Identity Politics and Simplifying the Left

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Identity Politics and Simplifying the Left Empty Identity Politics and Simplifying the Left

Post by reboundstudent on Wed Jun 03, 2015 4:02 pm

Lately I've run across several articles (two posted below) in which left-leaning authors ponder whether the current atmosphere of identity politics and activism is in fact harming liberal education as a whole. I am very new to this topic and still kind of pondering these ideas, but wondering what other folks think. This in particular really engaged me:

It's also why seemingly piddling matters of cultural consumption warrant much more emotional outrage than concerns with larger material implications. Compare the number of web articles surrounding the supposed problematic aspects of the newest Avengers movie with those complaining about, say, the piecemeal dismantling of abortion rights. The former outnumber the latter considerably, and their rhetoric is typically much more impassioned and inflated. I'd discuss this in my classes — if I weren't too scared to talk about abortion.

What do you guys think?

http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8706323/college-professor-afraid

http://jezebel.com/feminist-students-protest-feminist-prof-for-writing-abo-1707714321
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Post by eselle28 on Wed Jun 03, 2015 4:26 pm

After looking at both pieces, I'm inclined to say that the problem may have more to do with the current state of the academic job market than with social justice or with real changes to students. Unreasonable students have been whiny and eager to take offense at anything presented by their professors that displeases them at least since I was in college, and that was 17 years ago, before social justice was really a thing (and certainly before it was a thing among my typically Midwestern, middle-class, white, politically-moderate classmates). If there's a difference, I think it may be in how administration reacts to poor evaluations made on flimsy ideological grounds. I do think the Title IX suit is ludicrous, but would note that it's already been thrown out. Still, I think there may be something there to be worried about.

I'm far less impressed with Edward Schlosser's article. It seems to have quite a lot of...straw men? I'm not very good at labeling argument flaws, but I don't think he's presenting opposing views fairly. I think Schlosser is entirely misrepresenting Kelly's view of science. She didn't reject the scientific method of inquiry or call for it to be abandoned. She merely criticized it as being shaped by cultural and gender biases - something Schlosser admits is the case - without elaborating on what she would propose as a solution to this problem.  It may be that she wants nothing more than for there to be closer examination of what we use science to study and underlying assumptions about what is normal or desirable.

And I think it's entirely natural that there'd be more dialogue about portrayals in the Avengers than there would be about abortion. The Avengers' discussions aren't just about social justice. They're film criticism, and they touch on things like fandom and canon. Any number of people who aren't interested in the subject of abortion rights, who oppose them, or who have the sort of complicated and inconsistent views that most Americans do on the subject might be interested in discussing the Black Widow. The two discussions don't need to cancel each other out, either. People are always going to want to talk about entertainment. If they're doing so anyway, why is it objectionable if they occasionally inform those conversations with thoughts on diversity? I don't agree with most of the criticisms of Age of Ultron (I think the main problem is that having so few female characters makes each one's story arcs more representative than any character's should be), but I don't see the objection to others having the conversation unless someone's coming at it from the standpoint of a person who just wants to lean back and watch an entertaining movie uncritically, which is not a very academic viewpoint. People who are interested in discussing abortion will still talk about it, or will participate in both conversations.

And then there's this:
In 2009, the subject of my student's complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice. I didn't hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student's complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.

In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student's emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

It doesn't sound like he's received a complaint in 2015 that his teaching affected his student's emotional state, hasn't been unable to defend himself against it, and hasn't suffered professional consequences. I'm not sure I trust his prediction that he would be, nor his claim that the world has changed so much in 6 years. I'm kind of getting the feeling that there's a little bit of "Dang kids these days!" Millenial-shaming here, and also a little bit of the frustration that sometimes happens when people who have always considered themselves to be very liberal are challenged on their preexisting biases.
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Post by The Wisp on Wed Jun 03, 2015 5:42 pm

I've been reading on this issue for a while now (not that I'm some expert either, mind you). My impression is that no tenured professor has ever actually suffered any consequences despite the loud fuss some social justice-y students have made in certain cases. A few people have been prevented from speaking on campuses by weak-kneed administrators, but other than that there seems to have been little practical effect.

I think there are legitimate concerns, however. There is a creepy illiberal side to some social justice activism, and this sort seems more common on college campuses than elsewhere. There is also seemingly a growing tendency in a certain contingent of the social justice left to treat the emotions of non-cishet white men as sacrosanct and unquestionable, which I think is also a worrying trend and is counter to academic values. There have also been a few cases of more conservative students being harassed by social justice students on various campuses around the country, though these seem to be rare and I'm not too worried about these becoming a common thing.

And for all that, social justice activism on my campus, at least, has not affected me at all, inside or outside the classroom. No sensitive subjects have been made taboo and no students have freaked out or protested or made unreasonable demands when controversial subjects have come up. There are protests on campus occasionally, but these are contained, easily avoided, not particularly rowdy, and not very disruptive. ETA: And never about what goes on inside the classroom.

There was an embarrassing incident in the department of one of my majors where a report was leaked that said the department was hostile to women, and there were some changes made due to that (the department chair is from outside the department, and some professors have been forced into anonymous grading), but as far as I can tell that was a legitimate grievance (the female professors wrote an editorial in the local paper saying as much), and as far as I can tell it had nothing to do with student activism but internal complaints.

I think eselle is right that a lot of this reflects the academic job market and changes in the nature of academia. Fewer faculty are tenured these days. Further, the administration of universities seem to be drifting more towards appeasing students in a "the customer is always right" mode, and I think some are worried that the administrations will turn against them (I'm not sure if this is actually a legitimate fear right now, on the big issues of academic freedom no tenured professor has suffered consequences for their speech). But, if you're an adjunct or non-tenured lecturer, you may be afraid that negative evaluations, even if they're based on the complaints of immature students who just discovered social justice, could cost them future employment at that institution. I'm not even sure that is a legitimate fear, though, (I've had adjunct professors and grad student teachers who didn't shy away from controversial issues, though maybe in other majors there is more fear, IDK), but it at least seems more legitimate than the fear of tenured professors.

I also think there is another aspect at play here, though. There's a saying I've heard, and I don't know the origin, but it's essentially "people either have big fights, or they have nasty fights". In other words, people who disagree a lot will have big fights, while people who are much closer will have nasty fights. I suspect that professors are much more sensitive to the excesses of the social justice contingent because most professors are of the left. When their side is the one with illiberal strains and is seemingly more hostile to academic freedom, they'll be much more agitated than when it's Marxist or Randian students being fussy.

The most charitable interpretation of these complaints by academics is they want to nip this trend in the bud now. The less charitable interpretation is that, for various reasons, they're being irrationally fearful and they should be no more afraid of these students than the college Marxists or Randians.
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Post by PintsizeBro on Wed Jun 03, 2015 7:51 pm

In my own experience, for all that the social justice types like to talk about how you should never assume someone's gender or sexuality (true story: asking a trans woman what pronouns she preferred at a large group event in the middle of a crowded restaurant, then getting defensive and calling her narrow-minded when she got angry at having her gender history interrogated in public), they often trot out "cishet" for any man who disagrees with them without first confirming that the man is, in fact, cisgender and heterosexual. Anyone who thinks gay guys and trans guys can't be sexist or racist or classist or any other -ist obviously hasn't met very many.

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Post by BasedBuzzed on Wed Jun 03, 2015 11:38 pm

>jabs at evopsych and scientific methods
Dat strategic switching between merely having a problem with the language/interpretation of the data and trying to tar the entire field and character-assassinate those in it.

Of course, they're merely responding to the biotruth columnists contigent, so hopefully they can all make each other miserable without the rest of us.

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Post by JP McBride on Thu Jun 04, 2015 1:30 pm

eselle28 wrote:I think Schlosser is entirely misrepresenting Kelly's view of science. She didn't reject the scientific method of inquiry or call for it to be abandoned. She merely criticized it as being shaped by cultural and gender biases - something Schlosser admits is the case - without elaborating on what she would propose as a solution to this problem.  It may be that she wants nothing more than for there to be closer examination of what we use science to study and underlying assumptions about what is normal or desirable.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CGnRnc-UYAAx7lc.jpg:large

She looks like your garden variety Twitter idiot to me.

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Post by eselle28 on Thu Jun 04, 2015 1:59 pm

JP McBride wrote:
eselle28 wrote:I think Schlosser is entirely misrepresenting Kelly's view of science. She didn't reject the scientific method of inquiry or call for it to be abandoned. She merely criticized it as being shaped by cultural and gender biases - something Schlosser admits is the case - without elaborating on what she would propose as a solution to this problem.  It may be that she wants nothing more than for there to be closer examination of what we use science to study and underlying assumptions about what is normal or desirable.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CGnRnc-UYAAx7lc.jpg:large

She looks like your garden variety Twitter idiot to me.

Twitter's not a great place to try to discuss anything more complicated than a quip and there's some statements she makes there that I don't agree with, but there's nothing there that calls for the scientific method to be thrown out. It's not a particularly uncommon criticism of evolutionary psychology to point to its tendency to concentrate on modern, Western (mostly white, mostly patriarchal) culture and occasionally on great apes, while ignoring examples of other cultures that don't fit its biases. There are times when someone can apply the scientific method to a biased, poorly-designed study and come up with the wrong answer or with an answer that shouldn't be generalized beyond the bounds of the population studied. Evopsych is particularly bad about this, but it's not just evopsych. Far too much social research is done on American college students, which is then generalized to conclusions about people or men and women in general.

I think Schlosser got caught up in her label "white male science." She seems to be using it like people use "white feminism." That term doesn't imply that either white women or feminism need to go. It rejects a particular kind of feminism that's riddled with biases.
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Post by PintsizeBro on Thu Jun 04, 2015 2:18 pm

"Sexist racist white men ignore evidence that doesn't support their preconceived notions" isn't a criticism of the scientific method, it's a criticism of the people purporting to use the scientific method to further their own ends.

If you want to do science, you don't get to cherry pick your data. Period. If you do several experiments and your experiments prove that your hypothesis was wrong, you change your hypothesis. And if it's impossible to do an experiment to test your claim, you don't get to say that it's scientific.

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Post by Andrew Corvero on Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:19 pm

It's not a particularly uncommon criticism of evolutionary psychology to point to its tendency to concentrate on modern, Western (mostly white, mostly patriarchal) culture and occasionally on great apes, while ignoring examples of other cultures that don't fit its biases. There are times when someone can apply the scientific method to a biased, poorly-designed study and come up with the wrong answer or with an answer that shouldn't be generalized beyond the bounds of the population studied. Evopsych is particularly bad about this, but it's not just evopsych. Far too much social research is done on American college students, which is then generalized to conclusions about people or men and women in general.

Sorry, but this isn't the argument that @bad_dominicana supports. You're giving her far too much credit.

Are there flaws within certain implementations of evolutionary psychology? Certainly. Should some biases be put under scrutiny? Yes. Rational criticism of biases, when done in a philosophically sound way, only enriches science, and no theory should be above scrutiny.

Bad @bad_dominicana doesn't do that. If you read her feed you'll notice that she, either deliberately or not, misunderstands the arguments she's criticizing, like when Neil DeGrasse Tyson quips about the supposed "superior science" of Mayans and about the collapse of the Mayan civilization and she claims that Tyson said that the Mayan are "dead" because they "were dumb".

She's not above from using some racist ad hominem attacks, like when she calls Neil DeGrasse Tyson a "negro scientist"

I agree with JP MCBride: she seems like a garden-variety twitter idiot.

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Post by rj3 on Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:23 pm

Go on and read some more of her tweets on the subject. The first one after the one Schlosser pulled:

<blockquote>"got scientist negros like neil degrasse tyson spewing ahistorical anti-native, antiblack shit in the name of science coz white science said"</blockquote>

It gets worse from there. You can backfill with slightly more sound reasoning all you want, but this is just a content-free swipe at topics for which she is clearly a dilettante.

Now, I'm going to do exactly what I just criticized by backfilling Schlosser's weak piece with some of the reasons I think this social justice movement will either sputter out and die or get the full backlash treatment.

People who want to change the world have two obligations if they want to succeed. First, they have to point out what's wrong with the status quo. Second, they have to articulate what the world would look like if they got what they want. On the former, it's pretty clear. With the latter, not so much.

The wing of the left that treats the world "liberal" as an epithet (which, I believe, is who we're talking about) is a non-entity on the electoral front. Not only are people not buying what they're selling, too many of the people who espouse it are so bought into the notion that fundamental disagreements are "violence" that they rarely leave their safe spaces to engage. While you'll see nutters on school boards dropping history textbooks for teaching about slavery, you'll never see nutters like our twitter friends on school boards agitating against science textbooks for being too white.

So instead we have colleges as a sort of minor league of governance/prominence. Certain colleges and universities have enough of an SJ presence that they can actually make policy. What does this minor league preview look like?

- Gutting of due process, right of confrontation, right to an attorney, right to present exculpatory evidence, etc., in cases where a fair trial would get in the way of punishing someone from an "oppressive" class. Certainly, no POC would have any problem with Scottsboro Boys standards of evidence out there in the real world if it means we can punish some dudebros...

- Endless language policing and nitpicking.

- A stiff oppression olympics hierarchy that dictates who should express opinions about what and who is obliged by their place in the hierarchy to sit down and shut up.

- The Minimum Standard for Being a Decent F***ing Human Being (TM) updated weekly.

- Severe infantilization. Remember the room with play-doh and kitten videos for the women traumatized by the speaker who dare challenge the "1 in 5" stat-turned-shibboleth with competing studies and research?

Etc. Now, the Constitution would limit the worst of this, and much of the major annoyances are carried out through soft power (shouting down speakers, etc), but you can't say this is appealing to most people.

Given that this nonsense will probably never escape this small group of colleges and universities, how long will it even last where it's strongest? Confined to campus, not that long. People live in the real world before they get in the bubble, and left to its own devices, the bubble will diverge farther and farther from how people live their lives outside it. Eventually, the levee will break and this sort of activism will be seen less of as a serious movement and more of a joke. A few faculty fossils will keep the torch flickering dimly, but IMHO this will die down in a couple of years, tops. A decade from now, something else will come up and the cycle will begin anew.

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Post by Dan_Brodribb on Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:43 pm

I don't know about the 'liberal education' part, but I''m starting to notice in myself a certain level of 'social justice fatigue' even with issues I agree with.

It FEELS like its coming from the left, but then I have more liberal friends, visit more liberal websites, etc. so I'm going to be exposed to more of that politics.

I especially notice it with entertainment stuff: movies, comedy, TV, music--I'd like to be able to experience these things without having to fit it into my political identity.

Mostly I think it's just the amount of stuff and the level of emotional intensity regardless of the largeness or smallness of the issue. I start to feel resentful--like my

ETA - Please ignore. This was supposed to be saved as a draft, not a post. It's incomplete, and work has gottne too busy for me to finish my thoughts.

Sorry everybody


Last edited by Dan_Brodribb on Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:51 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post by Enail on Thu Jun 04, 2015 3:44 pm

<mod> I just want to remind everyone not to let this discussion devolve into a 'let's complain about social justicers' thread. It's an interesting topic that deserves a nuanced discussion. Carry on, y'all! </mod>

ETA On topic: One thing that I think confuses the issue, which Eselle touched on, is that I find people often read "big political outrage" about things that to me fall under "discussing and analyzing entertainment I enjoy" - to me, 'is the treatment of female characters problematic' is something I'd bring up with friends the same way I'd bring up "do the houses in Harry Potter serve to present a world in which good and evil are innate traits, contrary to the explicit message of the books," and "awesome, there's a disabled character with a major role in this" the same way I'd bring up "morally ambiguous mentor figure, yay!!"  But I get the sense that some people see any mention of those topics as equivalent to 'start a protest to get this thing changed, banned or discredited and the creator run off social media." It sometimes makes it hard to discuss things that interest me in my entertainment media without starting a political debate.
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Post by rj3 on Thu Jun 04, 2015 4:12 pm

Dan_Brodribb wrote:I don't know about the 'liberal education' part, but I''m starting to notice in myself a certain level of 'social justice fatigue' even with issues I agree with.

It FEELS like its coming from the left, but then I have more liberal friends, visit more liberal websites, etc. so I'm going to be exposed to more of that politics.

I especially notice it with entertainment stuff: movies, comedy, TV, music--I'd like to be able to experience these things without having to fit it into my political identity.

Mostly I think it's just the amount of stuff and the level of emotional intensity regardless of the largeness or smallness of the issue.

It's refreshing to talk to liberals who are outside the identity politics orbit.   As in, it refreshes my belief that people are standing up for good causes without undermining them or tacking on a bunch of unrelated ill thought out effluvia.

Story time: The Iraq war started when I was an undergrad. Before 9/11, the campus liberals were mainly connected to the local Democratic party and did things like collect signatures, flyer, poll-watch and the like. Campus Dems and campus Republicans co-hosted debates, both between their members and between guest speakers. I'd be lying if I said it was a golden age of reason and understanding, but the campus was connected to the outside world and was tempered by it. There was a crew of WTO protestors and Naderites, but the 2000 election put them far, far out of favor, even in the eyes of those of us who were to the left of national and state Democrats.

Then came 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq War. The larger anti-war movement held protests in our city and in the slightly bigger city down the road. College newspaper columnists duked it out, but there was no more appetite for joint debates. I recall trying to organize a debate between Students United for Israel and Students United for Palestine, or whatever they were called. After three hours going over the name of the event, acceptable topics and a byzantine procedure for determining how audience questions would be taken, both sides walked away. (Not after eating all of the kosher/halal Chinese food we lured them with - it's college after all).  

The protests were even worse. You show up to an anti-war protest, then find yourself surrounded by people with Free Mumia signs, anti-WTO signs, big puppets that served no ostensible purpose but to look ridiculous, and "I Support the Intifada" shirts. Even before the silly finger-wagging and leaderless descent of Occupy, it was impossible to get anyone to focus on a common issue beyond their (occasionally directly contradictory) niche interests. Needless to say, the protests, though they brought literally millions of people into the streets, were seen as a joke and the march to war continued.  After all, it's impossible to tell what the hell you're signing up for when you joined those people!

I graduated and the movement fizzled. A year later, I heard from my younger friends that it was back to electoral politics for most activists, with only a small rump faction holding signs up in the street towards nobody in particular. Dems took congress in 2006 and Obamamania came to town shortly thereafter.

These things go in cycles. The left eats itself alive at least once a decade, because that's what we do. All you can hope is to keep your head when the cycle is at its most radical and not get too complacent when people care the least.

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Post by reboot on Thu Jun 04, 2015 4:28 pm

I come at it from a different perspective, in that I wish sometimes the passion and energy for social justice on campus was carried into the wider community to address very real and very troublesome issues. Now of course I get academia's focus on the campus/academic community. It is their community and what happens there directly impacts them.

I suppose I feel the same on the media discussions, which I think are important and media is a great way to get a larger audience engaged in the topics, but often overshadow what is happening in the real world. However, media is a common vocabulary, so I understand why people engage in it with more passion than, say, the rights of farmworkers.

The problem, in my eyes, is not too much social justice engagement, but too little and too narrow of a focus. But, if you think about what my job is and the communities I work with, you can probably see why I have that impression.
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Post by reboundstudent on Thu Jun 04, 2015 5:40 pm

Enail wrote:
ETA On topic: One thing that I think confuses the issue, which Eselle touched on, is that I find people often read "big political outrage" about things that to me fall under "discussing and analyzing entertainment I enjoy" - to me, 'is the treatment of female characters problematic' is something I'd bring up with friends the same way I'd bring up "do the houses in Harry Potter serve to present a world in which good and evil are innate traits, contrary to the explicit message of the books," and "awesome, there's a disabled character with a major role in this" the same way I'd bring up "morally ambiguous mentor figure, yay!!"  But I get the sense that some people see any mention of those topics as equivalent to 'start a protest to get this thing changed, banned or discredited and the creator run off social media." It sometimes makes it hard to discuss things that interest me in my entertainment media without starting a political debate.

I think for me the analyzing becomes less enjoyable and starts becoming more like a political debate when, ironically, too much emphasis is placed on either side's argument, or when the analysis starts becoming rather personal.

One example I experienced was my Cinderella-corset fight on Jezebel. I actually had the exact same discussion with a friend in person about whether featuring corseted waists in a children's movie was problematic or appropriate. In person, the conversation felt analytical, but also sort of insubstantial. I didn't feel personally attacked (because I love the corseted-waist look and think the costumes were amazing), and my friend didn't feel I was dismissing her opinion out of hand, because we were able to sit back and just sort of bang the ideas around without a lot of emotion. Compare that to online, where I was routinely labeled as being anti-feminist, giving into the patriarchy, and "brain washed." Ironically, the discussion online felt a lot more personal because the emotions seemed to already be really high. The article itself already started at a snarky point (instead of a genuine, "Hey let's ponder this" starting point) and the two sides diverged from there, going from Skeptical to Defensive to Personally Insulted on one side, and Snarky to Frustrated to Offended on the other.

I think sometimes the accusation that an analysis exists only to become a political debate and change/ban/discredit a piece of media is unfair.... but on the other hand, sometimes that IS the case. Sometimes a media analysis, especially when there's a wider audience, isn't meant to just be a fun analysis, but is some kind of statement.

reboot wrote:I come at it from a different perspective, in that I wish sometimes the passion and energy for social justice on campus was carried into the wider community to address very real and very troublesome issues. Now of course I get academia's focus on the campus/academic community. It is their community and what happens there directly impacts them.

I suppose I feel the same on the media discussions, which I think are important and media is a great way to get a larger audience engaged in the topics, but often overshadow what is happening in the real world. However, media is a common vocabulary, so I understand why people engage in it with more passion than, say, the rights of farmworkers.

The problem, in my eyes, is not too much social justice engagement, but too little and too narrow of a focus. But, if you think about what my job is and the communities I work with, you can probably see why I have that impression.

There were some comments in the Jezebel article that addressed this and to me, it's one of the most important points. Sometimes it seems like, at least in the "feminist movement," we've gotten lost in the minutia of certain feminist discussions and started ignored huge issues that still haven't been addressed. John Oliver talks on his show about how some of the most important issues of our day (like infrastructure) are ignored because they aren't "sexy" issues. Sometimes it feels that way about feminism; issues that really do need to be addressed and need that kind of passionate activism (maternity leave, pay inequality) in favor of very specific identity issues that are frequently more "sexy."
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Post by reboot on Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:33 pm

reboundstudent wrote:

reboot wrote:I come at it from a different perspective, in that I wish sometimes the passion and energy for social justice on campus was carried into the wider community to address very real and very troublesome issues. Now of course I get academia's focus on the campus/academic community. It is their community and what happens there directly impacts them.

I suppose I feel the same on the media discussions, which I think are important and media is a great way to get a larger audience engaged in the topics, but often overshadow what is happening in the real world. However, media is a common vocabulary, so I understand why people engage in it with more passion than, say, the rights of farmworkers.

The problem, in my eyes, is not too much social justice engagement, but too little and too narrow of a focus. But, if you think about what my job is and the communities I work with, you can probably see why I have that impression.

There were some comments in the Jezebel article that addressed this and to me, it's one of the most important points. Sometimes it seems like, at least in the "feminist movement," we've gotten lost in the minutia of certain feminist discussions and started ignored huge issues that still haven't been addressed. John Oliver talks on his show about how some of the most important issues of our day (like infrastructure) are ignored because they aren't "sexy" issues. Sometimes it feels that way about feminism; issues that really do need to be addressed and need that kind of passionate activism (maternity leave, pay inequality) in favor of very specific identity issues that are frequently more "sexy."  

I think the minutiae are also easier to address in the day to day, so people flock to it. It is easier to change language use than to change, say, the structural inequality that faces low wage women and their access to maternity leave, day care etc. Not to mention the direct benefit higher wage people get when wages for child care workers, domestic services, yard/home repair services, etc are low sometimes makes it something that is a little stickier
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Identity Politics and Simplifying the Left Empty Re: Identity Politics and Simplifying the Left

Post by The Wisp on Thu Jun 04, 2015 7:59 pm

reboot wrote:There were some comments in the Jezebel article that addressed this and to me, it's one of the most important points. Sometimes it seems like, at least in the "feminist movement," we've gotten lost in the minutia of certain feminist discussions and started ignored huge issues that still haven't been addressed. John Oliver talks on his show about how some of the most important issues of our day (like infrastructure) are ignored because they aren't "sexy" issues. Sometimes it feels that way about feminism; issues that really do need to be addressed and need that kind of passionate activism (maternity leave, pay inequality) in favor of very specific identity issues that are frequently more "sexy."

One journalist I used to follow once said that he thought "sexy" identity social justice issues in university (he didn't use those words) were used mainly to as tools for social signalling and nitpicky status games among (in the grand scheme of things by virtue of attending a 4-year college) privileged lefty college students. I think there's truth to that.

My cynical side says that college protests are more social events than political events where like-minded people can experience catharsis, build community, and give themselves moral license to live the kind of privileged lives they believe are morally wrong, but where nothing substantial actually happens.

Protests by themselves are actually pretty ineffective political tools, it seems to me (unless you can get a really really large portion of the population to protest, like million man march territory). I almost want to be snarky and tell the people "hey, if you actually cared about social justice, you would get a high paying job and donate a significant fraction of your income to international charities, or become a local activist and get old people to give money and vote for your candidates in primary elections at the state and local level". But these are not glamorous, especially to a zealous "convert" to social justice, and aren't as likely to assuage their feelings of guilt or shame for being privileged as a cathartic protest.

This isn't to say that these students don't believe in the moral system the claim to at all or that they don't really care, but that they're misguided and have other motivations beyond the moral. This also isn't to say that there's never value to protesting, or pointing out problematic aspects of media, or identity issues, per se.
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Post by eselle28 on Thu Jun 04, 2015 8:51 pm

The Wisp wrote:
Protests by themselves are actually pretty ineffective political tools, it seems to me (unless you can get a really really large portion of the population to protest, like million man march territory). I almost want to be snarky and tell the people "hey, if you actually cared about social justice, you would get a high paying job and donate a significant fraction of your income to international charities, or become a local activist and get old people to give money and vote for your candidates in primary elections at the state and local level". But these are not glamorous, especially to a zealous "convert" to social justice, and aren't as likely to assuage their feelings of guilt or shame for being privileged as a cathartic protest.

This isn't to say that these students don't believe in the moral system the claim to at all or that they don't really care, but that they're misguided and have other motivations beyond the moral. This also isn't to say that there's never value to protesting, or pointing out problematic aspects of media, or identity issues, per se.

I agree that people, and particularly young people, sometimes direct their protests in ineffective directions and may seek out social movements for more than just the underlying goal. I also think that local activism and electoral participation is laudable and is something that's achievable for a wide variety of people.

I cringe at: "hey, if you actually cared about social justice, you would get a high paying job and donate a significant fraction of your income to international charities" for a variety of reasons. I think it's first worth remembering that not everyone has the ability to get a high paying job, whatever their political sentiments. I also think it sets up an unfair standard for people who want various types of political and social reform. I think it's reasonable we ask people to mostly live up to their own standards. I don't think it's reasonable to ask people to completely throw aside their own lives in pursuit of a cause, and that extends to creative and professional fulfillment as well. I know that you support various types of social change, but I suspect you wouldn't want to throw aside your own career dreams to do something dreary (or, if you're not too passionate about that, take a vow of celibacy so as to have more time to devote to the cause). I don't think it's fair to ask others to either show that level of commitment or drop any interest in the subject whatsoever. Most people need to take a middle path, and I think many students find it somewhere.

Lastly, I'd note that this doesn't actually seem to be a strategy many people actually pursue. It's something that students who are professionally ambitious say to excuse their guilt and shame for not being passionate about things their classmates care about. I went to law school with a ton of people like that and was sometimes one myself. To date, I haven't noticed many of us throwing ourselves headlong into whatever pays best and living like ascetics. There are some other former classmates who work for non-profits or in advocacy, and I suspect they do more than the supposed donor group does by a good measure.

I do understand that sometimes people protesting or critiquing is annoying, but I think some of these sorts of responses are covers for a sentiment of just not wanting to hear about it anymore. I think that's fair, but I'd suggest that people then just avoid the protests or interacting with people who protest as much as they can. There are all kinds of spaces where there's very little social justice or discussion of the subject.
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Identity Politics and Simplifying the Left Empty Re: Identity Politics and Simplifying the Left

Post by The Wisp on Thu Jun 04, 2015 9:31 pm

eselle28 wrote:
I cringe at: "hey, if you actually cared about social justice, you would get a high paying job and donate a significant fraction of your income to international charities" for a variety of reasons. I think it's first worth remembering that not everyone has the ability to get a high paying job, whatever their political sentiments. I also think it sets up an unfair standard for people who want various types of political and social reform. I think it's reasonable we ask people to mostly live up to their own standards. I don't think it's reasonable to ask people to completely throw aside their own lives in pursuit of a cause, and that extends to creative and professional fulfillment as well. I know that you support various types of social change, but I suspect you wouldn't want to throw aside your own career dreams to do something dreary (or, if you're not too passionate about that, take a vow of celibacy so as to have more time to devote to the cause). I don't think it's fair to ask others to either show that level of commitment or drop any interest in the subject whatsoever. Most people need to take a middle path, and I think many students find it somewhere.

Yeah, that's a good point. Especially the part about how some people can't even get those sorts of jobs.

And I should note that I don't actually believe they're bad people for not doing that, nor do I think even that most are hypocritical. I actually do think some social justice activists are hypocritical, the type who say things like "we privileged people will always be bad people because we're complicit in systems of oppression", though these types are rare in the grand scheme of things. ETA: Like this post.

But, that bit I said is more of my hyperbolic "gotcha" trollish frustrated snarky response than something I actually believe. It would totally be hypocritical of me on multiple levels to seriously demand that of people. In fact, one of my biggest problems with certain kinds of social justice ideas is that they get way too sucked into universalist ethics and neglect the particular, which leads to them making horribly unreasonable demands on people to be morally good (I also reject utilitarianism for the same reason).

So, I apologize if what I wrote was unreasonably judgmental and cringeworthy.

Lastly, I'd note that this doesn't actually seem to be a strategy many people actually pursue. It's something that students who are professionally ambitious say to excuse their guilt and shame for not being passionate about things their classmates care about. I went to law school with a ton of people like that and was sometimes one myself. To date, I haven't noticed many of us throwing ourselves headlong into whatever pays best and living like ascetics.There are some other former classmates who work for non-profits or in advocacy, and I suspect they do more than the supposed donor group does by a good measure.

First, I'll just note that even in my trolling response, I meant give up like 10% of your income, not that they should live like ascetics or take a horrible job because it pays 5% more. And I do think for some people with certain skill sets and values, the path of making lots of money and donating a portion of it is the best one.

Still, I think this is very much a true observation, though. I probably have some latent guilt about being unsure what I believe morally and politically and not really having much interest or skills friendly to practical activism, myself.
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Post by litterature on Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:56 pm

In my opinion this has to do with the Kantian root of identity politics. Whether identity politics (or applied ethics, or any kind of approach whether ethics matters more than the production of new situations) is part of the "left wing" is up for debate, but if it is, then it's just a small part of it. To lump feminism as a whole with identity politics is a big mistake (an unsurprising one if you live in such a sad situation that calling yourself a "liberal" places you in the "left wing".)

The thing with Kant is that his notion of what constitutes a subject is extremely dodgy, so you get schools of thought where a collective subject whose innovations have universal value is some sort of Promethean taboo, and subjectivity becomes the universal injunction to police yourself so you never attempt to become a collective subject, and so you never attempt inventing any singularity of universal value. At this point, proponents of these ethics usually segue into a sub-Heideggerian platitude about the horrors of the technological world. So, on the one hand, you have a strong veto against singularity having any universal value, but on the other hand, you have that this veto is universal for the sake of Humanity and that ultimately everyone should do the same, even though a right to dissent should always be maintained (mainly as a device to denounce any sort of collective subject as an excrescence of the state). So what you get is "civil society", and within "civil society", people policing themselves and victims who should be graciously allowed by some board of ethics to get to the point where they can police themselves in the same way everyone does, and have a place in that Humanity which isn't allowed to move forward because ideals are only regulative. Ultimately these sorts of ethical politics can't conceive of collective subjects other than lists of individuals, which is why they're completely useless as a form of politics.

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