Why I hate identity politics

I was born with a congenital defect. That’s a value-free statement that nobody can conceivably insult me by repeating. It is a fact that I have cerebral palsy, probably caused by neonatal oxygen deprivation. It is a fact that my central nervous system (specifically the motor-control areas of my right temporal lobe) does not function as in quite the same way as that of a a developmentally normal human being.

It is not quite a fact, but a plausible inference based on statistics on other Persons Of Palsy, that I am significantly more intelligent than I would have been if un-palsied. It is not known how to permanently raise a human’s intelligence (some drugs can do it temporarily) but most people don’t drive their brains up to their personal genetic limit. Palsied people try harder; as a group, their mean intelligence is high relative to the general population.

In fact, the compensation effect is strong enough that you could argue that the sum of my palsy impairments and the compensation effects has been a net benefit to me. Imagine an Eric who walks normally but isn’t quite capable of reinventing hacker culture and blowing up the software industry and you’ll begin to see what I mean.

(It’s not necessary that you believe that; I’m not sure I do. Maybe I wasn’t required for open source to blow up the software industry, or maybe I’d have done it if I hadn’t had palsy. Doesn’t matter. It’s enough that you grasp the possibility that a congenital defect with an intelligence-boosting side effect can be a net positive.)

I have never, ever, had any interest in constructing my identity around the fact that I am technically “handicapped”. That would just be damn silly. I didn’t choose to have palsy, it was a developmental accident with no more significance or meaning than the fact that I have blue eyes.

Now let’s suppose that I had been born with a normal motor cortex system, but something else went just…slightly…wrong. I could, in that case, tell a very similar story. It would read something like this:

I was born with a congenital defect. That’s a value-free statement that nobody can conceivably insult me by repeating. It is a fact that I am compulsively sexually attracted to other males, probably due to my prenatal brain being exposed to abnormally high levels of feminizing hormones. It is a fact that that my central nervous system (specifically the amygdala and portions of the cerebellum and thalamus involved in sexual behavior) does not function as in quite the same way as that of a a developmentally normal human being.

It is not quite a fact, but a plausible inference based on statistics on other homosexuals, that I am significantly more intelligent than I would have been if I were straight. It is not known how to permanently raise a human’s intelligence (some drugs can do it temporarily) but most people don’t drive their brains up to their personal genetic limit. Gay people either try harder or gayness is allotropically linked to genes that set a high limit; as a group, their mean intelligence is high relative to the general population.

In fact, the compensation effect is strong enough that you could argue that homosexuality has been a net benefit to me. Imagine an Eric who is at near-zero risk for contracting AIDS from anal sex, but isn’t quite capable of reinventing hacker culture and blowing up the software industry and you’ll begin to see what I mean.

I have never, ever, had any interest in constructing my identity around the fact that I am “homosexual”. That would just be damn silly. I didn’t choose to be gay, it was a developmental accident with no more significance or meaning than the fact that I have blue eyes.

(Those of you who are PC-twitchy are probably screaming “WHAT MAKES GAYNESS A DEFECT?” at the monitor right now. Why, exactly the same measure that makes palsy a defect: it reduces the affected individual’s odds of reproducing significantly. “Inclusive fitness” is what biologists call it. Your problem is that I have been writing “biologically defective” and you are reading “morally defective” or “inferior” or something. That is not a useful interpretation of either palsy or gayness, so please stop now. Thank you.)

Back in observable reality, I’m heterosexual. But the point remains…

My identity is not the accidents that have happened to me. It is what I choose. What I make of myself. It is irrelevant that I have palsy; it would be equally irrelevant if I were gay.

People who construct themselves as professional victims because they have palsy disgust me. People who construct themselves as professional victims because they are gay disgust me. The choice to play professional victim is in fact a defect of character and morals, leading to self-sabotaging behavior in individuals and their societies.

Identity politics, whether it’s about the “identity” of being palsied, or gay, or white, or black, or anything else, is a symptom of deep failure at choosing for yourself, at becoming a fully individuated and fully functioning human being.

And that is why I hate identity politics.

48 thoughts on “Why I hate identity politics

  1. Both of those behaviors are in fact defects of character or morals…

    It took me a moment to read this in its context. Both behaviors of constructing ones’ self as a professional victim are defects of character or morals.

    Well put.

    Eric says: I shall rephrase slightly to make the point clearer.

  2. Hrmmm, interesting perspective. I identify as having a disability, though it is one that few would notice unless I mentioned it or they saw me at a really difficult moment. I can’t say it is irrelevant that something along the way stunted my psychological development, as it has been a central challenge for me to constantly surmount along my path to and in adulthood. I would not be the me that I am, had I not been so challenged. It didn’t make me any more intelligent with facts, logic, or calculations; it has made it more difficult at times to understand other perspectives and so I could argue that my battle with my brain’s wiring has made me more people-smart than I would’ve been had I not chosen to recognize and fight my condition.

    Do I use it to my advantage? No. Do I ask for a quiet testing room for exams at university? Yes; the difference has been shown to be an “A” versus a “C,” for me. Of course, my disability is inherently about my lack of ability to live life on life’s terms, so by asking for said testing accommodations I am admitting that I still haven’t won the war against my brain’s developmental retardation (meant literally, not pejoratively). This means I am not yet fully functioning. I am more highly functional than I was when I was first diagnosed as “high functioning,” but I am not all the way there, yet. I don’t think acknowledging this to myself is in any way impeding my travel towards that goal, however. In fact, should I convince myself that I am “fully functioning,” when I am not, it is highly probable I will end up in a mental institution. As such, I feel I must always be vigilant and mindful of my disability, as a preventative measure against backsliding into old, self-destructive, and torturous habits and patterns.

    So while I really want to agree with the essence of this blog, having seen the martyrdom of my mother to her autoimmune disorder and her complete lack of acknowledgment of her psychological disorder, I must say that I can’t say I hate identity politics, too. I hate people suborning their development and journey as an adult to their identity, but identity politics can be used for good purposes rather than negative ones. It’s all in the matter of choice; that I can agree on.

  3. A more charitable view of those who object to calling homosexuality a defect is that most do not place natural selection on such a high epistemological pedestal as to treat “biological defect” as synonymous with “reduced inclusive fitness”. Most people are more likely to think of a biological trait as a defect iff it reduces one’s quality of life.

  4. I think, it’s a pendulum.

    On one side, there are people who treat gay/black/whatever as a defect and look and act down on people who are gay/black/whatever. On the other side, there are gay/black/whatever people who respond too harshly to that, including but not limited to assuming that whenever someone turns them down for something it’s because they’re gay/black/whatever, stating that gay/black/whatever is superior to heterosexual/white/whatever, taking things out on innocents (i. e. those not discriminating against them), and otherwise, as you put it, becoming professional victims.

    And, everyone’s making one fatal assumption, which is some form of “what I believe is true”. The discriminators believe that gay/black/whatever is inferior, assume it’s true, and act on it. The “professional victims” see a lot of discriminators, extend the pattern so that they believe everyone is discriminating, and assume so and act on that assumption. And, people like you and me see the “professional victims” (but too often we don’t see the discriminators), believe that they’re acting without cause, and act on that assumption. The result is, some people die and everyone else looks like an idiot.

  5. There is a big difference between having cerebral palsy and being gay. No one has ever been arrested for having cerebral palsy. To my knowledge, no one has ever been denied for adoption for having cerebral palsy either. Plus, people with cerebral palsy are allowed to get married.

    It made sense for the gay community to find themselves and campaign against government discrimination imposed on them. On the other hand, “identity politics” raises a problem, as you rightly pointed out, Eric. People who claim to be victimized may speak on behalf of people who do not necessarily feel that way.

    On the other hand, I thought that the open source and free software movements might be a form of identity politics. It appears that both you and RMS have succeeded in painting hackers as an “ethnic group” who needed freedom to persue your goals.

  6. >> On the other hand, I thought that the open source and free software movements
    >> might be a form of identity politics. It appears that both you and RMS have
    >> succeeded in painting hackers as an “ethnic group” who needed freedom
    >> to persue your goals.

    As far as I know, nobody in either of those movements has ever claimed to be a victim because they use Free and/or Open Source Software. …unless I missed something?

    My $.02…

    A person can choose to live like a victim, or choose to not live like a victim, regardless of whether or not that person is actually a victim.

    Choosing to live like a victim is a vicious circle: To validate your victim status you’ll have to keep yourself in whatever pathetic condition you think gives you victim status and blame others for it, even when doing so is a lie. (Sometimes especially when doing so is a lie.)

    Choosing to not live like a victim is a winner’s circle: Anyone who wants you to be a victim will be defeated not only when you confront them directly, but by every victory you earn no matter how great or small.

  7. >It made sense for the gay community to find themselves and campaign against government discrimination imposed on them.

    No, it made sense for gay individuals to claim equality before the law. Gay ‘community’ politics, as it evolved, became equal parts silliness and toxic waste. Er, just like black ‘community’ politics.

    >t appears that both you and RMS have succeeded in painting hackers as an “ethnic group” who needed freedom to persue your goals.

    This is utter nonsense — and on that, I’m pretty certain RMS would agree. Only the distorting effect of 50 years of identity politics could make you fall, even for a nanosecond, into the trap of believing every movement can be crammed into the victim-group-on-the-march frame.

  8. Mr. Delony: Do you really think adoption agencies do not consider serious physical handicaps as disqualification for adoption of children?

    Eric: Identity politics does not always take the form of embracing victimhood. In many historical cases, it forms the basis of group solidarity for victimizing others: whites in the Old South, Afrikaners in South Africa, In many other cases, racial or religious identity is the basis for politics in zero- or negative-sum cultures: people identify with “their group” because without the group they have no standing in society: modern Lebanon,for instance. And there are cases where identity politics is forced on a group of people by their very real victimization by more powerful others.

    The poison of identity politics is that it make political rent-seeking through identities the dominant mode of interaction, replacing voluntary commerce and association.

  9. >Eric: Identity politics does not always take the form of embracing victimhood. In many historical cases, it forms the basis of group solidarity for victimizing others

    True. I don’t hate that kind any less. There is a key difference, though; in the U.S., at this time, “group solidarity for victimizing others” is not a behavior that earns people good press or a reputation for virtue. Playing the victim card too often does get these things. So the victim-card kind of identity politics is a live problem in a way that band-of-bullies identity politics is not.

  10. Identity politics is more about people defining themselves around various “identities” that for one reason or another had been ignored by heads of state or parliamentary bodies than it is about “victimization.” I think the popular meaning of identity politics circulating in conservative and libertarian circles might have confused some of you when I mentioned the hacker culture as a possible instance of “identity politics.”

    As with gays, a lot of the activity of hackers ran afoul of the law. The most obvious examples are patent and copyright laws, as well as laws regarding cryptography. There was an obvious need for cohesion among hackers in order to explain to lawmakers why their laws were so broken.

    Identity politics gets a lot more interesting when you broaden your view of politics from the actions of legislative bodies to the realm of persuasion. The Free Software Foundation’s politics consists of convincing people how bad propietary software is and encouraging them to use free and open source software, and to avoid DRM’d content.

    The Achille’s Hill of identity politics is the people who end as representatives for certain “identities.” Not all hackers agree on everything, as not all gays agree on everything either. Within these circles, there is vociferous debate whether these people are truly “representative” of their identities. Most political conflicts over the past few decades have been over meaning. What does it mean to be a hacker? What does it mean to be black? What does it mean to be gay? The answers aren’t that simple.

    Identity politics paradoxically encourages divisions in society while striving for what they thought was greater equality. The view of the world as “us vs. them” is always implicit in the discourse of identity politics. Perhaps looking at the world from the perspective of the whole human race rather than socially constructed “identities” would yield a better world.

  11. David Delony said:
    >It appears that both you and RMS have succeeded in painting hackers as an “ethnic group” who needed freedom to persue your goals.

    It’s not hackers that need freedom, it’s everybody. Only programmers can program, but everyone should have the right to write programs, even if they can’t do it themselves.

    “We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies.” — Monty Python, The Life of Brian

  12. As it happened, I read your piece shortly after reading this, which attempts to explain why being gay is different from being a member of other oppressed groups. The author describes a useful thought experiment that I found quite helpful. Then again, I’m neither gay nor disabled, so I’m seeing both conditions from the outside: Eric, did you experience much discrimination over your cerebral palsy?

    Other than that, there’s an obvious reason why gay people would want to gather together into a community, besides mutual support: to find mates. Once you have that kind of enclave developing, some sort of Us-and-Them politics seems inevitable to me: it’s just humanity’s tribal nature.

  13. I’m not sure I agree with the article. Well maybe with the direction yes, but not with the current wording.

    1) There are identity politics based on something one can choose: religion for example. Or occupation. Trade unions – I guess “class” labels like “the working poor” is identity politics too.

    2) Our minds (nervous systems if you want to put it in a biological way) aren’t cast in stone. Choice can go a long, long way.

    2/A) ESR, your are one good example of this one – you were born in motor coordination problems yet you fight way better than an average, healthy but lazy guy. I guess you could dance better too, if you’d put the same amount of energy in practicing it. The end result is that for all practical purposes, you are either not disabled or can learn not to be as you did with martial arts.

    2/B) I don’t say they should, but if they want to, gays could choose to do otherwise, such as to live in celibacy. (It’s not that horrible, many of us straight Aspies do so because the cost of trying to get a partner is just too high.)

    2/C) Michael Jackson could even change his skin colour – of course it was a very silly, and very expensive thing, again I don’t think anyone should do so, but whoever wants, he technically can, assuming he can cough up the money. (Usually not, I know.) Of course it’s a silly example, it would be better to say that there are examples like Condie Rice and Thomas Sowell who have managed to succeed despite the allegedly racist athmosphere in the GOP.)

    Adding 1) + 2) together, what we find is that we have a choice over almost everything in life, and identity politics is sometimes based on things that are fairly easy to choose (religion) and sometimes on things that are harder, but still possible to change, to manage, to modify via conscious choice.

    Therefore, the real problem with identity politics is that it denies the possibility of conscious choice, the power people have over their own lives. On a deeper level, there seems to be an assumption that we are all helpless puppets in the hands of our circumstances, that our minds are formed by our circumstances and not the other way around – and we all know where did that come from.

  14. Miles,

    “Once you have that kind of enclave developing, some sort of Us-and-Them politics seems inevitable to me: it’s just humanity’s tribal nature.”

    As the War Nerd put it: history’s primary driving force is “My gang yay, your gang boo!” :-)

  15. Shenpen: I think you’ve got 2/B backwards. Being openly gay is about making a choice: it’s about choosing to act on the attractions you feel rather than repressing them and conforming to what society wants you to do. Choosing to stay celibate, in that case, would be surrendering. The decision to come out is rarely an easy one (it’s got easier in the West in recent decades, but most of the gay people I know still found it difficult), and I think openly gay people generally deserve some credit for making that decision.

    Unfortunately, these days that decision seems to be tied in with an imperative to spend oodles of money on clothes and listen to awful, awful music, but nobody’s perfect…

  16. >Eric, did you experience much discrimination over your cerebral palsy?

    Um, is that a serious question? Or do you really have no idea what it’s like to be a kid on a playground with any kind of visible handicap….

  17. Interesting take on the issue Eric. I (to a reasonable degree) agree with your thoughts on the matter.

    But I wonder if it is not possible to turn it on it’s head, and describe the refusal to be a victim, as a form of identity politics?

    No one in MY group is a victim, no sir. That sounds like an identity group, with a set political statement of identity to me.

    Not, I think, a bad one (way better then the opposite victim group), but identity politics non-the-less. Just probably healthier for the system –probably.

    But then without a victim identity political group, where would the ‘I’m not a victim’ group find their party plank/platform?

    Just some food for thought… (or possibly a display of my limited thinking). I do know that I (nor anyone else), has ever learned anything from someone that is agreeing with them –you only learn from sources that have some other viewpoint… (even if all you learn is that you *really* do disagree with their view).

  18. >But then without a victim identity political group, where would the ‘I’m not a victim’ group find their party plank/platform?

    Perhaps in being victimized by the “I’m a victim” group. ;-)

  19. > Um, is that a serious question? Or do you really have no idea what it’s like to be a kid on a playground with any kind of visible handicap….

    Call it a sanity check. Having been both a slow fat kid and a geek growing up (and the perennial new kid, and the kid with the stupid name, and the kid with the unusual accent…), I have a reasonably good idea of how unpleasant children can be to each other; but it’s always possible that you’d grown up somewhere unusually accepting, and I wanted to make sure I knew where you were coming from. But how about in later life? Has it affected your employability, for instance? Do idiots picket the funerals of people with palsy holding placards saying that they’re going to Hell?

  20. >Has it affected your employability, for instance?

    No, I’m a programmer. Even PHBs aren’t dumb enough to think I’m incapacitated by a limp.

    >Do idiots picket the funerals of people with palsy holding placards saying that they’re going to Hell?

    Not that I’ve seen. But I’m also not clear what difference it would make to me if they did. Their idiocy is their problem, not mine, and the correct response would not be “it’s wrong to try stigmatize the collective of palsied people” but rather “it’s wrong for you to disrupt the funeral of this palsied person”. The collective of palsied people is not present to be harmed or insulted; only individuals are.

  21. > No, I’m a programmer. Even PHBs aren’t dumb enough to think I’m incapacitated by a limp.

    OK. But gay people have been and continue to be denied jobs on the basis of their sexual orientation (even where it’s as irrelevant as your limp is to your coding ability). What’s the correct response in that situation? Nowadays they have legal redress, of course, but that’s a fairly recent development (and one that only became available as a result of lobbying by gay rights activists). Would you want a catch-all Civil Rights Act that prohibited discrimination on the basis of “anything not strictly related to the ability to do the job”, and leave that up to the courts to interpret? Or do you hold that employers have the right to hire or not hire anyone they want for any reason, however stupid and discriminatory?

    > the correct response would not be “it’s wrong to try stigmatize the collective of palsied people” but rather “it’s wrong for you to disrupt the funeral of this palsied person”.

    OK, I think I see where you’re going with this. So, by extension, when someone is assaulted or murdered on the basis of their sexual orientation or their colour, the correct response is to treat it simply as an isolated assault or murder, and make no attempt to address the underlying cause? What if the jury shares the prejudice of the murderers, and acquits the defendents even though they’re guilty (as has happened?).

    Again, I suspect I’m not quite understanding what you’re complaining about because of a difference of political climate in our respective nations. I don’t think “identity politics” is anything like so big over here – you can insult anyone on the political spectrum by calling them a racist or a homophobe (even the far-right BNP deny accusations of racism, they just think all the non-white people would be happier if they went back where they or their ancestors came from), but non-white politicians aren’t accused of “playing the race card” or anything like that. Is that the kind of thing you’re complaining about? Or If you’re arguing for the superfluity of hate crimes legislation (or laws like the UK’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act), then yeah, no argument here, but I don’t think it’s productive to ignore the fact that hate crimes are hate crimes, or that discrimination on the basis of colour, sexual orientation, disability etc happens.

  22. I think what you may be missing is that many/most members of a stigmatized group feel isolated, especially when the group is a small one. You may not have felt a need to construct your identity around being handicapped, but there are a lot of handicapped people who manage to feel a little less alone by identifying as part of a larger group. For some people – not all – a burden shared feels like a burden halved, or rather the burden is divided by n where n is the size of the group. It’s ‘merely’ a psychological effect, but it can determine whether or not a given person can cope with persecution, discrimination, etc.

    But I think you need to say a little more about what you mean by ‘identity politics’. Your responses here make it sound as though you are disgusted by people dividing themselves into ingroups and outgroups, no matter what the social value attributed to each group. My problem with that is you seem quite ready to put yourself in non-stigmatized identity ingroups, such as ‘hacker’. You just don’t want to put yourself in a low-status ingroup, and it seems as though you are disgusted by anyone who wants to put themselves in a low-status ingroup. I think most disability activists would say, instead, ‘why does this have to be a low-status label?’ Why should it be any worse to identify as palsied than as a hacker?

    If your answer is ‘I chose to be a hacker, the disability is an accident’, you are making a big commitment. You are then committed to avoid allowing anything else which is accidental into your identity – your IQ, for example. Your temperament. Your country of birth. All these things are, to one extent or another, accidents.

  23. > you seem quite ready to put yourself in non-stigmatized identity ingroups, such as ‘hacker’.

    Or “American”, for that matter.

  24. >Or do you hold that employers have the right to hire or not hire anyone they want for any reason, however stupid and discriminatory?

    Actually, that’s the legal regime I’d prefer. But if we can’t have that, then at least job discrimination should be an individual cause of action requiring a showing that the rights of a particular person were violated — none of the nonsense we have in the U.S. now where “disparate impact” statistics can be used to find discrimination regardless of whether the individual is actually qualified or not.

    >make no attempt to address the underlying cause?

    Attempts to address the underlying causes belong in education, street demonstrations, boycotts, and public shaming, but not in my opinion in the law — not if it means creating privileged racial, sexual, or handicapped classes with legal recourses that individuals outside those classes do not have.

    >I don’t think it’s productive to ignore the fact that hate crimes are hate crimes,

    It is necessary to ignore that hate crimes are hate crimes, at least in the law. Otherwise you legally create a system of discrimination that actually justifies what the haters feel and grounds it in reality.

  25. > Attempts to address the underlying causes belong in education, street demonstrations, boycotts, and public shaming, but not in my opinion in the law

    Sounds like we’re in agreement on this one. At least, I agree with you on the role of education and demonstrations, and that anti-discrimination laws should be comprehensive rather than enumerating specific causes (the Nestlé boycott has made me sceptical about the ability of boycotts to rein in corporate misbehaviour). I take it you’re against things like Section 28?

    > It is necessary to ignore that hate crimes are hate crimes, at least in the law.

    Maybe, but it should at least inform your law enforcement strategy.

  26. Eric,

    I hate to say it, but Al Gore probably did more to “reinvent hacker culture” than you did. Despite your attempts to resuscitate it (and RMS’s occasional moonlit dance with its corpse a la Heathcliff), hacker culture died in the early eighties. What exists now is a collection of geeks loosely bound by the internet and governed more by pragmatic €oncern$ than “hacker ideals”.

    As for “blowing up the software industry”, do bear in mind that to paraphrase an adage in security, when given the choice between software freedom and dancing monkeys, users will pick dancing monkeys every time. Linux has, so far, failed to produce a dancing monkey on par with the offerings from Apple and Microsoft. People don’t care about freedoms 0, 1, 2, and 3, and they can’t be arsed with the economies of scale of open vs. closed source. What they care about is that their goddamned printer and fucking wireless doesn’t work, Flash sometimes crashes Firefox (and other times the sound doesn’t bloody work), and why can’t I play games on this Linux piece of shit? For that reason proprietary software has hardly been threatened by your thousand-yard stare.

    Oh, by the way, it’s still a crime in the U.S. to watch a DVD or Blu-ray movie on a Linux machine with a completely free software stack.

  27. Jeff, hacker culture is alive and well; it’s just a bit hard to see from the outside because it now exists within a penumbra that’s an order of magnitude larger and exhibits a heavily watered-down value system. The unwashed masses embodied by Digg, et. al. may not qualify as hackers by 1980s standards, but among them is a core of “true believers” that’s as large as it’s ever been.

  28. Regarding the idea of privileged classes, I think they are justified. (Although, I don’t know the full extent of the laws – I refer here to the idea that discrimination based on homosexuality, race, gender, etc. are illegal while discrimination based on other random stuff is not; if the laws go to greater and idiotic extent, then my arguments do not apply to that.)

    You cannot legislate discrimination completely – who determines what is applicable?

    You also cannot ignore discrimination – because, as I said above, there are people who do discriminate. “Privileged” classes are the lesser of two evils compared to rampant discrimination. (I consider this point self-evident, but if you would like to argue it then I will.)

    Therefore, you must choose what types of discrimination to legislate. In my opinion, the obvious solution is to legislate discrimination against the groups which have had major problems with unjustified discrimination. That is what I see us doing these days (see above for disclaimer related to my knowledge of the situation).

  29. “Linux has, so far, failed to produce a dancing monkey on par with the offerings from Apple and Microsoft.”

    Thank God, or the FSM, or any Deity of your choice… but do so fervently and gratefully.

    You will be rewarded.

  30. RFJ,

    “You also cannot ignore discrimination – because, as I said above, there are people who do discriminate. “Privileged” classes are the lesser of two evils compared to rampant discrimination.”

    Why are you sure it a lesser evil? OK, I think we gotta talk a bit about methodology here first. I have a deep distrust for social arrangements based on abstract theories, because social reality can be so complicated that I don’t think anyone is smart enough to really nail down how things should be done. It’s not enough to draw up some abstract principles, one also has to take millions of circumstances into account and that’s just beyond the capability of any fairly small group of designers. So basically I oppose a centrally designed society for the same reasons as centrally planned economies are usually opposed – central designers just cannot know all the million circumstances.

    So what I’d like to see is that social arrangements emerge from a natural, distributed, evolutionary (not in the biological sense), organic way, thus utilizing every persons knowledge of the particular circumstances of the given place and time.

    This practically means that every kind of discrimination should be allowed for private persons (but not for public officials). What happens then that if f.e. the owners of some restaurants restaurant doesn’t want to serve members of group X, it will give a competitive advantage to others who do, which will incentive the first ones to rethink their policies.

    Doing it this way in the long run, at the end of the day, only those prejudices remain that are roughly justified, groups won’t be discriminated against once they become acculturated (and it gives a powerful incentive to become acculturated).

    (Another possible option: Common Law, precedent law, but having precedents valid only in a given city or county, thus roughly reflecting the prevalent culture and opinions of the given city or county. Or in the worst case democratic law but down to city and county level – in such a case population movements are what contribute this evolutionariness to the system: people move to place where they are welcome.)

  31. Shenpen:

    Laws are as much a product of social evolution as anything else. Civilization was originally a product of social evolution – people figured out that banding together in groups made them more able to survive and thrive. As groups got bigger, people found that they needed laws and enforcement to hold them together. Thus, laws and law enforcement were made.

    In this case, the chain of social evolution is: Discrimination leads to resentment, which when it reaches critical mass leads to protests, which when they reach critical mass leads to anti-discrimination laws. These laws were not “centrally designed” in that they were a response to actual situations. This is social evolution as much as baseball’s chain: Discrimination leads to inferior quality which leads to someone breaking the discrimination for the sake of quality. In a society where people can, directly or indirectly, make the laws, the laws are a product of social evolution.

    Also – often, discrimination is not a competitive disadvantage. For example, if you could choose between serving (for some constant scale factor k) 2k blacks and k people who refuse to go to a discriminatory restaurant, or serving 4k people who refuse to go to the same restaurant as blacks, all else being equal the non-idealistic restaurant owner will ban blacks and serve 4k racists. If the option to serve 3k anti-racist customers option also involves your restaurant being burned down by the 4k racists, then you’d have to be extremely idealistic to choose that option. According to my information, this situation happened.

    This illustrates a general problem with anarchy – In anarchy, the strongest group wins, not the fairest. By “anarchy” I mean any unregulated situation. In some situations, the strongest is supposed to win – e. g. competition between corporations. (We generally don’t call those situations “anarchy” – but by the broad definition that I’m using, they are. The broad definition, however, doesn’t always have the negative connotations implied in our usual definition.) In other situations, too many people are hurt too much by the strongest winning – e. g. racism, because one race gets wiped out/forced into slavery/etc.

    In summary: Laws are not unnatural – rather they are the most effective instrument of social evolution that civilized societies have.

  32. Eric, discrimination and stigmatization almost always leads to the formation of identity groups, see homosexuals, physically disabled people, Jews, et al. I don’t see anything wrong about groups that identify themselves through a common property (gayness, physical disability, Jewish belief/heritage) and to act against discrimination and societal discrimination. Maybe your hate against the homosexual identity group comes from your crypto-homophobic attitude? Please talk to a professional psychologist about your hate against homosexuals, you’d really need the treatment.

  33. Conservatism as identity politics — Part 1 and Part 2.

    Conservatism is a form (indeed the original form) of identity politics. It is expressed through multiple forms of political ideology based on justifying elite rule and the division of the human race into dualized classes (ideal and counter-ideal) in terms of some “natural” moral order.

    Yes, Eric, I know you’re not a conservative. But you’re not a conservative much like Dr. Breen is not a part of the Combine.

  34. Don Hensley, I love Linux. But the only thing free software really has going for it is the one thing that Eric doesn’t want to talk about: freedom. And to the vast majority of personal and corporate users, that simply doesn’t matter. They just want to get shit done. On that note, Linux fails miserably; something always has to be tweaked, patched, or recompiled. Windows and the Mac Just Work(tm). That should be the single OS feature with top priority. (Ubuntu comes close — probably closer than I’ve ever seen a free OS distribution achieve. No cigar, though.)

    There’s a significant subgroup to which Linux appeals, however: that rare odd duck who finds tweaking, patching, and recompiling fun. We call these people geeks. The reason why you, I, Eric, and many of the other readers get amped about Linux is so bloody obvious yet frequently forgotten: we’re geeks. We love this shit. Our values are not their values. In the calculus of real-world time management, the hours spent tweaking up your OS just so you can live up to some abstract ideal of being free of Micro$oft’s corrupting influence are sheer waste. Just buy the damn OS, accept your chains (like Dilbert with the electric shock collar: “It’s not so bad”) and get on with your life.

  35. >Please talk to a professional psychologist about your hate against homosexuals, you’d really need the treatment.

    Ah, yes, the new definition of “homophobe”: anyone who’s winning an argument against a collectivist.

    Idiot…

  36. >But the only thing free software really has going for it is the one thing that Eric doesn’t want to talk about: freedom

    Dead wrong. I absolutely do want to talk about software freedom — and I’d do it, too, if that hadn’t been shown by experience to be a self-sabotage move, a losing tactic.

  37. Like Eric, I also have a congenital disability – I’m blind in one eye, I’m nearly so in the other. I am arguably one of the most graceful men you’ll ever see walk face first into a doorjam…

    Anyone who disbelieves in the pernicius inanity and idiocy of “identity politics” can make a decent living while getting educated:

    Become a relay operator.

    There is money set aside to provide telecommunications access for deaf people; the percentage of that money each telco gets is based on the number of transaction minutes they log. One telco figured out that they could run this over IP – and by doing so, managed to get 90% of the money for two years running. Others figured out how they did it, now there are several competing IP relay services.

    There is only an incentive to maximize the billable minutes. There IS no incentive to actually verify that the user of the call is, in fact, entitled to use the service. So I’ve spent 10 hour shifts being the brainless mouthpiece of scammer after scammer from Ghana trying to convince some business that they really need to ship $20,000 worth of Tee shirts overseas by next day FedEx to help some ministry catering to disadvantaged deaf children. I am not allowed to voice an opinion (all calls are monitored). I am not allowed to tell the hearing person on the other end of the line that this is a scam. I got written up for using vocal inflections to convey sarcasm.

    The deaf community’s answer when told of this abuse (noted, because it was reducing quality of service levels…) “Real world telephones for hearing people don’t require user authentication to use. Telephones for deaf people shouldn’t either…please add more operators.” We strongly suspect that this opinion was fabricated by the telcos, who want to ensure that every cubical they have is in a call 24-7, so that their percentage of the zero sum pie is larger.

    The relay operator jobs usually go to college students. Most of them start out as “feel good liberals”. By their second month in the cubical farms, most have been shorn of that attitude, because they’re the ones being exploited for the “greater good”. One of my more deeply resonant moments was hearing people at the office saying “God, this job is turning me into a…Republican.”

  38. I’ve long been interested in how identity politics has moved through the political spectrum over time. A few generations ago, it was the left saying “treat everyone equally” and complaining about (e.g.) quotas in college admissions that prevented too many Jews from taking slots that “should” go to Christians. Now, it’s the right saying “treat everyone equally” and the left defending quotas so that (e.g.) too many Asians don’t take slots that “should” go to blacks, Native Americans, and other minorities that have suffered historic discrimination. (Strange but true: according to the Federal anti-discrimination bureaucracy, Jews don’t count as an “historically repressed minority” or whatever their exact term is.)

    One big issue I have with identity politics is that it inevitably leads to the oxymoronic concept of group justice as a “solution.” Unfortunately justice can really only work in individual cases: once you try to apply it between groups, you end up punishing some innocents, rewarding some who are guilty, etc.

  39. Eric, I don’t think the analogy between palsy and homosexuality really works. Your palsy prevents you, e.g., from dancing; you might want to dance, but find you can’t, and so it interferes with you living the life you want to lead. But suppose you were physically whole, and perfectly capable of dancing, but your brain was wired not to want to dance. Suppose you knew that dancing existed, and that lots of people find it very enjoyable, but the very thought of doing it yourself left you cold, or even mildly disgusted. Would you call that a disability or defect? Objectively, you don’t dance now and you wouldn’t dance then; but in the other scenario the fact that you don’t dance doesn’t bother you at all, because it’s your choice, and the fact that that choice was dictated by the way your brain is wired doesn’t really signify.

  40. It is interesting to me whether or not McCain’s selection of Palin as his Veep qualifies as “picking the best candidate” or as “identity politics”. It seems to be calculated in getting the Hillary voters, which is probably less reprehensible than “get the old man of the party”.

  41. Jeff Read: Yes, Eric, I know you’re not a conservative. But you’re not a conservative much like Dr. Breen is not a part of the Combine.

    Delicious.

  42. > Eric, did you experience much discrimination over your cerebral palsy?

    Have you asked the analogous question of a gay person in a similar context? Would you? Why is palsy different?

    > but it’s always possible that you’d grown up somewhere unusually accepting, and I wanted to make sure I knew where you were coming from.

    Not so fast – you were looking for an excuse to ignore his argument. There are gays who grew up in “unusually accepting” environments, but I seriously doubt that you’d try to root them out so you could dismiss their argument.

    > But how about in later life? Has it affected your employability, for instance?

    Being gay doesn’t always reduce one’s employability. In some contexts, it even enhances it.

    If you want to ignore that, you can’t argue that since palsy is different because it doesn’t always affect employment. (In case you’re wondering, palsy does affect employment, even of programmers. ESR is wrong. He may not want to work for/with the sort of folk who wouldn’t want him, but they exist.)

  43. I am gay and I suffer from myopia.

    I can’t even watch TV without my glasses. Even though people with myopia usually are more intelligent, many times I wish I didn’t have myopia. That is a defect in my book.

    But I never once found myself thinking: “Gee, I wish I weren’t gay, so that I could have a bigger chance of having kids.” So, no, not a defect, though I’m not offended by Eric saying it’s one because it makes me less likely to reproduce. I just don’t care about reproducing.

    As for the identity thing. The victim mindset is indeed poisonous. But that isn’t what a gay identity is about. Many of my gay friends say things that Eric would agree with: “I don’t want to be a stereotype.” or “I don’t want to be defined by my gayness.” I don’t agree with them and I don’t agree with Eric.

    The real truth is: sex matters a lot with us human beings. A LOT. Whether you’re gay, straight, or bi. These same gay friends that say they don’t want to be defined by they gayness? Most of them “coincidentally” have almost no straight males as close friends. It’s not because they’re aloof or anything. It’s due to practical reasons.

    First, gay people tend to frequent places full of other gay people, so they can find sexual partners. Same reason why straight people go to single bars for straight people. That is one of the reasons why I don’t hang out much with my straight male co-workers. I have no business going to a bar with them when they’re chasing the babes, talking about babes, drooling after the babes. And that is a big part of male bonding.

    Second, and I know this is so politically incorrect that it could have come right out of ESR’s mouth: males usually like their sexual partners to be beautiful and graceful. Females usually like their sexual partners to be confident and decisive. And THAT little fact defines much of how women and men act. If you want to attract the opposite sex, you’ll act a certain way.

    I’m gay, and to be more specific, I like to be the “woman” of the relationship. And I like to be beautiful and graceful. I have no need to be rugged and butch to try and attract ladies that I’m not interested in. And this put me at odds with most straight males. My straight male co-workers would be bored to tears if they went with me to buy pretty clothes and look at clothes and think about clothes to establish myself as beautiful and graceful. I would be bored to tears if I went with them to play and watch contact sports like football or basketball that they do to establish themselves as tough and manly.

    In other words, our interests ARE different.

    From such things, a gay identity is made of. You don’t need to call it that, but it’s what it is.

    Obviously, we all have interests that got little to do with sex and mating. I’m a big fan of comic books and science fiction, for instance. I can relate with straight males that share these interests. So, yeah, being gay isn’t all that there is about me. But it still is a pretty big part.

  44. Rene,

    Interesting comment. I found the following a bit strange:

    “First, gay people tend to frequent places full of other gay people, so they can find sexual partners. Same reason why straight people go to single bars for straight people. That is one of the reasons why I don’t hang out much with my straight male co-workers. I have no business going to a bar with them when they’re chasing the babes, talking about babes, drooling after the babes. And that is a big part of male bonding.”

    It sounds a bit like if everybody straight would be a hormone-driven sex-crazed macho. This is simply not true, many of think our minds should rule our bodies and not the other way around.

    And actually, there is something interesting here. Let’s define two groups, genetically inclined to be straight and genetically inclined to be gay. And two subgroups within these two: the body-over-mind hormone-driven promiscuous ones, and the mind-over-body asexual or monogamous ones. So we have four groups here. Straight and body-driven – that’s seen as straight, nothing special about that. Gay and body-driven, that’s seen as gay, nothing special about that. Straight and mind-driven: still straight, even when completely asexual as being straight is considered the default option and asexuality doesn’t make one not straight. Gay and mind-driven: not really considered gay, I think, as plain simply they don’t really follow their gay sexual urges the very same way straight and mind-driven don’t really follow their straight sexual urges. Therefore, the only really indentifiable, visible gay group is the gay and body-driven. And this means that the usual stereotype that gays are promiscuous, body-driven, lustful etc. are in fact can be true in that sense that the mind-driven gays are simply not visible as gays as they don’t really practice it pretty much the same way we mind-driven straights don’t really practice it either. Is that correct?

  45. I suppose you’re correct.

    The gay persons that don’t date much (or don’t date at all) usually are not identitified as gay. So the stereotype of the “lustful gay” comes in part from what you’ve said, but it’s also due to what I think of as the “pressure valve” concept.

    Straight people have a lot more opportunities to exercise their sexuality in everyday life. Straight couples can hold hands in the street, kiss in the subway or the restaurant, stare at one another without (much) fear of giving offense, make comments to their co-workers about how hot such and such actor/actress is, etc. Society is more open to that, so that straight people can let off some steam.

    But until fairly recently, a gay person had to be much more restrained than that in their day-to-day lives. Can’t kiss in public, can’t touch in public, can’t flirt or stare at a hot guy for fear of being attacked if the guy is straight, can’t tell co-workers anything about their sex life or preference, etc. No way to let off steam, so that when the gay person finally gets the opportunity to be among gays, it’s much more… explosive. So the promiscuity, the flamboyant displays of sexuality…

    I suppose things will change, now that gays are more accepted in most countries. I’ve seen gay guys kissing in the subway this last year, and no one was lynched (though some people stared).

    And this is very anecdotal, but I have 8 gay friends that are really close to me. From the 8, only one of them is really promiscuous. 2 of them are in a monogamous relationship, the other 5 wish they were in a monogamous relationship. Just like straight people, many gays like to boast and joke, but they’re having a lot less sex than people think. All bark, no bite.

  46. To all this I would add to the discussion that if it were not for the dominant culture dividing society into segments and declaring some superior and some inferior in the first place, identity politics would be completely superfluous. That is why Paul Rosenberg characterized conservatism as the primordial identity politics.

  47. That is a good point. Social conservatism isn’t really “neutral”. It advocates a way of life as the “correct” one. In a way, politics intended to further Christian, monogamous, heterosexual, married life are also “identity politics”, it’s just that the identity is the default one in society.

    But what Eric is objecting to is the “professional victim.” Sure, no one likes a whiner, but I don’t think it’s wrong to complain if an injustice is being commited. Seeking reparation for stuff that has been done by past generations, assigning communal guilty, and things like that, they’re not good. But, say, if I’m expected to keep my sex life a secret in my job, while other (straight) co-workers never stop regaling people with tales of their sex lives, I say that this is bullshit, and yeah, more visibility of gays is a good thing.

  48. Meanwhile, some blogger has waged a campaign against me, for simply having a disagreement on their wall post. So they wrote a nasty private message and defriended me!
    But Rhodes, it got waaay worse. I started getting emails from friends telling me that the person who defriended me is attacking me on their blog and promoting it.

    See what I mean:

    http://transgriot.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-we-has-here-is-fauxgressive.html

    Good grief. I was just challenging their party line views and they went ad hominem on me. I never had a problem with them challenging me on my facebook posts on my page, but I guess that there is a law that states ALL GLBT folks are supposed to follow a party line. Who made these people the spokespersons or our handlers?

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