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.

Venezuela, Trump, and Sanders

In response to a long-time work friend on the Bookface:

Venezuela is an interesting Ghost of Christmas Future for societies which do not make banishment of force against any individual (tautologically, the smallest minority you can create) its highest priority.

When, instead of protecting rights, government acts as the violator in the name of "equitable distribution of revenues", the government violations of individual rights will not likely stop at force against the rich and wealthy.

You are correct about the current president. He is a danger to us all. However, this may also have proven true of a President Bernie Sanders as well. That is the important idea to consider.

Neither the Democrats or the Republicans are principled about using force to protect rights rather than to violate them. Nor do they have clear principles about what is or is not a right. The will of the majority does not create natural laws.

Going back to your original thought... I will try to appreciate this day. It is easy for me to get there mentally because my parents left behind everything they owned to escape the Viet Cong and come here. And today I celebrate the life of my paternal grandfather. Much love.

Healthcare, Government Mandates, and Individual Freedom

Language choice lesson:  When you believe in the right of government to dictate to insurance companies what they MUST cover, you might also refer to it as government TAKING AWAY coverage when that mandate is removed.  (maximum hyperbole achieved... break out the torches and pitchforks)

But when you actually ask WHY the government has any business making mandates to insurance companies and you don't take it as a given... removing a mandate might be perceived as a movement from coercion toward freedom.

As an aside, it's interesting for me to ponder people who run startups but react favorably to government control of health insurance and medicine.  I think it's contradictory to do so.  Startups do well because they enjoy a large degree of freedom on HOW and WHAT they do.   And often they see no problem with DISRUPTING things like regulatory taxi cab franchises imposed by the government.

But, somehow medicine doesn't get the same treatment.  I mean it's life or death!  So questions like these don't automatically fall on the side of freedom:

  • Will government mandates will manage not to reduce innovation and investment? (blank out)
  • Don't insurance companies have a right to try to structure different business models that might change the entire industry? (blank out)
  • Wouldn't burdensome government regulation give advantages to larger businesses than smaller ones? (blank out)
  • Who the hell would want to start an insurance company given a trend of increasing regulation and decreasing freedom?  (Maybe the world just needs another social media app)
  • When costs get too high, how long will I have to wait for a procedure if I don't have political connections? (blank out)
  • When waits get too long, will I have to call my senator to get things moving along?

In the end, we still need to answer for Liberty.  Does it matter?  Do we still believe in it?  And if so, by what right do mandates like the ACA force us to pay penalties for our only real right: to get to decide for ourselves what we will and will not do.

A lot of people think of a guarantee of health care or basic income as a matter of kindness.  They think of it in terms of what kind of guarantees a prosperous society can provide.  But will society remain prosperous if we go about destroying the foundation of prosperity? What about freedom? 

Folks, I don't see it as a country that believes in freedom if the government can tell a person they MUST buy insurance or pay a few hundred dollars to the government for no reason.  

What will they tell us we must tomorrow?  I mean... all a government seems to need is the right justification, the right notion of duty which will get them 51% of the vote to support it.  And that's assuming a weak one.  

What could a guy who doesn't even give a shit about freedom like Vlad Putin require?  Because a guy like that can get elected.  (The people who use kindness as a motivation for instituting government control of medical care tend to assume benevolent government but that is neither a law of nature nor statistically probable)

Look... those of us who believe power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely, HAVE to ask this question: What happened to universal and inalienable rights?  Because everything I hear about these days sounds fucking alienable to me.

Government should begin with the premise of every person having fundamental rights to act according to their judgment in pursuit of their lives, barring violations of the same rights against others (force and fraud).  

In the age of pragmatism, these ideas are dated.  It's old-school to even believe in principles.  It's laughable to believe in absolutes.  Whatever... I am what I am and I have never been good at winning the popularity contest.  

My friends might be surprised to know that I'm with the Republicans that want to repeal the ACA entirely.  Frankly I don't even think that would go far enough.

My vision for better health care is a government retreat from regulation of it.  No mandates.  Less regulation and thus more new entrants and more stale model disruption.  New smaller organizations to organize and share the burden of medical risk (which is supposed to be the job of insurance companies).  No artificial state boundaries.  Delete tax deductions for health care insurance premiums for employers and make the playing field level for individual buyers.  Voluntary charities to help provide insurance to those in need.

Probably won't happen in my lifetime. 

Multiculturalism According to Hoyt: An Equivocation of Culture and Genetics

The afterword for The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein was written by an author named Sarah Hoyt. It is a really good essay premised on "Heinlein's idea that the individual was the source of the authority–and the money–of the government..." and makes me want to seek out her written works to see what they are like.

This passage from her afterword lays bare some of the confusion that exists in the way we tend muddle the concepts of culture and ancestry:

There are days when I get up in the morning and I take a look around and I think we have lost our civilizational confidence; that the West as the West is ripe for the taking. Part of it is that of course democracies are more likely to self-criticize. And part of it is the misguided–and poisonous–twin notions that a culture is genetic and therefore all cultures are equally valid. (i.e. to condemn any culture is to be guilty of racism, since culture is inborn.)

(If you don’t believe me on this, look at any school curriculum. Culture and ancestry are used interchangeably as they are in almost every conversation. I’m more acutely aware of this than most, since every stranger finds it incumbent upon him or herself to tell me that I must teach Portuguese to my American-born American-raised sons, or deprive them of their “culture”. I would accept the idea that it would be good for them to know the language spoken by half of their ancestors, but Portuguese has not now and has never been their “culture”.)

On the heels of these misguided notions follows the even more poisonous notion of ancestral guilt. That because our ancestors were “imperialists” or oppressed people in other parts of the world, we owe anyone who was ever oppressed–a fate that is bizarrely assumed never to have befallen any Caucasian population–the courtesy of rolling over and dying on command.

Culture is not genetics... it is an amalgam of practices. Any culture should be fair game for criticism since cultural practices can result in tragic violations of rights, wanton destruction, oppression, nihilistic hatred of the good, or mere waste. These deserve to be discussed and argued against.

If we can't talk about what's wrong about what we do, how can we hope to ever do better? The false coupling between culture and ancestry ought to be discarded along with the notion of ancestral guilt, which doesn't to anyone a lick of good.

What You Can Infer About Voters

In my social media feed there is a lot of shock and grief. And there is a lot of anguish about the narrow majority of Americans that elected Trump in spite of his outrageous behavior and pandering to bigotry.

To my friends of the liberal sort, their most important criteria was Trump’s blatant bigotry and they considered it important to vote for Hillary in order to vote against bigotry. Though a significant number were also truly enthusiastic about her “qualifications” for the office.

My friends of the conservative sort had many valid reasons for voting against Clinton. Handing a symbolic defeat of bigotry may not have been their most important criteria for voting. For some it was about gun rights. For some, the threat of more liberal activist supreme court justice nominees that would have been guaranteed under a Clinton regime. A large number on the conservative side were enthusiastic about him as well.

I think the idea of getting enthusiastic about someone running for president is ludicrous. Which person would I like to dilute and destroy individual rights this time?

I tend to vote based on who I think would be the best steward to protect the fundamental American rights to life, liberty, and property. In this election, neither candidate was good on fundamentals. Primary after primary, we choose candidates who do not even give lip service to these rights, but I don’t go so far as to say that a majority of voters repudiate these values.

I do think that individual rights are not given enough weight in the minds of voters because they don’t know how important they are to human thriving on Earth. They take these rights for granted… that so long as we have the vote, we can enact any government program and it won’t destroy these rights. It’s simply untrue.

All of that being said… It is not logically defensible to judge exactly what voters in this election repudiated just because you happened to declare that the election was about some specific priority. The individual is the unit of decision making power. Maybe they agreed. Clearly they didn’t. Everyone had to decide for themselves what was the most important thing to defeat and vote or not vote accordingly.

So what can we actually infer about voters based on the election results? They expect politics to be dirty. They expect the other side to lie and spin. They create their own social media echo chambers so they no longer have to hear offending opinions.

Do they reject social equality? Some do. And some reject the manner in which it is being exploited. But the election says nothing about this other than it wasn’t top priority.

Do they reject gender equality? Some do. But the election says nothing about this other than it wasn’t top priority. (Also, observe that it is every bit as sexist to vote for someone because they are female as it is to vote against them if it is one of your key criteria.)

Do they reject political correctness and multiculturalism? No question. And on this point, I believe they are right to do so. These are the biggest threats to free thinking and free speech. They cause self-censorship and foster no discussions on important topics. When you can no longer discuss things, people tend to resort to force because it is the only means left.

At some point, the elephant in the room must be dealt with. If you prefer non-violent means, you must discuss.

A presidential election campaign is not the place to have a discussion on what kind of society we wish to have. It fosters the worst kind of communication possible. Every message is guaranteed to get mangled and distorted by the opposition. What comes through is a mere caricature.

We cannot afford for elections to be the main expression of our hopes and values. Voting is just about the least important civic action as a citizen in a free democratic society. A final summation to all of your thought, action, and discussion.

The appropriate place for thoughtful discussion to begin is on our blogs. Here we can reason out our ideas for what is good and bad. Think things through. Support our positions thoroughly, eliminating fallacies and hyperbole through the process of editing.

We can read the arguments of others in good faith.
We can follow up with face-to-face chats.

We still have a republic that respects free speech. Let us use it.

If we do not exercise the right to speech in order to defend individual rights over and above all other government priorities, it may one day come to the point where freedom of speech is no longer respected by the government. And where you cannot speak, you must fight or escape.

Voting Pro

Rights ought to be simple to explain, fundamental to living as a human among other humans, and applicable equally to all persons. They ought to describe the things you don't have to seek permission to do and the things one may never do to another.

And neither of the major parties gives a damn about them if you look at their actions rather than their rhetoric.

The simple kinds of rights: life, liberty, property aren't sexy. No one talks about them much. They don't slice people into voting blocs that take to the streets. They are a subtle sort of thing you only notice when they are absent.

A rare event in American elections occurs whenever you choose to vote for a candidate because that candidate most closely represents your values. The "pro" vote. Most of the time we get convinced that defeating a candidate is more important than who gets into office.

But consider who benefits by getting people to think that every election balances the nation on a knife's edge. Consider who gains when you put principle aside, time after time, to deal with each threat of disaster. And, looking back from a point years in the future, consider what would we give to have voted our values all along.

We can choose the game we are playing. And if we do, we can honestly tell ourselves, "this is not a problem I will struggle with. I'm playing the long game. I'm voting 'pro'."


Gary Johnson Makes Pitch to Burned Sanders Supporters

Tyranny: "cruel and oppressive government or rule."


"cruel and oppressive government or rule."

The opposite of a "Live and Let Live" philosophy is one of tyranny. Tyrants rarely include "tyrant" in their self-conception. They think they are doing good by changing the world according to some ideal. But neither "the greater good" nor some idea of "the will of God" transforms tyranny into liberty. Oppression can never be individual freedom.

When we consider the maxim that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", we should remember that both of the justifications itemized above are often used to force others to behave in certain ways. Entire countries have become enslaved by regimes expounding these exact justifications.

Organized religion tends toward tyranny unless specific effort is made to banish it. (Incidentally, this is true of organized government). You can see the difference between the ones that make the effort and the ones that do not. Consider the stark difference of modern day Buddhism as compared to the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages.

Political Islam, also known as Islamism, makes no effort to banish tyranny. Neither does certain variants of American Christianity. They are the forward deployments of the forces of tyranny.

They deserve our rebuke and our material opposition. These are the enemies of liberty until they work to banish every vestige of Tyranny from their ethos.

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.

Islamism and Donald Trump: How to Shine a Turd -- From The Email Files

The following is from an e-mail I wrote this morning to a long-time friend of mine who was lamenting about the way Muslims are covered by media.  I find my friend very easy to talk to and the words flowed very easily so I thought I'd capture what I said on my blog.

I imagine your level of frustration is very high with the media.  As is mine.  I barely consume any news these days.  I scan headlines though so I can tell you that David Bowie and Alan Rickman died this week.  But that's about it.  
My tendency these days is toward long-form content by people who are intellectually honest, like the Dan Carlin episode I tweeted at you.  Yes, these people have a much smaller audience than Fox News, but their impact is much deeper I think.
As for the response to Muslims in the media, I agree that the response is utter hyperbole.  
I have to view Donald Trump as a symptom of the problem more than a prime mover of it.  Ayn Rand, for all of the ways you can disagree with her, once said that Politics is the last branch of philosophy and politicians are the people who "cash in" on the ideas that are already present in a society.  They don't as much move the ideas.
What is the root cause?
I have recently arrived at a conviction that people are hungry for an honest conversation about Islamism.  I have come to view Islamism as fundamentally no different than Communism or Fascism, all of which carry out actions to impose a totalitarian (all-or-nothing) political system upon others.  Some people are willing to carry out actions which harm others, and some are merely reformers with strong beliefs, and some are people who just "vote their conscience".
But there is one non-fundamental respect in which Islamism differs from Communism and Fascism.  People are worried about being racist or anti-religion if they criticize it.  And people definitely get smeared for valid criticism.  The result is that the level of intellectual honesty out there is low and the level bullying is fucking unbelievable.  (see also: http://www.jeremy-duns.com/findingannfields/ which makes the case and presents evidence that the account @xtc_uk seems to be a smear account run by some douchebag named @MoAnsar).
So the well-meaning and intelligent people like you and me tend to be largely silent about it until something big happens in the news.
The intellectually honest conversations about what happens to individual rights under islamist policy are hard to find.  Instead there is a lot of hot air.  On the right you have the real bigots and xenophobes making noises that indicate a general disregard for anyone's rights.  And on the left, you have the reverse racism of low expectations, which, ironically supports conservative views provided that they are part of some "authentic" culture.  (A view I acquired from Maajid Nawaz's argumentation).  These people all resort to smears and bullying.
It is this vacuum which makes it possible for a tool like Donald Trump to say stupid racist shit and to come out of it seeming more honest and shiny than the rest of the yahoos on stage.  It's only by contrast that this effect occurs.  When measured on an absolute scale, he's utterly inflammatory and will have no regard for our institutions if elected President.
You may have noticed that I am somewhat vocal lately myself on Islamism.  I hope that I am not making an ass of myself.  But I am trying to make a practice of talking about hard things and sharing along the intellectually honest bits of conversation.
I think conversations of cultural change within a community are hard to have even without pressure from the outside because identity issues come into play and there's always the question of whether you are abandoning something fundamental.  Well... There are people that simply don't want any debate to happen and some of them are the bullies I referred to who do their best to smear and shout down anyone who criticizes and calls for change.
I'm acting on this premise:  What if we could influence that just a little?  If non-muslims in the west could stop their part of the smearing and shouting down... perhaps the debate could ensue among Muslims, and the loud and influential regressives in Islam could see their influence diminished.  And that might be enough for me to feel just a bit better about the direction that the world is heading.
I got on a bit of a tear there.  Hope you found it interesting.