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This post is set up to float to the top. I'm getting a bunch of new readers lately, so I figured a welcome/orientation post is appropriate.

Welcome to my journal! (Yeah, yeah, I know, the cool kids call it a blog these days.)

I post intermittently, sometimes at length, usually about personal topics, sometimes about controversial ones. I love thoughtful comments, even (sometimes especially) when they disagree with me. Anonymous comments or private messages are OK, too.

I expect politeness, though -- especially to my other commenters. If you can't be civil, be silent. If I start getting a wave of hostile anonymous commenters, I will likely change my policy.

Some links I keep here for convenience:

Or, well, maybe there's a conflict.

I've seen there’s no conflict here pop up on my feed a few times, and as usual, I'm capturing my thoughts here so I don't keep derailing other people's discussions.

My primary concern with this "there is no conflict" school of thought is that, well, there sure does seem to be.

I mean, sure, in theory, there is no conflict between the rights of religious Christians to worship as they see fit, and the rights of queer people to obtain goods and services, rent apartments, etc. What do the two have to do with each other, after all? I can support both (and, indeed, I have done so at some length in this space before).

But to simply assert that they don't conflict and I support both, given some of the established context of 21st-century social relations between Christians and queer people, seems naive to the point of being deceptive. The reality is that legally protecting the civil rights of queer people is seen by many as a violation of religious freedom, and those people vote for poltical representatives who campaign on that point, and laws get passed or repealed based on that. For me to ignore those campaigns and elections and laws and simply say "Well, I don't see a conflict" is an importantly flawed analysis.

More generally, sometimes needs -- whether actual or perceived -- conflict, not because of some in-principle incompatibility, but because of the historical and contingent facts involved. I'm sure we can all come up with tons of examples. To ignore the historical reality and insist there is no conflict in these cases based on in-principle compatibility is, well, at best naive.

So, when Freddie et al assert that theory there is no conflict between the needs of POCs in Michigan and the needs of out-of-work coal miners in Alabama (e.g. to have full-time good-paying jobs and be treated with respect and so forth), and that he supports both of those things and anyone who doesn't support them both is his enemy... well, sure, I agree that there is no in-principle incompatibility.

But when they conclude by saying "People deserve their suffering or they don’t. I say they don’t. That’s it, that’s all there is"... well, I get off the bus before that point. Sometimes that's not all there is. Sometimes there are other things that matter as well... at least to me.

And if they don't matter to you, or Freddie, well, OK... you get to choose what matters to you. But if we're going to ignore real-world conflicts because they don't matter to us, we should be unsurprised when the people involved in those conflicts end up continuing to do what they do despite our assertions.


A comment elsewhere, captured with modifications here, triggered by a review of The New Minority.

One idea here that's important if true is "the political culture of the white working-class Midwest is pervaded by a nostalgia that reveres, and seeks to reinstate, a bygone era.”

I mean, me? I don't want to go back even 20 years. Why would I? What does 1996 have to offer me that 2016 doesn't improve on?

But for someone who looks longingly back to 1996, to 1986, to 1956... someone for whom going back _doesn't_ mean giving up their family, their civil rights, their status as a human being... someone for whom it means feeling more important, more secure, more successful... the equation is different.

So, sure. The idea that in order to secure the political backing of that powerful culture in elections, politicians need to appeal to that nostalgia makes sense, given the premise.

But if it's true, that's a problem for progressives, since that sort of nostalgia is a natural ally to reactionary politics. It's not an accident that the GOP has more success recruiting white working-class Midwest (and Southern) voters than the Democrats do.

I don't know what we do about that.

I mean, there's this pervasive idea (especially in the wake of Trump's 2-million-voter loss Electoral College victory) that Democrats need to shift our attention to being more inclusive and supportive of the white working-class, whose interests have been neglected. Leaving aside whether the premise is true or not, I don't know how Democrats appeal to "the political culture of the white working-class Midwest" without giving up to some degree on things like egalitarianism, or scientific research, or religious pluralism.

As I've said elsewhere: if we abandon the things that made me differentially support Democrats in the first place, why should I care whether Democrats win elections?

Of course, this isn't a novel position... many leftists have long since sailed on that boat. Just look at how many Sanders, Stein, etc. supporters in this election were strongly motivated by the idea that the Democratic party has already abandoned progressivism and was "no different than the Republicans." (Admittedly, many of those same people sure do seem to care about the difference now. Heck, Stein herself is pushing for a recount, almost as though it matters whether Trump or Clinton is president. Nevertheless, it was a popular refrain a month ago.)

So I dunno. Maybe this is just the sound of me becoming radicalized. Maybe by the time I reach 2020, I won't be able to bring myself to vote for a "centrist" Democrat who is just doing the things that are necessary to win elections in the U.S.

Then again, I look to 2008 and 2012, when a Black man was elected president... twice... and sure as hell not by appealing to the reactionary elements of "the political culture of the white working-class Midwest." To put it mildly. And I think maybe it's not as bad as all that.

On the third paw, I look to the general consensus in 2007, even among conservatives, that the GOP had screwed the pooch in a big way with respect to the economy. And I think maybe that was just a really special circumstance.

On the fourth paw, I fully expect a Trump administration to raid the treasury to provide financial incentives to Trump and his family and friends and social class, rather than invest in the country. In which case maybe that circumstance isn't as special as I hope.

Hell, I dunno.

Quite frankly, "burn it all down" is starting to feel like a much more plausible long-term plan.


"Identity liberalism" and all that jazz.

So, I've had a few people on my social media share "The End of Identity Liberalism" amidst rather a lot of concern about how it's really important to stop paying so much attention to diversity in our institutions and instead pay more attention to commonality.

Rather than keep derailing those conversations with walls of text, my thoughts here.

So, I respect the concern that a group based on a shared "identity" (that is, a common demographic trait such as race or religion or sexual preference or elevated risk of being denied a hotel room or of having your children taken away or of being shot in the street or something like that) will tend to ignore the interests of those who don't share that trait. And I agree that this happens, up to a point.

For example as I was growing up, I went to a Jewish school with Jewish teachers and Jewish students, and in addition to the usual school curriculum we also learned about Judaism. And no doubt we were excluding the interests of non-Jews.

For example, queer political-action groups that focus on getting queer-friendly politicians elected don't tend to pay a lot of attention to the needs and concerns of straight people.

And so on.

And my question to the first friend who raised this issue was:
Does this problem not also exist for a group reliably characterized by a common identity, but not based on it?

Like, for example... if a bunch of straight men get together (hypothetically) to form a Straight Men's Society dedicated to the interests of straight men, I understand the reasoning that says they can be expected to exclude the interests of other demographics.

But if a bunch of straight men get together (again, hypothetically) to form a Senate dedicated to passing laws, can they similarly be expected to exclude the interests of other demographics?

Or is calling themselves a Senate enough for them to avoid the problem?

It seems like an important question to me, because I don't think calling themselves a Senate is enough.

So when I see a group of queer citizens getting together to promote getting queer advocates elected to political office, sure, I acknowledge that as "identity politics" in the sense Lilla means, but I also see it as an attempt to counter a pre-existing "identity politics" that has been running the show for years.

Ditto for POC citizens, female citizens, Jewish citizens, Muslim citizens, transgender citizens, immigrant citizens, all sorts of "identities"... I don't just look at their demographics, I also look at the demographics of the "mainstream" they're attempting to influence.

And when I hear people complain about "identity politics" in a way that obects to the former but not the latter... that expresses concern that the POC, queer, female, Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, transgender, etc. groups might exclude the interests of other groups, but is unconcerned that the straight, male, white, Christian, Protestant, etc. groups might do the same thing... well, that leaves me skeptical about just what exactly we're supposed to be concerned about.

Because, honestly, if I believed that the alternative to "identity politics" is that we include everyone's interests, I'd sign up in a heartbeat.

But I don't.

More than that -- I think if it were, we wouldn't see so much "identity politics" in the first place.

I think "identity-specific" organizations and spaces are a response to the perceived inability of "mainstream" organizations and spaces to address the concerns of marginalized communities. And if we want those sorts of spaces to fade away, the best way to do that is to improve on that inability.

And when we instead blame the marginalized communities for looking to each other for a support that the mainstream doesn't provide, we're making a mistake.

Speaking personally, for example, I've been really pleased by the ability of significant parts of the greater Boston area over the last decade or so to include my family in a civic life that includes both gay and straight men. Like, it's been years since I've personally worried about being denied service or beaten up for being queer. (As long as I'm careful where I travel, anyway.)

And not unrelatedly, I don't spend a lot of time in primarily queer environments. My world can be a lot bigger than that, a lot bigger than my counterparts from 50 years ago... not because I'm somehow different or better than they are, but because a lot of other environments have done a lot of work to become safe for me.

And I really hope that this will remain true moving forward, expand to other states, and encompass additional marginalized identities over the rest of my life.

I really do.

But if it doesn't? Well, if that happens, you can criticize me and my family for looking to queer communities, Jewish communities, Hispanic communities, communities of immigrants, to provide support.

We can't stop you.

But you'll be mistaken to do so.

Talking about talking about racism.

This is long and rambly and it doesn't get tied up in a nice neat bow at the end. It's just me, working through my thoughts about stuff. I don't promise to be interesting or novel or informative. Aren't you glad you didn't pay money to read this?

I'm finding myself reading a number of arguments right now to the effect that we shouldn't use the word "racist" to describe behaviors that differentially reward/punish people based on perceived race. This isn't new, but it's particularly active at the moment because of the election.

In the continuing spirit of not getting into a million different arguments with strangers that might be derailing their original point altogether, I am instead writing down my thoughts about that here.

Namespace conservation

One argument for that I see fairly often is that if we use "racist" to describe common behavior, we won't have anything left to describe truly outrageous behavior.

This kind of namespace-preservation argument has always struck me as bizarre.

If Sam kills and eats their parents, I might refer to that behavior as "monstrous." And, sure, if a few years later Pat grows long venemous tentacles and a bullet-proof carapace, it's true that "monstrous" no longer seems adequate to refer to them because I've previously used it to describe Sam, who is less prototypically monstrous.

So what?

I mean, yes, in that case I need to come up with different language to refer to Pat, whereas if I'd refrained from describing Sam that way I wouldn't need to.

But, again, so what?

We use common words to refer to things we commonly observe. When uncommon observations arise, we use different language to refer to them. It's not like namespace constraints are a primary concern... we make up new words for things all the time.

And, sure, that sort of ad-hoc solution is less efficient than a coherent strategy. So, sure, maybe we're working our way towards a working language that uses a dozen different words to describe gradations of racism when seven words would do. Maybe we end up with "racism" and "bigotry" and "discrimination" and "bias" and "prejudice" and "abuse" and "assault" and "battery" all having fine gradations of meaning on a continuum. Maybe we end up talking about explicit vs implicit racism, or overt vs. covert, or individual vs systemic, or quotidian vs exceptional, or legally actionable vs non-actionable, etc. Maybe we disagree about what these words mean and spend some time arguing about that.

Again: so what? We have a dozen different words for the different ways baseball players send a ball across a field (I mean diamond) by hitting it with a stick (I mean bat). And, yes, one consequence of that is that if I try to talk about baseball, I quickly identify myself as a novice because I use the jargon wrong. Depending on the forum and my attitude people might be patient with me, irritated with me, or make fun of me for my demonstrated ignorance.

Nobody bats an eye (ow!) at any of that.

Why is racism different?

Racism is different, path 1

"But Dave, you said it yourself: 'we use common words to refer to things we commonly observe.' Racism just isn't that common anymore. So we shouldn't talk about it as though it were."

Except it's still pretty common, Imaginary Interlocutor.

"No it's not. We got rid of the overt behavior. We're not even permitted to use racist language anymore. You only think it's common because you've moved the goalposts."

Well, yes, of course we've moved the goalposts. That's how progress works. 12 seconds used to be an Olympic record-winning time in the 100-meter dash. Now it doesn't even qualify. As we get better at something, our standards change.

"Well, but, it's not reasonable to move the goalposts so fast. You're trying to make a century's worth of change in a decade and something will break."

Maybe. OTOH, maybe we've just gotten impatient with waiting a century to make a decade's worth of change. Maybe you're insisting on spending an extra ninety years operating under abusive standards, and it results in unnecessary suffering.

"Well, it's clear to me that you're just wrong about that. My expectations about the optimal rate of change are correct, yours are not."

(nods) I understand that. We have conflicting perspectives.

And I guess much of this boils down to which of our perspectives gets normalized, and which gets marginalized.

"Well, I endorse normalizing my perspective: racism is basically uncommon. Therefore, you ought not be labeling common events as racism."

Right. And I endorse marginalizing your perspective and normalizing mine: racism is pervasive and systemic, and most of us run into it routinely in everyday life, including in our own minds.

"I don't see how to reconcile those perspectives."

No, me neither. In practice we're going to implement some amalgam of the two, where how quickly we progress (or regress) depends on which of our views has ascendancy where. Which is what we've been doing for decades, and will continue to do for some time.

Racism is different, part 2

Of course, I'm being disingenuous. I know perfectly well that racism is different because it's emotionally salient. We've learned that racism is bad, and therefore we want to protect ourselves from being labelled racist, whatever it means. And the easiest way to do that is to agree to labeling rules that prevent it. This is hardly a novel observation, people have been saying this for my whole life. But since I'm seeing a lot of people making the namespace preservation argument in these kinds of abstract emotionless terms, it seems only fair to engage with it in those terms.

OTOH, I also see a lot of people making the emotional-salience argument explicitly, often the same people in the same paragraph... arguing that because calling people "racist" makes those people uncomfortable, we ought not do that, because we ought not be making other people uncomfortable.

These days, I most often hear that argument in the context of U.S. partisan politics. "The Left fails to make its case to American voters, which is why Democrats lose elections and Republicans win them. If we want Republicans to lose and Democrats to win, the Left needs to start making its case in ways that voters understand. It doesn't matter how we think about it, we have to use language that addressed their emotional needs if we're going to make any progress."

Often anything "the Left" (whoever that happens to be in the moment) says in response to this about anyone else's emotional (or logistical) needs is dismissed as tangential. "Yeah, sure, whatever, that'd be nice, but if you want to make progress, you have to deal with other people as they are, not as you want them to be."

Let me say, first of all, that I find this stance infuriating.

Which, I find, to the sorts of people who make this sort of argument, triggers a kind of eye-rolling strained tolerance. If I'm going to get all emotional about it then there's no point in talking to me. Which, well, all right. You get to choose whom you talk to, you get to choose whom you listen to. If you won't listen to angry people, that's your choice. It doesn't mean we're any less angry, it just means you aren't listening.

Let me say, second, that the reason it infuriates me is that it frames "the Left" and "American voters" as two different groups, where "American voters," who are aligned with Republicans and not Democrats, have the power, and the Left are supplicants to that power.

Noteworthily, it does this asymetrically. For example, I don't find that the people making this argument were also arguing, in 2012 or 2008, that "The Right fails to make its case to American voters, which is why Democrats win elections and Republicans lose them. If we want Republicans to lose and Democrats to win, the Left needs to start making its case in ways that voters understand. It doesn't matter how we think about it, we have to use language that addressed their emotional needs if we're going to make any progress."

Indeed, that paragraph sounds pretty ridiculous.

Instead, I saw the argument made over and over that the Obama administration was illegitimate, failed to represent the American people, and that the way for the Right to win was to do everything it could to prevent that administration from successfully governing.

Which, well, OK. They're playing a zero-sum game where the win condition is controlling the government. Those tactics are a pretty good strategy for winning that game.

(I don't mean to suggest that this is the only game they're playing. I'm sure many of them genuinely believe that controlling the government is only step 1, for example, and that once they eliminate the pernicious influence of the Left they will improve the things that deserve improving.)

Dem's Da Rules

Anyway. Regardless of the reasons -- and I don't expect to find widespread agreement about the reasons -- the fact remains that I hear these arguments against the way anti-racists talk about racism fairly regularly, especially of late. I hear a lot about how the Left abuses innocent people with our language, hanging perjorative labels on them which they totally do not deserve because they're good people, through our talk about racism, especially about racism as it manifests in casual language.

Better writers than I have written at length about the absurdity inherent in this sort of "making people feel bad for the language they use is bad, and you should feel bad for talking in ways that make people feel that way" reasoning. If we were consistently applying some kind of consequentialist framework, we would condemn racist language the same way we condemn anti-racist language (e.g., "making people feel bad for the color of their skin is bad, and you should feel bad for talking in ways that make people feel that way"). But as far as I can tell, we don't do that. When marginalized groups complain that the way some people talk about them makes them feel bad, the people who condemn anti-racist language as verbal bullying don't feel particularly inclined to defend them.

But of course, that condemnation is proscriptive rather than descriptive, and proscriptive rules don't have to be consistent. They may be absurd, but they're still the rules. I may disapprove of tax laws but I should still pay taxes. If the rule is "Don't call people racist, it's not nice," then I may think that's absurd but I still shouldn't call people racist.

In my experience, proscriptivist positions are pretty much immune to any discussions about what the rules ought to be, what the costs of the rules are, etc. When the rules change, they change, but until then, the rules are the rules. So I try not to waste my time on such discussions. When I'm talking to someone who seems to holds a proscriptivist position on a topic, I ask questions, I try to understand their model, and then I move on. (Or try to, anyway. I don't always succeed.)

Pragmatism? Is that all you have to offer?

Of course, in writing that I've probably just triggered a wave of "But I'm not a proscriptivist! I just think calling people racist is a bad way of achieving our goals! I'm a pragmatist!"

Which, well, OK.

Let me try to sum up the pragmatist position as I understand it: I have goals. In order to achieve some of my goals, I need people to vote the way I want them to. In practice, telling people that what they're doing is wrong and bad and harmful, and suggesting that they themselves are wrong and bad for doing it, doesn't get people to vote the way I want them to. In fact, it alienates people and makes them more inclined to vote the other way.

So on pragmatic grounds, the argument goes, we should not call Republican voters racist, even when we think they are, because the result of doing that is they elect Donald Trump.

The evidence of which is that Donald Trump got elected. (Of note is that Barack Obama's 2 wins, McCain's loss, and Romney's loss are not counterevidence by this model, I'm not sure why. No doubt if we look at enough state-level polls we'll find reasons to believe it.)

I basically agree with this position, as far as it goes. If my only goal were to convince Republican voters to vote for Democrats, I would 100% endorse not just staying quiet about racism, but also more generally, not saying anything that offends Republican voters, and otherwise acting like a Republican.

But of course, it isn't my only goal. In particular, my goals also include doing the kinds of things that make me care which party wins elections, which includes mitigating the extent to which POC are differentially punished by the system we live in and manifest. And yeah, I think calling out racism is an important part of that, and any framing that just quietly ignores that part in favor of not making people uncomfortable misses that boat in some important ways.


Fear and partisan politics.

(This was a comment on a friend's wall. Said friend wanted to promote it, so I moved it here for easy linking. It was written in response to a commenter writing about their fears about a Hillary Clinton administration.)

I recognize your fear, and I'm sorry for it.

Living in fear sucks.

Here's the thing, though: when Obama was elected I saw a lot of fear... that he would impose Sharia law, that he would criminalize Christianity, that he would criminalize gun ownership and confiscate everyone's guns, that he would be so weak our enemies would attack American soil like they did under Bush, that our economy would continue to collapse, and so on and so forth.

And it made me sad. And I asked people, if in four to eight years it turned out that none of those things happened, would they be less scared? Would that be evidence that their fears are baseless?

And now it's eight years later, and it's still legal to be Christian, to eat meat, to drink alcohol, to own guns, and we haven't seen another large-scale attack on our soil, the economy is recovering. And now that Clinton is being elected, the same litany is coming up. And we're still so very very scared.

And I ask the same question. What do we anticipate? Four years from now, eight years from now, if that hasn't materialized, will that give us reason to be less scared?

I mean, I was scared when Obama was elected. I was pretty sure he'd be assassinated before his first term was out, because that's the kind of country I thought I lived in. Turns out I was wrong, AND THAT IS AWESOME. Reality is better than I feared.

I was scared when Trump was nominated. I felt it entirely possible that my country would choose this man to lead our executive branch. But it's looking like I was wrong, AND THAT IS AWESOME. My country is better than I feared.

And like you, I'm scared that the government may not survive the next four to eight years. For example, when I see the Senate simply refuse to talk to a proposed Supreme Court justice, not because of any properties of the nominee himself, but purely because he was nominated by a Democratic President... that scares me.

The prospect of gridlock on an even vaster scale than we've already seen scares me, because government action can make people's lives better, and when the government is paralyzed that action is inhibited and people suffer in consequence.

But you know? If in four years it turns out that we haven't been gridlocked into paralysis, that'll be awesome. I'll breathe a sigh of relief and think maybe it's getting better.

And all of that helps.

But also, in some ways it doesn't. In some ways my fear of the reactionary elements that call themselves "conservative" in this country runs deeper than the specific issues.

So how about you? You're scared that Clinton will "take the whole government down" and thereby expose us to the "enemies at the gate." What would that look like... how would we know it was happening? If in four years, we aren't seeing that stuff... will you be relieved? Will you praise that?

Or is the fear deeper than the specific issues that concern you?


Shared responsibility

A while back, I made a comment about the residents of a hypothetical neighborhood having a shared responsibility to put out a house on fire, and a commenter expressed difficulty understanding this concept of shared responsibility, and asked why I preferred that framework.

I capture my response here with minor modifications.

Thoughts welcomed.

First off... perhaps you could help me out by establishing a baseline for the, I assume, easier-to-understand concept for individual responsibility.

E.g. you ask me what are the limits of collective responsibility.
Well... what are the limits of individual responsibility?

Similarly... how much trouble, toil and treasure must I invest in putting a fire out, if putting it out is my individual responsibility? At what point do I give up and let the house burn down?

How ought I make those decisions?

I think, if we can answer these questions about individual responsibility in a satisfactory way, I'll have a relatively easy time answering the analogous questions about shared responsibility, as the two concepts are pretty similar.

That said, I think these are difficult questions to answer in any sort of generic way, and differentially insisting on answers to them for shared vs individual responsibility constitutes an unfair burden on one of them.

Failing that, I'll try to approach your uncertainty about shared responsibility a different way.

It seems to me that parents can, and frequently do, share responsibility for a child.

If you agree with me, then perhaps we can build a more general notion of shared responsibility from that one agreed-upon exemplar. Can you say more about how you see that responsibility working?

If you disagree, can you say more about how you think the responsibility parents have for their children works? Like, is one parent responsible without reference to the other, except insofar as the other might agree to "help out"? Are both parents responsible without reference to the other, and if so, could you say more about how that works? Is neither parent responsible? Do they have mutually exclusive jointly exhaustive individual resonsibilities? Something else?


Failing that, let me try a different approach: suppose there are ten of us and we've performed a series of observations and experiments such that we've each come to the very confident conclusion that: a) we are locked in a room and unable to leave it, b) if there are nine or fewer of us alive in the room in 30 minutes, it will open and let us out, c) if there are ten or more of us alive in the room in 30 minutes, it will flood with poison gas and kill us all.

On your view, do we have any responsibilities as a consequence of the situation? What are they, if so?

On my view, in that situation we have a shared responsibility to save 9 lives, given that we have the ability to do so. But it's really unclear to me what individual responsibilities anyone in that room has. So a framework that only considers individual responsibilities is inadequate to consider that situation. (And, similarly, other situations that involve symmetric responsibilities such that an individual "share" of a shared responsibility is less than 1 implementable quantum.)


Failing that, I'm not sure what more I can say. Hopefully one or more of those approaches gives you some insight as to why I view shared responsibility as a superior framework for thinking about certain problems involving right action for individuals in groups.

Self awareness

The therapeutic framework I'm engaged in these days (Internal Family Systems) is really big on two distinct ideas: first, that minds contain a bundle of "parts" that have their own attitudes and agendas, and second that minds contain a core "self" that transcends all of that and is capable of exerting leadership.

The goal is to get the system to a point where it is self-led, rather than parts-led.

As I'm sure comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, I am all over the "parts" thing. The Council of Voles has been my working metaphor for my own mind for a long time. I'm fond of them.

And as probably comes as no surprise to many who know me, I am completely at sea when it comes to the "self" thing. If I have a unified coherent core self that is distinct from the aggregate of parts, I am completely unaware of it. My awareness of myself, my model of myself, is as an aggregate entity, period full stop.

And I get that this is common, and the IFS literature talks a lot about clients who are in that state of having no real awareness of self, but only an awareness of parts. And our response to that is basically "fuck you." Adding some hypothetical invisible "core self" to that self-model feels as unjustified to us as adding a hypothetical invisible "royal family" to our model of the U.S.Government.

For the most part, I've been able to finesse this conflict. I mean, I certainly have the experience of there being islands of greater stability within the ocean of loosely organized parts, and I'm fine with calling that a "core self" when the process requires a core self to weigh in on things. This is similar to how we did things in my college living group, which did not have a "president" but instead made decisions more collectively... when we received phone calls requesting to talk to the president, any house member was empowered to reply "Speaking!" and deal with the issue.

But it's becoming tricky (as indeed it often did in college) when those processes require that the core self commit to things. Cuz, well. We don't wanna.

Which, I mean, basically raises the same fundamental question as is common to all sorts of psychological models that posit a core self and various peripheral shadows thereof: "yeah, but what if my core self is kind of a dick?"

And, I think the traditional IFS response to this is the common one... "no, no, it really isn't. if it's being a dick, that's actually a part you're interacting with, not your core self."

Which, well, OK.

("God is Love. If what we find in our worship is not Love, then we have not found God." Etc. Which, well, OK, but don't ask me to justify the separate creation of necrotizing fascitis as an act of love.)

The thing is, I do sort of accept that as plausible, in a very theoretical way. But when I'm down in the muck, theoretical acceptance of plausibility just isn't enough. Because honestly, it really does feel in here like a Scout troop whose Scoutmaster died a while back. We manage well enough, most of the time, but nobody's actually in charge, and some tasks simply don't get done.


It's not a marathon.

It's not a marathon.

It's not a sprint, either.

It's a million people all independently running in vaguely the same direction.

And yes, some of them are going to run into side-alleys and get lost.

And some are going to trample neighbors' yards, get into fist-fights in the street, trash cars, and otherwise be counterproductive.

And yes, some other folks who had nothing to do with the movement in the first place are going to join in the trashing and trampling and looting, because some folks just want to watch the world burn.

And yes, some of the folks watching nervously from their windows are going to point to all that shit and think "well, honestly! If that's how they behave, I'm certainly not going to support their cause."

And sure, there will be folks watching who shake their heads and tut-tut about how the counterproductive stuff is counterproductive and harms the movement and lamenting all the support the movement is losing because it alienates and upsets and frightens potential allies. And they're not wrong. This kind of thing does alienate and upset and frighten people. And some of those people might have been allies, if they weren't feeling alienated or upset or frightened. That stuff feels shitty, and not everyone is willing to suffer through shitty feelings in order to help.

For my own part, though? Well, I don't want to be one of the folks watching nervously from my window and demanding support for my shitty feelings. And I don't want to be one of the folks shaking my head and tut-tutting and explaining how this is all counterproductive.

And that doesn't mean I'm going to join the folks running, either. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It depends on a lot of stuff, much of which is crap, but, well, it's my crap and I live with it. Hell, I might not even get it together enough to cheer the leading edge along from the sidelines as they run past and hand out bottles of water. But even if I can't keep up, well, I can try to help some of my neighbors process those shitty feelings, help clean up a trashed lawn or two and mend some fences. Or I can get together with them and we can all work through our shitty feelings together.

And, hell, sometimes I just stare at the ceiling and cry and am doing well if I remember to feed my dog. Y'know?

And frankly, I endorse any of that over tut-tutting and pearl-clutching.

All of which is to say, policing what forms other people's anti-racism takes really is NOT my highest priority right now.

And also? As long as I've invested in this metaphor to this extent: can we please not forget that there are folks standing on the sidelines and shooting into the crowd?
A friend of mine recently shared Shriver's NYT opinion piece about how the Left is destroying diversity, which addressed a topic he's often felt he's not allowed to talk about: whether we're allowed to talk about certain topics.

Regular readers may recall that not being allowed to talk about it is something of a recurring topic. One might say obsessively so.

To quote myself in one of those posts:

I believe in dialog. I believe in the collaborative process of growing together through the exchange of ideas, of experiences, of perspectives. I want everyone to speak up, and everyone to be heard, and everyone's thoughts to be recognized, and if I have a spiritual practice then a huge part of it involves keeping the conversation going, and if I have a spiritual faith it is deeply entangled with endorsing what comes out of that conversation. He that hath tongue to speak, let him speak!

So I don't want to use words that shut down dialog. I don't want to contribute to the silence that way.

But [...] maybe the world simply is such that my only choice is who to silence. It may be that if I want my language to comfort the afflicted then I have no choice but to accept that it will afflict the comfortable.

Maybe that's just what it means to live in a fallen world.

So... that my response got way out of hand here is perhaps really no surprise at all.


So, anyway, as I say above, I believe in dialog. So I oppose there being things we can't talk about in a global sense.

But also? I don't want to have to deal with anyone in my office talking about how God disapproves of my family because we're queer. And by the same token, I refrain from condemning their families in the office.

So, yeah, I totally endorse there being things we can't talk about in the office. I think most people do. Mostly we think of it as being polite.

And I get that where the line between "local" and "global" speech suppression ought to be is controversial.

OK, maybe we can agree that we shouldn't condemn my family at work... but is it OK at the supermarket? Is it OK on television? Is it OK in my living room? Is it OK on my blog? Is it OK on a college campus? Is it OK at a commencement speech? Is it OK to write a novel in which a God much like the one you worship sends a family much like mine to Hell for our sin? Is it OK to write a novel in which a family much like mine is portrayed as living in constant misery due to our rejection of decent moral standards?

And if any of these things aren't OK... what is it OK to do about it? Is it OK to quietly condemn it? Is it OK to vocally condemn it? Is it OK to organize group activities to vocally condemn it? Is it OK to shun those who engage in it? Is it OK to hike right on past them without even talking, and not invite them to our frankfurter roasts or picnics or parties or marshmallow toasts?

The thing is, we're going to disagree about such things. That's OK.

Actually, it would be bewildering if we didn't disagree about such things. If we're going to draw a line at all, we have to draw it somewhere, and there will always be good arguments for drawing it somewhere else.

So the line is blurry, and it shifts over time. Fifty years ago, for example, it was mostly not OK for me to talk at work about my queer family. Now, it's mostly not OK for others to talk at work about why they condemn my queer family.

And, of course, when lines change such that stuff I do used to be OK, and now isn't OK... well, that's fraught.

And it's very natural, in those moments, to focus on how my freedom of expression is being curtailed. And it's very natural, in those moments, to generalize those examples to a broader narrative in which freedom of expression in general is being curtailed.

Shriver is not the first to do this, and won't be the last.

Usually the narrative is framed in terms of liberal inconsistency: fifty years ago the liberals were arguing for Dave's freedom to talk about his family, and now liberals are arguing against his coworkers' freedom to talk about how they disapprove of it! They're liars! They claim to be for free speech but really they're censorship-happy fascists!

Shriver has a minor variant: liberals aren't being inconsistent here, he she claims. Rather, the older liberals, who stood for free speech, are being overridden by the younger liberals, who are censorship-happy fascists! Never mind that conservatives in the 1980s were condemning the "older" liberals (who were of course younger liberals at the time) as censorship-happy fascists.


My point here isn't actually to condemn Shriver's argument.

Rather, my point is that this sort of narrative is commonplace when the culture shifts, such that what we used to consider OK, we stop considering OK. Groups invested in the things we now condemn feel their liberties are being infringed upon.

Which, well... sure. Of course they are.

I mean, setting easy rhetoric about liberty aside, living in a community means that we are prevented from doing certain things that we'd be free to do in isolation, just as it means we are enabled to do certain things we'd be unable to do in isolation. Even libertarians accept that the property rights of others constrain what we can do in communities, and that this is right and proper.

To the extent that we value what we're enabled to do more than what we're prevented from doing is not, we're usually OK with this. To the extent that it's the reverse, we're usually not. And for the most part we struggle to push the community norms around in ways that line up with our values.

That's just how communities work. Always has been, always will be. Aligning the behavior of a collective buys leverage at the price of removing individual freedoms. That's a constant.

The variable part is usually how our collective values reflect the individual values of different individuals. When that shifts so that my individual values are no longer quite so well aligned with my community's collective values, then yes, my individual liberties are infringed upon... just as my neighbor's were last week. And if I care about me more than I do about my neighbor, then I will care about how our liberties are being infringed on now more than I cared last week.

If we have an audience and they don't, we're typically OK with that. If suddenly they have an audience and we don't, we're typically aggrieved.

So I guess what I'm saying here is that Shriver's piece, and this whole "liberals are destroying the fundamental principles of free speech!" narrative that we never see in the press these days because conservative writers are prevented from espousing it... er... or something like that, anyway... is not wrong, precisely.

It is, however, coming from a very different set of values than my own.

And insofar as it's framed in general terms about valuing free speech and open dialog and so forth, it's misleading, since in those terms nothing is really changing... there have always been more and less dominant voices in the dialog. What's changing is the relative power of those voices.

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