There is no such thing as left-wing dissent

If we grant that the definition of dissent is the holding of a belief that is contrary to the prevailing ideology, then it’s not particularly difficult to categorize instances of such dissent.

A good metric to measure it by is the magnitude of social penalties paid for by expressing potentially dissident beliefs. Can you lose your position at a company that you yourself started over the beliefs that you express? You are probably engaging in genuine dissent. This happened to Brendan Eich at Mozilla when he donated $1,000 to an advocacy organization that had Barack Obama’s 2008 opinion on traditional marriage. Something similar happened to Pax Dickinson for making crude and heterodox tweets about women in tech.

However crude the boundaries are, it should be easy to see what cannot belong in the category. It’s hard to think of a situation where holding left-wing beliefs, no matter how left-wing they are, would get someone removed from an an organization that is not itself expressly right-wing.

I can, however, think of examples where lefties didn’t get shitcanned. In 2001, Ward Churchill, a UC Boulder professor, literally argued that financial workers killed in the 9/11 attacks had it coming. Adam Kotsko, another academic, had similar sentiments about the Charlie Hebdo attacks: the people at the newspaper were insensitive to Muslims and therefore deserved to die.

“Can it get you fired?” is by no means a necessary element when looking to categorize something as dissent, but it’s a pretty good barometer for the climate of official ideology; that is, the underpinnings of polite culture that we’re expected believe. Both of these men, of course, made waves. There was a lot of outcry, and Kotsko eventually deleted his Twitter account, but neither of them suffered real material setbacks. Unpopularity is not dissent. I don’t suffer consequences for thinking that Drake is a bad rapper.

So it’s clear that official ideology is not democratic: right-wingers get fired for expressing even mainstream opinions, left-wingers do no get fired for expressing universally revolting opinions. Most Americans probably do not want gay marriage, but that belief system doesn’t use the ideological assumptions that it is supposed to. Churchill’s 9/11 apologia, however, was underpinned by the belief that there is Wall Street imperialism in the third world and that it such a thing is bad. This is firmly in line with with the ideological assumptions of powerful cultural institutions. So is Kotsko’s belief that racism is an insurmountable evil.

The pseudo-dissent that leftists engage in is merely a demand to extend official ideology and praxis. If we’re sitting somewhere around 6 on the Official Ideology Scale, the supposed dissent of the left is just a petition to crank it up to 11.

The FBI officially makes it its business to infiltrate and disrupt white supremacist organizations, and fashionable Black Lives Matter types like Ta-Nehisi Coates are also in the business of trying to dismantle white supremacy. There’s a difference, of course, of where exactly they think borders of white supremacist ideology starts and ends, but this is a question of magnitude, not a question of principles.

Black Lives Matter is a particularly pertinent example because such activists are supposedly fighting against “systemic racism” that is working around the clock to destroy them. The veil is pulled back when we actually look at the casualness of these protests. There are no long-term legal consequences for anyone hunting for the white supremacist witch, much less social penalties. If anything, you can gain social credit by bragging to your middle-class friends about being on, like, the Right Side of History.



About a year ago, I was having coffee with a friend, discussing the ever-expanding definition of “harassment” on social media.  I raised a question that I still think is pretty interesting: what if someone created a program to track how many “harassing” or “hateful” accounts someone was following on Twitter? If an account follows too many such accounts, it could be labeled as a second-order hate account. Accounts that follow too many of those kind of accounts could be third-order offenders, and so on and so forth. It’s an Orwellian idea that seemed entirely possible, even probable.

A company called Little Bird, which specializes in social media data analysis, has done almost exactly that. From their website:

Inspired by a new Twitter account that tweets out the bios of anyone Donald Trump retweets (because they’re often remarkable), we went and looked up those people he’s introducing to his audience of 5 million+ Twitter followers.  In order to learn more about them, we analyzed the networks of people that those people he retweeted are following on Twitter, using Little Bird’s influencer discovery and social network analysis software. 

It turns out that Donald Trump mostly retweets white supremacists saying nice things about him.  At least so far this week’s that’s how it’s gone.  This isn’t one person, of the last 21 accounts retweeted by @RealDonaldTrump so far this week, our automated analysis of their accounts finds that:  

  • 28% of them follow at least one of the top 50 White Nationalist accounts on Twitter (6 of 21)
  • 62% of them follow at least 3 people who’ve used hashtag #WhiteGenocide lately (13 of 21)

In an attempt to call Trump even more racist than everyone else is calling him, Little Bird is painting people with an absurdly gigantic brush. You’re you follow one white nationalist account, you’re a white supremacist by the company’s standards. If you follow three people who have used the #WhiteGenocide hashtag, you’re a white supremacist.

How exactly this makes sense isn’t clear. The accounts that supposed white supremacists would have to follow are only themselves white nationalists. White nationalism is kind of a lower-intensity white supremacism.

A bigger problem with such overheated name-calling is the fact that ideology obviously doesn’t trickle down from followed to follower.  Remember how a retweet isn’t an endorsement? That pretty much goes without saying, and it should be equally obvious that following a Twitter account also isn’t an endorsement or a sign that you agree with everything or even anything that they say. Little Bird didn’t even have the statistical honesty to say what percentage of all accounts followed by these Trump supporters fit their criteria. I follow around 500 people, and I probably do more than most to keep my timeline uncluttered.

In addition to following a couple white nationalists, I follow social justice warriors, conservatives, progressives, libertarians, socialists, and even three Catholic communists.

I wonder how many Joseph Stalin apologists are followed by the SPLC types that make these kinds of accusations. I follow at least one.

Conservative against the conservative movement

Less than one week to go before the Iowa caucus, and the battle lines are drawn.

On one side is brash businessman Donald Trump. On the other side is the near-entirety of the professional conservative movement – the thinkers, marketers, editors, donor-schmoozers, lawyers, consultants, money-bundlers, tax cheats, business shills, and communication hacks who profess allegiance to St. Ronald Reagan.

As Michael Buffers says: Let’s get ready to rumble!

Ever since Donald Trump announced his presidential bid last June, he has been walloping the hucksters known as Conservatism, Inc. By channeling working class resentment and throwing out the playbook when it comes to raising money and hiring consultants, Trump is turning traditional politics on its head. He isn’t being spoon-fed soundbites; he isn’t begging for cash; he isn’t bending over backwards to appease huge corporations.

He’s doing something few candidates have done in a long time: Advocating on behalf of the entire national community, rather than a few eggheads and CEOs with bottomless wallets.

Meanwhile, the high-salaried Republican brain trust is losing its collective head. This was most pronounced in a recent symposium hosted by National Review eloquently titled “Against Trump.” Conservative luminaries such as Thomas Sowell, John Podhoretz, and Glenn Beck contributed, lambasting the GOP frontrunner and pontificating on the need for a principled leader in the White House. Their polemics were chock-full of the high-minded ideals and a mastery of vocabulary that would have made William F. Buckley proud.

But even for such a long, erudite (and possibly illegal) spread, the message is the same throughout: Trump is not a cerebral conservative, and thus isn’t fit for the office of the presidency.

Years ago, this kind of concentrated effort to derail a Republican presidential candidate would have been a resounding success. But that’s all changed with Trump. The bedwetting Hayek-lovers in “tassel-loafers and bow ties” no longer call the shots. A man with $10 billion and a twitter account now runs the show.


Liberalism’s race to the bottom

The defense of the less fortunate and the harmed is one of the most unifying threads running through the liberal political spectrum.  It serves as a shared mandate for everything that could conceivably fall under the leftist umbrella.  From revolutionary Marxist class warfare, to modern progressive tax schemes in the capitalist West, it’s there. Liberal support for collective bargaining, minimum wages, transfer programs, universal health care, redefining gender roles, anti-discrimination laws, etc… is largely rooted in this moral imperative.

In his influential political psychology book The Righteous Mind, NYU professor Jonathan Haidt confirms this.  He outlines five potential “moral foundations” that underlie our ethics and politics: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity.  While conservatives tend to pull political inspiration from all five foundations, liberals hyper-focus on Care and Fairness and mostly dismiss the others.  Here’s Haidt:

But when we look at the Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity foundations, the story is quite different. Liberals largely reject these considerations.  They show such a large gap between these foundations versus the Care and Fairness foundations that we might say, as shorthand, that liberals have a two-foundation morality.

The concepts of Care and Fairness as moral foundations (capitalized from here out to avoid confusion) are not always clearly distinguishable.  Care is bestowed on those who are less fortunate or are harmed in some way.  Think compassion, sympathy, and empathy. Meanwhile, Fairness is lacking where some equal right is being denied or distributed disproportionately.  For an example where the two do not overlap, imagine birth defects or pre-existing conditions.  While “unfair” in a grander sense, no one is directly gaining from the misfortune; there is no “cheating” or “rigging of the system” involved.  No one has appropriated an unfair share of what should be an equal right, so only the Care foundation applies.  To see where they overlap, imagine poverty generated via true exploitation of labor.  Fairness is invoked in addition to Care due to the nature of the wrong committed.

Care and Fairness are largely about equality and inequality and therefore liberal politics are largely the politics of equality and inequality.  Those less fortunate are less fortunate because they have less of something.  Those being treated unfairly are being treated unfairly because they are given less than their full due.

The subjects of said inequality varies depending on the variant of liberalism and can even contradict.  A partial list would include opportunity, income, wealth, talent, education, representation, respect, and dignity.

What inequalities contemporary liberals often tolerate they tolerate in the name of equality.  If you’re confused, let us turn to the massively influential liberal philosophers John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin to clear things up.

Rawls lays out two main principles in his Theory of Justice, the second of which states:

Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged…and attached to….conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

Dworkin, in A Matter of Principle, makes a similar exception in the pursuit of his own conception of equality:

In either case, he chooses a mixed economic system – either redistributive capitalism or limited socialism – not in order to compromise antagonistic ideals of efficiency and equality, but to achieve the best practical realization of the demands of equality itself

Equality is the goal; inequality the enemy.  Inequality is allowable only insofar as it extends overall equality.  An example might be wealthy capitalists who take on risk and uncertainty in entrepreneurial activities that reduce the gap in living standards for the working class on the whole.

Inequality is the basis for grievances in the liberal political order, a sort of currency that can be traded for the redistribution and empowerment served up to make amends.  The more inequality that can be claimed, the higher the grievance sits in the hierarchy and the larger the redress.  If liberals mostly are concerned with cases of Care or Fairness, it stands to reason they must be more concerned with cases of Care and Fairness, that is, overlapping cases.  Adding a Fairness claim on top of a Care claim strictly increases the priority of the grievance.  It’s generally a bad thing that someone is in an unenviable position but it’s really bad if someone else put them there unfairly.  Worse still if they got away with it…or profited from it.

The nexus of Care and Fairness is victimhood and the tenants of that overlapping sphere are victims.  More specifically, they are victims deserving of liberal compassion (the left doesn’t much care if the uber rich is harmed these days).  These groups and individuals check both the boxes in the two-foundation morality.  Therefore, all else equal, victimhood moves grievances up the ladder.  If inequality more generally serves as the currency of the system, then inequality at the hands of injustice represents the largest bills circulating.

Grievances require an additional Fairness claim to invoke victimhood, and that typically requires counterparties.  The left is up to the task of finding the purported assailants.  For a variety of reasons, liberals are more likely to see injustice embedded in suboptimal outcomes, more likely to detect conscious intent in social processes, and more likely to see power as a key concern in social interaction.

Here is multidisciplinary academic Thomas Sowell on what he terms the “unconstrained vision”, which maps closely to modern American liberalism:

The role of power in social decision-making has tended to be much greater in the tradition of the unconstrained vision than among those with the constrained vision.  That is, much more of what happens in society is explained by the deliberate exertion of power – whether political, military, or economic – when the wold is conceived in the terms of the unconstrained vision.  As a result, unhappy social circumstances are more readily condemned morally.

As Lord Acton reminded us, power corrupts.  So when your worldview detects power at every turn your worldview likely detects victims at every turn as well.  Moreover, this is a self-reinforcing process.  The liberal vision, due to its beliefs and assumptions on human nature and the power of reason (again, see Sowell for more), is prone to overemphasize power as a causal force in society.  It therefore detects it much more frequently.  The presence of power and its inevitable abuse spawns unequal victims.  The existence and relative position of victims in the grievance hierarchy reinforces the relevance and accuracy of the model and provides a sense of urgency to the cause.

It is for this reason that economist Arnold Kling’s pigeonholing of liberalism into the oppressor/oppressed axis in his three-axis model (liberalism/conservatism/libertarianism) is fairly accurate and quite helpful.  The power-holders are the oppressors, the victims the oppressed, and it’s everywhere you look.

The self-reinforcing process of the liberal vision and the hierarchical nature of grievances provide incentives for both the afflicted and their rescuers to detect not only new victims, but ever deeper levels of victimhood.  Those requiring assistance maximize their attention and reparations by maximizing their grievances.  Those providing the assistance maximize the effectiveness of the liberal order, the accuracy of the worldview, and their own cognitive comfort by rectifying the largest grievances.  Even bystanders or dissidents have strong incentives to join rank and begin finding victims to console.  If they resist, their views are silenced and pushed aside.  Those higher in the grievance hierarchy can speak louder; those who refuse to join aren’t even allowed to speak.

It should come as no surprise then that liberal students on liberal campuses taught by liberal professors are finding new, previously undetected layers of oppression and injustice.  They campaign to kill off microaggressions, expand trigger warnings, build “safe spaces,” and win a dozen other battles.  Writing on this very topic recently in The Atlantic, Jon Haidt and Greg Lukianoff describe what they dub the “offendedness sweepstakes”, where contestants see who can claim or detect the most offense.  The larger victim is heard; the lesser is silenced.  This sweepstakes is a particular manifestation of a broader “victimhood sweepstakes” that results from liberalism’s focus on inequality.  In a clamor to reach the top of the grievance hierarchy, the leading edge of political liberalism is in a race to the bottom.

Now this system, along with its worldview, its self-reinforcing loops, its oversensitivities, its race to the bottom…it’s all not so bad while large, objective grievances exist.  If those on the bottom are in dire, justifiable need of lifting up, then it should be a race to get there, and not a leisurely stroll.  Slavery was cut from the cruelest cloth imaginable.  Denying suffrage to half of the population is unthinkable today.  Etc…

But we’re past that now, and that makes modern liberal principles less relevant as pertains to future political action. Here is Patri Friedman (go read the whole thing) on the topic:

If only certain limited differences were targeted – like suffrage not being universal – this crusade could well be beneficial. Yet what we see is progressively increasing outrage over progressively smaller differences. It looks much less like a force for actual justice than like an anti-difference paperclipper – eternally dedicated to a single instrumental value which it has mistaken for the only terminal value.

Now, it must be said, that until this point I have unfairly characterized the entire liberal spectrum, and the American one specifically, as falling into this hole headfirst.  But this was by design, for two reasons.  1) The worst offenders are the future of political liberalism.  They are, by and large, younger.  But beyond that, their voices are heard, their demands are met, and their witch hunts prove fruitful.  They are winning the race.  It’s not clear who, on the left, is losing.  Which leads me to 2) What large swathes of liberals should I exclude from the characterization?  The opposition to even the most egregious ideas is pretty scant so far.

So the race goes on.  In the most absurd corners, we find a manufacturing and inflation of victimhood where less and less exists.  The logic that had much to offer in shaping Western political values is at risk of trampling them underfoot.  Arbitrary labor and discrimination laws will threaten to reduce standards of living by ignoring basic economic theory.  The infighting continues.  Expressing an opinion on the treatment of women in Islam is a good way to invoke passionate liberal debate these days.  So is bringing up the relative attention and support transgender women receive in feminist circles.

Germaine Greer, the 76-year-old author of “The Female Eunich,” is making waves by lambasting the idea that Caitlyn Jenner may be honored by Glamour Magazine as “Woman of the Year.” Jenner isn’t a woman, says Greer. He’s just attention-starved and seeking to steal the limelight from the women in the Kardashian family.

The victimhood sweepstakes lens has much to offer by way of insight here.  Women may face certain oppression in the Muslim world but so do Muslims at large.  Thus, a conflict is born…a jockeying for position.  Greer is a woman, but Jenner is a transgender woman, and therefore a victim of multiple inequalities that sum to an injustice larger than any Greer could possibly endure.  Jenner is higher on the grievance hierarchy, and criticism from the lower levels is not allowed from the leading liberal edge, let alone condoned.  From the same New York Post article:

As Kaite Welsh wrote: “Isn’t it often the way? You fight your way from the trenches to the throne, overthrow the corrupt regime and set about remaking the world in your own image, only to realize that you have become the thing you most despised.”

Greer’s gone from “revolutionary to oppressor,” she said.

Oppressor.  Paging Arnold Kling, come in Arnold.

This race is not sustainable.  The reduction of inequality per se has no logical end, given that various forms of its existence are facts of life.  Moreover, with increasing layers of victimhood being discovered, a larger and larger portion of the populace falls into the oppressor camp.  Previous victims become the oppressors as the circle grows perpetually wider.  At some point, the most victimized group or individual in the system is the only one left; they take first place in the race.  How long will a material and growing share of adherents to a political view tolerate finger-pointing directed their way?  Their views will be increasingly marginalized and dismissed the longer they wait, that’s how the hierarchy works.

In the end, it seems obvious that there are lower benefits and higher costs to stamping out increasingly transitory or minor inequalities.  But where is the tipping point, where will the left draw the line?   The answer will be critical, as the lack of an endgame to the eradication of inequality has arguably left modern liberalism without any steady-state to aim at up until this point.  An agreed upon line would provide that endgame; it’d be breaking new ground.  Yet few seem willing to dig their heel in the dirt and drag it at this stage.  Meanwhile the race to the bottom is doing more than enough digging to go around.

Power Word: Blackface

Movement conservatives have this thing that they do whenever someone is questioning the latest steps toward military aggression. They compare it to appeasing Hitler, because Hitler was appeased and Hitler was bad. So like a lawyer making his closing arguments to a jury, they say, “But what about… WORLD WAR TWO!?”

I call this Power Word: World War 2, like those spells from Dungeons and Dragons that were power words that could not be resisted by their target. Similarly, Power Word: World War 2 ends the discussion, because non-interventionism is obviously wrong, since it’s a proof by contradiction. Everyone has to believe in World War 2 as the good intervention (duh!).

But all the beautiful people know that neoconservatives are stupid, so I will focus on a power word that the beautiful themselves love to use. And that is Power Word: Blackface.

A week or two there was a story about a white man named Michael Derrick Hudson who got a poem published in one of the most prestigious journals of poetry in the country. Hudson had previously had the poem rejected from lesser journals about 40 times. So he used the name Yi-Fen Chou because he thought that appearing to be something other than a white male would get his poem published.

He was right.

“Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American,” the (non-white) editor of the journal, Sherman Alexie, explicitly stated.

Despite the overt favoritism toward poets because of their non-maleness and non-whiteness, in bizarro Twitter world, people took this fiasco as proof that Hudson actually had some sort of unfair advantage.

The contradictions between the narrative and the reality are obvious. But the issue for the commentariat is that this ordeal had:

  1. A white man coming out on top
  2. A white man doing it by seemingly outsmarting people of color, and most, importantly
  3. A white man turning a left-wing narrative on its head.

They couldn’t turn to him getting something because of his privilege, since the exact opposite happened 40 times. So where could the thinkpiece industry find its outrage release valve? Power Word: Blackface.

Blackface was a bad thing. It degraded black people by portraying them as buffoonish and contemptuous. It’s obvious that blackface not being socially acceptable is a good development. Yellowface was a bad thing as well, and Hollywood had quite a few examples of dressing up white people to make them walking stereotypes of Asians, like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the header pic). People who write by-the-numbers outrage thinkpieces aren’t very smart, and so they lazily painted Hudson with this brush.

The poet-troll didn’t wear yellowface though, despite the shrieks of the folks at Salon and the Guardian. No stereotypes or degradation happen. In fact, even the editor of the journal that there was nothing “Asian-seeming” about the poem he accepted. Hudson just beat a”no white males allowed” filter that apparently exists at a lot of places, and this made those who want to see those gates do their job very angry.

The absurdity of this becomes evident when considering that 19th-century female authors adopted male pen names to get published and read. It’s not a secret that George Eliot was actually a womann named Mary Ann Evans. Even J.K. Rowling supposedly adopted a gender-indeterminate name to appeal to broaden her appeal. Were these women degrading men and wearing “manface”? No, that’s obviously ridiculous. It’s equally ridiculous to say that Hudson was being a racist and wearing yellowface.

The blackface smear happens lot, and it happens when the contradictions in cultural Marxism are laid bare. People couldn’t quite articulate why Rachel Dolezal is evil and Caitlyn Jenner is brave, so they said “remember that blackface thing? That was bad! And this looks similar!”

Pointing out superficial similarities in things is something that every first grader has mastered. So why are adults paid 100 dollars per article to do it and why do we all pretend that it’s thought-provoking?

The 1% would still rule under a Bernie Sanders administration

Much ado has been made about the presidential campaign of Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

The self-styled democratic socialist is scaring the pants off libertarians and conservatives who see his rise in the Democratic primary as a legitimate threat to the country. “Bernie Sanders Is The Most Dangerous Man In America,” declares libertarian activist Christopher Cantwell. Pundit and internment-defender Michelle Malkin thinks Sanders’ “socialist odor” stinks, and would be a bad scent for the nation. Historian Tom Woods is dedicating an entire e-book to why Sanders is wrong for America.

Progressives are just as intrigued by the Sanders surge as conservatives, if not more. “Hillary Clinton can’t afford to ignore Bernie Sanders any longer,” contends Princeton professor Julian Zelizer. The septuagenarian senator is not only out-polling Clinton in New Hampshire, but is drawing massive crowds across the country. Even comedian Sarah Silverman is feeling the Bern: she recently introduced the senator at an L.A. rally, declaring he “is not for sale.”

I admit it: At first I was piqued by the independent senator’s quixotic bid for the White House. Sanders refuses to have a Super PAC – an infinite spending machine meant to provide a vehicle for the wealthy to invest dollars and gain favors. He is against open borders, saying that without national boundaries there is “no United States.” He speaks openly and passionately about the struggle working-class Americans face as they are falling behind in an increasingly competitive economy. Plus, my family hails from Vermont, and the Green Mountain State is one of the best in the Union.