or in this case, the oil.

Zero Hedge has on its website a fascinating map by Dr. Michael Izady at Columbia University that adds a dimension to the current tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia that many of us are only dimly aware of. So far, I’ve mainly heard of it as a Sunni/Shia conflict. Since Saudi Arabia is usually referred to as a Sunni, or even Salafist or Wahabi, country, there is a strong tendency to forget, on my part at least, that there is a Shiite minority within the country. What I did not realize was that much of Saudi Arabia’s oil is underneath Shiite majority regions.

What the map shows is that, due to a peculiar correlation of religious history and anaerobic decomposition of plankton, almost all the Persian Gulf’s fossil fuels are located underneath Shiites. This is true even in Sunni Saudi Arabia, where the major oil fields are in the Eastern Province, which has a majority Shiite population.

The recently executed Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr came from that area. Although Schwartz is not claiming at it is only oil fueling the conflict, it does add an additional dimension.

Because Iranians are not Arabs, I always think of them as being very separate from the Saudis. This map, focused on the Persian Gulf rather than on one of the countries shows how physically close they really are.

I don’t have anything of my own to add here and I don’t know entirely what to make of it or how much emphasis to put on it, but I think it’s very interesting.

Frequently, regarding politics, I find myself taking refuge in a sort of back-to-basics naiveté. I’m not dumb and am as capable as the next person of tying myself up in complicated justifications of my positions. However, more than anything, I want to see clearly.

First and foremost, the end does not justify the means. To be clear, I’m not talking about Machiavelli’s advice for individuals seeking to seize and maintain power. I am not a powerful person, nor do I seek to be. Whatever wisdom there may be in it for the powerful, it is altogether different for the general public. I hold my political positions because I think they are right, that they are of benefit to the polity in question, whether that be the city, the state or the nation, not because I seek political office myself. That gives me a great deal of leeway that an actual leader does not have. So while those seeking political office may need to engage in various forms of double-dealing to remain in office, I bear no such burden.

One of those intentionally naive positions is a firm adherence to the truth. Given the popularity of postmodernism, I should probably specify that I mean a vernacular notion of truth here, not far removed from the word “fact.” When people are lying, even if they are people with whom I align myself politically, I ask myself, “Why?”

There is a lie I have encountered several times. During the riots in Baltimore on April 27, 2015, the news media showed many images of a CVS on fire. (For my international readers, CVS is a nationwide chain of drugstores, they contain pharmacies within them and stock a wide array of other items.) Sometime, during the ensuing weeks, I was reading an article about CVS’s rebuilding of the store. In the comments, someone asked if anyone knew if the destruction had placed any real burden on the residents of those neighborhoods. Someone else replied to the effect that it wasn’t any big deal, that the riots weren’t as bad as the news media were making it sound, that it was just this one drugstore and the residents had several others in the immediate neighborhood.

Now, I don’t know if the person answering the question knew he was lying or if he was badly uninformed. I lived in Baltimore. I didn’t know many people who lived in that area, but I know people who do. During the riots and the during the days afterwards I talked to people who had first hand knowledge, so I’m pretty confident about my facts.

According to The Baltimore Sun:

Among 350 businesses identified by city officials as damaged in two nights of rioting were drugstores and grocers considered the lifeblood of some of Baltimore’s poorest areas. Many customers are elderly or have chronic health problems and live in “food deserts” with limited access to transportation and healthy food.

This Google map can give a notion of how widely the riots spread. They did not engulf the entire city, large areas, especially affluent suburban areas, were entirely spared any damage, but they were not confined to a single neighborhood either.

A Google map showing the locations of some incidents on April 27, 2015 in Baltimore.

Here’s a screen shot of that map.

Why am I mentioning this now? Well, yesterday, in the comments beneath Conor Friederdorf’s piece on mandatory minimum sentences I came across this paragraph within one comment by “Dee-light”:

If the tactics in response to BLM and Occupy Wall Street were legal and moral, why aren’t they being applied to armed men who took over a federal building in Oregon? A CVS was burned down in Baltimore and you would’ve thought the aliens blew up the White House with the way the media responded. The choice is simple, either law enforcement should change the way it responds to left-wing protesters or apply the same tactics to right-wing protesters. The concept is not that hard and Conor spends way too much time hand wringing over minimum mandatory sentences to avoid it.

While the commenter doesn’t specifically say that it was only one business that was destroyed, it is strongly implied that the robbery and arson was not much more extensive than that. Ironically, if anything, the media images probably underplayed the destruction. I think the media took so many images of that CVS because it occurred relatively early, during daylight hours, and the presence of many police in the photos makes me think that the news crews felt comparatively safe there. Similarly, there were many images of a senior center that was on fire later that night. It’s very near where some people I know work and, they have told me, it was very far away from the main rioting. In fact, I was told that that area was surprisingly calm given the fact that it is normally considered a high crime area. Also, many of the streets in Baltimore are narrower than is typical in the U.S. The senior center was located across the street from a small triangular island that has been turned into a park and the images were clearly taken from that vantage point. The media’s choice of which of the many incidents to highlight should be seen as having been subject to circumstances; the choices were opportunistic in the most neutral meaning of the word. They had to know about it, have an available crew, be able to get there and get out safely, and be able to get a newsworthy image.

At least one person my sister knows who lived in one of the neighborhoods affected, phoned her and told her that she was actively scared. They talked about the possibility of her staying with my sister if the rioting didn’t stop soon. (Traveling during the night probably would have been more dangerous than staying put.) For those of you who think only white people are scared during incidents like that, I guess I have to point out that the woman in question is an African-American woman with two children, one a teenage son, who grew up in Baltimore. And for those on both the extreme left and extreme right who think all young African-American boys in the neighborhood participated in the riots, I can tell you that this woman’s son did not – and I’m sure he wasn’t alone.

It mostly seems to be people on the left who are lying about the Baltimore riots being confined to a single drugstore. I don’t entirely understand why they are lying, but it makes me suspicious. I’ve made no secret of the fact that the riots, or more accurately the left’s response to them, has been a large part of the reason I’ve been feeling distant from people with whom I considered myself to have been politically aligned in the past.

Friedersdorf, by the way, in his article refers to the Red Tribe / Blue Tribe dynamic I brought up the other day. I light of that context, I found the amount of tribalism in the comments to be disappointing.

One of the reasons I spent so much time yesterday focusing on Scott Alexander’s post, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup,” is because I see social behavior as having a greater and greater role in our political behavior. In fact, I suspect that Alexander is at least ten years younger than I am, and probably more like a dozen or fifteen years younger, because these “tribal” cultures and their associations with specific political parties have become closer than they were when I was young. Even the tribes themselves, or at least the stereotypes of their members, have become more solidified. Furthermore, I don’t think they would have been as strongly associated with someone’s identity in the past. The stereotypes are so strong that sometimes it feels, when watching the media, that people who don’t conform to one or the other of them barely exist. Yet I know in my own personal life, the reality is quite the opposite. Very few people actually fit them well.

It would be an interesting thing to trace the emergence in the popular imagination of the Red and Blue Tribes. I imagine it would probably result in a book not unlike David Sirota’s Back To Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now. A Wall Street Journal review of the book concludes:

Most egregiously, Mr. Sirota ignores MTV: There’s really no point in writing about ’80s pop culture without addressing its single biggest engine of influence. All you really need to know to understand the 1980s happened during two glorious cable-televised hours in July 1984. “Purple Rain” premiered. Prince welcomed Lionel Richie, John “Cougar” Mellencamp and Weird Al. Eddie Murphy wore a leopard-skin blazer. It was awesome. And David Sirota missed it.

It shows the great difficulty in trying to understand the origins of how we see ourselves. Which popular culture examples are salient? It remains, however, that our own personal contacts are too few, limited and diverse to be useful in generalizing about larger cultural trends. The sense that there are categories like yuppies, metrosexuals, rednecks and so on comes in large part from popular culture. As I never tire of trying to explain to people outside the U.S. who think we have preachers on every corner, if I had to rely on my first hand experience, I’d think evangelicals were a strange curiosity, and I’d only know of them because one of my mother’s friends sons converted. He’d just be a weirdo with some highly unconventional religious beliefs. It’s only due to the fact that we can get news from other parts of the country that we know that there are others like him and his beliefs are not unusual at all.

Off the top of my head, I see two things as the driving forces behind the tribalization of politics. The first is the role of modern marketing techniques in political races. The public first became aware of the work of advertisers in modern political campaigns when Joe McGinniss’ book The Selling of the President appeared. Advertisers sell their products based on associations and emotional appeal. Creating a stereotype of the audience is part of the process. This stereotype must have enough connection to reality to be useful.

If the rise of mass communications, especially television, created the methods for selling candidates that were brought to light by McGinniss, the rise of social media needs to be taken into account regarding the current situation. The ability to tweet one’s support of a candidate or a position, or post a comment on Facebook, brings social pressure to bear on one’s political views in a way it did not in the past. I suspect that this will lead to a greater homogeneity of political views within social circles.

Within the past few weeks, I’ve found myself growing distrustful of statements like, “I’m a conservative,” or “I’m a liberal.” What are we really trying to say? Are we summarizing our political views, or indicating tribal allegiances. I like to think that I’m a liberal because “liberal” is a useful term which can give a person a general notion of my political views without having to give a long-winded explanation of what my positions are on a variety of contemporary issues and the ideology that caused me to arrive at those positions. The positions come first and the label “liberal” is a conclusion. It would be mistake to first decide that I am a “liberal” and then afterwards form my beliefs to conform to that self-image. However, with this Red Tribe / Blue Tribe identity and the rise of social media, I’m afraid many people are doing just that.

The first thing we need to do is to divorce our social identities from our politics. To give one example, there is no reason that someone who enjoys listening to country music needs to hold specific political positions. The link between the musical elements that characterize the form and particular positions, let’s say laissez-faire economics, are entirely circumstantial and not inherent in the music.

As someone who would like to see the political positions about which I am most confident be reflected in our politics and our government’s policies, I need to convince a large number of my fellow citizens that these are good positions. Dividing them from me by fixating on superficial differences of tastes will not achieve that. If I want to, let’s say, keep religious influence out of schools, I need to reach out to people who are not like me, who drive sedans, who listen to treacly pop, who eat hamburgers and drink Bud. Or drive muscle cars, listen to heavy metal and eat… well I don’t know what food is associated with metal heads, but I think you get my point. I advocate keeping religion out of schools, not simply because it is my personal preference, but because it is a good policy for the country as a whole.

I intentionally try to keep some of these personal issues out of comments I make about politics. I am just as fond of the next person of my own little tastes. I will be very happy to argue, heatedly, about what movies are best, what books to read, what music to like, what clothes look great, why living in New York is better than the suburbs, but I want to divorce that from my politics. The government needs to serve the entire country, not just people who are like me.

A few weeks ago, I came across a very interesting post about identity and politics by following a link that someone I no longer recall put in a comment. At the top of the post it says “Try to keep this off Reddit and other similar sorts of things.” I assume this is to keep his blog from being inundated with hyperventilating crazy people. I have far too few readers for my drawing attention to the post to be an annoyance, especially since the post was first put up in September of 2014 and currently has 1,170 responses. Also in the little “content warning” at the top of the page he writes, “This isn’t especially original to me and I don’t claim anything more than to be explaining and rewording things I have heard from a bunch of other people.”

I’m going to start by summarizing the post, however I highly recommend anyone interested in the subject go to the original. It is quite long, but well put and I am surely doing it a disservice by shortening it. Then I will add a few notes of my own.

The author of the post is Scott Alexander who writes on his own blog, “Slate Star Codex.” I know next to nothing about him beyond this post, called “I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup.”

He begins by noting, via G. K. Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, that, while pardoning sins is virtuous, pardoning sins you don’t really think are sins isn’t, although you might deceive yourself into thinking it is.

To borrow Chesterton’s example, if you think divorce is a-ok, then you don’t get to “forgive” people their divorces, you merely ignore them. Someone who thinks divorce is abhorrent can “forgive” divorce. You can forgive… something you find abhorrent.

…from a utilitarian point of view, you are still doing the correct action of not giving people grief because they’re a divorcee. You can have all the Utility Points you want. All I’m saying is that if you “forgive” something you don’t care about, you don’t earn any Virtue Points.

This is similar, in my mind, to the notion that it’s no virtue to resist sinning if you are not tempted, a commonplace observation.

Alexander goes on to point out that a similar dynamic is at work regarding tolerance. Alexander defines tolerance as “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup.”

I discussed this essay with someone who did not understand the concept of “outgroup.” This is important because the first comment beneath the post is about how tolerance isn’t a virtue. The commenter seems to be using a different definition of “tolerance.” It should be noted that Alexander is using a specific concept. The terms “in-group” and “out-group” arise from social identity theory. (Alexander is a psychiatrist.) From the website Simply Psychology:

Social identity is a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership(s).

…the groups… which people belonged to [are] an important source of pride and self-esteem. Groups give us a sense of social identity: a sense of belonging to the social world.

In order to increase our self-image we enhance the status of the group to which we belong. … We can also increase our self-image by discriminating and holding prejudice views against the out group (the group we don’t belong to). …

Therefore, we divided the world into “them” and “us” based through a process of social categorization (i.e. we put people into social groups).

This is known as in-group (us) and out-group (them). Social identity theory states that the in-group will discriminate against the out-group to enhance their self-image.

The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that group members of an in-group will seek to find negative aspects of an out-group, thus enhancing their self-image.

“Tolerance” in this case is declining to enhance our own self-image by discriminating against an “out-group.” I apologize if I’m belaboring the point, but since the essay is about how this aspect of social psychology manifests itself in the political realm, it is important to get our terms right. We are talking about in-group and out-group dynamics.

Alexander adds to the concept of out-groups. “I want to avoid a very easy trap,” he says, “which is saying that outgroups are about how different you are, or how hostile you are.”

Freud spoke of the narcissism of small differences, saying that “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other”.

So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

This is a little simplistic but I’ll elaborate on that later. Still, the point remains that it is not difference alone that creates an out-group. He also adds that strategic alliances can create unusual in-groups.

In other words, outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.

The next point Alexander makes is, in the U.S. where we have two political parties, we are socially isolated from members of the other party. This is not a weak tendency. He gives his own life as an example. Noting that 46% of Americans are creationists, he says:

And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle. It’s not because I’m deliberately avoiding them; I’m pretty live-and-let-live politically, I wouldn’t ostracize someone just for some weird beliefs. And yet, even though I probably know about a hundred fifty people, I am pretty confident that not one of them is creationist. Odds of this happening by chance? 1/2^150 = 1/10^45 = approximately the chance of picking a particular atom if you are randomly selecting among all the atoms on Earth.

He creates an amusing analogy that it’s as if conservatives are make of dark matter.

People like to talk about social bubbles, but that doesn’t even begin to cover one hundred quintillion. The only metaphor that seems really appropriate is the bizarre dark matter world.

He continues:

I inhabit the same geographical area as scores and scores of conservatives. But without meaning to, I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama.

(Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)

So, how does this extreme segregation occur? Using himself as an example again:

Well, in the same way “going to synagogue” is merely the iceberg-tip of a Jewish tribe with many distinguishing characteristics, so “voting Republican” or “identifying as conservative” or “believing in creationism” is the iceberg-tip of a conservative tribe with many distinguishing characteristics.

A disproportionate number of my friends are Jewish, because I meet them at psychiatry conferences or something – we self-segregate not based on explicit religion but on implicit tribal characteristics. So in the same way, political tribes self-segregate to an impressive extent – a 1/10^45 extent, I will never tire of hammering in – based on their implicit tribal characteristics.

He then goes on to describe what he calls “two and a half” tribes. Using the red and blue symbolism that arose accidentally during the 2000 election, Alexander describes the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe.

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

Alexander suggests that it is these tribal characteristics which result in the unusually strong bubbles in which people live, effectively creating parallel societies which occupy the same space but rarely interact.

Something clicked for him regarding the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Margaret Thatcher. In his social circle, people insisted that it was wrong to feel happy about the death of bin Laden, that, although he was a bad person, he was still a human being and feeling happy about the death of another human being is wrong no matter who that person was. A few years later, many of those same people were celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher, often with the song “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead.”

I started this essay by pointing out that, despite what geographical and cultural distance would suggest, the Nazis’ outgroup was not the vastly different Japanese, but the almost-identical German Jews.

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

An implicit association test is a test that attempts to detect a person’s automatic association between categories. For instance, it might try to see the associations a subject makes between black people and white people and good and bad. It is often used to demonstrate unconscious prejudice. In 2014, researchers at Stanford conducted a study to use the same types of tests to detect for prejudice based on political parties. They found that “partyism” was stronger than racism.

The same researchers tried other studies which have been used to test for racial bias in the past using resumes and again found that “partyism” was greater than racism.

But if we want to look at people’s psychology and motivations, partyism and the particular variant of tribalism that it represents are going to be fertile ground.

Now, we’re getting to the core of the essay, and why I found it so interesting. He describes how “liberals,” or the Blue Tribe, love to talk about how awful the United States is. Regarding the criticism he says:

All of this is true, of course. But it’s weird that it’s such a classic interest of members of the Blue Tribe, and members of the Red Tribe never seem to bring it up.

He follows that with a couple of parallel examples of criticism conservatives could make.

My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.

This is where it gets really interesting. He names the titles of several popular pieces on “major media sites”: America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation; America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats; You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are; Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People.

Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans. Those Americans very likely enjoyed the articles very much and did not feel the least bit insulted.

And look at the sources. HuffPo, Salon, Slate. Might those have anything in common?

On both sides, “American” can be either a normal demonym, or a code word for a member of the Red Tribe.

Likewise, he lists the title of a number of articles critical of white people.

And on a hunch I checked the author photos, and every single one of these articles was written by a white person.

He suspects that “white” is like the word “American;” it’s a code word for the Red Tribe.

…when an angry white person talks at great length about how much he hates “white dudes”, he is not being humble and self-critical.

It’s contrary to what we know about social psychology that millions of people would conspicuously praise “every out-group they can think of” while “condemning their own in-group.” But, remember, the “out-group” is not the people who are very different, but the people who are very similar.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue.

And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better!

Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.

At this point, Alexander gets insightful about himself.

I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group. People can criticize their in-group, it’s not humanly impossible, but it takes nerves of steel, it makes your blood boil, you should sweat blood. It shouldn’t be fun.

He admits, he’s not really a member of the Blue Tribe. He’s a member of that “half” part of the “two and a half” tribes, the Gray Tribe.

That means that, although my critique of the Blue Tribe may be right or wrong, in terms of motivation it comes from the same place as a Red Tribe member talking about how much they hate al-Qaeda or a Blue Tribe member talking about how much they hate ignorant bigots. And when I boast of being able to tolerate Christians and Southerners whom the Blue Tribe is mean to, I’m not being tolerant at all, just noticing people so far away from me they wouldn’t make a good outgroup anyway.

Earlier, when he described the Red and Blue Tribes he also wrote in parentheses:

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

At the point when he reveals that he had fun writing the post, it occurred to me that I had too much fun reading it. You see, I’m not really a member of the Blue Tribe. I’m a member of the Gold Lamé tribe, more libertine than libertarian. Ultimately, we oppose any group that tries to limit our “liberty”, aka fun. In the U.S., that has generally been from the right. However, when the left becomes puritanical, and it can, we opt out. We’re generally apatheists, but some of us will attend religious services that focus on how fabulous the world is, without demanding anything specific. While we don’t exactly love capitalism, we make really bad Marxists and worse Stalinists. We wring our hands that the focus on gay marriage has destroyed gay culture. We like to pretend to eat caviar and drink Champagne, but if truth be told we don’t really have the money. Our favorite competitive sport is flirting. We get conspicuously upset over New York City’s Cabaret Laws and sex toy bans. I imagine that we listen to anything danceable. Like the Gray Tribe, the Red Tribe is so far away from us they don’t make a particularly good out-group. I spend far more time fuming over people that want to make me practice yoga and eat kale, good Blue Tribe people one and all.

In a way, Blue Tribe and Red Tribe might both be larger tribes with many smaller, affiliated, tribes within them. As the puritanical SJW Tribe becomes louder, it feels like the center of gravity is shifting within Blue Tribe. I wonder how the coalition with hold up.

I usually view politics more in terms of theory and ideas, so it was interesting to see it viewed in terms of psychology. I’ve noticed that other characteristics seem to accompany political positions, but I’ve never worked them out. I’ve often been critical in the past of the way people on the left bitch and moan about how awful “Americans” are. However, I saw it differently. That they were somehow bolstering their ego by showing how they were better than their countrymen, and the worse they make their countrymen look, the better they look by comparisons. “Americans are racist, but somehow out of my own sheer brilliance I rose above my upbringing. Aren’t I special!” I still think there is some element of that going on, but the tribal associations make a lot of sense. In both cases, people are making themselves feel better by putting others down, but I didn’t see the group aspect of it.

There are a few other things, but this post has gotten so long, I’ll have to leave them for another day.

William Voegeli, writing in the Claremont Review of Books recently, had a very important article regarding Donald Trump, “The Reason I’m Anti-Anti-Trump.” I immediately liked the title. I am someone who is temperamentally disinclined to like Trump. However, there’s a certain sort of group political behavior which has always given me pause. It seems almost de riguer these days for everyone to write a piece decrying, in terms louder and more hysterical than the last person, how thoroughly awful Donald Trump is. Many of these writers must have read the previous pieces, so I’m not quite sure what they think they are bringing to the conversation. Therefore, I’ve been pleased to see a small number of people writing about the subject in a more serious way.

Voegeli begins his article quoting several of those breathless denunciations including Damon Linker of the Week.

Trump’s supporters are the “culturally alienated, conservative white male voters” who have “been manipulated … into a perpetual state of aggrieved indignation” by right-wing talk-radio…

Voegeli responds to that characterization by noting that:

To say, however, that Trump’s voters have been manipulated into aggrievement implies that their dissatisfactions are either spurious or, if genuine, illegitimate and indecent.

It should be noted that trying to understand political opponents is not a new subject for Voegeli. In and interview, explaining why he wrote about the politics of compassion, in Salon in 2014 he said:

I thought for a conservative trying to understand liberals as they understand themselves it seemed necessary to go there, because it’s a big part of the liberal self-identity.

From the liberal side of things, I have long argued for the same behavior on our part. It is of little theoretical utility to simply mock and castigate people who advocate policies different from one’s own. It is intellectually lazy to presume negative motivations on the part of people with whom one disagrees. It helps in both developing better positions and better persuasion. I believe Voegeli is quite right to say:

The fact that Trump has become a credible contender despite, or even because of, his obvious faults argues, however, for taking his followers’ concerns seriously rather than dismissing them. It is not, in fact, particularly difficult to explain the emergence of Trumpismo in terms of legitimate concerns not addressed, and important duties not discharged. That such a flawed contender could be a front-runner tells us more about what’s wrong with the country than about what’s wrong with his followers.

If you are a Democratic politician, work for one or are employed by the Democratic Party, then you may find the chaos into which Trump has thrown the Republican Party something to mine for your own personal advantages and shouting about how awful Trump is might make some sense. However, if you are a private citizen who happens to find himself or herself aligning more frequently with Democrats because you think they advocate better policies, then looking at what concerns Trump’s supporters have is something we should do.

The strange thing about the fact that the leftist and liberal pundits’ inability to take the concerns of Trumps supporters seriously is that some of their concerns align with the concerns that the left claims to represent. A year or two ago, a study came out from two professors showing that rich individuals and large businesses drive public policy and the views of ordinary citizens have no influence at all. From The Hill:

The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose.

This study was widely reported in the progressive press at the time. It should be noted, however, that this is a bi-partisan indictment. The Republican Party has been less shy about its support of big business, but a recent headline in the Washington Examiner read, “2015: The year the Democrats fully embraced corporatism.”

Democrats have long been purveyors of patronage and corporate welfare, but forever they’ve gotten away with pretending to be populists.

The article goes on to assert that for decades the Republicans have done the Democrats’ “dirty work.” “Democrats have always relied on corporte welfare,” it says.

But as long as Republicans were willing to take the lead on “pro-business” policies, Democrats were happy to play a mere supporting role. This always gave Barney Frank and Obama great ammunition with which to attack Republicans as hypocrites — opposing welfare for the poor, but favoring it for corporate America.

The article then goes on to credit, incorrectly I believe, the end of the charade to the rise of the Tea Party and an “anti-cronyism movement” on the Right. I say incorrectly, because if the population felt that elected Republican politicians were responding to the needs of the people we wouldn’t have Trump. Trump’s supporters would be thronging Senators Rubio or Cruz.

The Examiner article mentions the Import-Export bank and the financial troubles of health insurers. It specifically mentions Marco Rubio.

In late 2014, Marco Rubio passed a measure capping Risk Corridor payouts to struggling insurers, thus protecting taxpayers.

Marco Rubio is not at the top of the polls because most people don’t see him as fighting for the average American due to his position on immigration. It’s no secret what issue catapulted Trump to the front of the Republican field. It’s immigration.

Writing in The Atlantic, David Frum analyzes the “internal class war” taking place in the Republican Party.

These populists seek to defend what the French call “acquired rights”—health care, pensions, and other programs that benefit older people—against bankers and technocrats who endlessly demand austerity; against migrants who make new claims and challenge accustomed ways; against a globalized market that depresses wages and benefits. In the United States, they lean Republican because they fear the Democrats want to take from them and redistribute to Americans who are newer, poorer, and in their view less deserving—to “spread the wealth around,” in candidate Barack Obama’s words to “Joe the Plumber” back in 2008. Yet they have come to fear more and more strongly that their party does not have their best interests at heart.

In this context, immigration is representative. The oligarchs and their elite mouthpieces in the media characterize the populace they rule in this undemocratic democracy as racist or xenophobic. Yet, no one is fooled about why the oligarchs want a high level of immigration. They want cheap labor. We all know this and no one is fooled. Those accusations of xenophobia are just a smoke screen to avoid talking about the real problem, summarized in Fiscal Times headline from last September, “For Most Americans, Wages Aren’t Just Stagnating — They’re Falling.”

The people working in the oligarch’s think tanks often point to studies that are reported to show that immigration does not reduce the average wages of or U.S. born workers. I don’t think the average person trusts these studies. I’m not particularly paranoid and don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories. I think bias exists, but it is the result of more subtle forces, not grand conspiracies. Still, I, along with large portions of the American people, have difficulty swallowing the argument that large-scale immigration somehow helps the living standards of people who are already U.S. citizens.

Secondly, there is the question of democracy. If voters time and time again vote for a lower level of immigration, and their elected officials continue to advocate policies that are the direct opposite of the wishes of the voters, and in line with the wishes of the wealthy and big business, then this is an excellent example of that very lack of democracy noted in that study about how the wishes of ordinary citizens have zero effect on the actions of politicians. In that regard, it should be unsurprising that immigration has become a flash point.

As David Frum relates the disconnect between the Republican Party and the people the purport to represent:

As a class, big Republican donors could not see any of this, or would not. So neither did the politicians who depend upon them. Against all evidence, both groups interpreted the Tea Party as a mass movement in favor of the agenda of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. One of the more dangerous pleasures of great wealth is that you never have to hear anyone tell you that you are completely wrong.

During the 2012 Republican primary, Mitt Romney supported the interests of big business.

The rank and file did not like it. But they could not stop it. The base kept elevating “not Romneys” into first place, and each rapidly failed or fizzled; Romney, supported by a cumulative total of $139 million in primary funds by March 2012, trundled on.

Frum explains how immigration fits into the picture:

Owners of capital assets, employers of low-skill laborers, and highly compensated professionals tend to benefit economically from the arrival of immigrants. They are better positioned to enjoy the attractive cultural and social results of migration (more-interesting food!) and to protect themselves against the burdensome impacts (surges in non-English-proficient pupils in public schools). A pro-immigration policy shift was one more assertion of class interest in a party program already brimful of them.

According to Frum, Trump promised the working class supporters of the Republican Party four things on which they felt betrayed by the rich: to protect their pensions from austerity, to avoid another war in the Middle East, to campaign without the influence of monied interests and to “protect their wages from being undercut by Republican immigration policy.”

Frum concludes:

What happens to an elite whose followers withdraw their assent? Does it self-examine? Or does it take refuge in denial? Does it change? Or does it try to prevent change? Does it challenge itself to build a new political majority? Or does it seize the opportunities the American political system offers to compact and purposeful minorities? When its old answers fail, will it think anew? Or will it simply repeat louder the dogmas that enthralled supporters in the past?

“What happens to an elite whose followers withdraw their assent?” Indeed. This is what I believe fuels the hysterical denunciations of Trump.

The anti-democratic tone of many of the anti-Trump articles disturbs me as a person without connections or influence. In this context, I couldn’t help but take note of a Vox article which said that “most millenials don’t think it’s essential to live in a democracy.” An interesting detail was that support for authoritarian government was growing most quickly among the wealthy.

As inequality is rising, and the wealthy have more to lose from economic policies that would favor the bulk of the population, they are growing increasingly impatient with democratic institutions. The number of wealthy Americans who want a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections, for example, has sharply increased since 1995.

People who are against Trump should not view him as a cause, but as a symptom. For decades, people have been voting for mainstream candidates in hopes that they would represent their interests. Time and time again, they have been betrayed. The concerns of the citizenry are well-known. The fact that our politicians are entirely incapable of even beginning to address those concerns shows how beholden they are to the wealthy who pull the strings. I believe it is disingenuous to get all riled up over Trump if you are not even more riled up over the moral corruption that pervades our political class.

There was an interesting article in the Tablet, “an American Jewish general interest online magazine.” Liel Leibowitz gives examples of terrorist attacks on Jews by individuals connected to groups that later perpetrated attacks on others who were not Jewish. There is a possibility, he asserts, that had the individuals been investigated more thoroughly, the later attacks might have been prevented.

The first example he gives is the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels perpetrated by Mehdi Nemmouche. Nemmouche was part of the network that included Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is “suspected of having organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, and is known to have participated in the November 2015 Paris attacks.”

Would a more aggressive investigation of Nemmouche have led to his operator and saved the lives of all those slain in the 11th arrondisement? It’s hard to tell for certain without access to the investigation’s files, but if you’re pondering the mindset of the Belgian authorities, consider the following statement by the country’s Justice Minister Koen Geens. The Paris attacks, Geens said a few days after the massacre there, proved that terrorists were now after different targets: “It’s no longer synagogues or the Jewish museums,” he said, “it’s mass gatherings and public places.”

You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to realize that a justice system headed by a man who doesn’t consider synagogue attendance as a gathering or Jewish museums as public places isn’t going to try especially hard to pursue justice when the victims are Jews.

As it happens, on my first trip to Europe, I visited the Jewish Museum Vienna. During my last trip, I went to an exhibit at the Institut du Monde Arabe. My very last museum visit was to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History. Most museums are public places meant for a wide variety of visitors, not only people with a genetic connection to the primary subject. Still, although I might see an attack on the Jewish museum as an attack on the general public, I’m afraid Leibowitz does have a point.

The next example he gives is the murder of Meir Kahane. Kahane was a hateful individual. He was convicted of domestic terrorism in incidents from the early seventies. He later moved to Israel and ran for office there. “Kahane was thus the first candidate in Israel to be barred from election for racism.” In 1990, he was in New York City to give a speech. After the speech, he was assassinated by El Sayyid Nosair.

Nosair, authorities soon learned, wasn’t working alone. He was part of a network run by Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the Blind Sheik. So great was the jury’s contempt for Kahane, that they acquitted Nosair of murder and convicted him only of assault and possession of an illegal firearm, a decision that the trial’s judge, Justice Alvin Schlesinger, lamented went “against the overwhelming weight of evidence and was devoid of common sense and logic.” Nosair’s legal defense was paid by a wealthy supporter of Abdel-Rahman, one Osama Bin Laden. Three years later, several of Abdel-Rahman’s other disciples were arrested for attempting to blow up the World Trade Center.

The case for antisemitism is harder to make in this incident because Kahane himself was so widely hated. However, there is a good argument to be made that murder and assassination should not be treated lightly simply because its target is someone you don’t like, or perhaps even hate. The perpetrator’s willingness to solve political arguments through violence may be far more indicative of his orientation than his choice of opponent.

Leibowitz then quotes current Secretary of State John Kerry regarding a highly disturbing statement he made after last month’s attacks in Paris. The longer quote, which I’ve taken from the Washington Post, is:

There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people. It was to attack everything that we do stand for. That’s not an exaggeration. It was to assault all sense of nationhood and nation-state and rule of law and decency, dignity, and just put fear into the community and say, “Here we are.”

Leibowitz describes Kerry’s logic as being that of “deluded men and women who are trying to organize a chaotic world into rational patterns.”

To that crowd, the murder of a Jew is deplorable but rarely surprising; real shock is expressed only when the very same terrorists, literally speaking, who have orchestrated the killing of Jews turn their guns on other Belgians or Parisians or New Yorkers.

To the many—in government, in the media, in academia—who still hold this morally repugnant worldview, to those who endanger the well-being of us all by failing to seriously investigate and prosecute attacks on Jews because these can somehow be explained away by some imaginary rationale, it’s time to say no more. Understand this: The very same people who are coming for the Jews will soon come for you, too.

Although, I agree with Leibowitz that we ignore the murders of Jews at our own peril, I don’t agree with his implication that the problem is random, “chaotic” or contains no “rational patterns.”

Going back to the Washington Post opinion piece in which I found the Kerry quote, Sonny Bunch

Even if you leave that aside, however, his comments reside somewhere between inane and idiotic. First off, the idea that these attacks were “absolutely indiscriminate” is foolishness: As Alyssa Rosenberg has noted, the targets — a sporting event, a concert, a series of restaurants — and the comments released by the Islamic State in the aftermath of the attack make it quite clear that the attack was very “discriminate.” It was an assault on culture, a stab at the heart of Western “prostitution and obscenity.”

However, I find the idea that this sort of attack is worse than the Charlie Hebdo attack on anything other than a numerical scale to be totally baffling. The Paris attack is, sadly, not that out of the ordinary as far as these things go: It strikes me as no more indiscriminate than the Madrid attacks or the London bombings. The Charlie Hebdo attack, on the other hand, was a rather chilling exercise in political power. It was an attack that was explicitly aimed at our freedoms: the freedom to express ourselves, the freedom of press, the freedom from the tyranny of medieval theocracy. It was an attack designed to silence, to intimidate.

I think here we get to the heart of the matter. We don’t want to acknowledge that the terrorists are opposed to Western liberal values and culture. We don’t want to face the fact that we may be targets. We think we can somehow buy our safety by selling out our neighbors.

Today I read an article by Douglas Murray in The Spectator which echoed thoughts I have had myself recently.

The other night my mother mentioned that she would be coming over. I said something about tidying up. She responded with “Don’t worry.” Quickly, she corrected herself. “As a social worker, I know you’re never supposed to say ‘Don’t worry.’” Indeed, saying don’t worry often makes people worry more. Then, I found myself explaining to my mother, who happens to hate Donald Trump, that some of his appeal is probably driven by just that dynamic.

It’s an idea that had crossed my mind sometime before, but has been at the forefront since the San Bernardino shooting. Although I would never turn to Trump for answers, every time someone on the left starts pooh-poohing the Islamic State or terrorism I feel like I want to jump up and down and start yelling, “What part of ‘We’re going to kill you,’ don’t you get?” I would much prefer to have liberal politicians who can be honest about the existence of a militant Islamist ideology deal with the matter in a measured way. However, if we can’t have a proper response, an over response is preferable to an under response. I wish our ruling class could recognize that the appeal of Donald Trump comes from desperation.

In “The left is to blame for the creation of Donald Trump” by Murray, starts by pointing out that “the great problem of our time does not have to be a partisan issue.” But, as he goes on to explain, “in response to the political left failing to identify the problem, the political right has started going off.”

“The American left has a huge problem in the form of a President who refuses to name Islamist terrorism or identify where it comes from. His likely successor, Hillary Clinton, has the same issue. Of course the word-play this leads to may be perfectly well-meaning…. But when you have 14 people being gunned down in America again apparently in the name of a specific extremist ideology, not identifying where it comes from becomes part of the problem, driving people on all sides mad with rage and making them wonder what else is being kept from them.

“Which brings us onto Donald Trump. Last night Donald Trump announced a new ‘policy’ idea which would be to stop any more Muslims going to America. He would even, it seems, prevent Muslim Americans who are currently out of the country on their holidays, from returning home. This is – it need hardly be said – a back of the envelope policy. And it has already had the desired effect. The social justice warriors who mistake Twitter for real life, have been busily signalling their utter outrage at Trump’s remarks. Journalists have seized the opportunity (which the New York Times and others have been trying all along) to insinuate that Trump is in fact the new Hitler. The reaction is as ill-tempered as the original comment. But we should know how we got here.”

He goes on to say:

“But what people seem slow to realise is that suppressing legitimate concerns and decent discussion inevitably leads to people addressing the same things indecently. We can thank the American left for the creation of Donald Trump and we can thank them for his comments last night. For years the left made the cost of entering this discussion too high, so too few people were left willing to discuss the finer points of immigration, asylum or counter-terrorism policy and eventually the only release valve for peoples’ legitimate concerns is someone saying – wrongly in my view – ‘keep them all out.’”

Large parts of the left will simply ignore this warning. They look at Donald Trump and say, “Americans are stupid,” seemingly unaware that this is more or less the same electorate that elected a Democratic president, a Democratic senate, and a Democratic house back in 2008. “Americans are stupid,” has always been a weak cop-out that flatters the self-importance of the speaker while excusing failure and justifying inaction. They never seem to ask exactly what is making Americans so “stupid.” (“They just are,” is not a good answer.)

In an interesting, related subject, the Spectator has another article about the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, a feminist who brought up the subject of Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women.

“Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen. The United Arab Emirates joined it. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Muslim-majority states, accused Sweden of failing to respect the world’s ‘rich and varied ethical standards’ — standards so rich and varied, apparently, they include the flogging of bloggers and encouragement of paedophiles. Meanwhile, the Gulf Co-operation Council condemned her ‘unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’….”

The writer, Nick Cohen, continues:

“It is a sign of how upside-down modern politics has become that one assumes that a politician who defends freedom of speech and women’s rights in the Arab world must be some kind of muscular liberal, or neocon, or perhaps a supporter of one of Scandinavia’s new populist right-wing parties whose commitment to human rights is merely a cover for anti-Muslim hatred. But Margot Wallström is that modern rarity: a left-wing politician who goes where her principles take her.”

At least in the United States, this is a very recent development, and one I find more than a little confusing and which puts me, as I said the other day, in the situation of feeling like I have no party, no side, no allies. I can’t truly be alone, but try as I might I see no one in the press expressing even a shadow of my ideas. Since I’ve never been on the margins, never a conspiracy theorist, this is a distinctly new feeling.

Cohen goes on to mention something interesting:

“Sweden is the world’s 12th largest arms exporter — quite an achievement for a country of just nine million people. Its exports to Saudi Arabia total $1.3 billion. Business leaders and civil servants are also aware that other Muslim-majority countries may follow Saudi Arabia’s lead. During the ‘cartoon crisis’ — a phrase I still can’t write without snorting with incredulity — Danish companies faced global attacks and the French supermarket chain Carrefour took Danish goods off the shelves to appease Muslim customers. A co-ordinated campaign by Muslim nations against Sweden is not a fanciful notion. There is talk that Sweden may lose its chance to gain a seat on the UN Security Council in 2017 because of Wallström.

“To put it as mildly as I can, the Swedish establishment has gone wild. Thirty chief executives signed a letter saying that breaking the arms trade agreement ‘would jeopardise Sweden’s reputation as a trade and co-operation partner’. No less a figure than His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf himself hauled Wallström in at the weekend to tell her that he wanted a compromise. Saudi Arabia has successfully turned criticism of its brutal version of Islam into an attack on all Muslims, regardless of whether they are Wahhabis or not, and Wallström and her colleagues are clearly unnerved by accusations of Islamophobia. The signs are that she will fold under the pressure, particularly when the rest of liberal Europe shows no interest in supporting her.”

This reminded me however of reports I heard earlier this year that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is encountering financial difficulties. The cynical side of me can’t help wondering how much money influences what our politicians see and say. The Clinton Foundation has received between 10 and 25 million dollars from the King of Saudi Arabia and the Sultan of Oman has given between 1 and 5 million. We do not know what President Obama will do as an ex-president, but former President Clinton has set a troubling example.

Before I say anything more, I should say that I am of fifty different minds regarding U.S. intervention in Syria. Following President Obama’s address on Sunday, someone on Reddit wrote:

Pretty damn reasonable assessment of the situation.
Continue a methodical approach to fighting terrorist’s evolving tactics.
Don’t get baited into a military blunder.
Don’t give in to the temptation to alienate all Muslims.
And we will win this battle.
That simple.

That anyone could think this is simple is scary in and of itself. Whether you oppose all intervention, support bombing but oppose troops, support arming Syrian forces who oppose both Assad and ISIS, are worried that there are insufficient Syrian forces to arm or that they can’t be trusted, support cooperating with Russia and Iran, or making a full commitment and going in with overwhelming force, I can’t give you much credence if you think it’s “simple.”

There are, as they say, no good options, only less bad ones, and most of the options look really bad to me and it’s hard for me to distinguish which one is less bad. Russia’s involved, Iran’s involved and Turkey is our nominal ally who’s acting like anything but. I tend to be naturally anti-interventionist, but at the same time, since we went into Iraq in 2002 and helped to destabilize the region, there seems to be something irresponsible, and frankly immoral, in the desire to just wash our hands of it, though, believe me, I desire that in no small way.

Here’s the good news. I’ve never before been so appreciative of the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the terror cell that staged the massacre in Paris on Friday the thirteenth, would be terrorists in the U.S. would have a much harder time going back and forth to Syria for training. Although I believe that ISIS has grand ambitions, after all, it’s already declared itself a “caliphate,” I don’t think it could really administer much territory without becoming internally unstable. Unlike some people on the left, I don’t believe that Western countries have become wealthy simply because they have stolen things from other people. I believe that our political institutions and economic system have contributed to our prosperity, and ironically made the West powerful enough to dominate nations in other areas and steal things from them. As China and other countries show, the systems in the West are not the only possibilities, yet there is nothing about ISIS that leads me to believe that they are capable of governing and administering a stable, prosperous state on the scale their grandiose ambitions require. So, while they have expansionist dreams, the U.S. is not in any danger. The same, however, cannot be said for regions that don’t have the luxury of the Atlantic. While I tend to believe that ISIS must eventually collapse under the weight of its own grandiosity, in the mean time they can do a lot of harm to many people.

A few days ago, I read a post called “Bombs alone are not enough, but we need to do something in Syria.” It brought up the “anti-war” movement.

Predictably, the “anti-war” movement mobilized, #DontBombSyria has been trending on Twitter for the past couple of days and ‘Stop The War’ organised a protest to oppose the potential British intervention in Syria with their lame chants and even lamer speakers such as Tariq Ali and George Galloway. The Ayatollahs of the regressive left. Just goes to show how much of a sham this “rally” was when they have someone like Galloway who has a track record in supporting tyrants and thugs like Saddam Hussein, Bashar Al-Assad, the Mullahs in Iran etc.

I was reminded of Dorothy Day. Some friends in my past had once been heavily involved in the Catholic Worker. For those of you who are not familiar with Day, she was a socialist who founded the Catholic Worker organization and whose name has been tossed around regarding possible sainthood. She was also known for her pacifism and spoke out strongly against U.S. intervention in the Second World War. I was searching for some information about that when I came across the website of a British pacifist organization:

The war meant the return of military conscription. Pacifists had campaigned against it, but when it came, the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors was set up to co-ordinate work on behalf of all objectors…. The 100 COs who went to work on farms in Jersey came under German control when the Islands were occupied; about half of them were later deported to civilian internment camps in Bavaria, where they played a lively part in camp life; some went outside to help local farmers grow food; some married local women and settled in Germany (pacifism has no frontiers).

There’s something about chipper British pacifists helping the German war effort that makes me a little ill. I could almost understand a regretful pacifist, someone who felt torn but who truly believed pacifism was a long and difficult, but ultimately the best, road for an enduring peace. I might think that person idealist to the point of not being in touch with the harsh realities of the world, but that person would not disgust me in the same way. The idea that British pacifists today, knowing what we now know about the horrors of Nazi Germany, could write with such a blithe tone shows me that the pacifist movement has no moral standing, that they show a callous, indeed depraved, indifference towards human suffering.

Everything we have this far heard about what is going on within the Islamic State leads me to believe that when the full knowledge of the atrocities they have committed come to light we will yet again wonder how we sat by and allowed it to happen.

I cannot make a firm case for going in with ground troops, however. The situation is too complicated with the competing interests of countries who are in closer proximity to the conflict prevents a simple solution, military or diplomatic. I cannot see, at this juncture, a reasonable goal, in other words, what sort of state would be there when we left. Still, those who resist further involvement or who advocate pulling out altogether, should not be so blinded by the shine the see on their halos that they cannot see the consequences of their inaction.

I’ve not been, in the past, particularly good at getting discussion threads going here. Probably I don’t have enough readers. Still, I was reading a book on neo-liberalism this evening and came across a quote from Adam Smith in the context of a discussion of where Milton Friedman’s ideas differed from those of Smith. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the context, the “New Deal” was a series of government programs in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s that used the public purse to alleviate economic misery.

But Smith was not thinking in terms of the twentieth-century New Deal state and its successes and failures, although he did go further than Friedman in his advocacy of public administrative action. He argued, for example, that government should take responsibility for education and infrastructure, something Friedman thought the market could operate through vouchers and competition between alternative providers. Smith’s conception of the moral individual, essential to his thought, Friedman avoided altogether. Smith was concerned that people’s “disposition to admire the rich and the great, and to despise or neglect persons of poor and man condition,” led to “the corruption of our moral sentiments.”

Smith’s best known work is The Wealth of Nations, but his other major work is The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which I have not yet read.

Earlier today, in a comment I put on the internet, I wrote, “I’d tell you the details but I’m trying to keep it short. Not my strong point.” To which someone replied, “You would tell us the details but you won’t. ok. Your response is a bunch of blah blah blah nonsense. You must live in CO and are evidently stoned as your babblings say nothing……” I took that as an invitation to elaborate, so I did. It was rather long and it occurred to me that I might as well make a post of it.

I grew up in a highly left of center environment. My own parents were very moderate, but many of my friends parents and my teachers were on the left. I went to a small liberal arts college of the sort conservatives make fun of. At that point, most of my political views were things that could be described as received ideas rather than ideas that I had developed on my own. Basically, I had been taught and believed the basic left wing view that I mentioned above about the oppressors and the oppressed. The best summary of this view I’ve read was in The New York Review of Books, it was a quote from Corey Robin:

Since the modern era began, men and women in subordinate positions have
marched against their superiors in the state, church, workplace, and
other hierarchical institutions. They have gathered under different
banners—the labor movement, feminism, abolition, socialism—and shouted
different slogans: freedom, equality, rights, democracy, revolution. In
virtually every instance, their superiors have resisted them, violently
and nonviolently, legally and illegally, overtly and covertly…. Despite
the very real differences between them, workers in a factory are like
secretaries in an office, peasants on a manor, slaves on a
plantation—even wives in a marriage—in that they live and labor in
conditions of unequal power.

The reviewer, Mark Lilla, calls it “history as WPA mural.” That’s a funny quip, but that’s the history I was taught.

The first chink in the armor came when I was reading an article about a West African immigrant in France who was arrested for mutilating his daughter’s genitals. Was the French government oppressing him because it was an evil colonial power trying to ban the practices of other cultures, or was the father a big bad patriarchal oppressor. The leftist view of the world didn’t give me the intellectual tools to understand this.

Well, that was in France and didn’t concern me, so I more or less forgot it, at least for a time.

Then, browsing in a bookstore, I picked up “The Wealth of Nations.” I can only describe it as revelatory. Most of my friends at that time were some flavor of socialist and the notion that capitalism was inherently evil was taken for granted. Still, I found Smith’s arguments very convincing and this kept me from ever advocating a socialist economy. Of course, that alone put me to the right end of the spectrum among my social cohort. I was far from alone there, but still I was at one end, especially when you consider about a year or two later I’d be hanging out in the East Village in New York with anarchists living in squats. (I never lived in a squat myself. I’m much to fond of hot and cold running water.)

Okay, so now I’m in my early twenties, hanging out with some far left radicals, I still sort of believe the “history as WPA mural”, but I don’t think a socialist economy will help alleviate economic injustices because full fledged socialism doesn’t work well.

Then we have a lot of racial tensions in New York. This is the era of “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” The rise of Al Sharpton. Tawana Brawley. Howard Beach. Bensonhurst. Crown Heights.

As these fights were raging, I was reading. David Hume. John Rawls. John Locke. Immanuel Kant. John Stuart Mill. There was no rhyme or reason, just curiosity. Then Crown Heights. That was the moment that my WPA mural came falling down.

The Crown Heights riots followed a series of incidents in a neighborhood that had a large number of African Americans and a large number of Hassidic Jews. A Jewish man ran over with his car, and killed, a young black boy. During the riots that followed, a young Jewish man was beaten, stabbed and died. Another man, mistaken for being Jewish, was shot and killed. A black friend who had grown up in Harlem came over to my place. I remember he was crying and said, “My people. Why are they doing this?” My response was, “They’re not your people. Just because you have the same skin color doesn’t mean they’re your people.”

Prior to this, I had struggled myself with my own ethnic identity. This moment for me confirmed a feeling I’d been having regarding myself for some time at that point, that the individual was ultimately more important than the group to which he or she belongs.

In many ways, I may have been constitutionally predisposed to embrace individualism being the sort of person who never quite fit in. I’ve often said that I identified with the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, always asking uncomfortable questions. Adults described me as having an “artistic temperament” which I understood was not a compliment. Furthermore, as my own ethnic identity was ambiguous, I had no natural “tribal” group. In situations in which people split up into ethnic groups I would often find myself standing alone. If I was lucky, I would find myself in a group of other people without larger groups, with the one Chinese kid in school, the Puerto Rican kid, the Afro-Caribbean, the Malaysian, the black kid adopted by white parents, and we’d have our own little group of people with no group. I solved this ethnic identity problem by concluding that there was only one race, the human race, and that race or ethnicity was mostly a curiosity and not necessary to an individual’s well being.

Until that night, that had been my own internal solution to my personal problem, but, that evening, with my friend up crying all night – it would get so late that he would wind up falling asleep on my living room floor – I began to realize the wider, one could say political, implications of what had previously been my own personal solution. Simply put, the individual was the most basic level of society. Groups could be broken down and divided into groups, but the person, the human being, was the indivisible unit of society.

I must apologize if my reasoning seems unsophisticated and naive. I was developing my ideas for my own personal use and not as a Ph.D. thesis. Indeed, I have never discussed them at this length. I have always wanted to study political science so that I could share ideas in a more coherent manner, but have not yet done so. I would say that my ideas about individualism owe most to John Stuart Mill. Of course, since Locke’s beliefs about individuals is the basis of our own system of government and echos of his ideas can be heard clearly in the Declaration of Independence, shadows of his ideas were certainly in my mind before I actually studied his ideas. I found Locke to be exceedingly congenial. That is not, I suppose, a good argument to defend his position against other, but I was only trying to make sense of the world for myself. The ideas of Locke that I liked concerned his emphasis on human rationality, on reason, on empiricism, the idea that legitimate government arises from the consent of the governed, the separation of church and state, and the limits of government.

Around this same time I read the Federalist Papers and began to appreciate more fully the liberal foundations of our own system of government.

Yet, the world had long since advanced from the time of the Enlightenment, many of those advances were depicted in the now degraded WPA mural. One of the great criticisms of liberalism from the left was its inability to address the very struggles depicted in the hypothetical mural. I had told my friend that he had did not belong to the same “people” as the rioters in Crown Heights. Today, Janet Napolitano would probably see that as a “microaggression.” In fact, it is a political statement and Janet Napolitano and I apparently subscribe to different political philosophies.

The word individual is derived from the word indivisible. By definition, a group can be divided, but an individual cannot. Groups do exist, but they are divisible and malleable. They are not inherent in ourselves, but are defined by our relationship to other people. So, what does it mean that my friend thought of blacks as “his people” and saw the people rioting in Crown Heights as belonging to that group. It is only tangentially related to skin color since he would not consider Australian Aborigines who may be equally as dark as “his people.” Meanwhile, “his people” would certainly include some very light skinned people. “His people” has its roots in a common history, people who were brought to North America and the Caribbean as forced labor, mostly from West Africa and mostly during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Ask anyone who has been called a “coconut” as a child and it is evident that group is easily divisible. The existence of the group is contingent on a particular set of circumstances. Their ancestors in West Africa probably did not see themselves as a unified group. When confronted with a shared difficulty like racial bias, it makes sense for the individuals to unite to combat that difficulty. Groups are not inherently negative, they can certainly have utility, but it is important to remember that they are contingent, malleable and divisible.

Liberalism is what provides the moral reasoning to oppose racism. Racial divisions are inherently collectivist ideas which consider the group to which a person is assigned to be defining and limiting characteristic of that individual. Those of us who are steeped in Western individualism are naturally horrified by the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, the Jewish man who was killed during the riots. We do not view it as justice to kill one person as a collective punishment for a group to which he belongs, nor do we see the group as being responsible for the actions of one member.

Furthermore, individualism is the only way different groups can cohabit the same polity with some reasonable degree of harmony. In a multi-ethnic society, without individualism, we would have a variation of Hobbes’ vision of each against all, although instead of being each person against all it would be each group against all other groups.

Individualism is the core of liberalism and comes with attendant freedoms. The most essential is the freedom of conscience, which leads directly to freedom of speech.

Another core component of liberalism is autonomy.

It’s getting late and I should wrap this up although it is far from adequate, then again, writing a political manifesto off the cuff is not something I am asked to do everyday.

Looking at the dates of the events I mentioned in the first part of this comment, I see that this process took a longer period of time than I realized, about a decade that spanned the period from my late teens to my late twenties. Soon, I married and moved to Canada. By that point, many of my ideas were well in place.

For most of my adult life, I was an independent, not registered with either political party. Around the year 2000, I felt, as many people do, politically powerless. I decided to register with a political party so I could participate more actively. The “culture wars” were picking up a head of steam at this time and the Republican Party was taking a huge lurch towards the right. In the past, I had voted for Democrats more frequently than Republicans, although I never saw myself as a party person and tried to evaluate each candidate individually. Still, aligning myself with the Democrats seemed like an easy decision. At that point in time there were still some people in the Democratic Party that called themselves conservative Democrats and I felt near the center of the Democratic Party.

Since that time, the Democrats have shed their more conservative members, which occurred a couple of election cycles ago. I didn’t particularly mind that much since I didn’t see it as an ideological issue at the time. Many of those conservative Democrats were accused of being more concerned about the well being of corporate donors than their constituents. However, that put me in a conservative position relative to the rest of the party.

Within the past year or two, however, the radicals have come to the forefront and some people who seemed to be liberals have revealed themselves to be steeped in radical ideology. Conservatives might not recall that at the beginning of President Obama’s tenure, attacks from within the party came principally from the left. The incident that comes to mind which most sums up that period is when Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs referred to critics as “the professional left.”

“The White House, constantly under fire from expected enemies on the right, has been frustrated by nightly attacks on cable news shows catering to the left, where Obama and top lieutenants like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have been excoriated for abandoning the public option in healthcare reform; for not moving faster to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay; and for failing, so far, to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military.” Source.

Perhaps I have not been paying attention, but I’m not entirely clear on what has occurred to prompt this leftward shift. Has Obama always been radical and just pretended to be more centrist in order to get elected and, now, no longer facing an election he can finally do what he wants? Have left wing activists, like Occupy Wall Street, pushed him to the left?

If it was only Obama, I would not be too worried. However, listening to the presumptive nominee, the entire Democratic Party seems to have taken a great big leap away from the liberal principals on which this country was founded to a more radical position, leaving me a person without a party.