Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Sarah Jeong Gets A Job At The Racial Animosity Factory

It's hard to say anything of substance about the Sarah Jeong story without duplicating things everyone else has said, so I here succumb to the temptation to link dump, mostly. The basic story is by now well-known; Jeong got hired to write unsigned editorials for the New York Times after a stint at The Verge and Harvard Law. Her tweets — literally, years of them — "reveal a vicious hatred of an entire group of people based only on their skin color" as Andrew Sullivan put it. Those of us on the receiving end of her nasty rhetoric (including expressions of "eliminationist" wishes — "#cancelwhitepeople") must understand that all this is just fine:
Jeong definitionally cannot be racist, because she’s both a woman and a racial minority. Racism against whites, in this neo-Marxist view, just “isn’t a thing” — just as misandry literally cannot exist at all. And this is because, in this paradigm, racism has nothing to do with a person’s willingness to pre-judge people by the color of their skin, or to make broad, ugly generalizations about whole groups of people, based on hoary stereotypes. Rather, racism is entirely institutional and systemic, a function of power, and therefore it can only be expressed by the powerful — i.e., primarily white, straight men. For a nonwhite female, like Sarah Jeong, it is simply impossible. In the religion of social constructionism, Jeong, by virtue of being an Asian woman, is one of the elect, incapable of the sin of racism or group prejudice. All she is doing is resisting whiteness and maleness, which indeed require resistance every second of the day.

That’s why Jeong hasn’t apologized to the white people she denigrated or conceded that her tweets were racist. Nor has she taken responsibility for them. Her statement actually blames her ugly tweets on trolls whose online harassment of her prompted her to respond in turn. She was merely “counter-trolling.” She says her tweets, which were not responses to any individual, were also “not aimed at a general audience,” and now understands that these tweets were “hurtful” and won’t do them again. The New York Times also buys this argument: “her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time, she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.”
Sullivan, who rightly called this excuse "the purest bullshit", found himself shortly thereafter attacked by the usual dimwits, including Ezra Klein, who stupidly used the fact that one of her tweets was about Sullivan to dismiss any criticism of it. (This was also picked up by Tyler O'Neil, who noted that Jeong used the tweet to whip up anti-Sullivan sentiment.) The Federalist had good responses from Warren Henry ("The scandal is not that the NYT hired Sarah Jeong. The scandal is that so many progressives cannot conceive of it being scandalous.") and Sumatra Maitra, for whom this graf stands out (emboldening mine):
One cannot possibly imagine how superficially polite but internally toxic and Stasi-esque the environment of a New York Times editorial meeting is, unless of course, you accept that all the men and women who work at The New York Times are groveling, self-hating cowards. It would be a great social science experiment to take an anonymous survey of the New York Times office to unearth what people really feel about their co-workers.
Likewise Jonah Goldberg in National Review; do we really have to spell out that racism against white people can be a thing? I guess so:
If all you need to know about Oscar Wilde is that he was a gay dude, just like Richard Simmons or Milo what’s-his-name, you’re a bigot. If Meyer Lansky and Albert Einstein are merely two Jews to you, you’re an anti-Semite. If Margaret Thatcher, Joan of Arc, and Lizzie Borden are just three chicks, you’re a sexist.

...But for some bizarre reason, for many people, this idea evaporates like water off a hot skillet when you replace any of these categories with “white” or, very often, “male.”

Suddenly fancy words and phrases fly like sawdust from a wood chipper: “structures of oppression!” “decontextualized!” “ahistoricized!” etc. It’s all so clever and complicated. The same people who take to the streets at the slightest suggestion that Muslims can be judged by the evil deeds of other Muslims will lecture and harangue you for hours, mob you on Twitter, or condescendingly dismiss you for not understanding that all white people have it coming.
A coda from David French:
...[T]his argument confuses the gravity of an offense with the existence of the offense. A powerless person’s hate may not harm the powerful, but it is still hate. A powerless person’s hate may even be grounded in specific experiences, but it is still hate. The essence of bigotry is to look at the color of a person’s skin and, on that basis alone, make malignant judgments about his character or worth.
A corollary illustrating how stupid the left's position here is that racism is geographic. If racism only exists in the contexts of power, and if you don't happen to be among the powerful majority, then a white person can't be racist in China, and a Chinese can't be racist in the west. Claire Lehmman credited the addled thinkers excusing Jeong with "[having] to defend their bailey position (racism=power+prejudice) rather than simply retreating to their motte position (dictionary definition of racism)", but so far as I have seen, this hasn't happened. The definition of racism got a good working over at Slate Star Codex:
So we have a case where original coinage, all major dictionaries, and the overwhelming majority of common usage all define “racism” one way, and social justice bloggers insist with astonishing fervor that way is totally wrong and it must be defined another. One cannot argue definitions, but one can analyze them, so you have to ask – whence the insistence that racism have the structural-oppression definition rather than the original and more commonly used one? Why couldn’t people who want to talk about structural oppression make up their own word, thus solving the confusion? Even if they insisted on the word “racism” for their new concept, why not describe the state of affairs as it is: “The word racism can mean many things to many people, and I suppose a group of black people chasing a white kid down the street waving knives and yelling ‘KILL WHITEY’ qualifies by most people’s definition, but I prefer to idiosyncratically define it my own way, so just remember that when you’re reading stuff I write”? Or why not admit that this entire dispute is pointless and you should try to avoid being mean to people no matter what word you call the meanness by?
The answer to that should by now be obvious: the people behind it want institutional power and this is a way to get it without accountability. "If you can't be racist against white people, then why are you trying so hard?"

Cathy Young:
So, what is the final lesson of the controversy over Jeong? Some conservative critics have slammed the New York Times for a “racial double standard” in standing by her, while others have denounced her tweets while agreeing that she shouldn’t be fired. But, interestingly, there has also been some angry reaction on the left. On Splinter News, Libby Watson called the Times’ handling of the incident “pathetic”; the newspaper’s statement, she fumed, not only validated “bad faith” right-wing complaints about Jeong but seemed to endorse the view that “being flippant about white people” was “comparable to actual racism.”

The Jeong controversy has revealed to what an extent a toxic form of identity politics is prevalent on the left today. The silver lining is that both the New York Times and Jeong have agreed that white-bashing is bad. Perhaps we can start a new conversation from that point.
Yes, especially given that Asian-American families out-earn their white counterparts by about 28% (PDF), it's hard to see how someone like Jeong, educated at an elite school, gets to make snotty comments about "all white people" — a group that includes a lot of Appalachian poverty. Jeong's tweets, it seems to me, amount to a sort of argot that provides a passkey to the cool kids hangout in the upper tiers of American society. They may not be meant seriously, but they not only did not cost her her job at The Verge, they got her an upgrade at the NYT.

Inkoo Kang at Slate essentially told white people to shut up, chiding the Times for "how protective it’s being of white feelings at a time of renewed and active discrimination against people of color", as though somehow being actually considerate toward others wasn't part of the process of convincing them to your point of view. But in keeping with the argot theory of Jeong's tweets, Jeong's job at the Times isn't one of convincing people so much as telling them the right thing to think. In fact, as Yascha Mounk (also in Slate) put it,
But while I do not think that Jeong should be fired for her tweets, I am depressed by the extent to which they are now being celebrated. This is true both because the content of her tweets is, from a liberal perspective, much worse than her defenders want to admit and because the kind of rhetoric in which she engaged is detrimental to the prospect of building a just society.

The core of the Times’ defense of Jeong is that she “responded to … harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.” In the most obvious reading of the statement, this is simply untrue. If Jeong had been imitating the rhetoric of her harassers, we would expect most instances of it to come in direct response to trolls. But in reality, she took aim at “white people” in standalone tweets on a wide range of subjects, from food to television.

The only tenable interpretation of the Times’ statement is therefore much broader: Because Jeong has frequently encountered abuse from white social media users—something that is, sadly, beyond doubt—she imitated their style and rhetoric when tweeting about white people in general, even when unprompted by any specific incident of harassment.
It seems incredible that Mounk needs to make the obvious point that, "the defensive inversion of bigotry ... is also a massive gift to the very people who are most intent on doing harm to them." That is to say, it is a kind of political suicide, one that reminds me of Freddie deBoer's response to the "magic words" concept.

Update 2018-08-09: Reihan Salam in The Atlantic:
In some instances, white-bashing can actually serve as a means of ascent, especially for Asian Americans. Embracing the culture of upper-white self-flagellation can spur avowedly enlightened whites to eagerly cheer on their Asian American comrades who show (abstract, faceless, numberless) lower-white people what for. ... <

Think about what it takes to claw your way into America’s elite strata. Unless you were born into the upper-middle class, your surest route is to pursue an elite education. To do that, it pays to be exquisitely sensitive to the beliefs and prejudices of the people who hold the power to grant you access to the social and cultural capital you badly want. By setting the standards for what counts as praiseworthy, elite universities have a powerful effect on youthful go-getters. Their admissions decisions represent powerful “nudges” towards certain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and I’ve known many first- and second-generation kids—I was one of them—who intuit this early on.

Consider the recent contretemps over Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policies. Critics argue that the university actively discriminates against high-achieving Asian American applicants by claiming that a disproportionately large number of them have lackluster personalities. One obvious reaction to this charge is to denounce Harvard for its supposed double standards. This reaction might be especially appealing to those who see themselves as the sort of people who’d be dismissed by Harvard’s suspect screening process, and who’d thus have every reason to resent it. ...

So what if you’re an Asian American who has already made the cut? In that case, you might celebrate Harvard’s wisdom in judiciously balancing its student body, or warn that Harvard’s critics have a darker, more ominous agenda that can’t be trusted. This establishes you as an insider, who gets that Harvard is doing the right thing, while allowing you to distance yourself from less-enlightened, and less-elite, people of Asian origin: You’re all being duped by evil lower-whites who don’t grok racial justice.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The NEA Ignores Obama’s Advice On Race

Ex-President Obama recently gave a speech in which he said,
Democracy demands getting inside "the reality of people who are different than us."

"You can't do it if you insist that those who aren't like you because they're white, or because they're male...that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters."
This bit of obvious advice seems to have escaped the mandarins at the NEA, who recently published their 2018 statement of resolutions, which includes this howler:
White Supremacy Culture
The National Education Association believes that, in order to achieve racial and social justice, educators must acknowledge the existence of White supremacy culture as a primary root cause of institutional racism, structural racism, and White privilege. Additionally, the Association believes that the norms, standards, and organizational structures manifested in White supremacy culture perpetually exploit and oppress people of color and serve as detriments to racial justice. Further, the invisible racial benefits of White privilege, which are automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender, and other factors, severely limit opportunities for people of color and impede full achievement of racial and social justice. Therefore, the Association will actively advocate for social and educational strategies fostering the eradication of institutional racism and White privilege perpetuated by White supremacy culture.
Of course, no evidence is given for this, but none ever is; the power and ubiquity of racism is taken as axiomatic, and unstoppable. Even if Obama — or, if you have that limber an imagination, Hillary Clinton — had said something to this effect in 2016 (as some of the commenters in the thead in Cathy Young’s tweet suggested), it’s hard to imagine how those words wouldn’t be drowned out by “deplorables” and the sheer mass of the diversity-industrial complex within the Democratic Party.

Monday, July 9, 2018

An Attempt To Bridge The Feminist Rhetorical Gap

Stuart Reges' brave jeremiad opposing the modern feminist orthodoxy in STEM fields (computer science particularly) comes from someone whose work in mentoring young women in the field is, apparently, unimpeachable. Having spent his life as an academic teaching computer science, first at Stanford, and later at U. Washington, he describes himself as "a champion of using undergraduate TAs in introductory programming classes" who has "helped hundreds of women to learn to love computer science". He writes that he is a "a strong advocate of many aspects of the diversity agenda."

He digs in:
When I tried to discuss [fired Google employee James] Damore at my school, I found it almost impossible. As a thought experiment, I asked how we could make someone like Damore feel welcome in our community. The pushback was intense. My question was labeled an “inflammatory example” and my comments were described as “hurtful” to women. When I mentioned that perhaps we could invite Damore to speak at UW, a faculty member responded, “If he comes here, we’ll hurt him.” She was joking, but the sentiment was clear.

One faculty member gave a particularly cogent response. She said, “Is it our job to make someone with those opinions feel welcome? I’m not sure whether academic freedom dictates that.” She argued that because we know that women have traditionally been discriminated against, perhaps it is more important to support them because the environment will not be sufficiently inclusive if they have to deal with someone like Damore. She said it “is up to us” to decide, but that, “choosing to hold a viewpoint does not necessarily give you the right to feel comfortable.”
Which is to say, the faculty doesn't understand the whole point of academic freedom, and its relationship to tenure. Reges then covers the same ground Damore did, and with similar reactions to Damore's. The official response was, more or less, hang the science, we have a diversity agenda to promote. Luckily, being a tenured professor, he has somewhat greater protection than Damore did, and so continues to pull a paycheck.

So now Gideon Scopes peers into the abyss. Can we talk the diversity mavens off the ledge? He observes, rightly, that people like Milo Yiannopoulos inflame and degrade the standard of discourse. But is a more neutral tone enough? What of Damore's well-researched paper that got him fired? (Emboldening mine.)
[D]espite its scientific validity, the document in its present form was unlikely to persuade anyone who wasn’t already at the very least skeptical of the politically correct narrative.  Given the degree to which emotions ran high around this issue, simply presenting the factual evidence could be perceived as hostile.
This has been going on for some while. Scopes cites the appalling misrepresentation of Larry Summers' 2005 remarks on the subject:
When the story broke that that Dr. Summers had attributed the STEM gender gap to a lack of aptitude on the part of women, I was puzzled.  What was he thinking?  Wasn’t he accusing certain people of being incapable of doing something that they had been doing for decades?  It wasn’t until two years later than I finally read his speech in full and came to understand that what he had actually said was far different from what I had believed he had said.
What he said was radically different from the funhouse mirror version that made the press headlines; using Scopes' paraphrase, "he was saying that the small percentage of the population with the highest levels of aptitude in science might contain more men than women."

But will it move the opposition? I doubt it. The Upton Sinclair axiom applies: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" The commercial feminists have strong reason to downplay actual research, as much as the DEA has reason to ignore and impede drug research. They will need to be fought to ground over this, and more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The New York Times Wonders Why San Francisco Waiters Are Disappearing, Blames Everything But $15/Hr. Minimum Wage

The New York Times struggles vainly to blame everything but San Francisco's $15/hour minimum wage (which goes into full effect on July 1) for the disappearance of table waiting jobs:
So burgers get more expensive as houses do. But even wealthy tech workers will pay only so much to eat one. “If we were to pay what we need to pay people to make a living in San Francisco, a $10 hamburger would be a $20 hamburger, and it wouldn’t make sense anymore,” said Anjan Mitra, who owns two high-end Indian restaurants in the city, both named Dosa. “Something has to give.”

If customers won’t buy $20 burgers, or $25 dosas, and the staff in the kitchen can’t be cut, that something is service. “And that is what we did — we got rid of our servers,” Mr. Mitra said.
This brings up an important point: productivity increases are a prerequisite to rising real wages. Today's waiters have the same productivity, more or less, as their predecessors a century ago; there's only so many people one person can feed in an hour. It's basically an unskilled job, so the competition for labor is essentially infinite.

The second quoted graf above brings up something Brian Doherty wrote in Reason back in 2013: if there is a social obligation to pay a "living wage", why does it only fall on business owners? In other words, if business owners need to raise prices to meet the new, higher payroll, why is there no similar obligation on the part of patrons to spend more? The circle-squarers of the left never consider these kinds of problems. Their utopias rely upon ignoring second-order effects.

The city also requires employers with at least 20 workers to pay health care costs beyond the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, in addition to paid sick leave and parental leave.
I guess if those jobs don't exist, then it doesn't matter what they're "guaranteed".

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Insanity Of Maxine Waters' Mobs

So, a rural Virginia restaurant named the Red Hen refused service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president's press secretary, and her party. The owner, Stephanie Wilkinson, did this on the grounds that "the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation". Sanders and her party left without further incident.

Public establishments appear to have the right to eject people based on their political leanings, and thus Robby Soave's defense of Wilkinson's ejection in Reason. I do not think this is a terrific precedent, one that is likely to backfire in numerous ways. Particularly, that became obvious after long-time Representative Maxine Waters called for an escalation:
Waters said, “If you think we’re rallying now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You have members of your cabinet being booed out of restaurants. You have protesters taking up at their house. We say no peace, no sleep. No peace, so sleep. And guess what? We’re going to win this battle, because while you try to quote the Bible, Jeff Sessions and others, you really don’t know the Bible. God is on our side. On the side of the children. On the side of what’s right. On the side of what’s honorable. On the side of understanding that if we can’t protect the children, we can’t protect anybody, and so let’s stay the course. Let’s make sure that we show up where ever we have to show up. If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out, and you create a crowd, and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
The first problem I see here is that of charitable reading of Waters' statement. It is in no way clear that she intended for mobs to attack, although it is easy to read it in that way. ("Push back" is not the same thing as "push", i.e. physical assault.) But mobs do not do nuance. They are also not in charge of the venues she mentions. As Soave put it,
Waters seems to be encouraging people to form angry mobs to harass Trump officials; if such a practice became normal, it could very well get out of hand quickly. Besides, Waters doesn't get to decide the rules of engagement in department stores, gas stations, and restaurants—the owners of those properties do. I bet a lot of them would prefer if people didn't harass other customers, regardless of whether those customers work for Trump.
 The plain problems raised by such incendiary gabble sparked a response from no less a figure than Nancy Pelosi:
Leaving aside the problem of whether America is beautiful with only the right political leadership, Pelosi's tweet was as close to a public (if coded) rebuke as another member of the same party could ever offer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Conor Friedersdorf Clanks Again: The Anti-Male Agenda Of Modern Academic Feminism

Conor Friedersdorf and his milquetoast attacks on feminist extremists (viz., his response to the Scott Aaronson fracas) continue with a review of Suzanna Danuta Walters’ two-minutes’-hate against men in the pages of the Washington Post, of all places. (Imagining that paper publish a screed against women — can anyone do it?) Friedersdorf argues that her
argument is actually a perversion of “Team Feminism”—that is, the web is awash with feminists earnestly dismissing the notion that “Team Feminism” hates men, and the view is so unrepresentative of the various strands of “in real life” feminism that it is encountered more commonly among ideological enemies trying to parody or undermine feminism than among earnest advocates like Walters.
The problem with such gabble is that none of it is true. Pen poison pieces like this, and it gets you multiple tenured professorships — including as the founder of Indiana University's Women's Studies program. Presume men are always guilty of sex crimes, and you get to head the Title IX bureaucracy in a perverse redefinition of "civil rights". Vote for anybody other than Hillary Clinton as a Democrat, and you're slandered as a sexist ("Bernie bro"). Go off the ideological reservation, and get canned by a corporate feminist political officer. Offer criticism of a beloved comedy franchise's clumsy, unfunny, political reboot, and get waylaid as misogynist. "Team feminism", in reality, is the majority in the trade, if not the only kind on tap.

Perhaps my assessment of causality is wrong; perhaps Walters wasn't extreme enough in her prior writing, perhaps she is doing this as a plea for help, or attention. The only way men can win this game is not to play. Friedersdorf fails to even survey the landscape.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Check Your Privilege" Meets The Royals: The Surprising Compatibility Of Modern Feminism With Monarchy

Joanna Williams in Spiked explains why "Monarchy And Feminism [Are] A Perfect Marriage". "Bold declarations of feminist intent do not show that the monarchy has changed: instead, they show how much feminism has changed."
Today, feminism ... doesn’t call for an expansion of democracy, but for democracy to be tamed. All-women shortlists and quotas for women on company boards deny people a free choice in appointing anyone they choose. They move us away from seeing gender as an irrelevance and treating people as equals. Instead, we’re told that women need to be afforded special privileges. In the past few weeks we’ve had calls for the banning of sexist adverts and the criminalisation of street harassment. Rather than calling for women to be recognised as adults, today’s feminism insists women are treated like children.

The only question campaigners and commentators have so far raised about Meghan’s feminism is whether she’ll get away with it. Is it realistic to think she can be both a feminist and a royal? Of course it is. Feminism today poses no threat to the establishment. Feminism is the establishment. Feminism is now concerned with enforcing etiquette, telling boorish men how to behave, and calling for censorship and regulations. It is elitist and condescending – a perfect match for the monarchy. Today’s younger royals reveal all about mental-health troubles and want us to know that despite wealth and privilege, they suffer too. Again, a perfect match for a feminism that allows rich celebrities to swap stories of disadvantage.
(Emboldening mine.) The advantages of being rich collide with feminist ideals:
Where Meghan differs from other women is that she has given up her own career for marriage. Today, over 70 per cent of all women and 90 per cent of female graduates are employed. Yet on the royal website, details of Meghan’s acting career – presumably earned through her own merit and tenacity – are given only a cursory nod.
The New Feminist Woman may have never materialized in the real world, but the old one — class-conscious as ever — still sets the rules.