What is Needed is A Wholesale Rejection of Identity Politics

The last few days have been witness to disquieting noise representing two different aspects of the same unseeing groupthink: Identity Politics.

On one hand, you have the people on the left who only talk about America in terms of collectives and their victimhood or privilege. They hate American and openly declare it a country of sexism and racism.

On the other hand, in Charlottesville, the collectivists of the right held a gathering based on white identity, and also demonstrating their hatred of the principles of America by wishing government to favor their own identity in a white supremacist agenda.

What do these groups have in common?

  • They define an in-group and an out-group. And if you're in the out-group facts don't matter. There is no objective framework for innocent-until-proven-guilty. The only thing that matters is that you give anything that is remotely sympathetic to the out group.
  • They don't believe individual liberty. Both sides believe that the government has a right to enact force on some subset of the population justified by some collective.
  • They don't believe in personal responsibility. Not only can your actions result in your guilt, so can actions of other members of the designated out-group. For the most part there is no way out of the out-group, but you may get some leniency if you capitulate entirely and give up your rational convictions.
  • They have a callous disregard for fact as they use smear tactics to direct social harrasment against their detractors.

I'm not an Extremist and I don't like crowds... What can I do?

I don't think attending counter-protests is the answer. At best you make yourself an easy target for violence. At worse, you make the crowd of bigots look even bigger.

Rejecting Identity Politics

No... The first, most important, thing is to reject the identity politics game. We need to recognize that all of the intellectualizing from victimhood is an appeal to create government programs that treat different classes of people in different ways.

The bitter irony is that this both the collectivists of the left AND the right want this. They only differ in details based on their selected in-groups and out-groups.

We can stop talking about privilege. Among the subset of people willing to see, there is nothing more to learn. The most dishonest versions of privilege talk admonish people to apologize for shit they didn't do. Nearly all discussions of privilege are fuel for the white nationalists. First of all, White Nationalists don't care who thinks they need to apologize. Further, the intelligentsia of the left is guilty as hell of a bullshit moral shell game that amounts to whites bearing the revisionist sins of their ancestors which can never be absolved.

When you judge white people automatically racist no matter what they do, don't be surprised that they don't seem to notice or care that you're calling them racist. You've already proven that you have no objective criteria for this other than the color of their skin, which they can't help. They would be right to dismiss you for making senseless noise. (It's for this reason alone that I almost can't fault the white supremacists for beating the drums of collectivism. "Fight fire with fire" is one of the classic blunders.)

Getting Clear

Enough about other people... Back to what we can do. We can get clear. We want "Live and Let Live" based on "Individual Reponsibility" to be the primary moral criteria on which government enacts corrective force. If a person chooses by his/her own individual action to violate "Live and Let Live", only then should the law should have something to do.

Voting in Primaries

With that said, we as citizens need to vote in primaries. They are much more important than the general elections in regards to weeding out the crazy.

We must reject candidates who demonstrate identity/collective/race baiting tactics (whether democrat or republican). We want candidtes who believe in an Objective framework of law and of evidence. We want candidates who believe in a government blind to demographics rather than one that will act to favor any demographic.

Government, properly conceived.

The most important principle of keeping your government from comitting atrocities has been and shall ever be the recognition of the right of each person to their life, liberty, and property. Governments don't create rights, which are implicit in our nature as human beings. Governments, properly conceived, recognize rights and act to protect them.

I recently heard a podcast in which someone described the role of government as coming up with a framework where people who disagree violently can disagree without the violence. We can't fix everyone's bad ideas but we can keep the government focused on diminishing the impact of them when people decide to express themselves with action.

Sects and Violence

I want to talk today about what "Islam" means. I am not a muslim and I am a complete outsider. I see danger in some ideas associated with Islam and beauty in some of the ideas. I see people saying Islam is peace. And I see mobs and violence associated with it. And so I think it's long overdue to ask whether we are all referring to the same thing when we refer to "Islam".

From what I can see, Islam means peace to most Muslims I know. And to some Muslims, it means violence visited upon other people for various different reasons: some political, some moral, always opportunistic, and always justified by some grandiose vision (a story). And the latter part is a bit sticky since the spectacle and tragedy creates a more vivid impression in the mind than the many Muslim neighbors we know and work with.

Let's Talk About Sects, Baby

Let me tell you about a trick of the human mind. It is a tendency for non-Muslims to think about Islam as one enormous monolith with complete homogeneity of belief and action. But Muslims are 1.6 Billion+ in number. And the idea of one great Islam doesn't withstand scrutiny.

Every religious or philosophical movement has within it a manifold of sects. People just can't seem to agree on things. Take any belief system and you can break it down to subgroups based on the disagreements.

To provide specific examples, I have collected here an accounting of the major religions I could think of and their sub-sects scraped from Wikipedia:

  • Chrisitanity: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical,...
  • Judaism: Rabinnic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Humanistic,...
  • Hinduism: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism, Smartism,...
  • Buddhism: Therevada, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Zen,...

And as for Islam? Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Salafi, Wahhabi,...

There are no incidents of complete uniform belief within any belief system. Humans are messy, sloppy creatures subject to entropy. Our brains are meat-machines driven by huge variations in chemistry. Fuzzy logic? check. Non-logical leaps? check. Context-dropping? check. Mistakes of thinking? check. Hormone-driven teenagers? check.

You know why clear thinking is beautiful when you hear it? Because it is rare. Reason is slow and requires discipline and it is always impressive to hear an idea that is simple and clear and true.

Aside: Beware of Mob Think

There is a sort of situation worth mentioning where uniformity does arise... where an idea can become so loud that it drowns out other ideas. When human beings are in a mob driven by fear and anger whipped into a frenzy, we have shown ourselves to be capable of frighteningly uniform non-thinking. The Rwandan genocide comes to mind. Nazi Germany comes to mind.

People are capable of their ugliest actions when they blindly react rather than stepping back and thinking about things rationally, and acting accordingly. And, in the case of Rwanda and Nazi Germany, both resulted in the creation of cultures that slaughtered unimaginable numbers.

Labels Fail Us

Back to the main point. The labels: Islam. Muslim.

There is a visual that Sam Harris mentioned in his chat with Neil Tyson about what a Christian imagines when they find out that a person can be painted with the term "Atheist":

they think they know a lot about you based on your admission that you are an atheist... It's almost like you're in a debate with someone and they draw the police crime scene outline of a dead body on the sidewalk and you just walk up and lie down in it... that you just conform perfectly to their expectations of how clueless you must be of their context.

Don't we do this with "Islam"... just a little? We imagine Islam as one thing. We imagine Muslims as one people who conform perfectly to some expectation.

The labels fail Muslims and the labels fail non-Muslims alike. The labels expose non-Muslims to the mistake of thinking in "Us vs. Them" terms with Muslims as the other. And the labels expose Muslims to taking a defensive posture where "We are under attack" by an unjust world who will not accept them. The labels expose Muslims to having their fear and frustrations manipulated.

But these are just stories and they are divisive ones. These are the ones that deliver us into the hands of Neo-fascists. And we don't want those hands anywhere near us so it's time to abandon these stories, which divide us.


Beyond Us Vs. Them

We need some new narratives to give us hope and something to strive for.

Instead of Us vs. Them... What if we just thought of this whole mess as a bunch of people with a bunch of mixed-up ideas and some of them are poison?

Rather than considering Islam as one set of ideas interpretable only one way, we can remember that ideas are subject to fashion trends. They are subject to trending upward or downward at any given point in time.

Here are ideas I would love to see trend upward:

  • Non-Muslims reflect and realize that Muslims are our neighbors and friends and co-workers. Most of them want to live their lives and raise their families. We act accordingly. We love our neighbors.
  • The world notices that Muslims have their versions of Goebbels and Hitler. And the world will need to put these tyrants down in exactly the same way: total war ending in unconditional surrender. This is the only way to defeat evil that has decided to wage war: Force met with overwhelming force.
  • Muslims embrace freedom of speech and dissent by all, especially other Muslims, and Non-Muslims unilaterally choose to stop disrespecting Muhammad because it's nearly always a gimmicky cheap shot that is not doing anybody any good.
  • Muslims come out in support of liberal values. We will support and encourage these people because they have right on their side. Further, we work to encourage the conservatives among Muslims to respect the rights of all human beings alike (male, female, gay, straight), just as we do with non-Muslim conservatives. Live and let live becomes the universal norm.
  • "Islam means peace" becomes a statement of intention... a movement and a mantra owned by Muslims: they are defiant, vocal, and visible movement of the majority.
  • Secularism: All people of all religions work to keep their religions separate from the state. There are no state religions. Just respect and protection of rights for all beliefs and creeds.

The only way we can do this is to see the bigger "Us". We, as humans, need to see Universal principles describing fundamental rights. In other words: the conditions under which we are able to live with one another.

We don't need to be innovators who must define fundamental rights for the first time. We have the shoulders of giants to stand on. But as I said, ideas are subject to fashion and we do have to keep these ideas trending upward. It's constant upkeep... yes. There is no magic bullet to make humans respect rights for all time.

But it's good work if you can get it. And as always... Discipline Equals Freedom.

An Article About Interview Dysfunction, The Myth of The Next Job, and Choosing Yourself

Interview Dysfunction

This morning I read interesting article about dysfunction in software developer interview practices via Pointer.io. I haven't actually been asked to do silly whiteboarding during interviews. But I have a friend who has definitely has had some bad experiences with this.

I have had experiences that have made me suspicious of any "famous" (household name) company. Though I am open to being surprised.

The article laments the lack of clear reasons for rejection. But the act of rejecting someone is one of those prototypical situations where being honest is difficult and rare. People struggle with honesty in rejection because it often conflicts directly with the confines of their self-conception. (I often refer to this as "identity issues").

If you can expect bad data even if you are given a reason for rejection, best to ignore it. Better to work on no data than bad data.

The Myth of the Next Job

If you've been working for a place for nearly a decade, a job change may be the right thing for you. But if not, it is worth taking a step back and considering whether a lateral move to a similar job at another outfit is actually going to fix anything for you.

It's not likely that the next job is the answer... whatever the question. It may not be the meaningful work you seek. It may not be your perfect opportunity for growth. And these may be available to you right now in ways that you are not seeing because you already have a story that these are not available where you are.

Choosing Yourself

Or it may be that the things you seek are not available in a job. It may be that instead of waiting to be chosen to do something, you have to choose yourself and just start doing it, no matter whether you get paid or not, because it's worth doing. And choosing yourself is a scary thing. But it may be the only way to get from here to meaningful work.

These are ideas cribbed directly from Seth Godin. If you want to light a fire under yourself check out his talk on Thinking Backwards.


Link: F* You, I Quit — Hiring Is Broken