Good Words from Freddie DeBoer

January 24, 2014

But I think the simplicity and force of that causal argument, whether explicit or assumed, is precisely why I’m still reading about it now. Because I think that’s what the Twitter storm needs; it needs to assert, in every situation, the absolute simplicity of right and wrong. To publicly state online that you are conflicted about any story that has provoked the mob into action is to risk the immediate wrath of the storm. It happened that, on the day the Jameis Winston case was blowing up, I watched the Ken Burns documentary about the Central Park Five. I thought about making the point that, perhaps, we shouldn’t rush to judgment when a young black man is accused of rape, given our country’s history on that front, but I didn’t dare. I knew the risks.

What people have built, on Tumblr and Twitter and Facebook, is a kind of boutique moral ideology that has one precept that precedes all others: the sheer obviousness of right and wrong. The very words “grey area,” in any context, have become anathema. The ideology of the Twitter storm is a kind of simple, Manichean morality that would make George Bush blush.

Read the whole thing here.

The main takeaway for me is that the nature of the internet hive mind is shaped by the nature of the medium.  Tweets, Facebook posts, Buzzfeed listicles, none of these things are made for the purposes of contemplation or discourse.  They are made to spread an idea quickly, to light a spark and hope for a conflagration.  

The simple truth is that you cannot have a conversation about morality under such conditions, you can only have empty moralizing.  It is almost impossible to have a real ethical discussion in 140 characters or less.  All you can have is this sort of phony hipster ethics that has more to do with signalling tribal affiliations than with any interesting discussion of right and wrong.


“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

December 23, 2009

An extreme quote with which to begin a blog post?  Perhaps.  It is, however, where my mind was taken when I saw this:

About a year ago, Will Wilkinson had a post about a similar video that celebrated an “I only sleep with Democrats” theme.   Wilkinson’s objections centered around the way that the video “simultaneously reduces politics to fashion and elevates fashion to morality” and the disagreeable notion that female sexuality was some prize that ought to be doled out to those males who tow the right line.  As one commenter put it:

The point is that 1) it views politics as a matter of tribal affiliation, 2) that women’s bodies and sexuality are viewed as a resource at the disposal of the tribe, to be used as a prize to keep the coalition together. These are fundamentally illiberal, anti-feminist ideas.

This is part of my objection, but it is really just the beginning.  It is “fundamentally illiberal” to ask individuals to put their own personal choices and preferences at the disposal of the group, but much of what falls under contemporary Progressive thought is illiberal- and I mean liberal in the classical Enlightenment sense.  The nature of liberty is such that people are free to dispose of it as they will.  If people wish to subsume their own identities into some larger social project, then so be it.  We all do it to some extent. 

So why did I have such an extreme reaction to this Rock the Vote video?  Why did it immediately get visions of some totalitarian, boot-smashing future running through my head?  It mostly has to do with this phrase, “politics is personal”, a reworking of the feminist credo, “the personal is political.” 

Let’s take a look at that whole quote that I excerpted in the title.  It’s from 1984 and it begins like this:

We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now.There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy.

When you begin to inject politics into sexual relationships, you are quite literally emmeshing politics into the ties that bind people together.  If totalitarianism comes to us, it will most likely not come in the form of an invading army or even through a violent revolution.  It will come from an ever-creeping ideology of “personal politics.”  It will come as people begin more and more to replace their own personal tastes, wants, desires with those of the group.  Political power will become replaced by aesthetic power, the ability to dictate what is acceptable and what is not.  What happens then?  The answer comes in another quote from 1984:

Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.

Again, is this extreme?  Yes, but that is the point.  The idea that you should only sleep with someone who agrees with you about health care or about which way to vote is an extreme idea.  It is unfortunate that so many people do not see this.

Criminal Justice and the Left-Right Divide

December 1, 2009

Over at Reason, Radley Balko has an article on political alliances and criminal justice reform.  The gist of the pieces is that “non-traditional left-right alliances that may be emerging on criminal justice issues”, there are some very deep and very real ideological differences that exist between conservative, liberals and libertarians that might prevent any lasting partnerships on these issues.  It’s a great piece and you should read it.

In the course of the article, however, Balko says this:

Liberals put a premium on equality. Not equality under the law (as noted above by their general support for the aggressive prosecution of white collar criminals), but equality of wealth and status.

and it strikes me as only half right.  Liberals tend to be in favor greater equality when it comes to wealth, but greater hierarchy when it comes to status.  In fact, I would say that this is why many liberals have an anti-market bias: markets tend to link status to wealth.

In the criminal justice context, this explains liberal attitudes towards things like hate crimes and affirmative action.  They create special and protected classes of people and actions.  This is a hierarchy that can be centrally controlled by bureaucrats and intellectuals rather than be evaluated on an individual basis by a decentralized legal system.

There is also the difference between a broadly utilitarian ethics on the left and a consequentialist ethics on the right, at least where criminal justice issues are concerned.  Liberals tend to be willing to take much greater liberties with regards to the process so long as it grants the outcome they want, even to the point where that process shows a disregard for individual rights.  Conservatives are often so invested in their individualist ethos that they refuse to acknowledge any systemic role in the path that individuals take.  For these reasons I do agree with Balko’s main point, that liberals are unlikely to abandon their fondness for things like hate crime legislation and conservatives are unlikely to abandon their ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’ mentality.  This is unfortunate, because reforming or justice system would likely pay great dividends.

Is “Men’s Rights” an Oxymoron?

November 24, 2009

You might get that impression from reading this article by Kathryn Joyce at doubleX.  I could spend some time writing about this, but Reason editor Cathy Young has already done a bang up job here.

The only thing I might add, and this is something I do plan to write more on in the future, is that contemporary feminism is often more about giving women a leg up than it is about real equality.  This is unfortunate.  A society that systemattically oppresses half of its population can be neither just nor will it ever reach its full development potential.  Equality between the sexes is important; too important to be left to the feminists.


A Tariff by Any Other Name…

September 23, 2009

Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers, is quoted as follows in this article from today’s New York Times:

This isn’t protectionism; we’re enforcing the law,” Mr. Gerard said. “We’re trying to defend our members’ job security. In order to do that in this kind of a global economy, we need to police imports and trade law.”

Not being glib, but perhaps someone ought to get Mr. Gerard a dictionary.  A quick glance at the Wikipedia entry on protectionism offers this:

Protectionism is the economic policy of restraining trade between states, through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, restrictive quotas, and a variety of other restrictive government regulations designed to discourage imports, and prevent foreign take-over of local markets and companies. This policy is closely aligned with anti-globalization, and contrasts with free trade, where government barriers to trade are kept to a minimum. The term is mostly used in the context of economics, where protectionism refers to policies or doctrines which “protect” businesses and workers within a country by restricting or regulating trade with foreign nations.

 I’m just sayin’ …

Thoughts on OLPC

September 11, 2009

Here is an interesting article on One Laptop Per Child.  The following passage sums up the article pretty well:

Despite the instinctive appeal of distributing laptops to schoolchildren, there is precious little evidence that making computers available to children improves educational outcomes. The circumstantial evidence that exists certainly doesn’t buttress the one-laptop-per-child approach.

When I first heard about OLPC I thought it was a pretty cool idea.  The more I learned about it; however, the more I realized that I was right: it is a “pretty cool” idea.  Unfortunately, pretty cool doesn’t always make the grade.

A hundred dollar laptop sounds like something that has real value to us; we, therefore, reason that it must have real universal value.  And, of course, it does have real universal value; just maybe not as much value as a cell phone or any number of other very basic interventions that are not nearly as cool.

(H/T to Marginal Revolution)

Joe Wilson is an Amateur

September 10, 2009

Southern_ChivalryPreston Brooks, now there is a man who knew how to debate:

On May 22, 1856, Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner with his Gutta-percha wood walking cane in the Senate chamber because of a speech Sumner had made three days earlier, criticizing President Franklin Pierce and Southerners who sympathized with the pro-slavery violence in Kansas (“Bleeding Kansas“).

At first intending to challenge Sumner to a duel, Brooks consulted with fellow South Carolina Rep. Laurence M. Keitt on dueling etiquette. Keitt instructed him that dueling was for gentlemen of equal social standing, and suggested that Sumner occupied a lower social status comparable to a drunkard due to the supposedly coarse language he had used during his speech. Brooks thus decided to attack Sumner with a cane.