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.