thanks

 

005

Well gang, Thanksgiving is here again. It’s not hard for me to be thankful. I get about as much of what I need as most anybody I know. Big changes are coming for me, for good or for bad, and I will be ready for them. For now, I’m enjoying where I am and what I have. Such as this old pooch.

I need to say: I appreciate you all so much. For the readership, for the criticism, for the gifts, for the support, for all of it. I’ve never been a good correspondent, but I’ve been particularly bad this fall, with everything going on. I’m sorry for that. You are appreciated, and you have my thanks.

where “race blind” means “no black and Hispanic kids”

One of my perpetual frustrations with Andrew Sullivan’s work is that he tends to talk about race through so many layers of abstraction that it’s impossible to see actual people and their actual, real-world needs. This frequently strikes when he is flirting with race science again, and then can’t quite understand why people get so offended. And it’s all over this missive on affirmative action. The post has all the standard calling cards of right-wing opposition to affirmative action policies: asking for a race blind system without bothering to consider the history that makes the system not race blind at all, suggesting that the people who want to fight America’s legacy of history are the real racists, and using Asian Americans as a rhetorical tool against that effort. What makes arguments like this so frustrating is that we know very well what moving to a “race blind” system means: precipitous  declines in black and Hispanic enrollment.

California’s Proposition 209 gives us what some of my colleagues like to call a natural experiment. Observe the effects of that policy on black and Hispanic enrollment:

1998, as you may have guessed, was the year that Proposition 209’s effects first hit the system. The result was a sudden and major decline in black and Hispanic combined enrollment. 2.3% might not seem like a lot to you, but in a vast system like the UC system, you’re talking about thousands and thousands of students. Ah, but the gap closed! Problem solved! No. Number one, the gap  closed in large measure because of efforts to increase black and Hispanic enrollment without technically violating 209, such as the provision that allows the top 10% of any public California high school to attend a UC school. Those measures are being targeted by exactly the people who Andrew lauds in his post. Does he support ending those, too?  More importantly:

The total percentage has rebounded, but only because of an ever-larger percentage of minority students in the state! The gap between the proportion of those students in the state at large and in the UC system grew enormously after Prop 209 and has remained steady since. That is the reality that we’re talking about: ending affirmative action programs writ large will result in even lower enrollments for our most vulnerable racial groups. Our university system already looks nothing like our country as a whole, with system-wide gaps between the number of black and Hispanic students enrolled and in our society writ large. The inevitable result– the undeniable, unambiguous result– of the policies preferred by those who are opposed to affirmative action is even fewer of these students. We know what happens when you end affirmative action.  That is reality. So let’s stop with all the obfuscation and abstraction, shall we?

This is a question that people like Andrew absolutely have to answer if they want to grapple with this issue in an honest way: are you comfortable with a university system with incredibly low percentages of black and Hispanic students? With percentages of black and Hispanic students that are far lower than their averages in the population? That’s what you’re actually advocating for when you call for an end to affirmative action. We know that. We don’t have to guess. Andrew spills a lot of ink weeping for a plaintiff who won’t be able to go to Harvard. For her, the alternative was likely… going to Cornell, or Brown, or Dartmouth. (The horror! The horror!) For students like those in the UC system, the demise of race-based affirmative action can be the difference between attending a 4-year university or not at all. And if you oppose affirmative action then what, exactly, is the alternative for solving our enormous race-based economic and social inequalities? The self-same people who oppose affirmative action are the ones who oppose redistributive social programs! What makes this all so infuriating is that going to college and getting an education is exactly the way that conservatives say they want underrepresented minorities to get ahead. It’s the work hard, fly right, bootstraps vision of racial justice. I have no doubt that Andrew earnestly wants to end the massive gaps in quality of life between the races in contemporary American life. But what’s his plan? If “no” to reparations and “no” to affirmative action, 50 years after the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, how exactly do we get to racial economic equality?

Are things just getting better with time? Are the white-black wealth and income gaps closing through slow and steady progress? No:

So what are we going to do, exactly, to fix this?

This whole debate  depends on a flatly bogus notion of what college is, or what our country is. There is no such thing as meritocracy. There has never been anything resembling meritocracy. Not in colleges and not in our economy writ large. Anyone even remotely familiar with the history of our higher education system is aware that the system began as an explicit method for perpetuating received advantage. The notion of merit only began to creep in when America’s vast inequalities became too glaring to ignore. Andrew mentions the legacy of anti-Semitism in higher education and equates the current standing of Asian Americans to the past standing of Jews in that context. That’s a ludicrous comparison; our elite colleges were involved in an open and direct conspiracy to exclude Jewish students at all costs, whereas Asian American students attend US colleges far out of proportion with their overall percentage of our society. But he might stop and think about what that legacy actually tells us about our college system. No honest person with a minimum amount of understanding of our system would ever  conclude that it has ever been anything resembling a meritocracy. Affirmative action has been one of the only genuine attempts to forcibly reduce the inherent inequality of our entire system. In its place, opponents propose… nothing.

Here’s what I want everyone to ask themselves: why does California’s 10% provision work as a means of introducing racial diversity? Why would allowing the top 10% of a public high school’s graduating class into a UC school function as a de facto system of racial affirmative action? After all, if we live in a meritocracy, other than in our terribly racist college system I mean, how could it be the case that this program funnels black and Hispanic students into college? Why, it works because we live in segregation, less explicit but no less powerful than in 1950. Because we have black towns and Hispanic towns and white towns. Because we have white high schools and black high schools and Hispanic high schools. Because our entire system is set up to perpetuate racial inequality. And to blame that inequality on the very black and Hispanic students who sweat under the  burden of centuries of racism and direct oppression, whose parents are far poorer and less well educated than those of their white and Asian American peers, who suffer compared to white students according to every major metric of economic and social success we have, is unconscionable. Don’t talk to me about race blind colleges in a country you know to be filled with racial inequality. You want race blind college admissions? Cool. Close the enormous wealth gap first. Close the income gap first. Stop waging a War on Drugs that functions in every meaningful sense as a war on poor minorities first. Stop incarcerating black and Hispanic parents at vastly higher rates. You end the systems of structural oppression first, and then we can talk about colleges being race blind.

Asking for race blind admissions in a world you know to be deeply racist is just dishonest. That’s all.

there’s a zillion people writing about the same stuff these days

… and we need to factor that into our worries about plagiarism.

wadejoke

While I appreciate the concern of the eagle-eyed tipster who pointed this out to me — do I think funny and talented writer Jeb Lund plagiarized a goofy joke I told in the comments on Deadspin five months later? I do not! Of course not. I think it’s a funny joke that two different people who thought of the same reference came up with separately. I’m damn sure I’m not the first to use that reference to call someone old. I may not even have been the first to make that joke about Wade and the Heat. How could I be sure of such a thing? There’s millions and millions of people watching the same sports, following the same news, and accessing the same media. And as this example demonstrates, a lot of us have been marinating in the same pop culture for a long time. Similar thinking is inevitable.

It’s an odd time to think about plagiarism. On the one hand, it’s proving remarkably difficult to get accountability for people like Fareed Zakaria who have demonstrated repeated, unambiguous acts of plagiarism. On the other hand, there’s also a lot of misplaced suspicion, in my opinion, particularly given that economic incentives compel writers to all write about the same stuff. I’ve had writer friends grumble about one piece or another looking too much like theirs, and I’m not quite sure what to say; they’re aggregating the same video or essay that emerged from the same events as everybody else. Sometimes, people accuse others of patchwriting when all I’m seeing is a different summary of the same material. Stand up comics are even worse. It seems like every day there’s a new joke stealing scandal. If it’s repeated and consistent, then for sure, that’s a problem. But if it’s one or two times? There’s 10,000 of you guys! Of course people think up the same jokes. We have to be able to simultaneously call out the egregious, repeated cases like Zakaria or Benny Johnson and be careful in our accusations about specific incidents. It’s not always easy, and accusations of plagiarism will always have an element of uncertainty to them. Adults just have to use their discrimination and make adult judgments. Luckily, people like Zakaria and Johnson make it easy for us.

Anyway, Lund’s piece is funny and correct, so check it out.

racism is asphalt, racism is a bullet

You will have already been deluged with analysis about the grand jury’s refusal to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, so I’ll be brief. I guess the essential thing that has to be repeated, again and again, is that this outcome, and so many like it, are the result of a system functioning the way it is intended to function. Racism is baked right into the foundation of the system. When racist outcomes happen they happen not because of the evil in the hearts of individuals but because our social, economic, and legal systems have been designed to deliver those racist outcomes. You can imagine a world where a few things break differently and Darren Wilson does not kill Michael Brown. If you try really hard, you can imagine a world where a grand jury does indict him. But you can’t imagine a world where police officers aren’t an immense danger to young black men. You can’t imagine a world without Michael Browns, without Darren Wilsons.

Every one of those grand jurors might have hearts of purest gold. The outcome was predetermined precisely because the outcome did not rely on the individual character of the jurors. We have police aggression against black people because the white moneyed classes of this country have demanded aggressive policing and the moneyed control our policy. We have police aggression because the War on Drugs provokes it and we still have a War on Drugs because the War on Drugs puts vast amounts of tax dollars in the hands of police departments and a voracious prison industrial complex. We have police aggression against black people because centuries of gerrymandering and political manipulation have been undertaken with the explicit purpose of empowering some people and disenfranchising others. None of that can be solved through having pure hearts and pure minds. Racism is not a problem of mind. Racism cannot be combated by individuals not being racist. A pure heart makes no difference. In response to systemic injustice, you’ve got to change the systems themselves. It’s the only thing that will ever work.

How you go about doing that, I don’t pretend to know. I don’t blame well-meaning white people for reaching for emotive responses in a situation of such awful emotional devastation for our people of color. But the reflexive return to the language of privilege checking, where opposition to racism is fundamentally a matter of attitude and ideas, is indicative of why there’s been so little progress for so long. For 30 years or more, we have opposed racism emotionally rather than structurally, and the consequences are what they are. I ask you to consider two very different responses to this decision:

mendelson

bouie

I don’t even know what the first tweet means. I really don’t. All I know is that it defines white privilege, first and foremost, as a matter of emotion, as a matter of what its author thinks and feels. And that’s exactly the problem. Another definition of white privilege is being so steeped in the language of emotive politics that you think the system cares whether you as an individual are terrified or outraged. I promise: whether you as a white person feel outraged, terrified, delighted, or indifferent, the system that ensures cyclical state violence against black men is utterly unconcerned with how you feel. It just doesn’t matter. An 18 year old got shot to death by the cops and nothing has happened. Who fucking cares if you feel outraged rather than afraid?

The second tweet, in contrast, says the opposite: it doesn’t matter if you understand your white privilege and it doesn’t matter if you tweet that understanding and it doesn’t matter if you retweet others who understand, too. I am not indicting people for not “doing something” — I don’t know what they should do and I don’t know what to do myself. I’m not exactly shaking the foundations of the system out here, am I. I am not indicting people for failing to actually create change in a system that has resisted it vociferously for decades. But I am indicting them for refusing to consider the possibility that their emotional and psychic relationship to racism simply doesn’t matter. If  we ever are going to figure out how to do something about all this, it will only come from an acknowledgment that good white people being good has done nothing to prevent a world where Michael Brown lay dead in the street for hours. Until that second sentiment is more popular among them than the first, the outrage of white people will never be a force for change.

against the five paragraph essay

There are many commonplaces in teaching and pedagogy. One of these commonplaces is accessible templates or forms that students can use to gain control over complex and intimidating learning tasks. These consistent formats demonstrate the essential “moves” of particular learning tasks, which the students can apply to their own work. Ideally, they will then let go of those formal constraints, having learned to perform these moves on their own. However, sometimes these forms have negative unintended consequences, and their weaknesses outweigh their benefits. One such example is the five paragraph essay. I believe that the five paragraph essay should be abandoned as a teaching tool.

One major reason to abandon the five paragraph essay is that it leads to formulaic writing. This is unsurprising, given that the five paragraph essay is a formula. When we talk about the five paragraph essay, we are not just talking about five paragraphs. We are usually talking about an introduction that begins with a broad theme and ends with an explicit thesis statement, three body paragraphs that use topic sentences to articulate specific arguments in favor of that thesis followed by evidence, and a conclusion that restates the thesis and broadens outward. This set format does indeed provide students with a consistent, reliable system that they can use again and again. But that merely results in consistently, reliably stale, uninspired essays. This is bad enough from the perspective of the teachers who must read and grade these essays, but it is truly destructive for the students themselves. By so associating the act of writing with rules and restrictions, teachers risk dulling the inventiveness and fun that can inspire students to become lifelong writers.

Another reason to oppose the five paragraph essay is that these tasks bear little resemblance to the writing tasks most students will have to undertake at work and in college. Whether in classes or at the workplace, in their later lives our students are much more likely to undertake researched writing, such as in a white paper or researched argument, or formal correspondence such as business letters and emails. In their private lives, students will likely be writing genres like reviews, personal narratives, and fiction, none of which are likely to be deeply enriched by practicing the five paragraph essay. What’s more, composition increasingly includes important aspects of working with different mediums and modes, such as incorporating visual design elements or interactive features for online text. This divide between the skills learned in composing five paragraph essays and the writing tasks our students undertake regularly again serves to disconnect writing pedagogy from their real-world writing needs. This is not to say that persuasive writing is unimportant to students, or that they are uninterested in it. Rather, the persuasive writing students undertake will have far more in common with the blog posts and essays that they read compulsively online than it does with the five paragraph essay.

In addition to these first two reasons to oppose the five paragraph essay, another strong argument against its use is that students may never take the necessary steps beyond it. Very few would ever argue that the five paragraph essay is the only form students need or should learn. Instead, they argue that the five paragraph essay gives students the opportunity to practice important aspects of writing with a form that works, which they can then abandon as they become more mature and confident. But years of experience teaches me that many students never undergo that evolution. Instead, they cling to the five paragraph essay, having been told by overworked middle school and high school teachers that the five paragraph form is the correct way to write an argument. Students frequently have difficulty understanding the difference between more formal “rules” such as in basic syntax —  every sentence must have a subject– and guidelines that can be helpful or harmful depending on context — make your thesis statement the last sentence of your first paragraph. Given the rise of standardized tests, it is hard to blame K-12 educators for sticking to the reliable five paragraph essay. We also cannot blame students for sticking with a form they have often practiced again and again. But we can, as a community of educators and policy makers, deliberately move away from the five paragraph essay as a teaching tool.

In conclusion, the five paragraph essay harms more than it helps and should be abandoned in our writing pedagogy. In its place, we should concentrate on tasks rather than forms, and on global writing skills such as mechanics, rhetoric, and style rather than on satisfying conventions that go in and out of style. This will enable students to see writing as inventive, freeing, and fun, such as in this Peter Suderman essay, for example. Teaching meta-skills and broader mental habits of mind, rather than formal conventions and restrictive rules, will serve our students not only in the writing classroom, but beyond.

our educational problems are not problems of will

Mikhail Zinshteyn at The Atlantic:  “What if U.S. students took fewer tests that measured their ability to understand academic concepts far more deeply than current tests permit?”

Uh, yeah! What if! That’d be pretty sweet! Pardon me for getting all 2006 on you, but… and a pony. I’m all for calling for better assessments– especially when done in service to testing fewer students and less often, as Zinshteyn is here– but this is functionally the same as saying you want your cellphone to be faster, have more features, and be cheaper. Sounds nice, but the difficult part is actually making it happen. I don’t mean to be harsh to Zinshteyn here. Talk like this is very common in popular education media. It’s reflective of two problems: one, the Big Think phenomenon, where the only kinds of ideas that get bandied about in educational debates are very big ideas that call for all kinds of revolutionary change or dramatic improvement, when the history of education is a history of gradual change, failed revolutions, and incremental improvement. Second, of thinking that our educational problems are problems of will– that we simply have to decide to fix them– rather than of ability, or inability. It’s the Green Lantern Theory of education.

In writing my dissertation on the CLA+, I’m frequently frustrated by those who assume that criticisms of these kinds of assessments are necessarily political or self-interested, rather than practical or empirical. From the most apolitical, ruthlessly empirical standpoint, there are many problems with large-scale assessments. That doesn’t make them not worth attempting. But it does mean that we need to reckon with that difficulty when we propose making sweeping changes to public policy based on them, and it means that we need to make those changes in a way that is minimally invasive. The standardized test movement has done neither of these.

Besides, as I’ve said many times: we already have the tools  necessary to dramatically reduce the total testing load on our students. Those tools are called inferential statistics, and they are very powerful indeed. With careful sampling, stratification, and responsible inference, we can understand state and national trends with remarkable accuracy, and use those trends to drive policy responsibly. The NAEP is the single most effective educational assessment we have in this country today. It is not a census measure. Instead, it uses sampling and inference appropriately, and it does so with remarkable explanatory power while placing minimal burdens on students, teachers, and schools. Such assessments are well within our ability to create. Typical reasons to oppose that kind of sampling include a) not understanding the power of inferential statistics or b) because you want to sell pricey tests and test materials for tax dollars, and you want to have as large of a customer base as possible. It’s almost as if the profit motive and what’s best for our schools and students are not well aligned!

Update: The thing about the Atlantic‘s educational coverage is not just that it’s so filled with problems. It’s that they’re always the same problems. And those problems are such massive cliches that I don’t understand how nobody at the magazine ever thinks to say to themselves, “gee, maybe disruptive innovators utilizing dynamism with Web 3.0 by teaching a kid to code through MOOCs taught by thinkfluencers won’t solve all of our problems.” It’s exemplified in that awful Graeme Wood piece on Minerva, which reads like somebody watching Silicon Valley and not getting that it’s satirical: it’s the absolute and utter credulity towards those who use the right buzzwords. These people are selling you something, Atlantic crew. Try a little skepticism. Every once in awhile. Just for fun.

modern computer games just have way too much going on

So I got Dragon Age Inquisition as a present for myself for getting through the  bulk of my job applications. It’s the first  time I’ve bought a computer game that wasn’t on sale in a long time. So far there are some things I like about it (the world, the graphics, the art direction, the music) and some things I really am aggravated by (the terrible camera, the user interface in general). I am enjoying it overall, after having gotten past the lousy tactical camera, at least mostly. (Seriously, what is the point of a tactical camera if you can’t zoom out enough to see everyone involved in a battle? Ugh.) But what it really has me thinking is that computer games are just throwing in way, way too much stuff.

Take this game. It’s pretty conventional as far as contemporary RPGs go: you have a little band of adventurers, you wander around killing orcs and such, you find loot, you gain experience points and levels, you get more badass, you kill stronger creatures. It’s a very story-heavy RPG with a lot of reading and dialogue, which I like, but those core mechanics are similar to most other RPGs. The thing is, there’s just layers and layers of stuff to  do and find. In the game, you’re trying to gain territory and influence for your particular faction. So you go out and find predetermined places where you can build camps, expanding your influence. When you set up a new camp, you get a requisitions officer who gives you a list of materials they want you to get and stuff they want you to build. You also have to go around and find these rifts, where you kill bad guys and then use your unique magic power to close the rifts. (You are some sort of Chosen One, like the protagonist in every other video game these days.) You also find these skulls which you look through, and if you look hard enough you reveal these shards, which you then have to go and pick up. I don’t even really know what the shards do. You also find these mosaic pieces, which I definitely don’t know what they do. You also find these weird places where you, like, put down some sort of staff and claim that territory, I guess? It’s weird because you are already claiming territory with the camps, so I dunno. You also find these puzzles which are based on constellations. This is all in addition to the typical RPG stuff– there’s all of the weapons and armor and monsters to kill and figuring out which magic sword is best and choosing spells from a skill tree and fetching milk for the little old lady whose son’s corpse you’re going to find in the woods with a letter for her and a pendant which gives you +3 charisma. It’s the full, triple-A RPG experience plus all the other stuff.

All the other stuff, inevitably, includes crafting, because there is nothing video game developers like now but shoehorning crafting into  every conceivable game. I think eventually all new games are going to coalesce into a single game called CraftQuest. By crafting I mean mechanics where you have to go around collecting junk with which to make more junk. Apparently, video game developers are under the impression that what the average Joe wants when he gets off a long day of work is to enjoy the sweet escapism of living the life of a cobbler. Crafting is in like literally every game and genre now. There’s crafting in third person action games like Tomb Raider, RPGs like DAI and Skyrim, first-person shooters like the Far Cry series, MMOs like World of Warcraft…. They’re all the same basic thing. I can’t tell you how many games have directed me to hunt some form of ungulate so I can get its leather and a rib bone in order to make a papoose for carrying more grenades, or whatever. Only really you always have to kill, like, twelve yaks and four birds and a crocodile. It’s endless. And the complexity! I mean in Dragon Age I am dimly aware that I can craft both weapons and armor, but also improve the armor I already have, which is on a different system than just making new armor I think, and also there are runes which are involved somehow, which are all very different. I’m coding in R nowadays to do natural language processing but I’m utterly baffled by the complexity of these crafting menus. Oh, and you need to make potions. By getting recipes. And trolling the woods for these very specific types of berries. Constantly.

It’s all a real buzzkill, in so many games. You’re always some sort of badass on some sort of badass adventure, but you spend more time finding the right kind of beaker to hold the sap of the TumTum tree so that you can make a potion which you’ll never use. I tried Far Cry 3 for a bit and despite being this dude with a flamethrower on a revenge quest I spent like 90% of my time stitching together goat hide to make some sort of knapsack. It’s a drag, man.

This does not even get into the weird battle map deal in this game, where you order personality-free automatons to the digital boonies to, like, seek out the blessings of the minor nobility so that you can earn some sort of prestige points that are totally inscrutable. Like literally you look at a map and these guys are like “I should go talk to this dude,” and so I click “OK Bob” and then they computer is like “he’ll be back in 20 minutes” and in 20 minutes I get a little notification that’s like “5 more cool points for you!” It feels totally arbitrary and made up and dumb. Why am I doing this? None of it is animated or makes me feel like the story is moving along. I’m not doing anything. It’s like the developers thought that what I really wanted was the experience of being a middle manager. I expect the next Dragon Age will just have you populate cells on a spreadsheet.

There’s more different kinds of symbols on the map than there are in a Chinese dictionary. I have no earthly idea what half of them are for. There’s big arrows and little diamonds and grayed-out exclamation points and question marks and solid gold exclamation points and question marks. There’s something that looks like a little temple and Xs marking every spot and something that looks like the eye of Sauron. I’m totally baffled by it. I end up feeling like I have less information after I look at the map than I had before. I feel like I’m learning calculus.

The thing is, none of this is unique to Dragon Age. It’s not even particularly bad in that regard. The last game I played a significant amount of before this one was Assassin’s Creed 4. It’s a good game, a really fun pirate adventure with great graphics and some fun mechanics. But it’s also an endless laundry list of tasks. It’s got all the crafty craftiness your grandma could desire, every zone a veritable Jo-Ann’s Fabrics. You gotta do the typical hunting to get the raw materials to make your own clothes, because when you’re a famous pirate captain you still have to sew your own vests, so you tromp around in the swamp shooting monkeys out of the trees with a blowgun. You have to upgrade your swords and your guns and your clothes. Your boat has got like a million things to upgrade, both in terms of how good it is and in terms of pure aesthetics. There’s all kinds of jimjaws and treasures you have to discover. There are songs you chase along the rooftops, people to pickpocket, board games to play, brawls to get into in bars. There are these animus fragments, which are just like sparkly floating things they want you to collect so they can force you to shimmy up trees. There are these vantage points you have to reach to unlock new parts of the map, which are always populated by an eagle because realism. You have people to assassinate, being that it’s about assassins and all, but there’s also all kinds of faction missions that get you, I think, keys that open locks that get you a special suit of armor. Which is separate, if I remember correctly, from these Mayan-inspired artifacts you get  by solving puzzles. You dive underwater with primitive scuba gear and, like, wrestle sharks and shit, when you aren’t sailing around looking for dozens or hundreds of guys on little life rafts like the USS Indianapolis just went down in the Caribbean in 1600. It’s exhausting. I know for a fact I’m leaving like a half-dozen things out, here. And I’m not even talking about the actual story, the actual quest.

And that’s not even to mention a very similar mechanic to the weird battle map junk in Dragon Age. See, you can capture ships, which you can then send on voyages around the map, where the mechanic is literally “this ship has a 75% chance and then you’ll get 150 monies,” and then you send the ship and then a couple hours later it’s like “your ship came back! Have some points!” Why am I doing this? Why is this fun? What is the purpose? Oh, and there’s also this whole dealie where you also live in the present day and go to work in some goofy software company and take part in weird corporate politics, because when I think of compelling gameplay, I think of chatting with Marge from HR.

I know a lot of people would respond to this by asking why I’m complaining about more game. And I get it– some of this stuff, you can ignore. But there’s so many beeping alarms and endless notifications and nag screens that it just drains my interest. I get wanting more content, but at some point, you’re sending the message that you don’t actually trust your core game to provide enough entertainment. When I play Dragon Age I just want to cast wingardium leviosa and kill goblins and shit. I don’t want to worry that I haven’t sent an emissary to sweet talk Lord Steve in a castle they never bothered to render. When I play Assassin’s Creed I want to do era-inappropriate parkour on the rooftops of some ancient city. I don’t want to hunt in the forest for an upgrade to my needlepoint set so that I can knit some new hat. Let me play the game, dudes.

I’m just saying: sometimes less is more, you guys.

immigration reform is humanitarian intervention

Although it has a distinct feeling of too little, too late, President Obama deserves considerable praise for his immigration speech and his administration’s apparent decision to pursue legitimate reform. (Dara Lind has the details.) Since I don’t believe in the nation state, I don’t believe in the legitimacy of their borders, and even if we must have states for now, the only policy remotely consonant with human rights is unfettered immigration and emigration for all. Since I’m never going to get that, I’ll take the president protecting millions of people who have done nothing wrong in living in this country, working in our economy, and paying taxes into our coffers, often without receiving typical government benefits for fear of being discovered.

I do want to make one point: if you are a liberal internationalist, a humanitarian interventionist, you better be out there beating the drum for this reform every day. You better be going on cable news, spending all of your political capital trying to make this happen. You better take to the op/ed pages and Twitter and every other way you have to communicate. And when you do, you better use all of that same moralizing language you do when you’re making your constant calls for war. You better be just as aggressive in suggesting that people who oppose your preferred policy just don’t care about the lives of people who could be saved, as you do when you are advocating for cruise missile strikes. You better follow through.

Because one of the most straightforward, direct, achievable, and cheapest forms of humanitarian intervention is to welcome people with open arms into our country. The fact that this kind of humanitarianism is so rarely considered, when people are looking for ways to save the world with violence, tells you a lot about them and what they really care about.

fighting stigma vs the insatiable need for CONTENT

I bet if you polled the writers who all wrote the same post about Michel Phelps reportedly having sex with a woman who was born intersex, almost all of them would say that being born intersex does not immutably determine someone’s gender identity and that it’s therefore no big deal if he did. But the fact that they wrote the posts inevitably contributes to the perception that this is a big deal. I assume that Phelps, as a successful and famous single athlete, has lots of sex, and good for him. Mostly I don’t think anyone would think of it as news. Writing a post about this sexual partner of his definitely sends the message that there is something unusual or prurient going on here, even if that cuts against the protests of the writers. Unfortunately, because the need for CONTENT is insatiable, and overworked bloggers and aggregators are constantly looking for easily-produced posts, the urge to write overwhelms the urge to diminish stigma by not writing.

Culture is more powerful than politics, particularly when it comes to issues like sexual practice. I’ve often felt that there’s a divide between what people explicitly say as a matter of sound politics and how they feel in an emotional and social sense. If someone you know starts dating a transgender person, would that change how that person is viewed by friends and acquaintances? I think even many progressive people who say and believe all the right things would inevitably view such a person in a different light, even against their own best wishes. That’s the kind of cultural change that takes longer than it does for people to develop explicit beliefs, and is as important or more important in the long run.

Of course, by using these posts as a means to make a meta-point, I am also casting attention onto Phelps and the woman he had healthy, mutually-pleasurable intercourse with. The mind is a complex maze.

it’s pretty simple, really

“Social justice” is an awkward term for an immensely important project, perhaps the most important project, which is to make the world a more equitable, fair, and compassionate place. But the project for social justice has been captured by an elite strata of post-collegiate, digitally-enabled children of privilege, who do not pursue that project as an end, but rather use it as a means with which to compete, socially and professionally, with each other. In that use, they value not speech or actions that actually result in a better world, but rather those that result in greater social reward, which in the digital world is obvious and explicit. That means that they prefer engagement that creates a) outrage and b) jokes, rather than engagement that leads to positive change. In this disregard for actual political success, they reveal their own privilege, as it’s only the privileged who could ever have so little regard for actual, material progress. As long as they are allowed to co-opt the movement for social justice for their own personal aggrandizement, the world will not improve, not for women, people of color, gay and transgender people, or the poor.

Update: Nota bene.