got into some minor trouble at work in 1992 for sending a SYSM (a mainframe email program within a data center installation) criticizing others for copying software disks, possibly illegally (in the days with the Software Publishers Association was starting to audit companies for possible copyright and software license infringement). Indeed, some of the security and legal controversies today had their predecessors of the pre-Internet old mainframe world of the 70s through the 90s. Let me add that from 1972-1974 I worked for Sperry Univac (Unisys) which for its time was one of the most progressive companies in hiring female engineers.
What can be more troubling is when someone posts controversial material online on his own dime with his own social media account, blog, or hosted domain, and others find it through search engines. I’ve already discussed how this played out with a fictitious screenplay I had posted when I was substitute teaching (July 19, 2016). There was a situation in my IT career where I transferred to another location because of the possibility of a perceived public conflict over publishing my book involving gays in the military (May 30, 2016 link).
In the early 2000’s we saw human resources people write articles on proposed “blogging policies” at their companies. I think when someone has direct reports or underwriting responsibilities, there is a real risk that if someone finds opinionated material online even written at home, a hostile workplace issue can come up. I had written an article explaining this back in March 2000 as Google was starting to make me “famous”.
Here’s a story about a writing conference in Minneapolis canceled because of the “lack of diversity” of the presenters. I lived there 1997-2003 and went to some events sponsored by the local National Writers Union. I didn’t run into this then. Ditto for a screenwriting group.
The recent reports that Google canceled an employee town hall over external threats and targeting, are disturbing again and remind me of the unrest over campus appearances by Milo Yiannopoulos and Charles Murray.
(Posted: Friday, August 11, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)
Update: Saturday, August 12, 2017 at 6 PM
James Damore has his own explanation in the Wall Street Journal of his firing here.
The New York Times has a detailed story today about how the internal memo gradually became more public involving internal tools called Memegen and Dory. The “leak” appeared partly through Breitbart, which reports that WikiLeaks has offered Damore a job.
The Washington Post has an op-ed in Outlook Aug. 13 by Fredrik deBoer, “Corporations are cracking down on what employees say, even outside of work“. He cites examples, like a stadium worker for criticizing the Philadelphia Eagles on Facebook, or a military contractor fired for publicly supporting Barack Obama. Digital technology has made second lives impossible. This may have helped overturn “don’t ask don’t tell” but it can gradually erode the “right” of people to speak for themselves and send them running to organizations and lobbyists begging to be paid to speak for them.