Saturday, March 25, 2017

Quick Follow Up




To follow up with the last post on the importance of recognizing the early stages of mass radicalizing violence, I stumbled upon this chart from the Anti-Defamation League and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, a group of folks who probably know a little bit about the subject. Note all of the stages before the violence stage, and ponder how travel bans, list of crimes, and other early actions of the Trump administration might fit into the ol' Pyramid of Hate here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Godwin's Law and Trump's Fascist Cosplay

Probably everyone who has ever used the internet (at least in the English-speaking world) is familiar with Godwin's Law, if not by name than at least by experience. Godwin's Law, in full, is that the longer a conversation occurs on the internet, the likelihood that someone invokes Hitler or the Nazi party will approach 1 (on the classic statistical scale of 0-1). It's important to note that Godwin's law is descriptive and not proscriptive; that is, it doesn't say anything about whether it's a good idea or not, or whether it's relevant or not, or anything else about the invocation of Hitler or the Nazi party, other than that the longer the conversation goes on, the more likely it is to happen.

However, the rule has become greatly distorted (much to the dismay of Godwin himself) to now hold that anyone who ever invokes Hitler or the Nazi party is engaging in hyperbole and is automatically wrong.

This is not good! For many, many reasons. One of the biggest, of course, is that Hitler and the Nazi party were not magical monsters, but instead regular ol' human beings. So by keeping them to rarified air that no one else can ever approach for any other reason, we do ourselves quite a disservice, as plenty of other humans have proven themselves just as capable of enacting Nazi policies and actions. For instance, there have been multiple genocides since the Holocaust.

Another major reason is that plenty of people are happy to call themselves Nazis (or maybe not use the exact term due to its baggage, but otherwise hold all of the beliefs). In large part this blog post was inspired by me reading an article this morning in which Richard Spencer (he of the Nazi getting punched in the face memes) was referred to as a Nazi. One of the first comments on the article was someone chastising the author for using the term Nazi so cavalierly, arguing that it devalues it to apply it to just anyone you don't like.

But the problem is: Spencer's a Goddamned Nazi. He regularly quotes Nazi propaganda, denounces pretty much anything ever done by a Jewish person, and has refused to denounce Hitler or the holocaust any time he's been asked. He's done everything short of walking around carrying a comically-large sign reading "I AM A NAZI."

So if you can't call an active Nazi a Nazi, then whom can you call a Nazi? No one, I guess. And that's the very problem with how people abuse Godwin's law. Nazi is a very useful term to describe Nazis, and we shouldn't throw it out because people online occasionally engage in hyperbole.

For instance, today Trump unveiled his promised list of crimes committed by undocumented peoples, a list which will apparently be a weekly phenomenon.

You know who else published a regular list of supposed crimes committed by a group of people he didn't like and was actively trying to make others scared of? Hint: he had a funny little mustache.

This is important, because this isn't one of those "Hitler once said he didn't like bowties, so if you don't like bowties you're just like Hitler!!1!1!!1!" kind of ridiculousness that the people ruining Godwin's law think they're fighting against.

Rather, the regular publication of lists of "crimes" committed by Jewish people was an integral part of the necessary dehumanizing of Jewish people so that regular human beings could be goaded into killing them en masse. As plenty of people have pointed out, the Nazis didn't start with the Holocaust. Or any mention of the Final Solution. Or really, any sort of public pronouncement as to what was actually coming.

No, instead what they did was spend years spreading misinformation, falsehoods, and straight-up lies about Jewish people to dehumanize them. To get regular, otherwise good-natured people to see Jewish people as some kind of unique threat. You know, the kind of threat that means you need to build a giant wall to keep out of your nation.

And this is why we can't throw out the Nazi baby with the hyperbolic Nazi-accusations bath water. Because we've seen this exact thing before and we've seen exactly where it leads.

Is Trump Hitler? No. But is he quite literally enacting a centerpiece of Hitler's methods for dehumanizing a group of people? Yes, he is doing exactly that.

So we compare him to Hitler. Not because we don't like him, but because he is literally doing what Hitler did.

And remember how we had this whole big thing after the Nazis were defeated where we collectively as a world declared we wouldn't let this happen again? Well, it's happening again. Let's not let it.

Monday, March 06, 2017

The Free Market Is Only Free When It Does What I Want It To (Academia Version)

The American right wing loves the free market. Listen to literally any of them talk for more than three sentences, and it's all but guaranteed that not only will they mention the free market in glowing terms, they will have also suggested it as the solution to whatever you're discussing. Taxation? Free market. Income inequality? Free market. Hang nail? Free market.

Except when the free market doesn't do what they want it to, that is. This is, of course, why we have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. The actual consequences of an actually free market only apply to the lessers of the world.

Take, for instance, the latest in the cottage industry of "libruls are ruining universities!!11!1!!1!" pieces that seem to run in the Chronicle of Higher Education pretty much every day. (Don't judge: the Chronicle is my favorite hate read. It's like an slightly more sober but significantly more niche Breitbart).

This piece was written by one of the interchangeable jagoffs who writes these things, most of whom typically hold some sort of position with "freedom" in its name, and who are always ironically complaining that conservatives in academia are oppressed and never given a platform while never noticing the irony of themselves being a conservative academic with a prominent platform. But my point is not their individual hypocrisy (though there's plenty of it!), but the larger issue of them suddenly and completely abandoning the singular solution they offer to everything else.

Because if the professorate has been drifting ever leftward (though the evidence always offered for this is, to put it lightly, incredibly suspect, but again, not the point) despite the fact that students have not (as the linked article claims), and if this is truly a problem in that students are being denied the viewpoints they so desperately crave, then the question becomes obvious: why hasn't the free market stepped in and solved this?

After all, if our universities were truly dominated by a rigidly leftist ideology with little-to-no variety in thought, then shouldn't the market be supplying an alternative? Shouldn't there be a cadre of conservative professors rising through the ranks, with their classes swelling past capacity as students flock to the ideologies they've been so cruelly denied all these years? Shouldn't individual departments and colleges, not to mention entire universities, note this market inefficiency and recruit conservative faculty members so they can capitalize on this woefully underserved market?

I find this incredibly interesting because I hate-read pretty much every article I can find about how universities are the worst examples of rigid group think and ideological orthodoxy, and yet I've never once seen the argument made by conservatives that the free market will solve it. Which, again, is quite odd, as these same folks hold that the free market will cure literally everything. And yet, the free market has had literal decades to solve the "problem" of academic ideology, and yet according to these same people, the problem is actually getting "worse!"

Now, of course, you and I and every person who has the ability to reason beyond the level of 6 year old knows this is because markets don't and never have operated in such a simplistic manner. But then you and I and every person who has the ability to reason beyond the level of 6 year old have not suggested the market as the cure to every social ill.

Of course, none of this is to address the fact that said ideological orthodoxy does not actually exist, but even if it did, wouldn't that mean the market has spoken and said that this is what the people want? And who the fuck are we to disagree with the omnipotent brilliance of the free market?

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Holy Shit! Some Lady Put Her Feet On A Couch!

Look, I get it: you hate Trump. I hate Trump. Lots of people hate Trump. Hell, if we count the entire world, it's probably true that the majority of people hate Trump. Heck, I wouldn't be too surprised if a majority of Americans hate Trump. He's a white supremacist, a moron, and most definitely a jagoff.

But! That doesn't mean it's cool to just throw every possible negative thing about Trump and his cronies against the wall in the mad hope that something will stick.

This isn't coming from some misguided notion to respect the office of the Presidency or be fair to Trump or any of that other milquetoast centrist shit people keep coming up with. Rather, it's about strategy and recognizing the fact that opposing this dude will require some effort and discipline.

The current hubbub over Kellyanne Conway being photographed sitting with her feet tucked underneath her on a couch in the Oval Office is a perfect example of what I'm talking about here. People are freaking out like she murdered a baby and bathed in its blood, not sat awkwardly on some fancy furniture.

For one, here's literally dozens of pictures of Obama putting his feet up on the furniture in the Oval Office, which somehow did not draw the same level of condemnation from people freaking out right now. But more important than who has or who has not put their feet on furniture, this is not something to be concerned about. Because, and I genuinely cannot believe I have to point this out, the reason the Trump administration poses such a threat is not because of their disrespect for furniture. Making any criticism about Trump's team hinge on such a superficial (and come the fuck on, completely meaningless) action only serves to legitimate them.

This odd freakout is wrong-headed for the same reason it's completely moronic for people to reply to exhortations to give Trump a chance with some version of the faux-witty rejoinder of "Oh, just like you gave Obama a chance?" Because, again, opposition to Trump is not because the other side was mean to the Democratic president, so now we all get to be mean to the Republican president.

Engaging in petty squabbles like this serves to legitimate the Trump administration, because it gives credence to the notion that "both sides do it." Our opposition to Trump is nothing like the Tea Party's opposition to Obama -- they opposed him because he's Black and they think he's a Muslim, we oppose Trump because his cabinet is stuffed full of ardent white supremacists and he's openly courted a growing fascist movement.

Those two things are not equal.

But when you equate them by pointing out the Tea Party did the "same" thing, or focus on completely meaningless superficial things like the way a woman sat once, you're building a narrative that the opposition to Trump is due nothing more than the fact that he has the wrong party affiliation, and the demonstrations are nothing more than the predictable anger of the losing side of the election. This is what allows America's desperately-seeking-the-middle-and-objectivity media to normalize Trump's actions -- sure, they draw massive protests, but lots of people didn't like Obama, either. It's just the way shit goes!

I mean, look, if you want to clown on Conway for sitting awkwardly, fine whatever, I'm sure she's heard worse. But quit trying to make this out to be some giant scandal. This is like complaining that Hitler drank shitty beer. Yeah, drinking shitty beer is a dumb thing to do, but that's not what was bad about Hitler. We've got a woman happy to go on television while spouting obvious lies and framing them as "alternative facts" while giving cover to the closest America has had to a genuine fascist threat in decades if not ever, and we've got half the internet freaking out about how she sits on a couch.

I just...I mean...come on. I don't know how to end this post other than with a series of bewildered ellipses as I struggle to put into words how idiotic this whole "scandal" is. But for what it's worth, I've written this all while sitting politely in a desk chair with both of my feet planted firmly on the floor, so you can take my word for it...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Welcome! We've Been Waiting For You.

The Women's March on Washington, and affiliated marches throughout the nation, that took place this past Saturday were huge. Demonstrations took place on every continent on Earth and have been argued to be the biggest collection of protests in world history. I even saw on the social media this morning that a pair of political scientists had used crowd-size estimates to argue that roughly 1-2% of the entire US population was at a protest of some sort that day.

So needless to say, it was a pretty popular demonstration, the kind we haven't seen since the dawn of the Iraq war (and those demonstrators, it bears constant repetition, were pretty much right about everything).

The incredible popularity of this past weekend's actions put those of us regular demonstrators in an odd position, as we're not used to nearly this much attention nor support. And I have to admit, it's easy to feel like a demonstration hipster (indeed, in creating a back patch to wear to Saturday's rally, I cut up an old demonstration shirt I had made that read "I was against the war before it was cool").

To be fair, this isn't an entirely glib point about something niche suddenly becoming mainstream. As many have pointed out, none of the problems folks were discussing during Saturday's many speeches are new in any way, and while Trump is a terrifying specter indeed, it's not as if the election of Clinton would have made these problems go away. I'll admit that as much joy as I felt witnessing the thousands who were marching along side me and the many millions more marching elsewhere, more than once my mind returned to the speaker at an emergency post-election meeting I mentioned here before who pointed out that had Clinton won, these problems would still be here, but it's pretty unlikely everyone would be organizing emergency meetings and mass demonstrations to address them.

So yeah, there's definitely a sense that many of the people who showed up to the protests this past weekend were only doing so because they felt like all of the problems in the world might now start applying to them. I think the feeling is captured quite eloquently by this sign, which I've seen multiple versions of popping up in various photo collections from Saturday:


It raises a good point about participation, and less directly, about how these demonstrations were policed compared to many others; as more than a few people have pointed out, if there were Black Lives Matter rallies this big all over the nation, it's hard to believe police would be so polite and helpful, or that we would see so few pre-emptive riot police and tanks on the street.

These issues are real and important, and definitely should not be dismissed, but instead form a central part of the discussion on where to go from here.

But as important as these issues are, and as fun as it is to be holier than thou about such things (and it's very fun!), in my ongoing quest to learn some form of humility, I'm going to try my best to remember that everyone starts somewhere. And while people should be held to task for not caring about an issue until it effects them personally, I think it's also important to ask which is more important during these times -- excoriating those who didn't get to the movement soon enough, or building as massive a movement as possible to push back against the Trump agenda and toward social justice?

So in that vein, I'm going to do my best to try and welcome people to the resistance. Even if they didn't get here on time or in the right way, they got here, and it's a lot more important where they go from here than where they've been before. Because simply put, we need them. As ol' Leon Trotsky put it, "Without a guiding organization the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam."

Or for a bit more contemporary spin on that same though, I'll let Dr. Angela Davis have the final word:

Friday, January 20, 2017

Today is a Shitty and Depressing Day

I've already written at length about my reaction to the election, and I don't have anything particularly erudite to add to that right now. Today is appropriately grey and foreboding, fitting the mood of much of the nation. It's shitty and depressing and feels like little can be done right now (but actually, much can be done. I'm going to go march and shit tomorrow and probably feel a lot better).

In the meantime, while I can't offer inspiring words, I can offer a cute picture of an adorable dog happily sleeping at my feet. It's worth something:



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Your Credulity Regarding Trump Rumors Is Concerning

Alternate Title: 2008-2016 -- Unverified and Error-Filled Accusations the President is an Operative of a Foreign Government is an Affront to the Very Concept of Democracy; 2017 -- All Unverified and Error-Filled Accusations the President is an Operative of a Foreign Government are Obviously True

Alternate Alternate Title: Partisanship is a Helluva Drug

First, something I shouldn't have to spell out but will for the sake of this argument: Trump is a shitty human being whose presidency will likely be a disaster at best. He is a bad man and I don't like him.

Ok, that being covered, I need to ask a semi-rhetorical question: has the entire Democratic left lost its collective mind?

The steady stream of "Trump is a Russian Puppet!!1!!1!!1!!!1!" reports coming out every day and being breathlessly shared on social media and throughout the center-left sphere are nearing the point of anti-Obama hysteria in 2008 (and yup, to address your criticism, Trump is certainly a worse person than Obama. That is quite irrelevant). And yet, as Glenn Greenwald has done a yeoman's job documenting, not a single one of these accusation have a shred of evidence connected to them. The closest any of them get to anything resembling evidence are the anonymous and unverified accusations of CIA operatives. And if you're willing to believe what the CIA tells you without any shred of evidence, then well...I've got a Latin American regime to sell you.

Take, for instance, the latest report making the rounds with its incredibly salacious stories of Trump apparently having Russian hooker parties which the Kremlin is using to blackmail him. This would be quite the explosive set of allegations. Would be if there were any evidence. Any evidence at all. Except in place of evidence, we have a report written by an anonymous man paid by the Democratic party to dig up dirt on Trump that relies exclusively on unverified reports from anonymous sources. Hell, not only did it not have sources or even details to corroborate its fantastical claims, it's full of spelling errors and basic geographical mistakes. Seriously, go read the actual report. Hell, even official Hillary Clinton public relations firm Jezebel had to admit the report "contains some clear errors and mistakes." Even Buzzfeed, the outlet that broke these allegations, had to admit that there is "serious reason to doubt the allegations.”

But the allegations make the other side look bad, so people whose identities are wrapped up in the Democratic party and its success will apparently continue to latch on to any rumor, no matter how fact free and obviously implausible it is. But hey, maybe someone will find an old picture of Trump in "muslim garb" and then we can demand he prove he wasn't born in Kenya!

To me, what this sad on-going spectacle really displays is the inherent problem with a two-party system and the odd loyalties it engenders, especially when it leads otherwise rational people to support really, really odd positions only on the basis of being on the other side of the bad people (a/k/a the other major political party).

Much of this hysteria around Comrade Trump's Secret Russia Directives reminds me a lot of a conversation I always think of when prompted to remember the idiocy fostered by a two-party system. Several elections ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who I must point out is a very intelligent, highly-credentialed, and all-around thoughtful human being. This was the first election in which the possible legalization of recreational marijuana had a real chance of passing, and I was really surprised to learn this friend of mine opposed such measures. This was very strange, as he's an intelligent man and ending prohibition is an intelligent thing to do, not to mention that I know this particular fella likes to indulge in the devil's lettuce from time to time himself.

So when I asked him why he was taking such an out of character position, his explanation was that when medical marijuana was first proposed, Republicans opposed it because they saw it as a backdoor to legalizing recreational marijuana, to which Democrats argued of course it wasn't, it was just for people who needed it medically and there were no plans for its legalization for recreation. So my friend went on to explain that by now advocating for its full legalization, we would be proving the Republicans correct, and we can't have that.

This is, of course, a terrible argument. As I pointed out to him, if your political opponents claim that taking one measured, logical action which benefits many will only lead to us taking further measured, logical actions that benefit many, that's not really an argument against taking that action. That is, actually, how politics is theoretically supposed to work.

To my good friend's credit, he came around on this point eventually, but I keep coming back to this conversation as so perfectly laying bare what's happening with so much of the left right now. The very same people who spent 8 years mocking conservatives who questioned Obama's loyalty to America and his right to the office he was elected to, the very same people who wondered how anyone could be so stupid as to question the outcome of free and fair American elections, the very same people who spent months before this election saying anyone who challenged its outcome would be a traitor and threat to the very concept of Democracy...these are now the people who will gladly parrot any unsubstantiated and almost impossible to believe report that makes Trump look bad and call for the CIA to depose him. I feel like this shoots straight past simple irony to some form of super, dodecahedron irony indescribable in words.

Again, Trump is a terrible human being and I legitimately fear the damages his presidency will inflict upon the world. But we're reaching 9/11 truther levels of derangement here, people. But then what do I know? I'm probably just a Kremlin operative so brainwashed I don't even realize it. Makes about as much sense as most of these other rumors.