of course Israel is different

A really basic question in the Israel-Palestine debate is “is Israel different from all other nations, or is it the same?” And it’s a question that Israel’s defenders are utterly inconsistent on. On the one hand, they say that of course Israel is different – Jews are alone in the world and Israel is their only defense, the legacy of the Holocaust means that Israel is inherently different and worthy of special protections and exemptions, and the United States and Israel have a unique relationship that must continue. Israel is special. And that specialness is why the US pours billions upon billions into a rich nation, uses its diplomatic capital to protect an already-protected nation, and lends its military might to protect an already mighty country.

The self-same people who argue these things will then turn around and argue that if you criticize Israel you are unfairly targeting a country that is like any other, and if you actually come out and say that Israel is treated differently, you are engaging in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish power and influence. In other words, the country that they just said is special and must be treated differently is actually no different from any other country and if you act as though they are special then this is indicative of hatred of Jews. You jump back and forth from stance to stance as is immediately convenient.

So it’s a certainty that anyone who sees the Guardian‘s pathetic firing of Nathan Robinson as an example of Israel’s privileged position within our political discourse will be cast as anti-Semitic. This is inconvenient because Robinson’s firing is an example of Israel’s privileged position within our political discourse. Here are the offending tweets:

Wow. Clearly, bigotry reigns.

The firing has the obvious effect of depriving the paper of one of the few columnists they had who was actually writing compelling and worthwhile stuff. (Like two thirds of people who write for the Guardian have historically been TERFy 60 year old white women who write columns about how, like, emoji are a tool of the patriarchy or whatever.) But it also demonstrates what everyone already knows – there is one set of rules when we talk about Israel and one set when we talk about anything else. And everyone, defender or critic or indifferent to Israel, knows that.

It is inconceivable to imagine that Robinson could have complained about the amount of American money going to any other country and found himself similarly in trouble. Inconceivable. Complaining about foreign aid is one of the great American past times, despite the fact that we spend vastly less on it than most people assume. We are allowed to express unfettered unhappiness with American aid unless we are talking about one particular country. Take out a list of every country on earth and tweet out “The United States spends far more on [country] than it should.” Note the reactions. When you get to the Is, I promise you will encounter a very different reaction to Israel than you do to Ireland. And, again, everyone knows this, most certainly including people in the think tank and political lobbying world who are paid to shield Israel from criticism, a group of people who’s existence is somehow controversial despite the fact that you can, like, meet them IRL. Every rich country has lobbyists, including Israel.

Is the special treatment of Israel due to some vast Jewish conspiracy? No, it’s because of a confluence of political and historical factors that have very very little to do with protecting the Jewish people. Principal among those are America’s traditional need to influence the greater Middle East due to the region’s unique resources and geography; the strange confluence of interests between Saudi Arabia, the guarantor of America’s access to Middle Eastern oil, and Israel, due to mutual antipathy towards Iran; the quiet but continuing influence of American fundamentalist Christian movements that believe the existence of the state of Israel is necessary to bring about the End Times; a lingering attachment to the “War on Terror” that is actually a barely-hidden antagonism to Muslims such as those in Lebanon and Palestine; the inertia of the Cold War and the American tendency to define all over countries by their potential to help or hinder US aggression against its enemies; and so on. Israel is different for many reasons.

What makes the discourse about Israel different is that the people who defend Israel long ago weaponized anti-Semitism as a way to silence anyone who steps out of line with their program. No other lobby has successfully pulled this off; those who professionally buff China’s image in the United States (because, again, all countries have lobbies) have not successfully equated criticism of the CCP with Sinophobia, but I’m sure they would love to try. And were they to succeed I would happily challenge that condition as I’m doing with Israel right now. But allegations of anti-Chinese bigotry do not result in anything resembling the consequences of allegations of anti-Semitism, and that’s the difference.

The real irony is that the immediate condemnation (and often worse) of anyone who says that Israel is treated differently is in and of itself an example of Israel being treated differently. You do not get fired for suggesting that our discourse is uniquely protective of Belarus.

One weird instantiation of Israel’s unique discursive place comes when people compare consideration of Israel to various countries considered bad actors. “Why are you singling Israel out for criticism? Why aren’t you BDSing Iran?!?” Which again depends on the flatly mendacious notion that there’s nothing different about US treatment of Israel. The US does not give billions to Iran; in fact it uses sanctions to impoverish the Iranian people. The US does not diplomatically shield Iran; in fact it uses all of its diplomatic muscle to isolate Iran. The US does not lend its military capability to Iran in myriad ways; in fact that US military would like nothing more than to cluster bomb Iran into oblivion. The people “singling out” Israel are not defenders of Palestinian rights but the government of the United States and the pro-Israel lobby.

Why don’t we do BDS against Iran? That would be something!

Boycott – there’s precious little from Iran that Americans buy, so what would we boycott?
Divest – there’s very little investment in Iran from the United States, so what would be divested?
Sanction – we’re already crippling the Iranian economy and hurting the Iranian people with sanctions; what more sanctions do you want?

I suspect that, in fact, the people who get mad about “singling Israel out” know very well that Israel is treated differently in a whole host of ways, and they think that’s a good thing. And that’s a position we can argue! The Israel debate would be vastly healthier if pro-Israel voices would just say “we treat Israel differently than any other country, and that’s a good thing, and here are the reasons why.” Just make an argument of affirmation: yeah, Israel’s different, as it should be, and should remain so. Then we argue it out. This continued insistence that there is literally nothing special about how we debate Israel, when people find their careers upended if they criticize a country that takes billions of American dollars and uses them for profoundly questionable purposes, makes liars out of all of us. Why continue the pretense? For what possible reason? Well, cui bono – because it enables the Israel government to do whatever it wants without censure.

grievance games

It’s hardly an original thought to point out that 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon, when you take an objective look, is a monster. If you can get past Tina Fey’s natural charisma and the goodwill she’s built up with the audience, Liz is just a terribly cruel person, one who subjects everyone around her to ceaseless abuse. She is basically never not mistreating someone. Her quixotic quest for happiness takes on a new spin when you realize that she might not actually even deserve it.

The show is not unaware of this dynamic and exaggerates it as the series goes on. And eventually they reveal reason why she treats everyone around her like trash: her self-identification as a victim. Liz obsesses about high school over the course of the show, and it’s clear that she simply cannot get past the fact that she was an unpopular loser back then. (The show even twists the knife here, as it’s revealed that she was the bully in high school, not the bullied, but Liz is clearly still defined by her own persecution complex.) She can’t conceive of herself as someone who could hurt others because she identifies so strongly with her past status as someone who was hurt. In her mind her past excuses her current bad behavior. Or perhaps excuses is the wrong word; it’s more that her prior feelings of weakness prevent her from understanding that she has more than enough strength to cause harm to others. And so you get a protagonist who says deeply cruel things a dozen times an episode.

To a degree this is forgivable because our reactions to trauma aren’t rational and, in particular, are very difficult for us to perceive. Certainly Liz Lemon doesn’t see herself as a cruel person, and for this reason it’s important to have sympathy for her. But ultimately adults have to get past this shit. It’s the only way to avoid being a terribly selfish person. And maybe it takes therapy or maybe it only takes age and self-knowledge but it’s important that we get there – and let me hasten to say that I’m not all the way there myself. What’s poignant about 30 Rock is that it’s ambiguous as to whether Liz can ever evolve in this way. At the end of the series she seems more set up for happiness than ever before but the show takes care to undermine and complicate even this conditional happiness, and who knows if she’ll ever become the kind person she already conceives of herself as.

This more or less fits my conception of “fandom,” people who like Star Wars and Marvel and Harry Potter but also Steven Universe and Sherlock etc etc. The mythology of fandom – and I stress the myth part – is that the people who like these incredibly popular, immensely profitable, generally well-reviewed properties are the beleaguered of the earth, God’s forgotten children. Hey, did you know that it used to be uncool to like Star Wars? You know, that franchise that was the biggest and most popular in the history of film from the day the first movie opened? Well, that’s why I sent death threats to Kelly Marie Tran. Somebody once made fun of my Yoda lunchbox so I’m entitled.

There are tons of people who love sci fi and fantasy and so on and are absolutely lovely, balanced, kind people. (I’m sure that it’s a majority, although I’m also sure that the common claims that fandom’s problem is a few bad apples is misleading and wrong.) Some of them are my close friends and some are in my family. The problem is that the culture that surrounds these things are stuffed to the gills with persecution complexes that produce absurdity (it is not hard to find nerds online claiming that their oppression is similar to that of black people) and horrid behavior (forums of people going through Rotten Tomatoes pages for Marvel movies and marking every critic who wrote a negative review for harassment). The basic psychology seems to be identical: once you make weakness and vulnerability part of your basic self-conception, you can’t perceive the ways in which you damage other people.

I think there is a growing perception that the world of fandom is just deeply, deeply dysfunctional. It’s not hard to see why. Almost any forum dedicated to these properties eventually devolves into the most abusive and horrid kind of online space. Tumblr, stereotypically if not in terms of numbers, is the bridge of the USS Fandom, and Tumblr is a cesspool. As I said in a recent post, over-identification with pop culture ephemera is deeply disordered and produces all kinds of bad dynamics. And the fandom world has merged completely with the “social justice” world, which means that people now argue from places of total righteousness about issues which have no moral valence at all. Hey, did you know that the “Reylo” fandom doesn’t just have bad taste, but is racist and homophobic as well? That’s remarkably convenient for all the people who already didn’t like the pairing and suddenly discovered this handy way to dismiss them! And of course social justice politics do not permit self-doubt about one’s politicized claims, so no introspection will be forthcoming.

I don’t think there’s much hope for fandom. It seems like a terminal patient. Perhaps we can at least create a culture where people are free to say “liking Iron Man does not make you a victim.”

Take it in a more serious and explicitly political dimension.

Online there are these communities made up of Asian American men, dedicated to their grievances with the world. Here is one and here is one and here is one, and there are others. These are, it should go without saying, self-selected communities that represent a tiny fraction of Asian American men. But that tiny fraction is very angry. These communities are, to my mind, quite tragic in that they start from very correct observations about our culture, speak truth about very real forms of racism they endure, and then go flying right off the rails.

At the most basic level they are obviously correct: Asian Americans are a class of people who face various forms of structural oppression, and progressive people should work to tear down those oppressions, but too often discrimination of Asian Americans is minimized or ignored. This is very true, and a cause for genuine and righteous anger. And their more specific complaint, that Asian American men are devalued and emasculated in American culture, is also undoubtedly true, with physical attributes like average height and weight, cultural assumptions about virility and assertiveness, and stereotypes about penis size contributing to a common, deeply unfair public image. I would like to believe that this image is not commonly held, but they would know much better than I do, and they seem to find it omnipresent in their lives. Obviously, that sucks.

But things go awfully wrong.

As usually happens, a complex issue gets reduced to its most caricatured elements. The single most common complaint on these forums is that Asian women date white men, and that this deprives Asian men of potential partners. (Full disclosure: I am a white man who has been in relationships with Asian and Asian American women.) And as I said, there’s something to this. Feelings of attraction are influenced by cultural perceptions of the relative value of different groups. No doubt Asian American men face dating hurdles thanks to the bullshit assumptions they have to live through. It’s complex.

Unfortunately this understandable frustration constantly boils over (again, for these particular guys) into anger at Asian American women that just looks like misogyny – calling them sluts and whores and sellouts and “bananas.” And this generalized anger spills out into discussions that have nothing to do with outmarriage and just reference Asian American women generally. They constantly refer to Asian American women as “Lus,” something akin to an Uncle Tom in this vernacular, if they don’t agree with them politically. The resentment swamps whatever valid point might have been made.

For me it’s just hard to get exercised about Asian American women partnering with non-Asian American men. The battle to legalize interracial relationships and marriages was long and hard; people literally died for it. It’s one of the most durable victories we’ve ever had. And we can’t allow the normalization of interracial relationships to be eroded. Besides, the basic claim of offense just doesn’t add up to me. Yes, many Asian American women are out-partnering; but why would this prevent Asian American men from getting girlfriends? White men partnering with Asian women means fewer white men to partner white women, black women, Hispanic women, Native American women…. And if the response is that the Asian American men who are complaining don’t want to date outside of their race, well, I don’t have any sympathy. That’s gross and small-minded. Finally, what are Asian American women supposed to do? Date someone out of a sense of cultural or political obligation? Sounds like a recipe for unhappiness for both partners.

There are also some ugly sentiments related to affirmative action. Generally I find these forums are pretty good about racial issues overall – many of their members will discuss the plight of Black Americans eloquently. But sometimes the affirmative action discussion will devolve into claims that Asians are the really oppressed ones, that people who receive affirmative action are coddled, and so on. Again: the treatment of Asian applicants under affirmative action is quite complex and I don’t doubt that there’s abundant problems there. But that’s just more reason to speak carefully and avoid falling into unfocused complaints.

Anyway, if the point isn’t clear: a sense of grievance can go badly wrong even when it is stemming from legitimate grievances. Sometimes hurt can be ennobling and prompt us to be wiser and stronger people. Usually hurt makes us worse. We withdraw into our pain. We lose the capacity to see our own capacity to do harm. We see a world of threats and seek to destroy them before they can hurt us. Understandable. But when these dynamics become essential parts of political culture, the dangers are vast.

“Those who have been harmed can harm as well” is not an original sentiment. And were this all confined to a few weird internet communities I wouldn’t write so many words. The problem is that in contemporary progressive politics grievance is everything. I know that this sounds like a common conservative talking point, but I can’t look at the landscape without observing that the basic political statement today, the one that precedes all others, is “this is how I’ve been harmed.” Conservatives go wrong in seeing all of these claims as illegitimate; those claims are inconvenient to their basic project, empowering the powerful and enriching the rich. But liberals and leftists today go wrong in thinking that all claims to grievance have equal legitimacy, or maybe more accurately, that they have to take all claims of grievance seriously or risk being cancelled. And that’s destructive. Because expressing hurt does not prevent you from being a monster, and it really doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is politically constructive.

I could see a world where people (the kind of people who constantly say that the personal is political) make the connection between their legitimate feelings of grievance, the way those claims so often result in socially destructive behavior, and the casual toxicity of woke politics. Of course, merely to use the word grievance in connection with social justice politics is a “dog whistle” and anyone talking about this would be thrown out of a window. So I’m not optimistic.

antiracism is not a PR campaign for Black people

You will have seen memes on social media that catalog the accomplishment of Black people. And well enough, the accomplishments are impressive. The question is, what is the intended outcome of this kind of outreach?

The contemporary American antiracist movement is a strange thing. To hear most people tell it, it has become more and more radical over time, more uncompromising. And yet there is terribly little to show for this effort in the past several decades, and not even really a revolutionary set of demands, aside from a police abolition effort that has already been watered down to the point of meaninglessness or outright abandoned. What we have instead is this weird PR campaign for Black people, where the assumed purpose of antiracist discourse is to create general good vibes about them, with an implicit audience of white people. But Black people don’t need white people to think they’re cool or good or noble. Black people have specific material problems like low incomes, poor access to health care, lack of access to safe and clean living environments, massive wealth gaps, political disenfranchisement…. BlackLivesMatter turns 7 this year. What are the consensus BLM policy positions on any of these questions? There are none. Instead there’s constant reference to injustices with no plan for solving them and praise for Black achievements that are tied to no meaningful political purpose.

The most likely future, it seems to me, is that the draping of symbolic and social laurels on specific Black people or Black people writ large will continue, but nothing will change for the average Black person. We will valorize Blackness but we will never settle on a set of specific efforts to help Black people, let alone institute them. Many will get rich along the way. I hope I’m wrong.

the affirmative action conundrum

I support affirmative action on conventional grounds – you give minority applicants a boost in job and college applications as a way to address inequality and as recompense for traditional injustice. Lately though I am confused about how progressive people talk about affirmative action. It’s come to be considered offensive to say that affirmative action recipients have enjoyed a material advantage, as doing so delegitimizes their successes and implies that they would not succeed without special consideration.

The question is, if affirmative action programs don’t provide a material advantage to minority applicants… what do they do? The entire premise and purpose of affirmative action is to provide a material advantage to minority applicants. What could it mean to say that an affirmative action program does not provide benefits to minority applicants? If they don’t do so, they don’t exist. This stance is not just self-defeating, it’s self-erasing.

It is offensive, and racist, to assume that any individual has received the benefits of affirmative action; to imply that affirmative action outweighs the hindrances of racial inequality; or to suggest that someone’s successes are the product of affirmative action and not their talent and work. But to believe that it is wrong to say that programs designed to provide material advantage actually do so is incoherent and, if anything, an argument against those programs.

Perhaps people’s time would be better spent defending programs like affirmative action, which help real people solve real problems, then seeking out offense like a bloodhound.

“A New Sense of Direction”

Martin Luther King, from his speech “A New Sense of Direction,” given in the last year of his life:

Mass civil disobedience as a new stage of struggle can transmute the deep anger of the ghetto into a creative force. To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be both longer lasting and more costly to the larger society, but not wantonly destructive. It is a device of social action that is more difficult for the government to quell by superior force. The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win, and their participants know it. Hence riots are not revolutionary but reactionary because they invite defeat. They offer an emotional catharsis, but they must be followed by a sense of futility.

This kind of talk, today, would be immediately met with mass derision in progressive discourse circles, where King (if you stripped away his name) would be accused of not taking white supremacy seriously, of being a centrist, of disrespecting Black rage. And as is always the case with this debate, those critical of riots will be accused (when not being accused of direct complicity with the racist status quo) of prioritizing civility, bipartisanship, order, and respectability politics over the needs of marginalized groups. But read this speech; King is very explicitly making an argument about the efficacy of riots and their alternatives, not an argument about the morality of political violence.

I think that many in the social justice sphere have become so broken down by the cycles of injustice that they have an aversion to tactics that might work – that they have come to so associate their causes with ineffectual discourse politics that they assume that anything that is embraced on tactical grounds must not be a part of their causes. We are the people who lose, so if tactics might work, they must not be for us. I mean, to question the incredibly dubious connection between representation in movies and TV and real progressive social change will get you excommunicated from progressive spaces. (Try saying that the Wonder Woman movies are not a huge blow for social justice in just about any online community.) But to assume away the possibility of real, tangible change through coordinated mass action is ubiquitous. Learned helplessness. Always, learned helplessness.

Of course, anyone has the right to question the argument that riots are less effective than coordinated mass civil disobedience would be. Tactical arguments are arguments, after all. What’s unclear to me is whether those tactical arguments have any teeth. A common talking point on the left today is that “riots work.” To which I would ask… work to do what? The metrics people use to justify those claims could hardly seem more dubious to me. Certainly the people who risked their lives in riots demanded far more than they got. How fares white supremacy in cities that have witnessed riots? But either way, I would settle for just having a tactical conversation that does not immediately devolve into a meta debate about whose intentions are truly radical, or who is making a play to respectability. Unfortunately these conversations are emotional, inchoate, directionless, and ruled by the petty politics of social association.

the object of your appeal

Longtime readers know that while I think campus activism is a good thing (and was a campus activist myself), I think college politics suck up too much attention within the left. Structurally college students are not well suited to being activists: activism requires continuity of practice, and college students leave every four months for vacation and never stay longer than four or five years. This is why, for example, Oberlin activists could go from national attention and radical demands to silence in a year. The students who drove that activism left to go get jobs and start lives, which is inevitable.

But there’s another layer that connects with what I’ve been saying lately about the failure of justice as a framework for left politics. In recent years, campus protesters have spent much more time petitioning college administrators for what they want than protesting them. It happens that I think this is a bad posture for campus activists to take purely on their own terms. But in a broader sense it’s worse, as appealing to university authorities is a terrible model of political progress for young activists. Appealing to university administrators for what you want is a bad habit to get into because there are no administrators in political life. There is no authority to whom you can ask for justice. Pointing out that something is unfair doesn’t work unless there is some conscious being who can assess that claim of unfairness, rule on it, and address it tangibly. A dean can potentially do this. But who fulfills that function off campus?

Liberals love complaining to HR at someone’s employer when that someone has said something online they don’t like, because HR is an entity that you can actually talk to, and can actually fire someone if you snitch on them. Same principle.

Some would likely say that the authority to whom you’re appealing is the public, that appeals to justice are part of the democratic process. I certainly wouldn’t deny that there are times when you can appeal to morals to move people to join your cause. But to defend your engagement by saying that you’re appealing to the public you need to actually be doing that, and it’s not clear to me that most liberals or leftists are in most situations. Certainly the kind of political engagement you typically see online is not at all pitched towards achieving communal adoption; almost all of it seems in fact to be geared towards the same narrow discourse communities. Conventional wisdom would seem to agitate towards framing political appeals to the masses in a way that reflects their own best interest; contemporary left norms would insist that it is disgraceful to seek to serve the interests of those who are already among the privileged classes.

And many people on the left these days are now dismissive of the notion that we have to appeal to the public writ large, frequently arguing that our task should be rallying those who are already on our side instead. To pick an example, most involved with BlackLivesMatter will tell you that the movement is very explicitly not interested in convincing the great mass of the country, which they (probably correctly) regard as racially unenlightened, to approve of them. Such a posture would reinforce the unjust positioning of the Black minority supplicating itself to the white majority, a particularly cruel dynamic. The difficult question becomes, who then are you saying “Black lives matter” to?

Some will no doubt take this as an argument for political moderation. This is one of my very least favorite things that the Democrats, and their political messaging, have done: they’ve convinced people that broadening your appeal necessarily means moderating what you’re asking for. But there’s no reason that has to be true. Ask Barry Goldwater: a radical appeal can be a mass message. But you have to know who you’re talking to, you have to give a shit about what’s likely to motivate them, and you have to get past repeating that something is unfair.

there is no such thing as justice

The USA is a failed state and it won’t surprise you why I think so. In the coming week you will be able to read (I imagine literally) tens of thousands of thinkpieces about the events in Washington and I won’t belabor it. The revanchist movement that stormed the Capitol may be the death rattle of the Trump administration but it is also an expression of business as usual and an example of chickens coming home to roost. The cope is to act as though this is something Trump has done to us but the reality is that this is American as apple pie. This is going nowhere. This is just getting started.

True to form, my disgust with the right is balanced – not matched, but balanced – by my despair over the response from the left, if that’s what we want to call it. What I saw yesterday was a liberalism/Democratic party/left that is not just ignorance towards what power is, how to gain it, and how to wield it, but seeming uninterested in power at all.

The highest, most noble pursuit in this political era is the identification of injustice, the identification of inequality. The greatest laurel is to be someone saying “this is wrong,” to declare to the world that some justice exists. Left-wing discursive spaces are dominated by this behavior; it’s so endemic that I sometimes wonder if people understand that there is more to politics than saying “this is wrong.” We are all to be witnesses to injustices, with all the passivity that implies.

Look, don’t take my word for it. Go on social media or the takes media. Keep a running count of how many people say “here is an injustice,” identifying the ways in which black people or woman or queer people etc suffer in comparison to others. (Usually these claims will be accurate.) Now, keep a running count of the number of people who say “here is a solution to an injustice, a plausible way to change the world to alleviate suffering.” Go ahead, do it.

Identifying problems is easy and cheap and permits one to affect radicalism. Proposing meaningful solutions is much more fraught. Solutions are hard. Solutions are messy. Solutions are inherently unsatisfying. And, crucially, solutions require an honest and frequently uncomfortable accounting of whether you can possibly achieve them without the support of people who largely do not share your culture or your values. Sometimes asking how to get what you want leads you to the conclusion that you have to appeal to the very people you’ve been saying are irredeemable. Today the habit is for people to say that they need to convince no one, that the only political task is to rally the already convinced. A comforting idea. If it’s true.

The most charitable explanation for the obsession with identification and naming is misunderstanding, that these people simply don’t understand power and how change is made. They constantly make appeals to the heavens because they believe, very deeply, that if you identify injustice often enough some cosmic authority will hear you and… well, it’s unclear. This is the reason for the utter obsession with what you call things. You will have heard, in the past few years, liberals demanding that you call things by their right names – call it fascism! call it white supremacy! call it a coup! But suppose everybody did. So what? What changes in the world if people call something white supremacy instead of vanilla racism? How does it alter the distribution of power? How does it enable you to change the world? There are the things you want and the people who don’t want you to have them and there is your power relative to them. How does calling it fascism change that calculation? What difference does it make?

Others have referred to this behavior as “working the refs.” In sports an athlete might consistently complain to a referee about unfairness in calls, in the hopes that the refs will respond to that unfairness and fix things. And so the left acts similarly, telling the universe that there is injustice in the hopes that this will change things.

The problem of course is that the premise is nonsense: it doesn’t matter if you tell the universe that there is an injustice, because there are no refs. There is no impartial authority to whom you can appeal. What I think so often, when engaging with liberal political expression, is “who are you talking to?” What is the purpose of all of these appeals to injustice? The function? What do people think is going to happen by constantly identifying injustice? What is the theory of the world, the theory of power? I have no idea. I have no idea.

Yesterday was the epitome of this behavior. Untold thousands of people, I’m guessing hundreds of thousands, made the same observation: the response by the police to the MAGA insurrectionists was far gentler and less aggressive than that towards Black Lives Matter protesters. And that’s true. That’s a correct observation. And it is bad. The question that someone has to ask is, what is the utility of thousands of people making the same observation, to each other? You had so many people united in the same action, but an action that had no concrete relationship to the problem at all. What were all those people doing? What difference did they think it would make? Appealing to the country? But the country has heard this complaint for years and done nothing. You don’t appeal to the undecided by complaining about injustice but by appealing to their best interest. But the attitude is always that we should have to offer undecided people nothing, that they should get on board with our program simply because of our claims to justice. But nobody cares about that. They just don’t.

A darker possibility, for why the left has devolved to only identifying injustice rather than grappling with power, is that people are fixated on naming injustice rather than solving injustice because this is what the social systems reward. People spend all day pointing out inequalities like racial inequalities all day because they receive praise for doing so. Saying “black people have to live like this, white people get to live like this” – with no attendant consideration of how to change the world so that black and white live similarly – rakes in praise in person and in digital strokes online. Careers in media, academia, and the professional organizer industrial complex are built on these statements. These statements are surefire crowd pleasers on social media. They’re easy and they get you points and so people repeat them. That’s another theory.

The darkest possibility is that the left is fixated on identifying injustice without doing anything about it because its members don’t actually want things to change. They are better served by the status quo, either because they benefit from the unequal distribution of power in the world or, as I think is true for very many, they are more comfortable being beautiful losers. There is something very beguiling about being the permanent plucky underdog. You can speak truth to power but never have to grapple with the weight of wielding it. You can throw spitballs from the back of the class, devoting your life to the pleasures of critique. And then there are the allies. The very concept of the ally has always made me shiver; there is something so parasitic about it, so stuffed with condescension. When I see loud white allies, self-identifying as such, I always see head-patting, treating black people as poor little vessels for benevolent white appeals to justice rather than autonomous agents who want things and strive for them and are sometimes wrong. And in the most materialist sense there is a huge constellation of “social justice” organizations that generate a ton of money and keep a lot of people in jobs, and if they ever fulfilled their ostensible function they would cease to exist. So who wants change?

I have, at this point, essentially abandoned the concept of justice, at least as a political phenomenon. I’m sure I still often use the language of justice casually. But in a fundamental sense I do not understand who the concept of justice is helping. Justice, as a target, has made the left into a cult, one that appeals constantly to a higher power that never appears and never delivers on anything. The appeal to justice is the most common act of left-wing practice and the most useless. I have never seen a single bit of good done through an appeal to justice. Instead I only see millions of people, ringed around a ziggurat, praying to a God who isn’t there. Justice does not exist in the corporeal universe. There is no justice. There is only power.

What do you want? Who doesn’t want you to get it? Which of you has more power? How can you gain more power to get what you want if you need it? Those are the only political questions I care about anymore. Unfortunately, the left seems not only unable to answer them, but indifferent to whether they have answers at all.

Update: This.