“Racist” for attacking white people and #notallmen and generalised stuff

And interesting take on an attempt to discredit the appointment of Sarah Jeong at the New York Times who has been attacked for historic tweets saying “white men are bullshit” and “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.” others say these statements were parodies of hate received online as an Asian woman.

Zack Beauchamp at Vox:  In defense of Sarah Jeong

Conservatives are up in arms over the New York Times’s latest hire: a tech writer named Sarah Jeong whom they allege to be racist against white people.

Jeong, who currently works at the Vox Media site The Verge, was hired by the Times editorial board to work on technology issues. On Thursday, shortly after the hire was announced, conservative publications dug up old tweets of hers containing statements like “white men are bullshit” and “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

The campaign to use these tweets to get her fired seems to have failed. The Times issued a statement saying that Jeong had meant these tweets satirically — a parody of the hate she has received online as an Asian woman — and that they were standing by her.

But to some conservatives, like National Review’s David French and New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan, Jeong’s tweets are bigger than her: They reveal a rot in the progressive movement, that “social justice warriors” have become totally okay with racism so long as it’s directed at white people.

“The neo-Marxist analysis of society, in which we are all mere appendages of various groups of oppressors and oppressed, and in which the oppressed definitionally cannot be at fault, is now the governing philosophy of almost all liberal media,” Sullivan writes. “That’s how … the New York Times can hire and defend someone who expresses racial hatred.” (Note: The liberal media is not neo-Marxist.)

Both his piece and French’s misunderstand what racism is and how the so-called “social justice left” approaches the world — and the anti-Jeong vitriol you’ve seen from the right speaks more to its failings on race than it does anything about Jeong.

The basic thrust of both Sullivan and French’s argument is that if you subbed in any group other than “white people” for what Jeong wrote, then it would be obviously offensive. “#cancelblackpeople probably wouldn’t fly at the New York Times, would it?” Sullivan asks, rhetorically.

The only reason lefties aren’t offended by this obvious race-based hatred, the argument goes, is that they see the world entirely through the lens of power. Since whites as a class have it, minorities by definition cannot harbor racist attitudes toward them.

The problem here, though, is assuming that Jeong’s words were meant literally: that when Jeong wrote “#cancelwhitepeople,” for example, she was literally calling for white genocide. Or when she said “white men are bullshit,” she meant each and every white man is the human equivalent of bull feces. This is expressly Sullivan’s position: He calls her language “eliminationist,” a term most commonly used to describe Nazi rhetoric referring to Jews during the Holocaust.

To anyone who’s even passingly familiar with the way the social justice left talks, this is just clearly untrue.

“White people” is a shorthand in these communities, one that’s used to capture the way that many whites still act in clueless and/or racist ways. It’s typically used satirically and hyperbolically to emphasize how white people continue to benefit (even unknowingly) from their skin color, or to point out the ways in which a power structure that favors white people continues to exist.

I get that white people who aren’t familiar might find this discomforting.

I suspect that it isn’t this simple.

Maybe ‘anti-white’ and ‘anti-male’ comments are at times ‘used satirically and hyperbolically’, but I also think that some do actually believe the satire and hyperbole to be how things actually are, and attacks on white people and males can be exactly that, ‘us versus them’ type attacks.

What makes these quasi-satirical generalizations about “white people” different from actual racism is, yes, the underlying power structure in American society. There is no sense of threat associated with Jeong making a joke about how white people have dog-like opinions. But when white people have said the same about minorities, it has historically been a pretext for violence or justification for exclusionary politics.

This is why Sullivan’s use of “eliminationist” to describe Jeong’s words is, to my mind, particularly ill-chosen.

Maybe, but it’s complicated.

Jeong’s tweets, in context, clearly fit this type of rhetoric. When she writes “dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” she is not, as Sullivan accuses her of doing, “equat[ing whites] with animals.” Rather, she is commenting on the ubiquity of (often uniformed) white opinion on social media — a way of pointing out how nonwhite voices often don’t appear or get drowned out in social media discourse.

I’m a male, and I’m a ‘white person’, and I feel that my opinions are ‘drowned out in social media discourse’. I feel like I’m a minority of one – and in social media in particular I have very little power, and my words certainly have far less power than many others. But this may be straying from the thrust of the article.

I want to close on some more recent history: a similar debate that happened online in 2014.

The issue then was gender. A number of feminist writers had a habit of writing about “men” on social media without qualification like “most” or “the majority of.” This was partly for simplicity’s sake, and partly to point out how widespread a lot of sexist practices are.

I call bullshit on this, especially saying it is “for simplicity’s sake” – I think that generalisations are often either lazy or intended as blanket criticism.

And while ‘a lot of sexist practices’ and other negative practices may seem to widespread, that doesn’t mean that a majority of  the generalised majority are guilty of these practices, nor approve of them, nor remain silent about their opposition or disapproval.

This led to a lot of responses from men they didn’t know, saying something along the lines of “not all men are sexist, and you’re the real sexist for saying they are.” National Review, French’s publication, published an entire column making a basically similar argument.

The feminist writers responded that this was a distraction. It was obvious they weren’t talking about literally every man in context, and it was clear these men were butting in on conversations about gender to derail them with a pointlessly persnickety objection rather than dealing with the substantive conversation about sexism. So the feminist writers responded by turning the phrase “not all men” into a point of mockery, using it as an example of men sidetracking feminist arguments that made them uncomfortable.

The feminists won this argument; today, feminists still complain about “men,” and “not all men” is mostly used as a punchline rather than a serious argument. But the conservative responses to Jeong boil down, essentially, to the same thing: They’re saying “not all white people” are bad and Jeong is a racist for implying that they are.

My guess is, a few years down the road, we’ll remember the Jeong episode in roughly the same way we remember the #NotAllMen controversy today.

I think differently about this.

I think there’s a real danger that by using generalised ‘men’ and ‘white people’ rhetoric, and ridiculing ‘not all men’ and ‘not all white people’, that activists for change are alienating many people who would support positive change but get annoyed by being blamed for things they are barely if at all responsible for.

Of course not all social justice warriors resort to generalised attacks.

 

Mess Clinton or Abyss Trump?

The republic of the United States of America faces a very uncertain future, whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becomes president.

According to Trump if Clinton wins it will be more of the same, a virtual continuation of Barack Obama’s tenure. But he and some Republicans have also promised turmoil, to effectively make the country ungovernable.

charlie_brown_sad-791

But what if Trump wins? He is promising to ‘drain the swamp’, but I don’t know if he has ever explained what that will mean. He can’t sack all of Washington.

But he could change things substantially, for better or worse. Washington could certainly do with major reform, but a lot is riding on the continuing functioning of the country (and to an extent the world).

Andrew Sullivan looks at America and the Abyss.

This is what we now know. Donald Trump is the first candidate for president who seems to have little understanding of or reverence for constitutional democracy and presents himself as a future strongman. This begins with his character — if that word could possibly be ascribed to his disturbed, unstable, and uncontrollable psyche. He has revealed himself incapable of treating other people as anything but instruments to his will. He seems to have no close friends, because he can tolerate no equals.

His relationship to men — from his school days to the primary campaign — is rooted entirely in dominance and mastery, through bullying, intimidation, and, if necessary, humiliation. His relationship to women is entirely a function of his relationship to men: Women are solely a means to demonstrate his superiority in the alpha-male struggle. Women are to be pursued, captured, used, assaulted, or merely displayed to other men as an indication of his superiority.

His response to any difficult relationship is to end it, usually by firing or humiliating or ruining someone. His core, motivating idea is the punishment or mockery of the weak and reverence for the strong. He cannot apologize or accept responsibility for failure. He has long treated the truth as entirely instrumental to his momentary personal interests. Setbacks of any kind can only be assuaged by vindictive, manic revenge.

Through the course of Trumps campaigns there have been signs of all of these things.

He has no concept of a non-zero-sum engagement, in which a deal can be beneficial for both sides. A win-win scenario is intolerable to him, because mastery of others is the only moment when he is psychically at peace. (This is one reason why he cannot understand the entire idea of free trade or, indeed, NATO, or the separation of powers.)

He has trashed free trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He has violated and eroded the core norms that make liberal democracy possible — because such norms were designed precisely to guard against the kind of tyrannical impulses and pathological narcissism he personifies.

He has bullied the Republican Party into backing him. A Trump presidency backed by Republican majorities in the Senate and in Congress are quite feasible outcomes of the election.

He sees the judicial system as entirely subordinate to his political and personal interests, and impugned a federal judge for his ethnicity. He has accused the Justice Department and FBI of a criminal conspiracy to protect Hillary Clinton. He has refused to accept in advance the results of any election in which he loses. He has openly argued for government persecution of newspapers that oppose him — pledging to open up antitrust prosecution against the Washington Post, for example.

He is the first candidate in American history to subject the press pool to mob hatred — “disgusting, disgusting people” — and anti-Semitic poison from his foulest supporters. He is the first candidate in American history to pledge to imprison his election opponent if he wins power. He has mused about using nuclear weapons in regional wars. He has celebrated police powers that openly deploy racial profiling.

And those he has promised a right wing revolution to don’t care, as long as  they win at any cost.

The Establishments of both right and left have had many opportunities to stop him and have failed by spectacular displays of cowardice, narrow self-interest, and bewilderment. The right has been spectacularly craven. Trump has no loyalty to the party apparatus that has elevated him to a possible victory next Tuesday — declaring war on the Speaker of the House, attacking the RNC whenever it fails to toady to him, denigrating every single rival Republican candidate, even treating his own vice-presidential nominee as someone he can openly and contemptuously contradict with impunity. And yet that party, like the conservative parties in Weimar Germany, has never seen fit to anathematize him, only seeking to exploit his followers in the vain and foolish delusion that they can control him in the future in ways they have not been able to in the past.

I don’t think that the United States will become like Weimar Germany. Trump has been able to use legitimate (ish) democratic means to nearly make it to the top.

There is one marked difference – Weimar Germany didn’t have the destructive power of the nuclear weapons that Trump has suggested he could use.

The Republican media complex have enabled and promoted his lies and conspiracy theories and, above all, his hysteria. From the poisonous propaganda of most of Fox News to the internet madness of the alt-right, they have all made a fortune this past decade by describing the world as a hellhole of chaos and disorder and crime for which the only possible solution is a third-world strongman.

And they are close to succeeding (aided by the Democrats’ choice of Clinton as their alternative).

For their part, the feckless Democrats decided to nominate one of the most mediocre, compromised, and Establishment figures one can imagine in a deeply restless moment of anxiety and discontent. They knew full well that Hillary Clinton is incapable of inspiring, of providing reassurance, or of persuading anyone who isn’t already in her corner, and that her self-regard and privilege and money-grubbing have led her into the petty scandals that have been exploited by the tyrant’s massive lies.

They have gifted the Trump revolution a real chance.

The Republicans have thereby become a force bent less on governing than on destroying the very institutions that make democracy and the rule of law possible. They have not been conservative in any sane meaning of that term for many, many years. They are nihilist revolutionaries of the far right in search of a galvanizing revolutionary leader. And they have now found their man.

And their man found them.

Some — including many who will be voting for Trump — will argue that even if the unstable, sleepless, vindictive tyrant wins on Tuesday, he will be restrained by the system when he seizes power. Let’s game this out for a moment. Over the last year, which forces in the GOP have been able to stand up to him?

Even his closest aides have been unable to get him to concentrate before a debate. He set up a policy advisory apparatus and then completely ignored it until it was disbanded. His foreign-policy advisers can scarcely be found. He says he knows more than any general, any diplomat, and anyone with actual experience in government.

He has declared his chief adviser to be himself.

And some of his advice, especially on foreign issues, has been scary for the world.

More to the point, if Trump wins, he will almost certainly bring with him the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. A President Clinton will be checked and balanced. A President Trump will be pushing through wide-open doors.

Who can temper or stop him then?

A Speaker who reveals the slightest inclination to resist him will be swiftly dispatched — or subjected to a very credible threat of being primaried. If the military top brass resist his belief in unpredictable or unethical or unlawful warfare, they will surely be fired.

As for the administration of justice, he has openly declared his intent to use the power of the government to put his political opponent in jail.

As for a free society, he has threatened to do what he can to put his media opponents into receivership.

A bit less than a majority of Americans are encouraging him, and may give him unprecedented power.

A Hollywood movie of this scenario would have been a comedy, but this could easily turn into a tragedy.

What is so striking is that this requires no interpretation, no reading of the tea leaves. Trump has told Americans all of this — again and again — in plain English. His own temperamental instability has been displayed daily and in gory detail.

His bond with his supporters is absolute, total, and personal. It was months ago that he boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still be with him. And he was right. This is not a mark of a democratic leader; it is a mark of an authoritarian cult.

A cult with a growing fan base.

It is also, critically, a function of his platform. Fascism has never been on the ballot in America before. No candidate this close to power has signaled more clearly than Trump that he is a white-nationalist candidate determined to fight back against the browning of America.

The world has major concerns.

The fire he has lit will not be easily doused. If his policies lead to an economic downswing, he will find others to blame and conspiracies to flush out. If there is Republican resistance to his pledges to roll back free trade, he will call on his base to pressure the leadership to surrender.

And if one of his first moves is to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, we will be hurtling rather quickly to a military confrontation, as Iran rushes to build a nuke before Trump can launch military attacks to thwart them. That rush to war would empower him still further.

He has talked about using US firepower – including the nuclear button.

Yes, he is an incompetent, a dilettante, a man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Many of his moves will probably lead to a nose-dive in support. But Trump cannot admit error and will need to deny it or scapegoat others or divert public attention.

Will those who have enable Trump be able to admit error? Will they want to do anything about rectifying the errors? Will they be able to do anything about it?

There will be an Islamist terror attack of some kind — and possibly a wave of such attacks in response to his very election. Trump will exploit it with the subtlety of a Giuliani and the brutality of a Putin.

McCarthyism would seem tame in comparison.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, we live in a republic, if we can keep it. And yet, more than two centuries later, we are openly contemplating throwing it up in the air and seeing where it might land.

The US republic has already been thrashed and trashed and is falling to pieces. The landing may be all over the place.

The US is in a mess and could vote for more of the same – Mess Clinton – or go for the Abyss Trump option.

charliebrown50

 

Left wing loopy, right wing rabid

Andrew Dickens writes about how reality is often far more complex than some commentators, journalists and politicians make out – Simple Answers, Complex Questions.

If there’s anything I’ve learnt in the years covering politics and economics it’s that not all left wing ideas are loopy and not all right wing neo-liberal thoughts are rabid.

The problem is both sides exaggerate both the benefits of their own ideology and the deficiencies in the opposite. In fact they exaggerate only their side of the argument and dismiss the rest out of hand meaning that both sides propose unbalanced and hence fundamentally flawed proposals. And then we call each other names. This is why talkback and parliament exists. Let’s face it. We’re tribal.

Forums like this often get tribal too. I don’t think tribalism should be suppressed, but it should be kept to a reasonable degree of jousting.

Politicians and the media give sound bite solutions to major problems while the people who actually have to fix them sit there in a world of grey. When it comes to health, education, law and order, the environment and the taxes to pay for it there are no simple answers no matter what some MP or media commentator tells you.

I agree that many political and social issues are complex and often with no simple solutions, but both media and politicians do their best to make it sound simple. However this often comes across as stupid.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate about poverty in New Zealand. One side screams there are 300 thousand kids in poverty. The other argues there are 100,00 people in hardship.

One side argues that the rich are deliberately creating the poor and uneducated and unemployed so they can become richer. The other argues there’s plenty of work and opportunity and free education out there and the poor are poor because they’re lazy and beneficiaries.

To me, there’s a little bit of truth in both those statements but it’s not one or other.

A common criticism of this sort of consideration is that it is fence sitting, beige, wishy washy. Considering the complexities of issues is none of those things.

Professor Gary Hawke, the author of the Hawke Report into tertiary education in the 80s, and I were talking about free universal tertiary education on the radio the other day and I said it was a simple political decision by the voters.

He’d love free universal tertiary education but it’s an inefficient use of taxpayers money. 50 per cent drop out so half the money is thrown away.

He favours spending more but targeting it to those people with ability and need. This is not the policy of either the left or right. But I think he’s probably right.

But targeted funding isn’t so easy for politicians to market as a policy. It’s sensible but more complex.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate about poverty in New Zealand.

One side screams there are 300 thousand kids in poverty. The other argues there are 100,00 people in hardship.

One side argues that the rich are deliberately creating the poor and uneducated and unemployed so they can become richer. The other argues there’s plenty of work and opportunity and free education out there and the poor are poor because they’re lazy and beneficiaries.

To me, there’s a little bit of truth in both those statements but it’s not one or other.

I disagree that “the rich are deliberately creating the poor and uneducated and unemployed so they can become richer”,  I think that’s nonsense. Most rich or well off people are decent people. And from a purely financial angle the less poor that people are the more money can be made off them.

O’Sullivan acknowledges this later:

I don’t mind the rich getting richer if along the way the poor get richer too. That’s the simple answer as long as you realise the questions are complex.

The loopy left and rabid right probably won’t agree but they are a small minority simple but unrealistic answers to complex questions.

The openness and honesty of blogging

Long time US based British blogger Andrew Sullivan has hung up his keyboard after leading the way in political blogging for most of this century.

He looks back at the strength of honesty.

In his last post The Years Of Writing Dangerously at The Dish he looks back to his first post:

[T]he speed with which an idea in your head reaches thousands of other people’s eyes has another deflating effect, this time in reverse: It ensures that you will occasionally blurt out things that are offensive, dumb, brilliant, or in tune with the way people actually think and speak in private. That means bloggers put themselves out there in far more ballsy fashion than many officially sanctioned pundits do, and they make fools of themselves more often, too.

The only way to correct your mistakes or foolishness is in public, on the blog, in front of your readers. You are far more naked than when clothed in the protective garments of a media entity.

But, somehow, you’re liberated as well as nude: blogging as a media form of streaking. I notice this when I write my blog, as opposed to when I write for the old media. I take less time, worry less about polish, and care less about the consequences on my blog.

That makes for more honest writing. It may not be “serious” in the way, say, a 12-page review of 14th-century Bulgarian poetry in the New Republic is serious. But it’s serious inasmuch as it conveys real ideas and feelings in as unvarnished and honest a form as possible. I think journalism could do with more of that kind of seriousness.

It’s democratic in the best sense of the word. It helps expose the wizard behind the media curtain.

Some political blogging is more spontaneous, raw and honest, but wariness is essential, some of it is deliberately and blatantly dishonest, party of a dirty game.

He now says:

I stand by all those words. There are times when people take this or that post or sentence out of a blog and make it seem as if it is the definitive, fully considered position of the blogger. Or they take two sentences from different moments in time and insist that they are a contradiction.

That, it seems to me, misses the essential part of blogging as a genuinely new mode of writing: its provisionality, its conversational essence, its essential errors, its ephemeral core, its nature as the mode in which writing comes as close as it can to speaking extemporaneously.

Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio elenchi. 

What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews.

Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting).

I tried, above all, to be honest. And you helped me. Being honest means writing things that will make you look foolish tomorrow; it means revealing yourself in ways that are not always flattering; it means occasionally saying things that prompt mass acclamation but in retrospect look like grandstanding.

I try to be honest and open too. It’s easier, and I think better. But it does expose me to a lot of personal attacks, taking what I say out of context, and highlighting of mistakes (blogging inevitably leads to mistakes).

But for me it’s worth it. You have to be open and honest if you want to demand more opennes and honesty from other bloggers and from politicians.

But it was effort nonetheless, as the exhaustion in our minds and bodies now proves. And it was the effort to keep honest that matters to me now.

Being open about who I am and what I am trying to do enforces honesty, because if I’m not honest I will justifiably be blasted.

In the main it’s the dishonest hiding behind anonymity who attack because they don’t know how to deal with openness and honesty. And they hate their dishonesty being exposed.

The dishonest inevitably turn to personal attack because that’s all they can do when they can’t defend their dishonesty.

Blogging can be a dirty weapon.

But it can also be a weapon against the dirt.

The best way to fight is by being open and honest.