Knowing the difference between the political and the personal makes all the difference

In an effort of moral excellency, identity politics perverts the political debate and overshadows the ideals of liberalism.

Liberalism essentially finds its roots in the seventeenth century, when John Locke published his monumental Two Treatises. In the second essay, Locke established that consent from the governed is crucial to the existence of that respective government. From there, Locke argued for the separation of state and church and most importantly; for life, liberty and estate to be the right of every person. Before I shortly trace the roots of liberalism further up till contemporary liberalism, it’s interesting to note Europe’s political landscape before Locke, and many others with him, set out to shake its foundations.

The centuries before Locke’s were namely very interesting in that Europe’s feudal, hierarchical, decentralized social systems changed to a heavily centralized system of absolutist monarchy. This development was due largely to the intellectual invigoration of the Renaissance and increasing commercialization as a result of that. The monarchs each aimed to unify their countries in Roman Catholicism or their respective version of Protestantism, culminating in the Thirty Year War in 1618. The Spanish Inquisition is another example of such a frivolous attempt at religious uniformity. Regardless of comparable endeavors, toleration prevailed in Europe as larger monarchies thrived in individualism and commerce. This state of affairs was naturally a fruitful groundwork for thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke in their constituting of liberalism.

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke set out what is called the natural rights theory. Natural rights theorists developed a framework for their ideal of a society in which any citizen is given equal rights and the largest possible framework of individual liberty. Later, liberalism evolved into what we would now call utilitarianism; the believe that something is valuable in its utility and that the best possible action is the one that achieves maximum utility. Utility in this case being a hopelessly thick term and defined – in the true spirit of circular reasoning – as a quantification of the preference for one good over the other. Although there are many sides to utilitarianism, it’s important to note that the establishment of modern democracy still relies on the defense of individual rights by utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill.

Liberals set out to curb the monarchies just mentioned and installed constitutional governments to replace them, capitalism replaced the feudal system and provided justification for the industrial revolution. The Founding Fathers, Simon Bolivar, the British Liberal Party; what we would now call classical liberalism was an unstoppable force that changed the west for the good, and, evidently, the bad. Concluding this short history, we find ourselves in the twentieth century; liberals proposed to end dreadful living conditions among workers and the radical inequality that accompanied the industrial revolution, largely as a counter-reaction to radical, illiberal ideologies such as socialism and fascism. Besides the acceptance of government assistance in curbing poverty and disease, liberalism of the twentieth century has become synonymous with the post-war civil rights movements in the United States, rightly so. As important as Locke and Hobbes once were in the creation of the secular state, so were Martin Luther King Jr. and the liberals of the fifties and sixties in ending racial segregation.

There is of course much more to liberalism, and the full history is immensely interesting. For the scope of this blog post, however, it seems a tad redundant to cover more than these main themes, nonetheless, there are some links and books below that might be of interest were you to further dive into this political philosophy.

What has made liberalism so consequential and enduring is its simplicity. Over the past centuries, liberalism has continuously evolved and developed; incorporating thought from other movements and dabbling between personal freedom and the assistance of government. Problems of the day were overcome by the clarity in its message of personal freedom and development. During the industrial revolution, humanity encountered an entirely different set of difficulties then it did during the Thirty year war, for example. Still, the simple ideals of liberalism have endured and dealt with these issues one by one. Now, in the twenty-first century, we once again face totally different problems and, in my honest opinion, liberals have failed to tackle them. In an effort of moral excellency, liberals and progressives have lost their ability to govern efficiently and uniformly and that, frankly, is a shame.

As I noted in the first paragraph; the obsession that liberals have with identity politics and the insurmountable, equivocal and infamous phrase; “The personal is political” is bogging down the Democratic party to the extent that Republicans, regardless of their own uselessness, face no institutionalized opposition. One’s identity, albeit an odd and ambiguous concept, is the essence of one’s being, naturally. Henceforth, I’m not arguing that movements and revolutions that find their basis in a shared identity – such as the Civil Rights movement – were a waste of time or an impoverishment for liberalism. We would all agree that feminism, for example, and many more such movements and revolutions have had hugely beneficial impacts on the lives of many. Defenders of identity politics often project the practice of today onto the past, implying that since I despise identity politics I should also reject the importance of these aforementioned campaigns. Therefore, I note again: my critique of identity politics is different and subdivided into two arguments. I detest it, for one, based on its paradoxical nature and, second, because it results in a kind of narcissism and lack of tenor that perverts any political debate and overshadows the ideals of liberalism of which I just spoke.

Although the practice is a tad cliche, let’s first consider the definition of identity; The fact of being who or what a person is. In philosophy, that would be the personal identity, identity itself would be defined as the relationship each thing bears only to itself. This definition ultimately leads some – myself included – to wonder whether two people can be identical, thus implying that their identities are the same. This question conflicts the first definition but finds itself within the boundaries of the second. And although this might sound woolly, these questions matter since identity politics aims to unite people about one axis. Anthony Appiah, a philosopher who currently holds an appointment at the New York University, wrote that this aspect of identity politics “replaces one kind of tyranny with another”, in that identity politics will innately put pressure on those who don’t find that one aspect their defining feature. Furthermore, identity politics might result in the opposite, namely that one is not simply defined by that identity but dictated by it. The group identity starts to shape the member, while it should naturally be the other way around.

Furthermore, as Mark Lilla notes, if one mentions some groups, “one better mention all of them”. Nate Cohn, a New York Times data analyst, pointed out that “white working class voters” started seeing themselves as a minority. Who’s to blame? While the Democrats were fixated on speaking to a multitude of minority groups and contemplating their interests one by one, the Republicans saw the voters Democrats didn’t tend to; the white working class of which Nate Cohn speaksListen, Liberal, by Thomas Frank, gives a short history of Democratic voter bases and attempts to explain these developments. From his book, one can only conclude that an explanation of racism and bigotry does not suffice. After all, Trump promised (white) working class voters the world economically, the Democratic party simply overlooked those voters who were once solidly blue. Republicans, tailoring to the interest of a very small minority of business leaders, promised voters they once beat down economic prosperity. Now that they hold the executive they continue to stoically beat them down. Democrats, once tailoring to the interest to the working masses, promised these voters they once supported nothing. On a national level, calling out explicitly to any one identity is a strategic and moral mistake. As if the electorate could be simply categorized, as if you should be reached out to based on your participation in a certain bloc or group; is that not the opposite of a liberal society?

Although I have mainly considered a shared identity as a group up until now, one does not contemplate identity politics without considering the phrase The Political is Personal, first coined by Carol Hanisch in 1970 – she acclaims it to her editors, though. Although the personal may be political in the sense that the personal is influenced by the political, when focusing only on the personal one loses sight of the political. It creates a sort of narcissism where people get lost in how they feel rather than what they stand for or what they envision. It’s almost escapists in that sense; quality makes way for quantity as participating in any substantial political debate is simply a case of being able to talk about yourself and no longer required knowledge of the subject. What made the feminism- and Civil Rights movements so consequential is that they were personal only to a certain extent.

I’d like to end on that note; knowing the difference between the political and the personal makes all the difference. 

***

There are countless more arguments opposing identity politics, there are also many who are pro. Articles from both sides, however, always take into account only the aspects that seem to suit them well; I set out to concisely criticize clinging to your identity as a basis for your identity, which I think is both a moral and strategic mistake, if you don’t agree or find that I missed some points: please comment!  

On another note, I have been absent for the past week largely due to a busy period in my studies and the extra-curricular activities that surround it. I don’t often note anything personal on this website as it mainly serves to support my freelance work, nonetheless, I can’t hide my excitement in joining the Delft Formula Student team next year, where I’ll be a part-time engineer in the aerodynamics department, very exciting. You can find some links below!

Some links on identity politics:

Some links on liberalism:

A short note on the alt-right and nonviolence

“There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis: whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is only sane.”

In Jesse Singal’s careful, pragmatic case against punching Nazis, Singal makes a convincing case for nonviolence, a method of protesting that has existed for thousands of years and has caused the successful disruption of government time and time again. Strikes are an excellent example. Albeit more prevailing in the past century, when most workers were still unionized, they have had considerable effects for strikers and their families. As for an older example, take the period of the Conflict of Orders in Rome (494 B.C. to 287 B.C), when the common Plebeians sought to achieve political equality with the aristocratic Patricians. In 494 B.C. this consequential period started with the first ‘secession of the plebeians’, who nonviolently seceded to the sacred mountain, just outside Rome. Eventually, a series of protests and conflicts led to further democratization of the Roman Republic. For more timely examples, note the relatively nonviolent Bolshevik revolution, India’s struggle against British rule or King’s civil rights movement.

counterprotest
Counter-protest

As Trump fails to fully condemn the far-right fringes of the political spectrum and hence further isolates himself in indefensible immorality, nonviolence is the only acceptable reaction. Singal argues the same, on the grounds that for liberals and progressives, violence is always a last resort, ‘the last refuge of the incompetent’ to quote Asimov. Who would not agree with Singal? The relatively small alt-right feeds on violence by its counter-protesters: it’s ‘proof’ that the ‘alt-left’ somehow suppresses the white American who is peacefully exercising his right to free speech.

For this message, I strongly urge you to read Singal’s article, however, I disagree with his categorization. At the end, Singal concludes that progressives and liberals should refrain from “punching Nazis” and that “in most other situations, progressives understand — or claim to understand — the moral gravity of calling for violence. They shouldn’t let a scary but small group of deeply loathed bigots steer them off course.”. The assertion that only liberals and progressives agree that violence is a method of protest so childish and primitive that it should be avoided at all cost, undermines his point.

Singal seemingly understands that neo-Nazism and white supremacy attempt to argue for a society so unsupported and feared that they are vastly outnumbered by their saner countrymen, however different it may appear on Twitter. None of this means, however, that we should group people according to their political beliefs again. There’s a contrast between the alt-right and the well-minded people that find themselves somewhere else on this one-dimensional axis, whether you’re liberal, conservative, not sure or don’t know: condemning the alt-right nonviolently is the only sane thing to do.

As a short addendum, a Martin Luther King quote:

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.

A brief introduction: on my views concerning politics and religion

In contact with readers, I find that I have to explain myself rather often. So, for future reference: a short summary. It may not be my most elegant prose but it serves its purpose.

As I become more serious with writing and hope to further build my ‘brand’, it pays to concisely lay out my views for future reference.

For one, I am an atheist, which does not mean that I condemn or consider myself superior to religious people. I simply find that religion is a necessity of the past, when explanations of the world were not as abundant as they are now, furthermore, religion used to be an extremely powerful tool in the centralization of government as well as the subsequent suppression of its people. Although it’s wonderful that some manage to see only the good things in religion, I fail to see why anyone would be a good person solely with the help of a supernatural being or a set of non-referenced ancient scripture.

I thus reject religion on the premises that it has no scientific base and that, in the twenty-first century, it brings on balance more bad than it does good. With bad I mean totalitarian Islamic states in the Middle-East (theocracies), terrorism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, I could go on. Besides these conflicts, what most bothers me is that a lack of progressiveness when it comes to equal rights for people of different gender, sexuality and race can be largely blamed on religious dogmas.

As for a further evaluation of my political views: I already noted that I am a social liberal or a centrist in that I stand on the center-right fiscally and the left socially. Economically, I believe that a free market is essential to the prosperity of any country. This does not mean that I support the type of control that financial institutions such as Wall Street have. These large financial institutions simply buy their way into the White House, furthermore, they seem to have forgotten Adam Smith’s idea that capitalism only works if the chiefs in some noticeable way give back to the masses that they employ. Socially, I don’t support religious values and the ancient dogmas they find their roots in, therefore, I see absolutely no reason to preemptively condemn someone because of their qualities or appearance. This does not mean that everyone should be tarred with the same brush – that would make diversity simply more of the same. I simply belief that everyone deserves equal rights from the get-go and has every right to embrace their own ethnicity and accompanying culture.

Due to its Manichean nature, I spare myself a partisan preference in US politics, as with the one-axis left-right spectrum, the two-party system as currently prevails in the States simply makes for a polarized and hyper-partisan political landscape where people’s opinions aren’t valued for their content but merely their fit within the party manifesto.

Nevertheless, I don’t support Donald Trump; both for his political ideology as well as his haughty, thin-skinned and unpredictable nature that I find especially terrifying on a global scale. Despite the alt-right’s embrace of atheism, I absolutely despise its values.

There you have it, feel free to comment and rebut.

Bannon possibly ousted as chief strategist

According to the New York Times, who cite two administration officials, Trump has decided to remove Bannon from his powerful position. Considering Trump’s loyalty seems to last only a short time, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Considering that Bannon is, despite my mild praise yesterday, the chief engineer of his alt-right base and therefore a valuable asset in maintaining his most consistent following, it is.

Whether this is a noticable change remains to be seen, Bannon’s influence in the White House seemed close to none in recent weeks. The chief strategist even refuted Trump’s statements concerning North Korea in an interview last Wednesday.

Nonetheless, quite interesting.

Bannon, ever controversial

A short comment on Steve Bannon’s interview with Robert Kuttner from The American Prospect.

steve_bannon

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, called Robert Kuttner from the American Prospect on Wednesday. Contrary to Scaramucci’s call with Ryan Lizza from the New Yorker, Bannon refrained from hateful incentives and vile insults. More so, the chief strategist bared his views on North Korea, China and Charlottesville in what appeared to be a more or less reasonable and substantive call, regardless of his seemingly weak position within the White House.

Contrary to his boss, Bannon seems well-informed and contradicted Trump’s ‘fire and fury’, noting that “there’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats]” and that his focus was fully on “the economic war with China”. Again, he goes against his boss, whose priorities are less with his campaign promises but concern more with the century-old mantra’s of the big-business Republican branch, which is, ironically, the swampy center of the Republican party.

Kuttner has long criticized trade with China and he explained the call by noting that Bannon wants to build a sort of coalition of “trade hawks” with people from both the left and the right. Again, whether you agree or don’t, respect Bannon or don’t, it’s refreshing to see that Bannon seems more free from dogmatic and partisan shackles, venturing to bring people from both the left and the right together in their mutual adversity towards globalism.

Charlottesville, “a bunch of losers”

Bannon was already a kind of chief strategist during the campaign. His Breitbart brought white nationalism, anti-immigration and at times neo-nazism to the mainstream and rallied them for Trump. Speculating whether Trump would have been in the White House if Breitbart and Steve Bannon weren’t there to help him is frivolous. Nonetheless, the alt-right is most consistent in its defense of Trump and Breitbart seems to play a helping hand in that. The aforementioned aside, Bannon did rightly condemn the protests in Charlottesville:

“Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more.”

The former seems like an effort to please both sides, especially considering that in the same interview he wished that Democrats would keep talking about racism, Bannon would then have clear water before him to propose his program of economic nationalism. All in all, it’s quite promising to see that Trump’s chief strategist has a more nuanced and less reactionary view with regard to North Korea. What’s even more promising is that Bannon is willing to invite to the White House a writer for the American Prospect, an unmistakably leftist magazines that is consistent in its disdain for the Trump administration.

Fine reasoning overshadowed by ill-informed foolishness

Damore’s Google memo could have been much more.

The combined quarterly revenues of the five largest technology firms clocked in at 142 billion dollars. Of these five companies – Alphabet (Google’s mother-firm), Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft – three have their headquarter in Silicon Valley, Microsoft and Amazon find their head-bureaus elsewhere, nonetheless, both employ swaths of employees in the vibrant area. Furthermore, we find Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix, Tesla Motors, eBay, Intel, Hewlett Packard, the list goes on. Besides geographically referring to the southern part of the Bay Area, Silicon Valley has become a metonymy for the tech industry as a whole. James Damore’s controversial memo, although first circulated via Google’s internal mailing lists only, has to do with the metonymical tenor of Silicon Valley, it has to do with the ever-growing technology sector by and large.

The technology industry is one of exceptional entrepreneurship, innovation and, evidently, growth. Despite its admirable results and profits, or ethical questions about its implications on privacy and freedom, talk of sexism is its most timely problem. And rightly so, women are often paid less, find themselves in top positions less often and, according to surveys, have to put up with unwanted sexual advances. With Silicon Valley seemingly synonymous with ‘cosmopolitan liberal’, sexism is oddly out of place. CEO’s wholeheartedly condemn sexism with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, as well as his boss, Alphabet CEO Larry Page, for example, openly – albeit rather frivolously up until now – speaking against it.

“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”

James Damore was a Google employee who felt that his more offbeat and unorthodox opinions were suppressed by unwritten and written rules. I can only sympathize with Damore at this point; as an engineering student I agree with him that a hyper-biased and charged atmosphere at universities and larger technology firms might discourage some from being able to fully express their opinion. That would certainly explain why his pamphlet has caused such a stir.

Too bad that’s where the good points come to and end. As with anything that I deem remotely interesting for its daring boldness there is a substantial ‘but’. The pamphlet is reasonable and supremely sharp in its call for debate and “honest discussion”. The second part, however, falls flat on its phase in its fallacies and, sadly, negates the apropos first half. Damore starts to argue that underrepresentation of women is not a result of discrimination. On the contrary. Damore argues that innate differences make women fare worse in the industry. The alt-right – ever embracing of ill-informed foolishness – swiftly embraced his argument that congenital personality traits make women less suitable for a job in Silicon Valley.

Before I fall prey to expected criticism: however insignificant, personality differences between the sexes might indeed be present (nature v. nurture is an entirely different debate), it would be frivolous to argue that the two sexes are indistinguishable. However, to argue, as Damore does, that women are “more interested in people than things” or “look for more work-life balance” rather than “status” is utterly backward.

I am well aware of figures (such as Rebel media’s Gavin McInnes) who have consistently made the point that, by innate difference, women prefer spending time with their kids but have strayed away from ‘nature’s ideal’ because of feminism. McInnes backs these claims up by noting that women are, on average, less happy than they were a hundred years prior. His statistics are correct, his induction is short-sighted. Contrary to McInnes and hard-right publications, I don’t consider myself a credible expert without truly diving into the subject, therefore, I will leave comment to this article, which explains the differences in a most factual and well-referenced manner. Nonetheless, as per scholarly ideals, research is and should be available on the internet, some links can be found below for the interested reader.

Damore’s pamphlet could have been one for the history books. It wasn’t, to my dismay. Sharp arguments in favor of debate and openness are overshadowed by the poorly substantiated second half. My hope is that the media manages to pick up on this first section and shines a light on the fact that Damore also wrote that “honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots”. Honest discussion is, as I hope we can all agree upon, a fundamental necessity in any workplace.

Some interesting links concerning Damore:

Some interesting links concerning congenital differences between the two sexes:

For a typical example of sensational media coverage: CNBC did not even mention Silicon Valley’s ‘ideological echo chamber’, it went for a more ominous ’10 shocking quotes from the viral Google manifesto’.

The US and North Korea, business as usual?

However daunting it may seem, the most recent feud with the North seems – lest some notable exceptions – business as usual.

Opinion writers take pride in linking Trump’s win to certain phenomena – a shifting Democratic base, contemptuous liberals, changing media landscapes, Trump’s radically different campaign and his calls for hard power, the Russians, the list goes on. As with foreign policy, electoral victory is dependent on innumerable factors, all aforementioned ingredients add in some way to the serving but it is no secret that Trump seeks to grow the military, increase the US’ hard powers and decimate the state department. The results start to show in the most serious crisis encountered by the Trump administration yet. Trump’s disconnect from the state department and the accompanying absence of thought and thoroughness is sadly unsurprising and, as he called for ‘fire and fury’ or even tougher action, the state department was predictably sidelined.

Exporting threats

Ironic as it may seem shortly after the strictest batch of sanctions was passed, the regime’s prime export product remains free to cross the border: threats. Japan and the US, as well as the North’s southern neighbors, have been subject to its intimidation so frequently that, at first sight, it seems miraculous that none sparked an armed conflict. Over the years, there have been similar diplomatic moments of razzle-dazzle or, for a less British euphemism: a verbal tug of war. However you’d like to call it, commentators and analysts alike have not feared comparisons with the Cuban missile crisis or the invasion in Iran.

Although these crises often passed silently, this feud is quite different. For one, Mr. Kim’s statements are almost indistinguishable from the president’s and in a verbal battle between an autocratic all-controlling leader and a president whose praise for such absolute rulers has remained throughout his time in office, tensions rise high. Quite the contrary to previous years, when it was easy to sideline and ignore the DPRK’s supreme leader as a ‘rambling lunatic’. Most importantly, however, according to the Washington Post, the country is able to miniaturize its nuclear capabilities and aim its functioning inter-continental missiles at the US, meaning that the regime’s long awaited insurance policy is no longer merely the subject of speculation.

nk_propaganda

Despite my lack of expertise in the area, it’s easy to conclude that North Korea’s perspective is very simple; keep the regime in power. State media portray the US as a force of capitalism and evil, a force that simply aims to topple its praised government. The DPRK argues it can only persists if its nuclear arsenal is up to spec. With nuclear miniaturization a possibility and ICBM’s ready, it seems that such an arsenal is no longer a fantasy. The DPRK knows very well that Trump won’t attack since the regime has the capabilities to not only destroy Seoul but to obliterate US cities. On the other hand, the regime won’t attack the United States first since Washington will most certainly claim victory in the war that follows. This, then, is the impasse the world has reached.

Deterrence?

The United States might like the option of regime change – it has a long tradition of crudely toppling regimes it dislikes – but, as John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, Kim’s aforementioned insurance is paying off. However desired, the installation of a friendly government is not an option. 

Robin Wright, also a staff-writer at the New Yorker, spoke to retired navy admiral and former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld. His advice was simple: “Let them stow in their own juices … it’s a fools errand to expect China to solve this”. The Economist aligned with Winnefeld and noted that if diplomacy fails and military action has such horrific consequences, “the only remaining option is to deter and contain Mr. Kim”. As Cassidy notes, it would be an acknowledgement that US policies aimed at the North not acquiring nuclear weaponry has failed. Failing to concede to its own mistakes is typical for the US, note Iran and Iraq during Mossadegh and later Khomeini and Hussein for example. Leaving characteristic Washington megalomania aside, deterrence, together with a thoroughly reviewed personal statement by the president is the only viable and respectable option.

@ Eat Pray Vote!