Tuesday, 22 January 2019

US cultural breakdown, and identity politics run amok

Fairly extraordinary things are currently happening in US popular culture. A short clip of a native American man banging a drum near the face of a smirking 15 year old white kid, who appeared to many to be taunting the man with his expression, set off a firestorm of controversy over the weekend, in both the mainstream media and twittosphere, with the level of vitriol directed at the kid reaching almost unimaginable levels.

For example, Jack Morrissey, a Hollywood movie producer, thought fit to tweet the following. Twitter also banned the accounts of the school kids, but apparently this tweet was in no way in violation of the company's terms of service:

The media also initially misidentified the individual, and without due diligence, circulated calls inciting hatred, violence, and other retribution against him (e.g. getting him expelled from school, and his college applications blocked, and the family business boycotted). His family received death threats. The NY Times editor said the best analysis she had seen was a FB quote showing the child demonstrated the worst aspects of toxic masculinity and white privilege in society, and deserved all the condemnation he was getting. Other mainstream journalists said they thought the kid's face was eminently 'punchable', and said that to all those men objecting to the latest Gillette ad, this was living breathing proof of your toxic masculinity, and told men to go fuck themselves (her words not mine).

Much to the embarrassment of virtually the entire mainstream media establishment, long form videos subsequently came to light showing that in actual fact, a bunch of adult African Americans had been shouting insults, taunts, and racist slurs at the group of kids, and the kids walked away. The said adults even called a black student hanging with the group of students the N word. Subsequently, footage showed that the native American man with the drum actually approached the students, and banged his drum in his face. No one did anything. The kid stood his ground passively. At certain times, he looked like he was projecting an arrogant smirk, but this was just as likely due to the fact that he was confused and didn't know how to react; was trying to look cool in front of his friends; or was trying to stifle laughter, as the scene was indeed bizarre.*

Now how is it that US society has got to the point where people in serious positions in society (Hollywood, academia, and the media) - not merely fringe alt right crazies - believe it is ok not only to assume the absolute worst about somebody without doing any research or fact checking, but to also tweet - even in obvious exaggeration - that it would feel oh so good to put a 15 year kid head first into a meat grinder, and feel that sharing that with the world made that person look virtuous. It beggars belief.

Let's just stop and think about this for a second. We are talking about a kid here. A child. Someone not old enough to vote, have sex, or buy alcohol or cigarettes. Someone that is not subject to the ordinary criminal justice system because they are still a minor. In other words, someone that - even if he did something wrong, which he didn't - cannot possibly be expected to have the maturity to know exactly how to react in all situations, or understand all the complex politics and history people are reading into his reaction.

And yet much of the US's liberal-captured elite institutions want to destroy a child's life, or even inflict violence upon him, and yet don't feel the need to know anything at all about him as a person, the context within which the event happened, or even check they have the right person. They don't even want to show compassionate 're-education', acknowledging that he is just a kid, whose worldview has been unavoidably shaped by society at large, through no fault of his own. They just want to destroy him. That's what lynch mobs do. It is hateful and wicked beyond belief - and manifests some of the worst prejudice I have ever seen. What the fuck is going on?

The truth is, this is a depressing but entirely predictable outcome of identity politics run amok. The left-captured education system has spent an entire generation educating people about white privilege and male patriarchy, and has done so not in a manner that merely highlight past wrongs, the major progress we have made, and some of the further efforts still required, but in a way that casts white men overall as a class of evil oppressors that are the cause of all the world's ills.

Identity politics & intersectionality encourages people not to view others as individual human beings, but instead to classify them as members of groups defined primarily by their race and gender. According to their way of thinking, when you see someone, you ought not merely see a fellow human being. You should see a 'black women' or a 'white man', and furthermore, you should form a range of judgements about that person based purely on the identity group to which they belong. For instance, if someone is a white male, they should be presumed to be privileged and entitled, and if they see a black women, they should be presumed to have been unfairly oppressed. So when you look at this kid, you don't see a 15 year old kid. A human being. Someone's son. You see an embodiment of all the wrongs and injustices you see in the world, and project your anger onto them.

This is exactly the sort of thinking that gives rise to racism, sexism, and bigotry, and how the worst aspects of human nature manifest. It encourages people to tap into their most primal, tribal instincts; cast and divide people into 'in-groups' and 'out-groups'; prejudge people based on their superficial appearance, instead of the content of their character; and characterise whole groups as good or evil, in black and white terms. And it encourages punishing individuals for the actual or perceived sins of the group, regardless of the individual's own circumstances or behaviour. And it is this type of thinking that has resulted in large part's of society's elite wanting to condemn or even punch an innocent kid in the face, without evidence.

History is replete with examples of how dangerous this is. The reason it is so dangerous is that it enables human beings to do the most horrible things to one another, and worse, to feel good about themselves while doing it. When people look from a safe and dispassionate distance - either in time or place - we are often amazed at the degree of cruelty human beings are capable of. Hitler and thousands of his henchmen gassed 6m Jews, motivated purely by bigotry. Ethnic cleansing campaigns in Rwanda and Myanmar claimed millions of victims. How on earth could people do this to one another, and live with themselves?

The answer is simple. When you are inclined to put people into groups, you dehumanise them on the individual level, and don't see them as people, but rather as exemplars of injustices you perceive in the world. And if you are sufficiently infused with hatred and resentment towards a particular group, on account of those perceived injustices, it is frighteningly easy not only to commit acts of the most heinous violence against individuals in that group, but to also feel noble while doing so. If your son was killed in a blood feud by Tribe X, if you think this way, you might gleefully burn another member of Tribe X alive, deriving exquisite pleasure from their screams of agony, as justice is served.

The history of terrible atrocities we have seen historically is actually not that difficult to understand when viewed in light of recent developments in the US. For instance, as I retweated not so long ago during the Kavanaugh hearing (see below), this tweet from a Georgetown professor is now something that apparently passes for acceptable discourse amongst university professors. Try replacing the word 'white men' with Jews (Jews have also been a historically advantaged class in terms of economic success, which has engendered all sorts of resentment over the years; I am not Jewish by the way). It will help you understand how the Holocaust and other Jewish persecution happened. You need this level of visceral group-based hatred to exist as a prerequisite for industrial-scale violence.

So this is how, in my submission, you have large part of the left-wing liberal elite believing it is righteous and noble to call for the wholesale destruction of a kids life, or even the potential visitation of violence upon him. They have such negative prejudices towards white men as a group, that they do not feel evidence is needed, nor proportionality in response, because as a member of that group, they deserve all the vengeance they get. It is far fewer steps between this type of thinking, and all out civil war or even genocide, than many people realise (although the latter can pragmatically only happen to minorities; unlike Jews historically, white men are far too numerous to be rounded up).

Identity politics is going to tear US society apart, and could even eventually lead to civil war, unless something is done to stop it. Indeed, leftist identity politics has already triggered reactionary alt-right movements, such as resurgent neo-Nazism - an alarming and saddening development in the 21st Century. It also bears a lot of the blame for Trump's election, in my opinion. But such reactions are a predictable outcome of demonizing white men so stridently as a group.

The West has spent centuries painstakingly moving societal attitudes away from tribalistic ones where you judge people based on their race, gender, or other superficial trait, to one that treats people as individuals. It humanises them, and results in compassion. It brings people together, in celebration of their shared humanity. And although not perfect, generally speaking it has been a wonderful success. The West is the freest and most prosperous place on the globe, and in history.

This success should not be taken for granted. Cultural change can happen, including cultural regress. Once upon a time, Zimbabwe was a relatively prosperous nation. But it tore itself apart through race-based identity politics, and an effort to correct historical wrongs. Historically speaking, the West has been the exception, rather than the rule, and even remains so throughout much of the planet today. Large parts of Africa and the Middle East are humanitarian disasters riven by identity-based conflict.

What this suggests is that Western institutions are deeply contrary to basic human intuitions and emotional compulsions. Humans are emotional and tribalistic at their core, and that is why it has been hard, historically, to build a society that trumps these basic instincts (particularly multicultural societies). It says a lot about the genius and wisdom of the Founding Fathers, that they enshrined core principles of liberalism and freedom into the constitution, that made repudiating these core principles difficult. It has allowed the US to thrive over centuries, and resist the incessant pressures to cave in to our base instincts.

The most depressing thing for me has been a loss of faith in the media and academia. These are some of the most important institutions tasked with defending truth and civil liberties, and guarding against tyranny. These institutions have instead become nothing more than mouthpieces for (identity-based) political activism, willingly running roughshod over facts, and forcibly silencing opponents. In 2016, I thought Trump was an idiot when he said much of the US media was fake news. Now, sadly, I actually think he is right. I have completely lost faith in the integrity of many journalists and media institutions over the past year, as well as the trustworthiness of many areas of social science academic research.

It's a very sad state of affairs to witness in the 'land of the free' - a country that has for so long set such a great example for the world.


*Shamefully, a large number of media outlets and commentators are still yet to retract or revise their stories, or issue an apology. Some have, but a lot haven't. Disgraceful. 

Morrissey, to his credit, has issued an apology. However, this does not excuse what he did, because even if the facts of the case had turned out to be exactly as he originally believed, this type of response was completely unacceptable. The correct approach, in my view, would be to say, we have a problem with our culture if kids are being taught that it's ok to act in this way. Let's try to help him understand why it's wrong. We acknowledge that he's only 15 and has a lot to learn in life, and is a product of his environment.

Meanwhile, I am yet to hear a single condemnation of the Hebrew Israelite adults for taunting a bunch of kids, including using racial slurs and even calling a black student the N word. Radio silence. The kids behaved better than the adults, and yet the kids got condemned. If you're an adult, it seems that screaming abuse at kids is ok provided you're a member of an ethnic minority, but if you're a white kid, the mere suspicion of smirking arrogantly is cause for total destruction. The world has gone mad.

If the US was genuinely 'colour blind', this would have been a story about how a bunch of adults screamed horrifically bigoted insults at a bunch of kids. I can't even imagine the media fallout if a bunch of white adults had said the exact same things to a bunch of black kids. I can't think of a more clear-cut example of reverse racism. 


  1. It may be helpful to post a video:


    I am not sure what to think now. I totally bought into the whole 'MAGA kid is a piece of shit, but probably not through his own fault (since he is just a kid)'. He does have a punch-able face though. But looking at video it seems to be a lot about nothing really.

    The thing is that some of these MAGA kids were actually chanting with the Indian dude.

    1. To add, they were chanting as well, and it does not look like a very hostile thing. They were bused over there to protest against abortion (which I think is questionable from the school), and are standing around like bored kids on a mildly boring school trip not feeling strongly about the whole thing one way or another. And the kid with the punch-able face does not want to move aside, because he would lose face vs the other kids by looking like a wuss.

  2. Or the SNL writer offering transactional fellatio to anyone who punched the kid in the face. Of course, she won't be losing her job.


  3. Worst bit of violence I've ever seen was political. In 1997 in a pub in Lidcombe NSW, 4pm. A fella with fairly obvious mental limitations wearing a One Nation hat went in to the toilet, and came out with his nose almost hanging off his face.
    The left like to talk about the damage of words, but actual political-inspired physical violence is 10:1 Left on Right, at least in the west. Remember that kid who got kidnapped and assaulted mercilessly soon after Trump was elected, because he was white and presumed to be a Trump supporter?

  4. LT3000,

    I disagree. As an African American man, the most demonized and vilified American demographic, I am baffled by the notion that Caucasian men feel demonized. Caucasian men have all of status, wealth and power here in America, so I simplistically wonder what they have to complain about.

    From my standpoint, if liberal elites are responsible for fanning the flames of racial/tribal division, perhaps some of the flames needed to be fanned. So called "oppressed" groups aren't looking to dominate the world. We just want an equal seat at the table and our issues covered fairly.

    I can lay a lot of blame for our current divisions at the feet of the media for not covering our issues fairly in the past. The internet and social media allows for it to now all be out there. The mainstream media is all about clips and soundbites. I would argue that this hurts ANY situation that requires any kind of long form thinking or nuance.

    With regards to the video, it was a carnival. From my perspective I saw the crazy black jews (their beliefs are out there; I have a 1st cousin who's one), the school kids hopping around the National Mall chanting taking shirts off and acting wild, and the crazy old man with the drum. Wild scene. Kid should have walked away but teenage version of me would have probably smirked too.

    Finally, I don't think there's too much of an issue. For all of the insults that were thrown around, no violence. For all of the bickering we've had here over the last several years, no violence. I don't think there will be any real breakdown in civility or a civil war.

    1. P-QB3:

      You say "As an African American man, the most demonized and vilified American demographic, I am baffled by the notion that Caucasian men feel demonized. Caucasian men have all of status, wealth and power here in America, so I simplistically wonder what they have to complain about."

      You are demonstrating 'group' thinking here. On average, white men have more wealth & power than African American men, but only on average, and there are plenty that don't. And the rich white guys don't help out the poor white guys.

      Think about it like this. LeBron James is rich and powerful. But when was the last time he turned up at your doorstep and cut you a million dollar cheque to help you out? How have you personally benefitted from his success? How would you feel if people said 'you are privileged; look at LeBron James'?

      I grew up in a low-decile area. The school I attended was in the bottom 10% of academic achievement in the country. Two white guys I know who I went to school with are currently in jail. The drop out rate was 75%. We didn't have a lot of money. I worked $5 an hour jobs after work to buy myself textbooks to teach myself sections of courses where some of my teachers didn't turn up. I can assure you, during these periods, rich white guys weren't turning up to help me out.

      Fortunately, though my parents didn't have a lot of money at the time, they had good values, and I was lucky enough to be smart and live in a country that provided minimal financial barriers to attending university. So I still count myself as lucky, not a victim. But that's not my point. I know many other white kids I grew up that lacked these advantages where things didn't turn out quite so well.

      So privilege is a real thing. But you can't define it purely along racial lines. Yes, whites have it better than blacks, on average, but only on average. The solution is to look at people like individuals, instead of assuming you know everything about them based on the colour of their skin or their gender, etc.

  5. All of the status, wealth, and power? Oh, you mean apart from Barack Obama's. Or LeBron James's. Or that of any number of extremely talented and successful African American professionals or business people – apart from my own dermatologist (Ivy League researcher and considered top of his field), just off the top of my head I could name Kenneth Chenault, Charles Phillips, Richard Parsons, and many more.

    African Americans might be as much as 15% of the population. I can appreciate the dismay and frustration if status, wealth, and power are not currently allocated according to that percentage. But unless I am mistaken, you are suggesting that until your group obtains an "equal seat at the table," that some socially and morally questionable means might be justified to achieve that end. Equality is an honorable end – more than that, it is a noble and just end – but for something to remain honorable and noble, mustn't it be achieved by honorable and noble means?

    But this is why we already have conflict in the United States. I am not personally offended by this conflict, I think I understand it, and I only hope that the conflict does in fact remain a fundamentally civil one. But, as I see it, it exists because of a basic disagreement between those who see democracy as a way of legitimizing and protecting a truly liberal regime, which is a regime that must necessarily undercut political power, and those who see democracy as a way of winning political power, precisely so that it can be used to undercut – they are apt to say "remedy" – certain aspects of a liberal regime.

    I am sympathetic to your position and cause, especially historically, since "equality" within a liberal regime might need to be enforced, especially in a diverse population with internal divisions. Hence the paramount importance of the civil rights movement and the need to value and enforce fairness and equality, even above freedom when that freedom would be used to discriminate and as a tool of power. In truth, it is only natural that we would find some exercises of freedom to be in themselves illiberal, and wherever they are illiberal, they should be illegal. And so we find that murder is a crime in the U.S., because it violates the freedom of another, but so too do we find that discrimination in access to housing is a crime.

    I am confident we would agree on this last point, so why do I believe that we – or perhaps more accurately, that our world views – will remain in conflict? It is because I suspect from your moral reasoning about this case that you see politics – including via the media – as a valid way to wrest a certain amount of status, power, and wealth from those people who, at least in theory, will have obtained theirs by their own legitimate efforts and voluntary exchanges thereof.

    "In theory" does not mean in practice, you might argue, and you would not be wrong, but still, we will differ in how far we see the liberal regime falling short in achieving this theoretical ideal and in achieving true freedom, and so you will likely see a wider field for the employment of political power, while I will likely see a much narrower one. Further, it is possible we will disagree on the ultimate goal itself. If I say freedom, another person might say security. Or even if another person says freedom, they might mean security. FDR's freedoms, for instance, are primarily promises of security – freedom from want, freedom from fear. Providing that sort of security for some members of a society would inevitably entail a cost upon others, and some will find imposing that cost the epitome of injustice, even as others will see it as a requisite of justice. And so the struggle goes on, likely forever. I'll leave open the question of whether we'd end up better off if we fought less and cooperated more beyond a point, but I'm with you, if there must be a struggle, in appreciating its civility. Yet in that case, why should we want misleading media reports to fan flames of division or any other kind?

    1. As a postscript, I would be remiss if I did not highlight a bias that I unconsciously carried over from the previous writer's identifying all status, wealth, and power with "caucasian men," whereby I only went so far as to give several examples of wealthy, powerful, and high-status "African American men" as a counterpoint. In truth, I should have gone further and included African American women, as well, which would even better demonstrate my real point. It is easy to think of several such women, incidentally. But it seems more likely that something different is meant by this concept of "all power" belonging to "white men" than my initial, literal interpretation, and I would guess that this other meaning has something in common with the new broader conception of "white supremacy" that I believe has gained currency. What I would call "actual white supremacist views" are evil, abhorrent, and pathetically ignorant. Worse, they are not a theoretical evil but actually exist amongst a relatively small percentage of the U.S. and world populations, and the world would be a better place if they did not. But the "white supremacy" that I believe someone like Ta-Nehisi Coates is more frequently referring to is a concept that, even though I am in disagreement with it, is still essentially intelligible and even one that I believe I can interpret in a useful way – which is to not deny that people who have wealth, power, or status are not likely to simply give it away without getting something in return (although at different times, sometimes in the imagination but sometimes in actual fact, this dynamic will take on the appearance of a group jealously guarding its advantages or even an attempt at preserving a supremacy with respect to others). Now, whether less advantaged people should take from more advantaged people some of what they have, and whether it is just or good that they do so, are separate questions, and together made up more or less the subject of my previous post. I only suspect that there is a more accurate term than "white supremacy" and a truer picture of reality than the "old white men" meme, but neither would be nearly as politically efficacious if the real objective is ultimately to gain power via political means. In that case, I would assume "us" vs. "them," and making those terms as simple as possible, will always work better.

      I would be very happy to hear other views on these concepts, though, as I admit of not having direct access to authorities on such matters but only what I am able to glean from the cultural discourse.