Giving something away for free is not a sign of it having value

By Lorenzo

The progressivist push against citizenship took another big leap forward with the British Labour Party decision committing the Party to giving the vote in general elections to all UK residents. As things reveal their nature (and importance) in their history, a quick trip through citizenship’s backstory helps to see what is going on.

Origins and decline

Citizenship originally dates back to the city-states of Ancient Greece. The basic idea was that if you took the risks and effort of fighting for your city, you got a say in the politics of your city-state, your polis. Political citizenship was therefore male, but legal and social citizenship extended to all members of citizen families. 

Eventually, one citizenship-polity, Rome, managed to work out how to scale-up citizenship and, coupled with a very effective military system, conquered the entire Mediterranean littoral. Civil war then culminated in replacing the Republic with the Empire. The Republic itself being conquered from within by the march of Roman imperialism.



Roman Emperors did not need people to vote for them, and had a (relatively) small professional army, so the link between taking risks for your polity and getting a say steadily weakened. The offer of Roman citizenship could entice outsiders into serving in the legions, and cities were still largely self-governing. But the trend was against any strong notion of citizenship.

Eventually, citizenship was universalised in 212 by the Constitutio Antoniniana to all freeborn folk in the Empire. This is usually written up as a noble act, but it expressed what limited value citizenship had by then. The division between honestiores (respectables) and humiliores (lessers) had already developed, indicating how citizenship itself had lost status.

Rather predictably, even citizenship’s one remaining status claim within the Empire (a citizen was a free person) declined with the development of coloni, who became tied to their states, so a type of serf. 

Revival

The revival of citizenship in medieval cities also had an implication of readiness to fight for your city, helping to create tough urban militias which were a feature of medieval and early modern Europe. The later, post-American and -French Revolutions, revival of citizenship also had some flavour of fighting for your country (hence the infamous Second Amendment). 

But citizenship became more tied to being who the state was committed to defend and to serve. The term “to protect and to serve” invokes protecting and serving a community of citizens. The ultimate expression of citizenship became having the vote. But it had already been connected to all sorts of other freedoms. Indeed, it had those connections before the vote. One could easily be “a free born Briton” but not have the vote. (This applied especially to women, of course.)

As is so often the case, the UK had somewhat particular history, in this case with the notion of a British subject, but that became trumped by citizenship.

The structure of citizenship flowed from all of this. You got it from being born in the country, because that established you had lots of links and connections and so could be reasonably presumed to have strong attachments within the society that the state was supposed to be serving. You could become a citizen, but only by long enough residence that you could be reasonably presumed to have built up such attachments. Continued residence was a strong signal of commitment. You were committing to the society that the state was supposed to be serving. Some states insisted on unitary citizenship, others permitted dual attachment.

Social bargaining

The history of the spread of the suffrage, of the right to vote, throughout Western societies is the history of the expansion of the ability to participate in social bargaining about the policy and laws of the state. That votes determined who held office at the peak of the state (apart from any monarch) made votes matter. Hence the importance of voting mechanisms and electoral systems. For these affect how much voter concerns have had to be paid attention to, that being what makes voting “real”. The legitimacy element involved in the practical and expressed consent of the people is a consequence of the power it gives to participate in social bargaining in this way, it is not a driver of the significance of voting.

After all, totalitarian states hold elections. But they are mere rituals of dominance, forcing mass participation in rituals of legitimacy. It is the ability to vote in and out people who make decisions that matter that gives the vote its power. Provided, that is, there is some genuine bargaining element involved, which requires that there be genuine alternatives, both offered in the public space and adhered to by serious competitors for office. In particular, that voters have the capacity to articulate their concerns, and have them heard.

This is why the old centre-left, back in the days when they overwhelmingly represented (and their candidates and activists often came from) people of low income, assets and education, were stalwarts of democracy. The vote was by far the most important social lever that their voters had. It is also why such voters now dominate (pdf) the increasing proportion of non-voters in societies with voluntary voting: an increasing, and largely accurate sense, that the political class is indifferent, or even hostile, to their concerns.

Undermining citizenship

For things have changed profoundly for progressive politics. Modern progressivism has been mounting a multi-level attack on citizenship. This is because, as French economist Thomas Piketty has documented in his revelatory paper Brahmin Left v Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017) (pdf), left-of-centre politics has become dominated by a human capital (i.e. educated) elite. And the way an educated elite turns its human capital into a position of social dominance is by controlling public language within the society; by setting the limits on who can express what, when and how, on whose concerns will be deemed legitimate or not. By controlling what is to be legitimate for any social bargaining to be about, thereby determining what social bargaining (if any) will be permitted. Eric Weinstein’s Four Quadrant model provides a useful heuristic.

In other words, social dominance is achieved by controlling the Overton window and by undermining any area of social bargaining it cannot dominate and control. Piketty’s use of the term Brahmin Left is inspired because being secular Brahmins, the folk imposing rules and taboos, is an excellent description of what they are increasingly about. (How Left they are is another question, hence I will refer to them as Brahmin progressives.) 

Any strong concept of citizenship gets in the way of this strategy of social dominance. Moreover, it does so comprehensively. 

For instance, the notion “I am entitled to say that, I am a citizen” has to go. Hence the enthusiastic adoption of the Stalinist concept of hate speech. “Hate speech” is a conceptual and rhetorical device used by Brahmin progressives seeking to gain control over who can say what. Thus the use of terms of reputational aggression (“racist”, “homophobe”, “misogynist”, “islamophobe”, “transphobe” etc) to police speech and destroy reputations. It sets up the mechanisms for dominating public discourse by controlling legitimacy. As does, of course, calling lots of people fascist or nazi

The ostentatious and intense moralising Brahmin (i.e. diversity) progressives engage in is ideal for this strategy of social dominance. First, because morality is trumps; to say something is moral is to say it is what you should do. So, intense and ostentatious moralising mobilises that trumping value of morality for the strategy of social dominance. Second, because it hides from themselves and others what they are about. They are, of course, not trying to impose their own social dominance, they are just being moral, they are just doing the right thing. This is a classic example of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s point that morality blinds and binds.

It is important to understand the selection processes here. People seek to economise on information, minimise reputation risk and maximise status. A set of received opinions which denote being a good, even morally superior, person does all this. But it only works if the opinions being used as moralised markers of status generate moral prestige, and they only do that if dissent is morally retrograde. Indeed, the more morally reprehensible dissent is, the greater the moral prestige. Hence the “pile-ons”: people are protecting their investment in moral prestige.

Once these mechanisms are in play, then a structure to generate and enforce social dominance has evolved. One, moreover that both gains strength the more organisations and institutions it dominates and also fosters colonising said organisations and institutions. (Inconveniently principled believers get in the way, as they elevate some other consideration above the prestige-and-dominance game: see the current use of trans activism and the war on biology-affirming feminists.)

The power and status implied in citizen-as-voter gets in the way of this sought social dominance. So the vote becomes hemmed in by judicial power, by an expanding administrative state, by supranational authorities. All increasingly run by people like them, according to their attitudes and serving their social dominance. The Brahmin progressives are, therefore, overwhelming pro-EU because it is such an excellent vehicle for all that. (The old working class Left was always much less keen, as is still true of their remnants.)

The vicious and continuing attacks on the 52% of voters participating in the UK’s 2016 referendum who voted Leave is all about Brahmin progressivism–what UK writer Ben Cobley called the system of diversity in his very useful book The Tribe: The Liberal-Left and the System of Diversity–seeking to re-establish their control over the public discourse and keep the UK tied to supranationalism, hemming in the power of voting and the status of citizenship. No revolts are allowed. Especially not revolts that celebrate and elevate citizenship. 

Considering citizenship in terms of the history of its role and functions is the only way to understand the implications of undermining or eliminating it. That way, any trade-offs with various moral principles can be understood in context. If, however, one simply ignores the purpose, and consequent structure, of citizenship then those trade-off considerations are eliminated, so any infringement of some declared moral principle becomes a simple infringement of morality or consistency, and so illegitimate. It becomes easy to make “knock down” criticisms of citizenship (as is done, for example, here [pdf]).

But, of course, for Brahmin progressivism, it is precisely those purpose and functions which are the problems. Even more, that their moral lessers (those xenophobic, race-cursed, heteronormative, insufficiently educated modern humiliores) become people who politics should be about and the state should be in service of. For, whatever else Brahmin progressivism, or diversity progressivism is, it is urgently concerned with elevating the status of the Brahmin progressives, with boosting their sense of moral prestige against, and their social dominance over their fellow citizens.

That term

The attempt to control the public space by controlling what is deemed legitimate to discuss, and how it is deemed legitimate to discuss it, brings us to that fraught term political correctness. In particular the two uses that essayist William Deresiewicz discusses in his essay, “On Political Correctness: Power, class, and the new campus religion”.

There is political correctness-as-verbal-civility:

the expectation of adherence to the norms of basic decency, like refraining from derogatory epithets.

This is the cover usage, the one that those who wish to dismiss any concern over political correctness invoke. What Deresiewicz is concerned with is:

the persistent attempt to suppress the expression of unwelcome beliefs and ideas.

The longstanding campaign to undermine any use of the term political correctness is all about hiding that attempt to suppress behind a fog of morality. Though, more recently, with the term free speech itself becoming an object of criticism, of diminution, held to be a block to progressivism, even treated with punitive derision, there is rather less hiding, and even more puffed up moralising.

Deresiewicz is well aware of, and invokes, the history of the term political correctness:

The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

People suddenly finding they are catastrophically on the wrong side of a norm that they did not know existed, or did not know would be applied in that way, has become almost commonplace. The world of Young Adult fiction has recently provided several examples, but they are just instances of a much wider trend.

Cultural Stalinism

Brahmin, or diversity, progressivism, can be reasonably described as operating as cultural Stalinism. Not because it is inherently Marxist, though there are certainly some Marxist antecedents. The term cultural Marxism is way over used, given that most folk involved are not Marxists, are not aware of how much of the ideas they are using or actively or passively endorsing have Marxist origins and that genuine Marxists are often quite hostile to contemporary diversity politics. Not surprising, as actual Marxists are Enlightenment universalists, and identity politics/diversity progressivism’s creation of a series of sanctified, versus various tainted or demonised, identities based on what are often innate characteristics involves a clear rejection of Enlightenment universalism.

The point is not that Stalinism was a manifestation of Marxism, but that it was a strategy of political action and dominance. In particular, it was the attempt to apply Leninthink to operating in liberal democratic societies. Consider the characteristics that Brahmin/diversity progressivism and Stalinism have in common.

(1) Endorsing and using the concept hate speech. As noted above, it is a Stalinist concept used to arrogate to Brahmin progressives the right to decide who can speak, how and about what.

(2) Use of the terms fascist and nazi as a standard term of rhetorical abuse. Fascism was an early C20th ideology characterised by expect rejection of democracy, belief in the purifying effect of violence, extolling of military virtues and organisation that sought to attain and impose complete national unity of purpose. With a few exceptions, such as the Golden Dawn in Greece, fascism is nothing but a reviled fringe in Western politics. Which is why movements that have fascist antecedents have had to work to shed them. (Even the Golden Dawn denies being fascist, though it fairly clearly is.)

The use of fascist and nazi as standardised terms of rhetorical abuse against people who simply are not fascists, or versions of fascists, shrieks of the ambition to control public discourse, to determine who is, and who is not, a legitimate participant in the public space. It is also a classic characteristic of Stalinism (for, of course, the same reason).

(3) Internationalist. The denigration of ethno-cultural identities, the contempt for nationalism, the sense of belonging to a transnational elite practising transnational politics, is bog-standard Brahmin/diversity progressivism, hence the use of the term globalist by opponents. Also a classic characteristic of Stalinism.

(4) Know, and are working with, the proper direction of history. An obvious feature of Brahmin/diversity progressivism; all that talk of where the arc of history bends and being on the right side of history and how their opponents are against modernity. Also a classic characteristic of Stalinism.

(5) Dogmatic. The Brahmin/diversity progressives are a highly opinion conformist group. The dogmas may keep shifting, but that Brahmin/diversity progressivism is dogmatic, at times viciously so, is an obvious feature of it. Also a classic characteristic of Stalinism, including there being precipitous shifts in dogma.

(6) Unlimited in social ambit. There is no part of one’s life that the strictures of Brahmin/diversity progressivism do not reach, because they want to impose their norms and taboos on all language everywhere. There is no such thing as exempt private speech or exempt social action. Again, a classic characteristic of Stalinism.

(7) Unlimited in action. Any level of destruction of people’s lives–sacking, destroying their business, career, livelihood–will be engaged in. Maximising reputational risk is a great way to enforce conformity. 

The major existing limit at the moment is actual violence, except that Antifa is breaking down that limit. But, again, this is replicating Stalinism in the West, which also had limitations on its ability to use violence. Except that Brahmin/diversity progressivism has penetrated Western institutions far more thoroughly than Stalinism ever did, so can range much more widely in the destruction of people’s careers, reputations, public standing …

(8) The inconvenience of principled believers. Even the split with serious Marxists replicates Stalinism, because as Gary Saul Morson points out in his Leninthink essay, serious believers in Marxist ideology were targeted under Stalinism, as they might hold the leadership to account according to Marxist principles. Contemporary Marxists who think that concern for the working class is a bedrock of being on the Left are definitely not what is wanted within Brahmin progressivism. Sneering at, and lauding over, the citizen working class is so much of the point of Brahmin progressivism, whose politics reek of contempt for their fellow citizens. Which is epitomised by stripping of them of status of citizens, and giving them no status markers that sets them over the romanticised newcomers, newcomers treated as economic saviours with lots of desirable traits (e.g. initiative) and no taint of the oh-so-awful Western past.

A salient example of this “true believers not wanted” phenomena is the anathematising of biology-affirming feminists such as Germaine Greer and various radical feminists (the infamous TERFs). The whole trans madness being Brahmin progressivism displaying its social dominance. It both selects for reliability (who breaks ranks?) and expresses dominance (how much can we force people to acquiesce in things they do not believe?).

There is so much overlap between Stalinism in the West and Brahmin/diversity progressivism (far more than there is between fascism and almost anyone currently being accused of it) that Brahmin/diversity progressives are clearly practising what can be reasonably described as cultural Stalinism.

Nor is this overlap surprising. Both Brahmin/diversity progressivism and Stalinism are about a human capital elite striving for social dominance in mass communications and mass politics societies. It is hardly surprising that the new wave of such would adopt the most apposite available strategy they can pick up. Even more so, as similar aims and constraints lead to similar selection pressures.

The convergences between Stalinism and Brahmin/diversity progressivism really are no accident. A process of both adoption of available strategies and of convergent evolution is in play.

Divide and rule

The level of institutional penetration is such that we can reasonably talk of a diversity imperium, and any imperium knows the importance of divide-and-rule. Which brings us to multiculturalism. Or, as political scientist Eric Kaufman nicely expresses it, asymmetric multiculturalism, which elevates (and, indeed, romanticises) the cultures of newcomers while ignoring or denigrating the culture of the heritage citizens. Thus, a Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or Hindu festival is “multicultural”. A Christian event is not. One cannot say that London is no longer an English city, because there is no English identity except living in England.

In his excellent The Road to Somewhere, David Goodhart makes the observation concerning multiculturalism that:

But by cordoning off minorities in their own districts with their own leaders and social centres and often making their progress dependent on white advocacy, white liberals were merely continuing the colonial heritage with a smiley face pasted on. (P.167)

Indeed. Citing Goodhart’s previous book, The British Dream, Ben Cobley, in The Tribe, notes that:

The figure of the colonial administrator, presiding over, accepting representations from and giving favours to various different groups under his purview, has a lot in common with contemporary administration of multiculturalism and diversity. For a start it is an elite role; it oversees and directs its politics through group or tribal leaders, giving them access to higher power. It also stands apart, not interfering with the representatives’ relationships to their group members, thereby outsourcing power over what is good and bad within those groups and conferring political power on to the representatives it favours. As the first waves of mass immigration came in from former Empire countries, colonial-style multiculturalism effectively allowed Britain’s governing elites to pick up where they had left off in the Empire—slipping into old ways that were familiar to both administrators and many of the immigrants themselves. Goodhart says that ‘in the 1960s this translated easily into the cosmopolitan manners of a new liberal elite too—allegiance was now to tolerance and openness instead of the monarch, to England’s “genius” for multiculturalism.’ He adds: ‘The core members of this new elite, according to [the sociologist] Geoff Dench, were “policy-makers and the public servants responsible for carrying out social policy but it extends widely into the educational establishment and liberal professions… and their role is to stand impartially above and integrate different elements of the population.” This is what both imperial and multicultural elites do. (Loc 1087.)

Quite so. Imperial systems are naturally multicultural: it maximises the number of their subjects while dividing them from each other. One certainly can’t have some strong notion of citizenship bringing them together.

Importing people of a different cultural background to improve the local economy was a standard device of colonialism. Academics have had no trouble identifying it as a divide-and-rule technique. Except, of course, when it is people like them doing so to serve an imperial cause they support.

Resentment and condescension 

It is not as if the general public, the general citizenry, have not noticed. When asked in polls, huge numbers define pc as a problem. Across all ages and races. Of course they do, attacking their ability to express themselves about matters social and political assaults the bedrock of their citizenship quite directly. 

Citizenship defends the status of the somewheres (those rooted in a sense of place and community) against the endless vote-trumping social imperialism of the Brahmin progressives, acting as the vanguard of the anywheres (those not so rooted). Citizenship, and its implications, gets in the way of the mobility and status claims of the anywheres. 

And they are typically mightily offended by any notion of serving their moral lessers. In his The Road To Somewhere, David Goodhart cites some revealing conversations:

The first conversation took place at an Oxford college dinner in Spring 2011. When I said to my neighbour—Gus O’Donnell, then in his last few months as Cabinet Secretary, the most senior civil servant in the land—that I was writing a book about immigration, he replied, ‘When I was at the Treasury I argued for the most open door possible to immigration … I think it’s my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.’ I was surprised to hear this from the head of such a national institution and asked the man sitting next to the civil servant, Mark Thompson—then Director-General of the BBC—whether he believed global welfare should be put before national welfare, if the two should conflict. He defended O’Donnell and said he too believed global welfare was paramount. (Pp14-15)

The global welfare they see themselves as serving being what looks like global welfare to people like them. Which, strangely, will tend to reflect the perspectives of people like them. Global welfare is grand enough for such moral paragons, while serving their fellow British citizens is clearly not. Even better, taking such a lofty view also releases them from any constraints the concerns or actions of said citizens involve that they deem incompatible with said global welfare.

In their combination of moral arrogance and feckless irresponsibility, the above-quoted sentiments are perfect Brahmin progressivism. The globe does not give feedback, but the voters do. But that feedback can always be ignored in the name of the greater global good. They are both morally ennobled, and freed from burdensome responsibility, all at once.

Brahmin/diversity progressives just know the direction of history. They own morality. They collectively possess the power to punish any public dissent. Even what the migrants, those romanticised outsiders they are so solicitous of, might want does not matter. Just ask Israel Folau. So, there is “nothing to see here” when it comes to migrant attitudes and outlooks. Besides, those migrants can be expected to (mostly) vote the correct way.

The Brahmin/diversity progressives replacement for citizenship, for voting that matters, for the social bargaining that is the very stuff of democratic politics, is their own moral dominion; their right to decide what people are permitted to say and what concerns they are permitted to express and how. So, it does not matter how socially conservative the romanticised newcomers are or may be, the Brahmin diversity dominion, the diversity moral imperium, will control all.

No matter how many newcomers turn up. Even if one has created a massive extra incentive to just turn up:  as if enough of you do, you get to dominate the political system. An effect that obviously depends on what level of filter there is for simply arriving: open borders says none at all, except the willingness and ability to travel.

As economist George Borjas says:

Our immigration policy—any immigration policy—is ultimately not just a statement about how much we care about immigrants, but how much we care about one particular group of natives over another.

Yes, and the statement is being made loud and clear.

Devaluing their inferiors

It is entirely appropriate that the decision of the British Labour Party to hand out the right to vote as a reward for getting off the plane was matched by a commitment to open borders. Migration is a key element in the future direction of any society, and Brahmin progressivism has been fighting a long battle to remove migration from the ambit of social bargaining. An open and complete commitment to open borders (any opposition to which is, of course, “racist” and “xenophobic”) just cements that removal.

After all, our new Brahmins are far too morally lofty to be dictated to by mere shudras. Citizenship implies that politics is about serving their moral inferiors. Clearly, it has to go. And for it to go is clearly the plan. The British Labour Party conference has told us so.

Handing out the vote merely because you have arrived while putting no barriers to arrival does not represent the peak of democracy, it represents the trumping of it. It does not represent the apotheosis of broad social bargaining, but its effective elimination, its reduction to whatever minimal ritual form suits Brahmin/diversity progressives. The British Labour Party wants to bury citizenship, to empty it of status and content, and in so doing bury any chance of the citizen working class having a serious say in its future. 

Whatever that is, it doesn’t look very Left. Not in any sense that Keir Hardie, the first Labour Leader, and those who built the Labour movement, might recognise. 

 

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

The urban rural divide in the US and other complexities of polarisation

By Lorenzo

Former libertarian, now progressive, Will Wilkinson has a report up on the rural urban divide in US politics (pdf), connecting the concentration of economic production in a service economy in megacities, sorting by migration and internal movement, and cognitive patterns (particularly pertaining to Openness to Experience and, to a lesser degree, Conscientiousness) to the drift in the US to being a collection of one-Party jurisdictions largely sorted by population density.

Econblogger Arnold Kling raises some reasonable quibbles about Wilkinson’s analysis referring to Colin Woodard’s American Nations analysis and the divide between college-educated women and non-college educated men. Kling also makes a powerful point about cultural dynamics:

But I would point out that the government office buildings in our nation’s capital house technocrats who almost all share an urban progressive outlook. Inside those agencies, the urban majority is closer to tyranny than to impotence.

Indeed, as discussed below, Wilkinson gets a key aspect of the cultural dynamics of political polarisation in the US quite wrong.

Regarding “race”

Wilkinson examines issues of “racial” resentment and “racial” polarisation. As ever in US matters, the question of whether we are looking at “race” cues or ethnic cues is one that is mostly ignored. Yet, Woodard’s analysis in particular suggests that cultural cues and differences are central to regional political patterns in the US. Writer John Wood Jnr provides a powerful personal illustration of the importance of cultural cues.

As I have explained in a recent post and elsewhere, I am very much against using “race” as an analytical frame. It is, at best, a clumsy and inaccurate framing for cultural patterns. It is particularly misleading if we want to understand why violence (and particularly) homicide is so much higher in African-American urban (but not rural) communities than is the US norm. That disparity in rates of violence in urban communities is a factor in “racial resentment” that is, as is very common (particularly among progressives), completely ignored in Wilkinson’s analysis.

Something that is also ignored by Wilkinson in his paean to how diverse and productive the megacities are is how badly run a lot of them are, a point noted in the comments to Kling’s post. Many of them are standing examples of the problems of political monopolies, of one-Party dominance. Though, to Wilkinson’s credit, he understands the dynamic nature of an entrenched two-Party system, and how demographic change is likely to force the Republican Party to seek a broader electoral coalition.

Indeed, his report actually points to possibilities for such a broader coalition that would turn a lot of US political analysis on its head. In his report Wilkinson makes the following observations:

Rising housing costs in urban cores have shifted the black population (and other less wealthy city dwellers) away from dense city centers toward the suburbs. (p.27)

This means, for example, that black Americans are just as likely to be low in Openness, and to be temperamentally socially conservative, as white Americans. (p.38)

At this point, it won’t come as a shock to hear that ethnocentrism and racial resentment both strongly predict negative attitudes toward immigration. Kinder and Kam find that, among whites and blacks, a high level of ethnocentrism strongly predicts support for reducing the rate of immigration, and it does so more strongly than other variables, such as a high level of “moral traditionalism” or a low level of “egalitarianism.” (p.52)

If the Republicans want to explore wider coalitions, conservative African-Americans in (badly run, high crime) northern cities could be unexpectedly fertile ground. One that could turn them, if they could pull it off, into the natural majority Party in US politics.

There is already some structural basis for such an alliance–the biggest single element in the congressional gerrymandering that Democrats like to complain about is drawing boundaries so as to maximise the number of majority African-American congressional districts. And, as Wilkinson’s analysis notes at various points, African-Americans have a lot of similarities with the Republicans Euro-American rural base.

Cultural polarisation

But it is the institutional structure of the cultural dynamics of political polarisation where Wilkinson’s analysis is most lacking. He accepts as a basis for his analysis that the Republicans are more ideologically consistent and further from the centre than the Democrats. Based on the notion developed by political scientists Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins that the Republicans represent ideological politics and the Democrats interest group politics.

First, Pew Research polling data shows that the presumption of Republicans being further from the centre with greater ideological narrowness compared to the Democrats is simply no longer true. The Democrats are now the ideologically more concentrated and further from the political centre Party. Indeed, they are now more so than the Republicans ever were.  All that highly educated productive megacity ethnic diversity does not seem to be having the broadening effect that Wilkinson presumes.

Second, by only looking at Party polarisation, Wilkinson misses a much more important underlying dynamic, one that Kling alluded to in his comment about the internal views of the administrative state.

If one looks an industry and occupational political patterns, as revealed by political donations, then it is clear that four key industries are much more intensely and narrowly progressive than any such group is conservative. The four key “cultural production” industries (media, entertainment, IT, academe) form a highly ideologically conformist grouping.

Source: Crowdpac analysis, 2014.

A rather more nuanced way of looking at the dynamics of polarisation in the US, is that these industries became thoroughly progressive-dominated. This had an alienating effect on conservative Americans, particularly in the rural “heartland” and gave an “in” to Fox News to cater to what had become a large, neglected, sector of the media market and then, as access capacities expanded, to Breibart and other operations.

The shift in concerns among their voter base, along with the sorting effects Wilkinson identifies, helped push the Republicans in a more consistently conservative direction. The perspectives of these culturally-central progressive-dominated industries then came to increasingly dominate the Democrats, a shift that the Pew reports show was underway well before the election of The Donald in November 2016, though that result does seem to have had an intensifying effect (pdf).

This is part of the wider pattern, identified by French political economist Thomas Piketty, of the profound change in democratic politics in the US, UK and France whereby centre-left politics has become increasingly dominated by a new form of elite politics (pdf), the politics of the highly educated (what Piketty calls the Brahmin Left). A centre-left Parties effectively abandon working class voters (and particularly regional working class voters) they either increasingly don’t vote (pdf) or become “up for grabs” by a Trump, a Brexit, a Le Pen or whatever.

So, progressive elites take over key “cultural” industries, this causes a reaction among more conservative Americans, affecting the Republicans. Partly as a result of that shift, but more because of the spreading domination of the progressive-educated elite, the Democrat Party has now shifted considerably more to the left than the Republicans did to the right. As the late Andrew Breibart used to say, politics is downstream from culture.

This pattern, of conservatives being more diverse in outlook than progressives, even shows up in the US Supreme Court, as in this mapping of the judicial ideology of the current Justices. The recent Hidden Tribes report found that those it identified as the Progressive Activists were the highest income, most educated and most opinion-conformist group among the identified US political groupings.

So left-of-centre politics has not only become elite-dominated, but dominated by a high income, high conformity elite whose most direct path to social power, given their dominance of education, academe, most of the media and IT, is the anathematisation of alternative opinion. Hence “political correctness” getting ever more draconian in its restrictiveness and its public mobbing of dissent.

It is also true that the two Parties have become more coherent and “national”, so more distinct. A process largely kicked off by Newt Gingrich and his successful in 1994 insurgency against Democrat dominance of Congressional politics. While that has affected political polarisation, it is at best a minor factor in the wider socio-political polarisation. It made US party politics more “normal democratic”. It is cultural politics which has driven the wider and more intense political polarisation.

Not that one can leave Republican Party politicians completely off the hook. Having a voter base that was increasingly culturally uncomfortable, even feeling somewhat beleaguered, but still supporting key aspects of the welfare state, was somewhat awkward place to be for an allegedly small-government Party, most of whose key figures had significant congruences in views on migration and similar matters with the Democrat elite. It was particularly awkward if one was prone to small government rhetoric that one did not actually mean and fighting cultural politics that one does not entirely share. The common response was to ramp up the rhetoric to cover the lack of effective action or a functionally coherent political direction. Certainly nothing that was likely to be useful in addressing the economic stagnation and cultural despair within the Heartland that voted for them.

Migration and leaving the provinces to rot

Not that they are alone in this. Wilkinson is so busy characterising low population density Heartland US as economically stagnant and politically retrograde that it is easy to not notice that he has no solutions to the problems of the Heartland except to make sure political structures do not give them “too much” of a say. In other words: they are demographically declining, culturally reactionary and economically stagnant, so the really important thing is to make sure the other bits of the US get to have the dominant say.

Which is the flip side of the concentration of population and economic production in urban megacities. The combination of mass migration, regional sorting and voluntary voting means that the commercial, bureaucratic and cultural elites can leave the provinces to rot. And they do. (And then get very angry when the provinces push back.)

These patterns are very much alive and well in Britain and the Brexit vote and in France and the “yellow vest” protests. Indeed, the most extreme manifestation of leaving the provinces to rot was the grotesque and systematic failure of British elites to do anything about, or even notice, years of predatory rape and enforced prostitution gangs preying on thousands of underage girls. Though the rise of man made “deaths of despair” (pdf) in the US Heartland is an even larger scale problem. In all three countries, their actual migration policies tend to increase the scarcity premium for capital and reduce it for labour.

As for hostile neglect, it is, for example, now pretty standard urban-coastal politics in the US to attempt to block major infrastructure investment in the Heartland. Such as pushing back against fracking and seeking to block pipelines.

It is also pretty standard urban-coastal politics to weaken marriage and undermine fatherhood, further weakening social capital among vulnerable groups (notably African-Americans and now Heartland US). As unmarried and divorced women (pdf) are very solid Democrat voters, less marriage and pathologising fatherhood electorally works for them. (Divorced women have been a key element in the voting gender gap in the UK [pdf] as well.) In some cases it is done quite intentionally. The more powerful factor is that is the direction the electoral mathematics selects for and so pushes them in. The creation of state bureaucracies with incentives to pathologise fatherhood is part of this. (“Deadbeat Dads” are mostly a myth, but provide an excellent stick for middle class bureaucracies to make a living imposing utterly unreasonable levels of child support payments on lower class males.) Conversely, Euro-American women who have kids and stay married have a strong tendency to vote Republican/conservative.

If commercial elites were forced to rely much more on Heartland labour, rather than just importing labour from elsewhere, one suspects that there might be rather more attention being paid to their skills and prospects and social stagnation. As it is, the urban-coastal push is to deny the Heartland any say in migration at all, thus speeding along their marginalisation.

The decline in geographical mobility within the US is surely partly driven by the rising shelter costs in the migrant-receiving megacities. Since the benefits of migration overwhelming got to holders of (various forms) of capital plus the migrants themselves, the migrants are typically willing to put up with less living space in said cities than many the bulk of the citizenry are, because they are still much better off. Conversely, having to pay much more for much less shelter is a major deterrent to movement from regional centres to the megacities. In a real sense, geographical mobility within the US is falling precisely because global mobility to the US has been as high as it is.

The economic literature generally indicates a net positive effect to resident workers from migration, but not a very high net positive effect. Add in rising shelter costs and it likely a different story. (And not examining the effect of migration on shelter is a serious analytical failure, given that there is, as Lyman Stone points out here, a considerable economic literature of restricting the supply of land for housing imposing major economic costs and having lots of housing market entrants being non-citizens makes it much easier to restrictively regulate land use.) Add in the regional distribution of benefits, and it is almost certainly a different story. As it is, the economic literature on the (highly uneven) benefits to migration becomes yet another grounds to justify marginalising the provinces, and particularly regional workers.

As an aside, these patterns apply far less in Australia, because Australia was already highly urbanised when postwar mass migration began and has compulsory preferential voting. Compulsory voting means there is no gain in driving people away from the polls and preferential voting means Parties of government have to aim for 50% +1 of each electorate they need to win. So policies have to broader in their appeal and you cannot import solid-vote-for-you groups to compensate for alienating voters who simply disengage from voting.

Not us guv’

One of the key patterns of the institutionally culturally-dominant progressive elite is that nothing is ever their fault; they are never in the wrong, they are purely morally motivated and so problems and difficulties are always someone else’s fault and would go away if everyone just agreed with them. (Even though what constitutes agreeing with them continually shifts precisely so they can “ahead” of the moral curve.) Of course, every system of moral bullying and dominance in human history has claimed to be defending moral decency. But if one takes a step back, the cultural and social dynamics become rather clearer.

The progressive elite regard migration as their great success issue, the firm demonstration of their moral and intellectual superiority. But it is also a weapon for cultural and political dominance that makes it so much easier to leave the provinces to rot and then get self-righteously superior when the provinces bite back.

 

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Silver is the monetary metal with proven historical resilience

By Lorenzo

This is based on a comment I made here:

Milton Friedman suggested that the pre-1873 mix of silver standard, gold standard, and dual standard countries was possibly more stable than having almost all the major countries on the gold standard.  I think he is correct: that international monetary order certainly lasted a lot longer.

Athenian “owl”.

The notion that all of monetary history somehow peaked in 1873-1913 (the “classical” gold standard era) and it has been downhill ever since does not make much sense. Historically, silver was a much more important monetary metal than gold, and silver-dominated eras lasted centuries longer than “the” gold standard.  Even if one just sticks to coins, Eurasia was essentially on the silver standard from around 500BC (the beginning of the Athenian tetradrachm) to the crisis of the C3rd, where every major Eurasian state except Rome collapsed. A crisis that was predominantly driven by the collapse of Roman silver production knocking a key prop out of the Roman-Han trading system.

Leaving out the steppe trade routes, as is sadly common.

The Eurasian-come-global trading system was on the silver standard (based after 1497 primarily on Spanish silver dollars/pieces of eight/peso: the first world currency) from the (re)invention of the suction pump and liquation (copper-silver smelting process) in the mid C15th, which brought to an end the Great Bullion Famine, followed by the looting of the Aztec and Incan empires and then discovery of the Potosi silver mountain and other silver mines until the collapse of the Spanish Empire in the Americas in the 1820s and subsequent failure of coins minted in the former empire to retain their silver content consistency. (A consistency the Spanish crown had managed to essentially maintain from 1497 until the 1820s).

From the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella.

If you want to go with historically proven resilience, the silver standard makes more sense than the gold standard. It was true that medieval rulers were more likely to debase their silver coins (used internally) than their gold coins (used more for international trade) but states where the branding value for their coins of consistent silver content was sufficiently high could manage such consistency for centuries.

And, while history does not repeat, it does rhyme.  China exported lots of goods in return for American-minted Spanish coins from the early 1500s to the 1820s (which is why Spain conquered the Philippines–to get a base close to China.) Possibly about a third of American-mined silver went to China.  Now China exports lots of goods in return for lots of printed portraits of American presidents.

BTW the suggestion that the Chinese “disdained” Western goods is mostly just silly. China produced about a third of world output but much less of its silver and used silver bullion as its main medium of account. The European economies were (by comparison) “flooded” with mined-in-the-Americas silver. Of course goods flowed to where they were exchanged for more silver and silver flowed to where it was exchanged for more goods. Having even the occasional esteemed economic historian (I am looking at you Douglass North) repeat this economically illiterate canard is sad.

 

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Save us from historically tone deaf academics living in intellectual bubbles

By Lorenzo

The Evolution Institute wants to apply up to date Darwinism to politics. In their own words:

The Federalist Papers sought to convince the citizens of New York to adopt the newly written American Constitution. This would create a UNION (a word that they capitalized) capable of accomplishing more than any state alone and would showcase America’s Enlightenment experiment as an example for the rest of the world.

Today, that UNION is in such disarray that effectiveness of democracy itself is being doubted. Everyone knows the system is broken but no one seems to know how to do better.

Until now, and from an unexpected source: The current incarnation of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

So far so good. Lots of people are concerned about the level of polarisation and political alienation in US society.

However:

Many people link evolution with Social Darwinism, the idea that competition is the law of nature and deserves to shape human society. This view misses the point that cooperation is often the fittest strategy. In The Descent of Man, Darwin described how we, as a social species, survived only in interdependent cooperative groups, not as individuals. He wrote: “Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence, nothing can be effected.”

A science of society built on the biological necessity of cooperation can be called “socialism” in the truest sense of embodying our inalienable social nature. Hence, we call the toolkit of ideas outlined in these papers “Socialist Darwinism”. Historically, the Socialist Darwinian focus on cooperation actually preceded the Social Darwinist focus on competition, and the former fits the latest evolutionary science better.

How historically tone-deaf do you have to be, to offer the world another version of “scientific socialism“? Karl Marx explicitly thought he was applying Darwin to the social world. Look how well that worked out.

As economist Bryan Caplan correctly points out, the term socialism has become a provocative equivocation. Adopting the term utterly unnecessarily alienates large numbers of people, across a wide range of the political spectrum, from your project. In what sort of intellectual bubble do you have to be living to not even twig that you will be doing that? Or, if you do, not caring?

Historically tone deaf folk living in an intellectual bubble. What an awful start to what could be a worthy project.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Clades not clusters: about the folk theory of race

By Lorenzo

A clade is a group of organisms with a common ancestors. Identifying clades in human genetics maps out the ancestry of human groups. Like most genetic analysis of human populations, it is based on identifying alleles, patterns of variation in human genes.

As far as I am aware, the most complete study currently available identifying the structure of human clades is here. Entitled: Human population history revealed by a supertree approach and compiled by two researchers from the University of South Bohemia, the 2016 study incorporates the following chart.

The geographic mapping of large clades obviously has some connection to our current folk notion of race, but is hardly a close match. While it is true that cluster analysis can get us to groupings of human populations something like the folk notion (pdf) of race, such as in this 2002 study (pdf), cluster analysis simply looks at similarities while clade analysis is based on identifiable underlying causal structure (specifically, ancestry).

In the 2002 study, Genetic Structure of Human Populations, by biologists from a range of institutions and countries, a relatively mathematically robust grouping was found at K=5 clusters, which does match the folk notion of race quite well. But mathematically robust groupings were found at various numbers for K. As the authors conclude:

The challenge of genetic studies of human history is to use the small amount of genetic differentiation among populations to infer the history of human migrations. Because most alleles are widespread, genetic differences among human populations derive mainly from gradations in allele frequencies rather than from distinctive “diagnostic” genotypes. Indeed, it was only in the accumulation of small allele-frequency differences across many loci that population structure was iden- tified. Patterns of modern human population structure discussed here can be used to guide construction of historical models of migration and admixture that will be useful in inferential studies of human genetic history.

Which is what identifying clades does much more directly.

So clades, not clusters. If the human biodiversity folk are intellectually serious, they should base their analysis on clades, not on whatever clustering seems otherwise convenient. While the folk notion of race is not entirely silly (self-identification matches genetic ancestry quite well [pdf]), it is nowhere near analytically robust enough to be of use to analyse well, anything, really.

In particular, classifying people by race strips them of their cultural and civilisational legacies, which are much more important collections of causal factors than genetic clusters than match patterns of ancestry fairly poorly. As the authors of the 2016 study note:

The linguistic classification fits rather poorly on the supertree topology, supporting a view that direct coevolution between genes and languages is far from universal.

Thus, for example (links added):

The poor fit of Macro-Altaic and the families that constitutes it (especially the Turkic) is in agreement with the fact that there is only a weak unifying genetic signal for the Turkic-speaking populations across Eurasia. The expansion of Turkic languages has probably been largely mediated by language replacements rather than demic expansion.

We are the cultural species. A basic reality that race talk both ignores and gets in the way of understanding. Even ancestry is at best a partial match with culture.

Race talk is pretty dreadful for analysis of social patterns but remains good for one thing: racial stigmatisation (brilliantly analysed by economist Glenn Loury). Which all sorts of people have found race talk useful for, and still do, but that is not remotely a recommendation for race talk. Indeed, it remains true that implicit or explicit racial stigmatisation is by far the dominant reason for the use of race talk. Hence, the best way to understand race talk is to look for the patterns of stigmatisation that underlie it.

So, clades not clusters and even clades don’t get us all that far, analytically speaking.

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

How to play intersectionality

By Lorenzo

I recently read, in quick succession, “Whiteness as Property” published in 1993 by Cheryl L. Harris and Kimberle Crenshaw’s 1991 essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” and her 1989 Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. The latter two essays essentially launched intersectionality in academe.

These essays are either Law Review pieces, or written as such; the first being in the Harvard Law Review and the second in the Standard Law Review. All are clearly written and extensively footnoted. Neither writer is therefore subject to the sort of withering demolition that philosopher Martha Nussbaum handed out to gender theorist Judith Butler in her wonderful 1999 essay “The Professor of Parody” in The New Republic. (If you haven’t read that essay, do yourself a favour and read it: preferably right now, I’ll wait.)

Flattening
The essays of both Harris and Crenshaw are grappling with serious issues, largely centred around the role of racial categorisations in US history and society. I have commented on Harris’s essay at length (probably too much length) in my previous post. That they are grappling with morally serious issues is very much pertinent to how to play intersectionalism, because a key element is to use moral concern to flatten the analytical landscape.

The game is relatively simple: any matters pertaining to the function or dynamics of things, including what constraints are operating, are ignored, played down or turned into a matter of oppression and subordination. This is important, indeed central, because it ensures that the invoked moral principles dominate the analytical landscape. This domination-by-denial nowadays extends into using a priori moral commitments to push outright and explicit exclusion of any contrary evidence or analytical framings. A professor of biology describes students attempting to impose this game on what it is permissible for her to teach:

In class, though, some students argued instead that it is impossible to measure IQ in the first place, that IQ tests were invented to ostracize minority groups, or that IQ is not heritable at all. None of these arguments is true. In fact, IQ can certainly be measured, and it has some predictive value. While the score may not reflect satisfaction in life, it does correlate with academic success. And while IQ is very highly influenced by environmental differences, it also has a substantial heritable component; about 50 percent of the variation in measured intelligence among individuals in a population is based on variation in their genes. Even so, some students, without any evidence, started to deny the existence of heritability as a biological phenomenon.

Similar biological denialism exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology. This denialism manifests itself at times in classroom discussions and in emails in which students explain at length why I should not be teaching the topic.
Attempting to explain how things work, what processes and constraints are operating, is to be overridden by the invoked moral principles. But this is the intellectual regime of identity politics and intersectionality with years of operation, interlocking support and public mobbing behind it. Crenshaw is literally operating at the start of the game, so has to operate more circumspectly. 

There are two key elements in Crenshaw’s approach in her Mapping the Margin’s essay. The first is that at no stage does Crenshaw cite any statistics on the actual scale of either domestic violence or rape. The only statistics cited pertain to (some) patterns within the phenomena. Providing no evidence of scale not only elevates natural moral repugnance about domestic violence and rape, it also allows the second key element of the identity politics/intersectionality game to proceed much more smoothly—to make grand moral claims about social significance: in this case, of domestic violence and rape. 

Nowadays, the game has been somewhat augmented by the use of highly dubious, but much invoked, statistics about the scale of sexual assault. In reality, the evidence strongly suggests that rape is a declining phenomena, though domestic violence seems to remain at a consistent level. Nor have they remotely been at the level that can reasonably be described as structural.  Especially given that rape and sexual assault can also be a crime against men and boys (who are about 17% of student victims and 4% of non-student victims of rape in the US). 

Part of the problem with rape is that, as rapists tend to be serial offenders; so a small proportion of males end up preying on a significantly larger proportion of women. This, in itself, gives men and women very different perspectives on rape. Not least because for women the salient danger is rape itself. For men, the overwhelming majority of whom are not rapists, false accusation is the more salient fear.

Rape has always been a crime although, as is a sadly persistent feature of US history, the prosecution thereof was deeply polluted by racial stigmatisation. Rape’s abhorrent and criminal status was mobilised against African-American men while being underplayed (or even implicitly denied) in ways that stripped protection from African-American women. In her Demarginalizing essay, Crenshaw cites some truly appalling comments from the bench:

What has been said by some of our courts about an unchaste female being a comparatively rare exception is no doubt true where the population is composed largely of the Caucasian race, but we would blind ourselves to actual conditions if we adopted this rule where another race that is largely immoral constitutes an appreciable part of the population. Dallas v State,(1918).

And:

A judge in 1912 said: “This court will never take the word of a nigger against the word of a white man [concerning rape].”

As I have argued elsewhere, the denial of adequate police protection for African-American communities (particularly urban communities) has been crucial in creating a culture of bravado violence within African-American communities and, as a result, poisoning relations between Americans of different “racial” origin. The issue is not whether US history has been deeply marred by patterns of racial stigmatisation and subordination, it is how to understand and accurately characterise those patterns and legacies. 

Returning to the issue of domestic violence, Crenshaw engages in the typical feminist-led progressivist conflation of domestic violence with intimate partner violence, thereby glossing over violence against children. The obvious incentive for doing so being that women tend to perpetuate a majority of the violence against children. But grappling with the reality of female violence does not allow the intersectional game to be “played” in the correct fashion.

Except in extremely peaceful societies, most male violence is outside the home. Most female violence is inside the home. But the very notion of female domestic violence, including female intimate partner violence, is written out by the imposed intersectional framework. If, as is the case, the dominant pattern in intimate partner violence is violent men and women hitting each other, then one cannot build grand structural claims out of such a messy reality. 

Even for male perpetrators, the evidence is clear that they differ from men in general on several dimensions: hardly surprising, given the relatively low levels of domestic violence. That personality disturbance is a better predictor of domestic violence than sex (/gender) just reinforces this point.

The realities of female violence simply do not conform to the patterns intersectionality so grandly elevates. A study nicely summarises the evidence:

These include a meta-analytic study of 65,000+ respondents by Archer (2000) that found women to be slightly more violent (in terms of intimate partner violence (IPV)) than men. They also include a cross cultural studies of dating violence (n=6900) by Douglas and Straus (2003) that found college girls to be more violent than college boys across 17 countries. We could add to that the recent US National Survey (Gaudioisi, 2006) that found mothers were the most violent group in terms of physical abuse toward and lethality of children (N=718,000+) or Laroche’s (2005) (n=25,876) finding (in a nationally representative sample) that women used “intimate terrorism” (instrumental abuse) nearly as much as men.
Privileging disadvantage
Which points to the problem of the privilege rhetoric that has become such a feature of identity/intersectional politics. Talking of advantage and disadvantage incorporates the multi-dimensionality of social phenomena very easily—you can be advantaged in one way and disadvantaged in another. It also permits probabilistic analysis very easily—a group can, on average, have an advantage. An advantage can be a tendency, rather than an absolute. This all accords with the reality and complexity of social dynamics. 

Privilege, on the other hand, is inherently both categorical (you are either privileged or you are not) and moralised (it’s a bad thing to have). Even better, it delegitimises an entire society and feeds into moralised analytical flattening. Eliminating disadvantage focuses on incorporating people into the wider society: acknowledging privilege focuses on blaming, ranking and dividing. The latter is first and foremost a status game.

A recent study indicates that privilege training tended to make Euro-American (“white”) liberals less sympathetic to poor Euro-American (“white”) males but had no effect on the attitudes of social conservatives. The study indicates what little role race plays in the perspectives of social conservatives in the US: social conservatives in the study either had the same (low) level of sympathy for poor Euro-Americans and poor African-Americans or slightly higher sympathy for poor African-Americans. 

This lack of salience for race among social conservatives is not surprising if you have been playing attention to the data on social attitudes in the US. First, that overt racial prejudice is low and declining. Second, that a series of African-Americans have been popular with US conservatives. Third, that as many African-Americans identify as conservative as identify as liberal. To the extent that “white” liberals are now “to the left” of African-Americans on various “race” issues.

Diversity against variety
To grapple with actual social dynamics, one has to be both sociological (concerned with structures) and psychological (attuned to the cognitive heterogeneity of the human). But such heterogeneity within categorical groups is precisely what the grand structural claims of intersectionality cannot deal with.

Intersectionality does appear to be attempting to deal with the complexities of reality. Indeed, that its key selling point. Crenshaw has some sharp and pertinent observations about how universalising Euro-American (“white”) experience leaves out the realities of very different experiences among African-Americans (“blacks”). She is still, however, arguing for a layered application of what are still categorical structural patterns, which is why female domestic violence simply gets written out of the story. 

Intersectional analysis attempts to wrestle with the multidimensionality of advantage and disadvantage while retaining the categorical patterns of critical race theory, radical feminism and related strains of thought. Since those original categorical patterns (“black”, “white”, male, female, straight, gay) are profoundly inadequate characterisations of American (or any other Western) society, you can always find ways to “play” intersectionality, attempting to “solve” their inadequacies by adding another layer of categorical patterns (the “intersections), creating a multi-dimensional matrix (“black female”, “gay black female”, etc.). But you are still just playing with categorical patterns which are, inherently, too simple to accurately map social dynamics.

As they remain too simple, unable to cope with the diversity of the human and the social, it is not a playing with categorical patterns at all likely to lead to beneficial social outcomes. The same inadequacy that provides the room to “play” intersectionality ensures that any social gains are going to be, at best, an accidental by-product, as only social mechanisms which support the still-required-for-the-intersectionality categorical patterns are considered. Writing female domestic violence out of the analysis is both typical and predictably disastrous as a prescription for action (see this critique of the so-called Duluth model of domestic violence: a model which sees domestic violence as being an expression of “patriarchy”). 

Discrimination games
Crenshaw, being a legal scholar, is very much concerned with anti-discrimination law, critiquing various Supreme Court and other judicial decisions. Anti-discrimination law in the US is about establishing that one is a member of a relevant protected class: such classes being identified due to past discrimination and legislative action. There is therefore an inherent tension between “is one now acting in a way that does not discriminate?” and “are people affected by past discrimination?”. 

The answer to both can easily be yes, leaving it to the courts to negotiate between proper current action and past legacies. Since law is inherently future directed (what should or should not be legal to do?), there is likely to be a tendency for a yes answer to the first question to outweigh a yes answer to the second. This is not, in itself, a sign of privileging, more a natural tendency in law. But to see that requires thinking about social functionality and functioning in a way that intersectionality, and privilege and oppression talk generally, inherently tend to downplay or ignore. 

PoMo evasions
Crenshaw explicitly invokes postmodernism: 

I consider intersectionality a provisional concept linking contemporary politics with postmodern theory. In mapping the intersections of race and gender, the concept does engage dominant assumptions that race and gender are essentially separate categories. By tracing the categories to their intersections, I hope to suggest a methodology that will ultimately disrupt the tendencies to see race and gender as exclusive or separable. While the primary intersections that I explore here are between race and gender, the concept can and should be expanded by factoring in issues such as class, sexual orientation, age, and color.

One rendition of this antiessentialist critique—that feminism essentializes the category woman—owes a great deal to the postmodernist idea that categories we consider natural or merely representational are actually socially constructed in a linguistic economy of difference. While the descriptive project of postmodernism of questioning the ways in which meaning is socially constructed is generally sound, this critique sometimes misreads the meaning of social construction and distorts its political relevance.

But to say that a category such as race or gender is socially constructed is not to say that that category has no significance in our world. On the contrary, a large and continuing project for subordinated people–and indeed, one of the projects for which postmodern theories have been very helpful–is thinking about the way power has clustered around certain categories and is exercised against others. This project attempts to unveil the processes of subordination and the various ways those processes are experienced by people who are subordinated and people who are privileged by them. It is, then, a project that presumes that categories have meaning and consequences. And this project’s most pressing problem, in many if not most cases, is not the existence of the categories, but rather the particular values attached to them and the way those values foster and create social hierarchies.

I follow the practice of others in linking antiessentialism to postmodernism.
What looks like, and parades itself as, informed and sophisticated scepticism actually rests on a series of trumping simplicities, as Crenshaw’s treatment of domestic violence nicely illustrates.

Talking of people and ideas as being instances of postmodernism raises problems of definition (what do you mean by the term?) and identification (do people see themselves as being, or practising, postmodernism?). What the various lines of thought that might be reasonably called “small p” postmodernism have in common is that they elevate the patterns and claims of discourse over empirical interrogation of reality. The moral urgency of the narrative overrides the complexity of reality. Indeed, as we can see, can preclude accurate characterisation, still less careful examination, of that reality. 

Characterising groups in racial terms has a flattening effect, as it strips away issues of cultural, norms, expectations, etc in favour of skin tone and physical markers of continental origin. Leading to such simplifying nonsense as dividing people into those who are “white-bodied” or “black-bodied”.

Use of the term whiteness by Harris and others has a revealing ambiguity: is it a state of mind, a social category, an inherent feature? It gives continental ancestry both a metaphysical grandeur and an ambiguity of nature that builds any cultural, normative or expectation effects up from one’s skin tone and physical markers of continental origin. Such ubiquitous characterisation in racial terms flattens social analysis all on its own. 

The move to make central notions of structural racism represents another triumphing of the conveniently sociological over the inconveniently psychological. It also illustrates the importance of the moralised flattening of analysis. If it is not intentional, why is it racism? Why is it not simply structural disadvantage? To protect the identity/intersectionalist narrative from criticism, and elevate the status of those pushing it, provide obvious reasons. 

Avoiding practicality
Crenshaw incorporates, in her Mapping the Margins essay, a critique of Daniel Moynihan’s notorious report on African-American families. Crenshaw attacks the idea that there is anything pathological about female-headed sole parent families. Whatever terminology one wants to use, there is lots of evidence that children raised in fatherless homes are significantly disadvantaged. The collapse of fatherhood in African-American communities has not been good for their children, particularly male children. But it is a lot easier to get huffy about terminological sensitivities if one does not interrogate the practicalities of making things work. 

If US jurisdictions were able to provide effective policing services for African-American urban communities, bravado culture could be successfully undermined and replaced. We know this not only because of indicative successes such as in Oakland but because there is no difference in homicide rates between African-Americans and Euro-Americans in rural US
But a program of more detectives, forensic services and connection-building is far too practical. It is wrongly practical, because it suggests what seem entrenched patterns are soluble if one pays attention to what is required to make things work
The grand structural claims of the identity/intersectional game require that there be profound structural flaws, not correctable disadvantages. Even better, claiming profound structural flaws means one can then play the intersectional game indefinitely. 

Molehills of truth …
There is a tendency, illustrated here, to divide statements about reality into lies (i.e. deliberate falsehoods) or claims that are seriously attempting to be accurate. Philosopher Harry Frankfurt, in his great essay On Bullshit, points out that there are also a class of statements made without regard to their truth, typically for their persuasive effect. 

Given that morality, as social psychologist Johnathan Haidt points out, binds and blinds, it is entirely possible for people to be engaging in bullshit where the first person they are fooling is themselves. This is especially likely if various moral and cognitive commitments mark membership in a moral community or otherwise buttress a cognitive identityAn impoverished ability to self-correct appears to be a prominent feature of political radicals of all stripes. Our capacity for self-delusion is one reason why doing science well is hard. This is especially true of social science. 

It has become a standard feature of establishment (that is advocacy and institutional) feminism to create mountains of bullshit out of (selective) molehills of truth. The Duluth model of domestic violence as an expression of “patriarchy” is based on doing precisely that, for example. As is how establishment feminism wields the notion of patriarchy

So much of modern prestige progressivism, including intersectionality, arises out of feminism that it is not surprising that creating mountains of bullshit out of molehills of truth has become such a feature of prestige progressivism. Often molehills of truth about morally significant phenomena, all the better to create morally portentous mountains of bullshit. When we dig into, in this case, the actual patterns of domestic violence, we can see quite clearly how intersectionality creates its mountains of morally portentous bullshit out of (very selective) molehills of truth. 

Seeking grandeur
In all three essays, there are serious moral and social issues being grappled with. The problem is that all three essays use that seriousness and moral salience to create grand structural narratives that flatten the analytical landscape in ways that elevate the narrative but drown the practical, and the complexities of reality. 

Identity/intersectional rhetoric not only implies there has been no “real” progress since Emmet Till, it is not directed to anything that is likely to lead to generate genuine progress, just to allowing the intersectional game to be played indefinitely. One suspects that is the purpose. 

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Sex, Sexuality and doing evolutionary reasoning badly

By Lorenzo

This post by Darwinian Reactionary provides an excellent example of using evolutionary reasoning badly.

He is using evolutionary reasoning to critique the notion of sexual orientation. There are lots of problems with the concept of sexual orientation. Starting with the fact that human sexuality is multi-dimensional. There is (1) who you fall in love with, (2) who you are sexually attracted to and (3) who or what can provide sexual release. The randier you are, the wider (3) is likely to be, and the broader than (1) and (2) it is likely to be.

As lots of homosexual men down the ages have discovered, a significant proportion of straight young men are, in the right circumstances, seducible. That does not make them bisexual or homosexual, it just makes them randy. Men, particularly young men, in situations which systematically deny them social contact with young women are likely to use other men for sexual release. That is true in prisons, on long sea voyages and in countries which practise sexual apartheid.

The concept of sexual orientation does not really cover all those dimensions. It also does not cover terribly well the evidence that female sexuality seems to be moderately more fluid than male sexuality.

Evolutionary complexity
The problem with Darwinian Reactionary’s critique is not that it is directed against the concept of sexual orientation, nor in invoking evolutionary reasoning, it is how evolutionary reasoning is used.

The first difficulty is simply assuming homosexuality is an absolute evolutionary disadvantage: in effect, that it completely blocks reproduction. Lots of homosexuals have had children. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that homosexuality is somewhat of an evolutionary disadvantage in that homosexuality presumably does reduce the propensity to reduce. It is, however, an empirical matter how much it actually does. An empirical matter that, moreover, is likely to vary significantly from human society to human society.

How much a barrier to reproduction homosexuality actually is matters, because it affects how strong the evolutionary pressure is against any genetic basis for homosexuality. The less of a barrier to reproduction homosexuality turns out to actually be, the less evolutionary selection pressure there is against it, and the less a puzzle its persistence in human populations is.

Let us presume, however, that homosexuality is enough of a barrier to successful fertility as to create a significant and persistent element of evolutionary pressure against it. Then we have a puzzle to be answered: why is it persistent? Note that this is not quite the same puzzle as: why does it exist? The latter is a puzzle of identifying the causal mechanism, the former is a puzzle about the persistence of the causal mechanism.

The “gay uncle helps sibling reproduction” hypothesis has some empirical support, though probably not enough in itself to explain the persistence of homosexuality. Especially if we assume homosexuality is an absolute barrier to reproduction, there may be problems with making the evolutionary mathematics work. It would be an informative exercise to work out what level of depressed reproduction above zero is sufficient for the mathematics to work, remembering that the more children the gay uncle tends to have, the less plausible any advantage to sibling reproduction is. Perhaps both effects cancel each other out, but it seems worth checking range and scale.

Cognitive dimorphism
Leaving aside the problem of assuming an absolute selection disadvantage, a further problem with Darwinian Reactionary’s use of evolutionary reasoning is that it is not based in the complexities of being Homo sapiens.

What is missing from the evolutionary reasoning in Darwinian Reactionary’s post is what is often missing from such reasoning: any sense that we are specifically dealing with Homo sapiens. It is all just logic pertaining to a sexually reproducing species. Nothing specific to Homo sapiens is involved.

Three factors specific to Homo sapiens appear relevant: (1) we are the cultural species, (2) we are the non-kin cooperation species and (3) there are significant, at least partly innate, cognitive differences between men and women. (1) and (2) are relevant because homosexual men have a persistent, cross-cultural tendency to be disproportionately involved in cultural activities, (3) because homosexuals have a persistent, cross-cultural tendency to display cognitive traits more common in the other sex. Indeed, their defining characteristic—who they are sexually attracted to—is the most obvious example of this but, revealingly, not the only one.

As an aside, this makes all the more annoying the tendency to reason abut homosexuality and homosexuals in ways which make it blindly obvious that one has entirely failed to consult the experience of actual gay folk. (A tendency much more obvious in the comments on the aforementioned post than the post itself.) One may choose what one does (or does not do) for sexual release. One does not choose who one falls in love with or what one is attracted to.

Attraction to one’s own sex is just as visceral as attraction to the opposite sex. Indeed, it makes much more sense in terms of having a cognitive feature typical of the opposite sex than being something weirdly free-floating. Though it is then a cognitive feature embedded in a different hormonal pattern. Attraction to men plus testosterone is different than attraction to men plus oestrogen, just as attraction to women plus oestrogen is different form attraction to women plus testosterone. Seeing homosexuals as having a cognitive feature more typical of the other sex also separates homosexuality from genuine para-sexualities (such as paedophilia), which are much rarer and much more clearly connected to trauma and dysfunction.

If the persistent difference in cognitive patterns between the sexes is an evolutionary advantage (and it surely has to have been to be as marked as it is), then some mechanism or mechanisms need to persist to maintain the patterns of cognitive difference by sex. If cognitive convergence between the sexes to the extent of being homosexual discourages reproduction, that would be a mechanism which would help maintain cognitive differences between the sexes. Some of the distinctiveness in physiological tendencies among homosexual men and women may point in that direction. Working out the evolutionary mathematics involved is way, way beyond my mathematical knowledge and understanding, but it would seem a useful exercise. One that gives homosexuality a much broader functional role in evolutionary dynamics that may be sufficient for it to be low instance but persistent, particularly if added to the “gay uncle” effect.

A key feature to remember about evolutionary reasoning is that we are talking about population dynamics. For instance, the persistence of psychopathy and sociopathy (or whatever the current approved labels are) at such low levels in human populations illustrate that (1) lack of empathy and normative engagement are not evolutionary advantages except as, at best, parasitic strategies on the overwhelmingly more dominant strategy(ies) using empathy and normative engagement and (2) if they are not propagating as a minor niche parasite strategy, then they are much more likely to be recurring malfunctions of the mechanisms supporting the dominant evolutionary strategy(ies).

Cultural species
That homosexual men in particular have been persistently, disproportionately involved in cultural activities is not much of a puzzle. To the extent that one does not invest in children of one’s own, the greater the pressure to invest in activities that generate social support and status independent of having one’s own children. Providing cultural services does that.

Having cognitive traits that are more “cross-sex” may well aid in creating broadly resonant cultural services, giving homosexual men both more incentive to invest in, and more capacity to successfully provide, cultural services. (That homosexual women have not been so significant is explicable in terms of the value placed on female fertility being such that taking on other roles was discouraged: especially if their fertility was women’s dominant social leverage.)

In the cultural species, having a low instance but persistent minority disproportionately willing and able to invest in cultural services would seem a clear advantage in realising the benefits of culture. Whether this can plausibly be “cashed out” genetically seems doubtful. But add in the helping to block cognitive convergence plus some level of aid to sibling reproduction, and there may well be enough selection effect to lead to the persistence of a low instance sexual minority in human populations. Which makes Darwinian Reactionary’s attempt to characterise homosexuality as “selected against” with therefore straightforward consequences to how homosexuality then can, or cannot, be reasonably characterised a naively simplistic application of evolutionary reasoning.

I am absolutely for using evolutionary reasoning to think about why Homo sapiens are the way we are. Applying evolutionary reasoning to Homo sapiens is, however, a much more complex issue than the sort of naive evolutionism that Darwinian Reactionary is using.

 

[Cross-posted from Thinking Out Aloud.]

Whiteness is not property: deconstructing critical race theory

By Lorenzo

This is a long post, in part because I do not have time to write a short one. It is a response to a 1993 Harvard Law Review essay by Cheryl L. Harris arguing for the notion of whiteness as property. I not only critique that claim, doing so gives me an opportunity to demonstrate the problems with the treatment of “race” by the critical race theory/intersectionalism/identity/diversity streams of thought that the essay is an example of.

Normally, when I discover a Law Review article on a matter I am concerned with, I am pleased. Law Review articles tend to be thorough, strongly evidence-based, with careful interrogation of key concepts, being thus very useful. The Columbia Law Review article “Polygamy, Prostitution and the Federalization of Immigration Law” (pdf) on immigration bars on Chinese entry, for example, epitomises these virtues.

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‘The Earth Below’ – now available for purchase

By Legal Eagle

I’m proud to say that my debut novel, ‘The Earth Below’, is now available for purchase, through my publishers, Ligature Pty Ltd, here. There are also links on Ligature’s page to other outlets, including Amazon, iBooks and Kobo.

I’d like to thank the illustrator of this brilliant cover, Terry Rogers, and Matt Rubenstein of Ligature for doing such a fantastic job with it. It looks AMAZING. And it has been polished until it sparkles by Matt and Helen Dale (our very own Skepticlawyer). On Ligature’s website, the book is described as follows:

“Almost a century after the Catastrophe, a group of survivors have built a new society deep in the safety of the underground network.

Marri knows the rules are there to keep their population healthy and growing, but they don’t leave much room for attraction—let alone love. Her duty is no match for her desire, and now her life is in danger. Can she escape the world below—and what will she find if she does?

The Earth Below is a dystopia, an adventure and a love story that introduces a thrilling new voice in young adult fiction.

Commended for the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript 2016.”

If you read it and like it, please review it on Goodreads here or on your local Amazon page. In any case, I do hope you enjoy it. And if you just want a taster – try before you buy! – a sample of Chapter 1 is available on my website here.

 

Bravado in the absence of order

By Lorenzo

Areo magazine has published another essay of mine, Bravado in the Absence of Order, which examines why African-American urban communities have such high rates of homicide and other violence. The essay uses medieval history, and contemporary societies other than the US, to illuminate social patterns that are less clear if one just looks at the US in isolation.