Are We the Baddies?

It’s possible to spend a lot of mental horsepower trying to decide what constitutes a hateful ideology. I don’t want to dismiss such efforts as futile, but they are certainly open to manipulation. Everyone seems equally capable of convincing themselves they are on the side of angels.

Here, I’d like to suggest we leave the analysis of rhetoric to others and instead adopt a naïve approach and blur all the inner details of what people say.

The naïve approach is something like this:

Value of your ideology = (Good acts done by adherents – Bad acts done by adherents) / number of adherents

In other words, even if you preach nothing but unicorn sparkles, if your adherents do nothing but rob liquor shops, your ideology is bad. Similarly, even if you regularly call for violence, as long as adherents don’t act on it, your ideology is good. What makes the approach naïve is that we don’t look under the hood to evaluate what people are saying. We are only looking at the ultimate result.

To make this more concrete, the fact that the person who shot Steve Scalise was a Bernie Sanders supporter is absolutely a black mark against Sanders. This is offset by the fact that many others have not done the same, and others have done good things. What we can’t say, in the naïve approach’s view, is that the act of shooting a Congressman has absolutely no bearing on how we evaluate the value of the ideology held by the person who did it.

How does Trumpism fair? Unfortunately, though my formula is simple, it still requires a good bit of data. There are millions of Trumpists. Surely some of them are indeed very fine people doing great things. Recently, one Trumpist sent threatening devices to several Democrats and other people that Trump has targeted rhetorically.1

I think I’m willing to say that the perpetrator’s actions don’t reflect all that much on Trump supporters as a whole (though they do a little). That isn’t the only way we can perform the calculation though. If we look at truly rabid supporters who are the sort who would cover their van in Trump stickers, that is a much smaller set of people. And one of them is either an aspiring murderer or at least wanted to be thought of as one. That’s not great even if it’s not quite as bad as shooting at a field full of Congressmen.

Are We the Baddies?

Photo credit H.C. Williams

As I’ve said, the takeaways on recent events are unclear. Nevertheless, I would suggest that we react to murderers within our mist with a little more humility rather than automatic dismissal or even well-reasoned dismissal. If you notice the people who share your beliefs keep doing bad things, consider the possibility that it is you who is on the dark side.

  1. Remember that we are ignoring the content of Trump’s rhetoric in our calculation. In the naïve approach, it would have been just as bad if the person had sent threatening devices to prominent Republicans or to people who didn’t know Trump at all. Basically, sending threatening devices in the mail is bad, and you shouldn’t do it. []

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Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1. ...more →

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180 thoughts on “Are We the Baddies?

  1. A million years ago, an anthropology professor of mine argued that morality consisted of circles around the individual.

    An individual that only cares about himself and has no time horizon is little more than an animal.
    An individual that only cares about herself and has a longer time horizon is a sociopath but might function in society.
    An individual that only cares about zherself and zher immediate tribe is considered primitive.
    An individual that manages to care about coself and cos tribe and city and country is considered nationalist.
    An individual that cares about ver deity and sees all of us as children of ver deity and all of humanity is a siblinghood of humanness where we are all siblings is somewhere around “moral”.

    Is someone a baddie? Just see how far their circle goes out.

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    • Interestingly, I learned this in a conservation class, with the idea that when you expand your circle to include things like caring for the earth and non-human creatures* and thinking about future generations, you are less-tribal, and more “ethical” (in the Aldo Leopold land-ethic sense) than someone who only cares for their immediate wants.

      (*This does not necessarily include being a vegetarian, because to survive you would still have to kill plants, and also in some cases, things like decreasing the deer population might be a net good for the environment. But some people do feel moved to become vegetarians because of consideration of this)

      I am not as good at it as some people because being truly land-ethical requires a degree of asceticism greater than I can follow.

      But yes, I try to see other people as “children of God” (how I would phrase it). I don’t always succeed but I find I am better at that if I am standing in front of the person (or talking with them on the phone) than if they are some anonymous dude doing things I regard as “bad.”

      Though I tend to see “bad acts” as “that was the choice of the individual who did that act” more than “well, everyone who fits in the pigeonhole that person is from is bad,” but yes, I think there are some ideologies that maybe encourage one to have less of a check on how one acts than some….

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    • I was once told of an old Afghan saying (which the internet says is an old Bedouin saying) that goes something like:

      Me against my brothers.
      Me and my brothers against our cousins.
      Me, my brothers and cousins against the village.
      My village against that village.
      Our villages against the tribe.
      Our tribe against that tribe.
      Our tribes against the invaders.

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        • Here’s where both sides are *not*”the same.

          Obama’s message and brand was uniting disparate factions – i.e. the famous convention speech quote about blue states and red states. As well as, bluntly, his own personal biography which has been lived in several different worlds (and still does).

          Trump, on the other hand, is all about Us v Them.

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          • This. I have to roll my eyes whenever some above-it-all type declares BSDI wrt to “Identity Politics”. Do both sides engage in identity politics? Yes. But the IP of the right is exclusionary and hierarchical while the IP of the left is inclusive and egalitarian. They’re really opposites, so the furthest thing from BSDI.

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            • “…the right is exclusionary and hierarchical while the IP of the left is inclusive and egalitarian…”

              Yes and no. The Right is far more homogenous, so you’re much more likely to see members working together or having each other’s back. The Big Tent of the Left has lots of factions with very little in common. They are not so good at taking care of each other. The only real unifying principle is a generic belief that they are making the world better, blah, blah, blah. Few actually walk that walk.

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              • Mike Dwyer,

                Perhaps. I’m not going to strongly disagree with what you said here but I would note that both “the Left” and “the Right” in US politics have two very distinct factions that are often at odds with each other. In my way of thinking they both have a class-based or economic wing and an identity-based or social wing. So while I will maintain my inclusive/egalitarian vs exclusive/hierarchical paradigm I would note that certain issues don’t break down neatly into that structure.

                Immigration is a good example. The identity wing on the left, which most of the liberals here would fall into, is generally supportive of liberal immigration policies while the economic wing, basically the Sanders set, is more skeptical because competition for jobs. A similar dynamic is at play on the right. President Bush’s stance on immigration reform was one of the few things I admired about him but he couldn’t get it past the identity wing of his party.

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                • I agree with your immigration breakdown. Conservative identity politics don’t like rule-breakers and the optics. Economically, I think most of us are okay with having them in the workforce. It seems to be the converse on the Left.

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          • Eh, the argument that, “brothers, we all need to come together! We all need to realize that we’re all on the same team and we are *NOT* enemies!” is one that makes sense to me.

            It’s the “therefore you should agree with me on the following policies or else you’re proving to be a traitor” that gets me.

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          • Obama was the great divider. He would talk about coming together all the time, and then go on to exclude half the country as being too backwards for inclusion. Hillary does the same thing.

            Part of that is that the left is stuck in a purity spiral where they have to point out others as “bad” to distinguish themselves as good.

            There was a recent article in Quillette that touched on this. It starts:

            Recently, I arrived at a moment of introspection about a curious aspect of my own behavior. When I disagree with a conservative friend or colleague on some political issue, I have no fear of speaking my mind. I talk, they listen, they respond, I talk some more, and at the end of it we get along just as we always have. But I’ve discovered that when a progressive friend says something with which I disagree or that I know to be incorrect, I’m hesitant to point it out. This hesitancy is a consequence of the different treatment one tends to receive from those on the Right and Left when expressing a difference of opinion. I am not, as it turns out, the only one who has noticed this.

            This is not a general left/right phenomenon, but an accelerating (spiral) trend specific to the left over perhaps the last 30 or so years, with rapid acceleration in the last 15 or so due, probably due to universities (and their graduates in the media) and social media.

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            • “Part of that is that the left is stuck in a purity spiral where they have to point out others as “bad” to distinguish themselves as good.”

              This. I was talking to someone here the other day about global warming and I suggested the Left change their tactics to get conservatives onboard by just presenting it as smart economics. The response was basically that they shouldn’t have to do that and conservatives should admit that global warming is real. The need to be correct and have the other side admit they were wrong is a strong impulse on that side of the aisle.

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            • People on the left mostly feel the same way about talking to their friends on the right in person, fwiw. Deeply hesitant to even bring up a difference of opinion, expecting to be shamed and confronted with hostility.

              Speaking as someone who lives in a very very red town.

              Part of the perceived hostility (at least speaking personally) is that the threshold for bringing the difference of opinion up – the comfort level with disagreeing – is *so* high that I usually just smooth things over unless I’m really deeply worried about whatever the topic is, or really bothered by it.

              The stuff I just disagree with, it’s not worth the agitas from the other person to disagree about, usually, even on the mildest of terms. And hasn’t been for years.

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              • “People on the left mostly feel the same way about talking to their friends on the right in person, fwiw. Deeply hesitant to even bring up a difference of opinion, expecting to be shamed and confronted with hostility.”

                So if both sides distrust the other, how do we move forward?

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                    • {{Especially when a majority of conservative voters agree with liberals on a whole slew of bog-standard liberal/Dem issues, from gun regulation to climate change mitigation to healthcare protections…}}

                      Agreeing with the general premise is one thing. It’s entirely another to reach an agreement on how to solve the problem.

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                      • Agreeing with the general premise is one thing. It’s entirely another to reach an agreement on how to solve the problem.

                        So, take this on climate change mitigation. (I’ve been waiting for a place to say this :^)) In the US, there are two things that must be done — electrify transportation, and move electricity generation off coal and natural gas as quickly as possible. If you don’t do those two things, you’re just tinkering around the edges, or conducting an exercise in “then a miracle will happen.”

                        Conservatives, as represented by the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress, have taken an entirely opposite stance — increase the use of coal and oil. Most recently, Zinke has floated the proposal that, since US generators are leaving coal and US West Coast ports have zero interest in expanding their coal handling capabilities, the government should build new commercial coal terminals at US Navy bases along the West Coast.

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                        • Agreed. Republicans opposition to alternative energies is ridiculous, however we all know that the second that algae farms or whatever else is viable, oil companies will immediately shift gears and dump billions into it and actively campaign against fossil fuels. Same reason that alcohol manufacturers are looking hard at marijuana.

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                          • Republicans opposition to alternative energies is ridiculous, however we all know that the second that algae farms or whatever else is viable, oil companies will immediately shift gears and dump billions into it and actively campaign against fossil fuels.

                            In all seriousness I can’t figure out how or why this is a worry, let alone a worry which would incline someone to oppose alternative energy policies.

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                          • …the second that algae farms or whatever else is viable…

                            “Then a miracle occurs.”

                            Somehow, algae converting sunlight to lipids at 6-8% efficiency, less the energy cost to separate the lipids out to send off to the refinery, run through a 15% efficient internal combustion engine, all at some undetermined time in the future, will contribute more to addressing global warming than 15-20% efficient PV panels and 80% efficient battery/electric motors today.

                            It’s not a technology problem.

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                        • [SARCASM]
                          They are being clever. Increase the use of fossil fuels until the liberals finally tell the anti-nukes to shut up and allow for more nuclear power!

                          See, brilliant 11D chess moves!
                          [/SARCASM]

                          *Pseudo tags because apparently I need them.

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                        • We are shipping coal to India, South Korea, Japan, Brazil, and dozens of other countries. We currently only export 12% of US coal production, but we can massively increase that and thus decrease our carbon footprint by offshoring a fair bit of our domestic production of energy-intensive raw materials.

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                      • I think the problem is that neither side is willing to stipulate to the existence of a problem in most of the big cases. It’s incredible how Manichean our world views have become, at least legislatively.

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  2. Isn’t a problem here neatly categorizing what ideologies people belong to? It seems like it’s a slight wiggle in the breadth of history that provides that the Scalise shooter was a Sanders supporter and not a say a Stein or even Clinton or supporter – just a little tick in his brain that could have gone the other way. For that matter, it is debatable that Sanders*ism* really is for these purposes importantly distinguishable from Clinton*ism* (or certainly Stein*ism*) at all. Again – one can absolutely differ on that, but I’m not sure if there is a clear resolution to such debates.

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    • This is why I don’t like trying to pigeonhole a violent actor into an ideology, etc. Too easy to wiggle out of it, since people are rarely so simple, especially if we expand time horizons, or motives.

      I mean, the bomber sending bombs to Democrats right before an election? Are we sure he’s a Trump supporter, because I bet the Democrats are enjoying a sympathetic bump right now?

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      • Seriously? You’re giving support to the false flag CT?

        Have you seen the pictures of his van and the interviews with his family? I’m pretty sure Trump supporter fits. In fact, Trump superfan would fit.

        Just because he wasn’t particularly bright or strategic in how he acted on it, doesn’t change his worldview.

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      • Oscar,

        I think it’s pretty conclusive that the two suspects can be put on the far right end of the political scale.

        I understand a need for caution with these kinds of things but if what I’m seeing from those that are doubting this sets off my fever swamp bullshit detectors, then as far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to waste time taking those things seriously.

        Nowhere does it say that those of us that try to think objectively and practice epistemic humility can’t know what’s bullshit right off the bat and dismiss accordingly. I have little patience for arguments that try to use fear, uncertainty and doubt against me.

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      • Wow, I am so glad to see that, despite having commented here for years, and never once giving serious credence to any kind of conspiracy theory, you’ve all just decided that today, I’ve lost my god damn mind and started running with them.

        There’s that charitable fucking reading I’ve heard so much about. Thanks for that.

        My point, missed such as it was, is that lone wolves rarely commit ‘political’ violence. These are people who wish to commit violence, and politics is merely the excuse, the window dressing, if you will. There is no political goal with respect to the violence. This isn’t like terrorists trying to influence our foreign policy, or right to lifers trying to frighten people away from abortion clinics (or from being a provider), or eco-terrorists trying to disrupt animal testing, or agriculture, or logging, etc.

        The bomber wanted to send bombs through the mail, he choose those targets because he aligns with Trump, and Trump is a dumpster fire raging out back behind a fireworks factory*. His timing, however, could not have been worse. He’s given a gift to the DNC for the midterms, because it’s wasn’t about politics, it was about lashing out with bombs (and given the increase in political rhetoric in the media as the election approaches, it’s probably what sent him over the edge). If he was truly trying to commit political violence, there would have been a clear goal. Ergo, his politics, whatever they are, are merely interesting. In the same way the politics of the guy who shot up the Congressional Baseball game were interesting, but not much else. He wanted to shoot at someone, the political aspect was merely the excuse.

        If it helps, think of this way: These people wanted to commit violence, but could not quite bring themselves to commit random violence. They needed something that they could target, and a political target is a good target, especially if you want attention. Especially these days, because you’ll always have some subset that considers you something of a hero.

        As for Pittsburgh, that appears to be straight up racial/ethnic violence (the list of violence at Jewish gathering places is right up there with the number of burned/bombed black churches). And the fact that the guy is far right doesn’t surprise me in the least (leftists seem content to exercise economic action against Jews). But anti-Semites don’t appear to feel limited to acting out violently when the president is blowing their dog whistle. I.E. Trump may be causing them to feel emboldened enough to march and speak in public, but we only have one year of data for hate crimes since Trump took office, and even though it’s increasing, a year is not enough data to declare a trend. Note this is the same tack I take regarding violence against police. A one year rise is not a trend, so it’s almost always too early to declare it so.

        *It’s kind of impressive to watch, until the uncontrolled fireworks start landing in your yard, or on your roof, on in you lap. I really believe that Trump is so utterly lacking in self-awareness that he has no idea** how his words and actions can impact the fringe. I mean, every political leader has to worry that someone on the fringe will read too much into any public remark, which is why politicians are often careful about such things. Trump, on the other hand…

        **Or maybe he does, and he just doesn’t care. Either way…

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        • “These people wanted to commit violence, but could not quite bring themselves to commit random violence.”

          I was talking to someone today about why it is that people in Canada, while sometimes violent, and prone to doing absolutely abhorrent things just like the rest of humanity, are much more rarely violent until death on some political or religious excuse.. So they do something utterly gross – pig’s head on the mosque steps comes to mind – but they don’t take that next step and start actually killing. (Nearly as often – I’m not saying never.)

          I think a lot of it is just that – those extreme Canadians who in some other environment would be slaughtering people, mostly (obviously not universally) cannot bring themselves to commit random violence on political or religious excuse, because that’s how strong the prohibition / societal taboo against political or religious violence is and has been for a long time.

          I realize that’s just moving the “why?” back in Canada’s case – though I have speculations involving two cultures being acknowledged right from the start, the influence of the Loyalists who were specifically trying to avoid violence in most cases, etc. etc. etc. – but it also makes me think that there is something *wrong* with America, that extremely violent people don’t feel that inhibition to the same degree here.

          I have no idea what that something is. Right now it seems really freaking obvious – there’s a POTUS who cheers on violence and uses violent metaphors whenever – but that doesn’t explain the last 20 years of unpleasantness. And a person could obviously point all the fingers at all the usual suspects, depending on one’s priors… but I don’t think so. I think there’s something subtler underneath all that… and I don’t know if that something is an inevitable cost to things worth defending, or a tragic error that could be corrected if only it could be seen :/.

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          • Some guesses:
            We’re probably more multicultural than Canada, some of our sub-cultures are more violent. Another is how many violent movies does Hollywood create every year? Yet another is we (always) at war, occasionally that causes problems.

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          • My guesses as to why some peoples have a much stronger taboo against violence then the US relates mostly to our history of wars and the memory of them. Euro countries, and associated Commonwealth countries, remember WW1 as an apocalyptic bloodbath of an entire generation. The very tangible scars from WW1 affected how the west dealt with the Nazi’s. Americans will still bloviate how the allies should have faced up to Hitler in 37 or 38, which in retrospect would have been good, but at the time just invited the Somme Pt 2.

            Europe was devastated be religious war for hundreds of years. Multiple diaspora’s occurred, lands devastated. The genocides in the US are still remembered in a dewy golden light by some. The victims, native american’s, are distant or unknown to most.

            Many american’s are still in thrall to the cleansing power of violence since we have been so distant from the most gruesome effects of it. And of course violence, against native american’s and african’s, delivered to the US all our prosperity.

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            • The memory of being in the WW’s, and people dying in them, for longer does make some sense to me, though it’s also one of my priors.

              The rest of it shouldn’t make Canada any better than the US in that regard… I mean, it was lesser in degree, but not any different in its viciousness.

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            • We also have a history of political action through violence. Revolutionary War, Civil War, a bunch of smaller violent rebellions with a mixed bag of political consequences. Our removal from WWI & WWII since they didn’t happen in our back yard.

              My knowledge of Canadian history is lacking, but I don’t recall a ton of war happening up there, and certainly not the kind that is so often valorized the way it is in the US.

              As for lone wolf violence, our lack of mental health care, our national stigma against seeking mental health care, a rather dark history of mental health that often results in over-medication and abuse of patients and providers (which erodes trust in the system*). Couple that with media and rhetoric that, again, valorizes violence on the one hand, and condemns it on the other, etc.

              *Imagine if cancer treatment was sometimes accompanied by physical and sexual abuse, such that it made the news and wormed it’s way into popular media. Cancer would be left untreated in so many people.

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          • Some factors i think are relevant there

            There are an order of magnitude more people in the US than in Canada.

            There are an order of magnitude more guns per capita in the US than in Canada.

            So, per country, we can expect something like 100 times as many politically violent people with ready access to a gun, in the US vs Canada assuming the people themselves are no more or less prone to political violence.

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            • Also among my priors, yep.

              What’s bugging me – what I’m haunted by the thought we could be missing – is something *different* from all that, which is why I left all those priors out of my original comment.

              Because I could list all my priors, and then other people could list all their competing and overlapping priors, and then we could argue….

              But at the end of the day I think there’s still something else going on and I don’t know what it is.

              I almost want to convene a meeting of people who’ve lived in both countries to figure it out :).

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        • Wow, I am so glad to see that, despite having commented here for years, and never once giving serious credence to any kind of conspiracy theory, you’ve all just decided that today, I’ve lost my god damn mind and started running with them.

          There’s that charitable fucking reading I’ve heard so much about. Thanks for that.

          Well, that’s why reading this…

          I mean, the bomber sending bombs to Democrats right before an election? Are we sure he’s a Trump supporter, because I bet the Democrats are enjoying a sympathetic bump right now?

          …was such a wft? moment for me. Because I know you well enough to be seriously confused here. Seriously, dude, that’s straight-up false flag speculation there. Read that as if it were written by one of our further right commenters here…

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        • It seems the shooter thought Trump was a tool of the evil Jew. Perhaps he was triggered by the breathless press outrage over moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, or Trump supporting Netanyahu, or Trump’s glowing speeches to Jewish organizations, or Netanyahu saying Israel’s relationship with the US has never been closer than under Trump.

          But there’s a vast swamp of Jewish conspiracy theories on the far left anarchist side, which was on full display after 9/11. The anarchist (Indy Media) types were posting pictures of all the neo-cons in the administration, all Jewish of course, and saying US foreign policy was controlled by Jews.

          In any event, it’s pretty idiotic for members of the press to blame Trump for the attack when the attacker thought Trump is controlled by the evil Jews. Why don’t they just blame Jews directly for the attack?

          It reminds me somewhat of the quote “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.” – “Die Deutschen werden den Juden Auschwitz nie verzeihen.”

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          • In any event, it’s pretty idiotic for members of the press to blame Trump for the attack when the attacker thought Trump is controlled by the evil Jews. Why don’t they just blame Jews directly for the attack?

            As idiotic as making sure that people that are already aware of left-wing anti-Semitism on the far left are reminded of it because whataboutism?

            Funny since you seem to thrive in a fever swamp environment.

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  3. I think including the Scalise shooter here is the ultimate example of BSDI! This week had two acts of severe violence committed by right-wingers and one attempted act of mass terrorism. But the centerist always needs to assume symmetry between right and left and reaches back to one shooting.

    The Scalise shooting was horrible but Trunp’s election has shown a serious increase in violent actions by right-wingers against their perceived foes. The would be bomber lived in a world of memes encouraging the group to see outsiders as evil and less than human. There is simply no left equivalent of that. MSNBC is not Fox. We don’t have a Breitbart. Liberals will generally disagree that the N Y Times is on the left.

    Now the Nazi from yesterday hates Trump and sees him as a Jewish agent which shows more delusion.

    I’m tired of this above the fray bullshit. Ben Garrison is a relatively mainstream conservative cartoonist who drew a cartoon of The Rothschilds controlling Soros like a puppet and Soros was controlling the State and Defense Departments as puppets. What is the left equivalent of that? There is none. But the above the fray centerist always needs to do a million contortions to find one. Through a million squints.

    What would happen if the above the frays gave up on the belief that both sides were symmetrical and/or reasoned discourse was always possible and a high ideal? Would they collapse into depression and despair?

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    • Amen. That and the bit about sending bombs to former presidents, members of congress, the intelligence community and the press as being somehow

      not great even if it’s not quite as bad as shooting at a field full of Congressmen

      was just the icing on the cake. (What? if the guy who had shot Scalise had missed and just scared them all by spraying bullets he wouldn’t be so bad either??)

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    • What would happen if the above the frays gave up on the belief that both sides were symmetrical and/or reasoned discourse was always possible and a high ideal? Would they collapse into depression and despair?

      Are you defining “above the fray” as those that refuse to vote D?

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    • There seem to be a lot of people who do not like the Democratic Party looking desperately for ways to be anti-Trump or anti-Republican but not vote Democratic. Its like how the KPD just could not vote SPD even though the SPD was really the only effectively alternative to the NSDAP. In this case, we have a coalition of free marketers, technocratic rightists, and further leftists that loath the Democratic Party.

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      • “There seem to be a lot of people who do not like the Democratic Party looking desperately for ways to be anti-Trump or anti-Republican but not vote Democratic.”

        This. I wouldn’t say I am desperate to not vote for Dems. I vote for lots of them in our elections. My problem is that I am not a liberal. It’s not a policy thing, it’s a temperament thing. What I am desperately searching for is an ideological conclusion as to whether I can legitimately still call myself a conservative in 2018.

        The other issue, which trips my cynicism, is that Democrats seem to keep trying to expand the Big Tent rightward and pleading with moderates to join them. It simply isn’t a binary choice for me.

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      • The proud boys are explicitly trying to be a right-wing antifa. BLM, which is generally nonviolent, has plenty of equivalent protest movements on the right. For example, the anti-abortion movement can be pretty disruptive to normal life, and it has a violent fringe.

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          • ?? Neither Antifa nor BLM are international terrorist organizations. If you meant antifa there, I think you need to show your work. I agree with the ADL in condemning antifa violence as counterproductive, but noting there is no equivalence to the violence from white nationalist groups:

            That said, it is important to reject attempts to claim equivalence between the antifa and the white supremacist groups they oppose. The antifa reject racism but use unacceptable tactics. White supremacists use even more extreme violence to spread their ideologies of hate, to intimidate ethnic minorities, and undermine democratic norms. Right-wing extremists have been one of the largest and most consistent sources of domestic terror incidents in the United States for many years; they have murdered hundreds of people in this country over the last ten years alone. To date, there have not been any known antifa-related murders.

            Also, while pro-life rallies may never have shut down a town, BLM members have never bombed clinics or assassinated doctors.

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            • It’s hard for me to distinguish between the “the right is violent” and “random lunatics are violent”. Even things like murdering abortion doctors is the realm of a lone-nut who would be shut down by his fellows if they knew what he was up to.

              If we’re going to talk about organized violence backed up by ideology in the last century, then Marxism wins. Multiple countries have had their socialists try to murder their way to economic/social-paradise on a mind numbing scale.

              After that we have… Tribal War (Rwanda) and Religious War (ISIS).

              In broad strokes; If it’s single digits to low double digits of deaths then it’s a nut acting alone and ideology doesn’t really matter. A violent guy went looking for a violent cause.

              However as the number of digits of corpses goes up so do the odds it’s a ideology. We’re not done burying people because of Marx’s seductive vision.

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                • You left out the Nazis

                  I consider The “National Socialists” to be one of Marx’s bastard offspring. Big picture they tried to take socialism and turn it into something “better”… so call it more of a grandchild than a child but whatever

                  (who were definitely not Marxists)

                  Marxism is a religion so you pick and choose what you want. They kept Marx’s racism and got rid of some of his more nonsensical economic aspects (i.e. they allowed personal property)… but they also were HUGE on ‘everyone needs to subordinate their personal interests to the “common good”.

                  They kept big pieces of Stalin/Lenin’s totalitarian state. They also kept Marx’s “society needs to be purged of this group of people” which often comes up. They just had an engineer’s view on what that meant so they took it to it’s logical and brutal conclusion.

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                    • By this logic, every tyrannical government ever in the entire history of the human race was actually a Marxist state.

                      As far as I can tell, the Left would rather claim that none of them were.

                      True Marxism is supposed to result in paradise, not mass murder or economic meltdowns. Ergo every time it’s been tried and we’ve had disaster has simply been a failure of implementation and not of the ideology which remains seductive.

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                      • First of all, the idea that leftists are all soft on communism is a badly outdated one. Even democratic socialists are not soft on communism. Jeez. There are some dumb Marxists out there still (I happen to work with one, though he’s not dumb about anything other than Marxism), but they are vestigial.

                        Secondly, to be clearer:

                        Marxist states: USSR, the other Eastern bloc countries they dominated and extended their murdering to during the cold war (Poland, etc.), the countries that strove to emulate them and/or had dictators who openly and loudly admired them (China, etc.) There’s plenty of horrors there.

                        Not Marxist states: Nazi Germany, which was publicly and privately *anti-Marxist*.

                        Was it influenced by Marx? Sure, everything post-Marx was in some way (including capitalism and democracy, which in their post-Marx forms are very different than they were before.) A reaction is influenced by the thing it’s reacting to, you don’t have to be Hegel (or Fichte) to be aware of that.

                        But turning reasonableness on its head to blame Nazism on something it was literally the contemporary antithesis to, defies all logic.

                        Not all “socialism” is Marxism. Not all totalitarianism is Marxist.

                        Generally speaking, in my experience, those who argue otherwise are themselves blinded by ideology of one sort or another, or easily subject to suasion.

                        I don’t generally think of you as either of those two things.

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                        • Of course the Nazis despised Bolschevism, which they decried as a cancer. Nazis were true socialists, real socialists, who weren’t deluded by the Marxist reduction of the socialist struggle to just some economic clap-trap about wages. As Hitler said, working people demand more than wages, they demand respect and recognition for their contribution to the advancement of the Volk. Union leaders want more worker pay so they can get a percent of the cut. But real socialists would throw such leaders in a bonfire like the parasites they are, growing fat by exploiting German workers while doing nothing to make that work valued.

                          Hitler gave lots of speeches on how the German “socialist” parties weren’t delivering the suposed benefits of socialism, while the National Socialists were delivering real benefits to real people who were in need.

                          There is no line that socialists use that the Nazis didn’t perform ten times better, and in both cases it is just lies all the way down. Wages didn’t go up for workers on the Autobaun, and abysmal working conditions didn’t improve, and national employment barely saw a blip. Any worker who complained too much was sent to a now famous camp.

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                        • the idea that leftists are all soft on communism is a badly outdated one. There are some dumb Marxists out there still… but they are vestigial.

                          And what should I expect from the Dems the next time Bernie points to a communist country and says that’s the way to run things? More support for his Presidential run?

                          This ideology is not held to account for the mass-murders/economic-destruction it’s created. The moment it burns down the economy or murders lots of people it becomes “not true socialism”.

                          Nazi Germany, which was publicly and privately *anti-Marxist*.

                          How seriously we should take that depends on how high level a view we want to take. From some views the Shias and Sunnis are different religions fighting each other and from other views they’re the same.

                          I get that Nazism is an offshoot of Socialism so far removed from the original that there’s a legit argument it’s a different animal, but imho there’s enough similarities between the National Socialists and the other Socialists I think it’s worth lumping them together in the context of mass murder; Especially considering how much of an outlier the Nazis are if we’re supposed to simply call them a hate group. Nowadays we remember them for their death camps, but the Nazis of the 1930’s had the same popular, seductive draw that the socialists typically have. Hitler won elections.

                          What this comes to is the Left really wants the Nazis to be both a creature of the Right (and the modern ones are) and still alive to be opposed.

                          Our modern Nazis are racist losers who take the name of the originals like sports teams calls themselves something strong and successful. I doubt they have a clue on what their economic policy is even supposed to be, much less how to leverage that into becoming popular and winning elections. The really dangerous part of the Nazis, the part that made them attractive and popular, was the socialism, not the racism.

                          When modern Nazis kill people, imho it fits best into the “lone nut looking for a reason to be violent” category. If they weren’t shooting minorities to make a name for themself then they’d be shooting up a school to make a name for themself. They should be handled in the same fashion, i.e. NOT having the national media make them a name for days/weeks/years.

                          So no, I don’t think the Nazis deserve a category different from lone nuts and socialist governments indulging in mass murder.

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                      • Well yeah, if you define Marxism as “Anything Bad” it becomes almost a tautology.

                        “subordinate their personal interests to the “common good” is pretty much the defining feature of any pre-Enlightenment state. To this day in fact, there is no such thing as an “English citizen”- all Britons are subjects of Her Majesty.

                        “society needs to be purged of this group of people” was a recurring feature of the Spanish purge of the Jews, the Czarist purge of the Jews, and the Judean People’s Front purge of the Jews.

                        So by this account, the Marxist regime of Czar Nicholas II was overthrown by the Marxist regime of Vladimir Lenin, which eventually gave way to the Marxist regime of Vladimir Putin.

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              • I’m not making the claim that the “the right is violent”. I’m saying that defending the Proud Boys while calling antifa or BLM terrorist organizations is ludicrous.

                In other words, “the left is violent” vs “random lunatics are violent” is every bit as confusing. Especially when there are a lot more examples of ‘lone wolf’ violent random lunatics associated with the right wing ideologies cited. ;)

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  4. If you spread anti-Semitic conspiracies at any time, you’re a bad guy. If you still do it after the Pittsburgh shootings, you’re unspeakably bad.

    If the GOP and the right-wing noise machine have moderated their George Soros smears one bit, I haven’t seen it.

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  5. This piece really hit me wrong. I mean like a punch in the gut wrong.

    Maybe I’m being harsh, but after a clearly ideology-driven mass shooting in my hometown of Pittsburgh (one we found out about when my sister in law called to let us know the cousins there were safe), a ‘thought experiment’ in dismissing the effects of ideology and rhetoric, indeed denying the concept stochastic terrorism entirely, strikes me as being at best in extremely poor taste.

    But okay, you want to play the actions are the only thing that counts game? Based on your essay, it sure looks like pro-gun ideology should be defined as bad. Look at it’s adherents: Bowers, the dude who shot two people in a Walmart in KY after not being able to get in to a black church to kill people there, warehouse shooter in MD, guy in NC with 130 guns who shot killed two police officers and shot several more, Capital Gazette shooter, Santa Fe HS shooter, Parkland HS shooter, Waffle House shooter, Baptist church in TX shooter, Los Vegas shooter, VaTech shooter, etc. etc. etc.

    Now I’m moderately pro-2A. I think we need much better background checks and stricter rules wrt knowledge, training, and responsibility, but I would never characterize people who like guns as being baddies. However, by your formula I’d have to. I know of a few ‘good guy with a gun’ examples, but nowhere near enough to balance the ‘bad guy with a gun’ incidents even if I confine examples to just the last year or two.

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  6. If actions are what counts, then witnessing all that Trump has said and done, and still giving him and his followers anything less than full-throated condemnation marks one as an indisputably bad person.

    And specifically I am referring to the Furrowed Brow Of Impotence crowd of Jeff Flake and Susan Collins, the BSDI fetishists in the media and the Radio Rwanda drum pounders like Steve King and the Fox News bobbleheads.

    We all have eyes and ears, we all have agency, and we all have a choice to make.

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  7. A million years ago, back when we were arguing about inequality, one of the points that I could not wrap my head around dealt with positional goods.

    You know that whole Heritage List that talks about poverty in the United States?

    Percentage of all U.S. Households that have various amenities

    My argument was that inequality was good because it brought the bottom along with it.

    I thought that I was arguing rationally but I was undervaluing so very many arguments against my position because, hey, they weren’t rational arguments.

    What seemed so very obvious to me was not obvious to my arguing partners. What seemed so very obvious to them was not obvious to me at all. For all my attempts to be rational, I wasn’t dealing rationally with the problem at all.

    Anyway, I think that tribalism is something that isn’t going away. Arguments that it should might be very good arguments indeed.

    It’s not a position that can really be moved via argument.

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    • You’ve seen those old photos of the white people screaming at those little girls integrating the schools back int he 50s and 60s, right?

      What do you think ever happened to those people, who were such a powerful voting bloc they controlled all the levers of government?
      How did they lose their grip on power?

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        • No.
          Look again.
          Most of them were actually young enough to still be alive today.
          Some of them eventually hid their racism and bit their tongue when seeing integrated schools and couples but other than that, didn’t change a bit.

          But a lot of them actually reformed and changed their views, and later insisted they were never those people. Unless you have photographic proof, its almost impossible to find people of that generation who will admit to being a part of that crowd, even though statistically, they almost certainly were.

          So why and how did they change, and grow to accept things they swore they would never accept?

          Social pressure, mostly. Racists like George Wallace and his supporters were mercilessly mocked and ridiculed, first by the intellectual and Hollywood elite, then later by more mainstream middle American people.
          Laugh-in and Johnny Carson were examples, where right wingers were ridiculed from fellow white middle class Americans who laid claim to the mantle of “Real America” even as Nixon insisted that the Silent Majority was otherwise.

          Contrary to the warm patina of history, it wasn’t pretty, or simple, or easy. And it had a lot of blowback and collateral damage.

          One of the main targets then, as today, was the charge that Racism=Ignorant Yokel.
          It wasn’t true then or now, but it worked to stigmatize racism and make it an embarrassment.
          There was a lot of cruelty and classism involved, and people like George Wallace capitalized on the notion of highbrow elites looking down their noses at rural America (Sound familiar?).

          But it worked. In 1964 someone could proudly carry a sign with the word “Ni**er” on it, and William F. Buckley could softly opine that black people were inferior to whites.

          Within a decade, that was impossible to do in polite society.

          We like to imagine that the wheels of history turn effortlessly, that social change just kinda sorta happens, that the Brown decision, the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act just sorta were the products of gentle polite civil debate.
          But it doesn’t work that way,

          There isn’t a soft gentle easy way to overcome the MAGA type people. Hatred doesn’t spring from a place of rational thought, and it can’t be dislodged by bribery and pleading.
          They have to be given a choice of indulging their hate, or enjoying the respect of their fellow citizens.

          But either way, the choice is theirs.

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          • Social pressure, mostly. Racists like George Wallace and his supporters were mercilessly mocked and ridiculed, first by the intellectual and Hollywood elite, then later by more mainstream middle American people.

            Well, social media will be the death of us all.

            Once upon a time, furries were just loners who thought they were weird and alone. Now they not only know that there are thousands of them, they can live in circles where everyone they know is a furry.

            Now too for those who, once upon a time, would have been subject to social pressure are now able to live in a bubble.

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          • And 40 years later, after the old Democrats died, the South went solidly Republican, with the Democrats having lured black voted with Lyndon Johnson’s promise that Welfare, not enough to really help blacks, would have them voting Democrat for a hundred years.

            The MAGA people aren’t the ones spewing hate all over the Internet. That’s the other people who say the MAGA people are Nazis for not signing up for race-based national socialism.

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  8. Dahlia Lithwick:
    Stop Trying to Understand What Trump Says and Look at What His Followers Do

    Perhaps instead of wasting another day on the pointless cycle of whether people who tweet racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and anti minority statements actually cause anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and anti-minority attacks or just stoke what was there to begin with, we should content ourselves with accepting that this is actually beside the point. The point is that people who hate Jews and immigrants and minorities believe that when they commit violence against these people, they are behaving as the followers their president wants them to be.

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  9. At the memorial service last night, one of the speakers read a quote from Bonhoeffer:

    Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.
    Not to speak is to speak.
    Not to act is to act.

    If those professing an ideology stand by silently while their fellow travelers engage in evil acts, how does that factor in to your equation?

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  10. Road Scholar: Immigration is a good example. The identity wing on the left, which most of the liberals here would fall into, is generally supportive of liberal immigration policies while the economic wing, basically the Sanders set, is more skeptical because competition for jobs.

    Not sure where you got that idea, since economic reality tells us that immigrants and refugees (particularly of Hispanic origin) don’t actually compete for jobs that native born Americans want. Absent those folks willingness to both move north of their home lands and then move around ours, there would be either significant economic losses in major sectors, or significant price increases to attract native labor – either of which would up end the apple cart for most Americans.

    Mike Dwyer: Conservative identity politics don’t like rule-breakers and the optics. Economically, I think most of us are okay with having them in the workforce.

    If that were actually the case then I would have expected and seen widespread support for the “common sense” immigration reforms in the prior two administrations that would have streamlined the immigration process for folks coming up to fill economic needs. It didn’t happen in the Republican Controlled Congresses under either Bush or Obama. And frankly if “conservative identity politics” doesn’t like rule breakers then folks holding that position need to start going whole hog after businesses and industries who hire undocumented migrant workers since those businesses are creating the demand for said workers in the first place.

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    • There’s a very real contradiction in the way conservatives handle immigration. My company would grind to a halt without legal immigrants (we have a lot from Cuba and Africa). We’re also very conservative but pretty much daily you hear my fellow management members complaining about lazy Americans. It’s an odd dynamic.

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    • The people in the caravan and the other asylum seekers are not rule breakers. The INA specifically states that aliens inside and outside the United States may apply for asylum within the United States. Turning up at the border and saying you need protection from persecution is specifically allowed under the law. Therefore, asylum seekers are not rule breakers.

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  11. A moment that was just brought to my attention:

    Hillary Clinton made a joke about all black people looking alike.
    Two days ago.

    Here’s the transcript (Swisher in bold, Clinton in italics):

    What do think of Cory Booker’s and his comment, and feel free-

    Oh, I adore him-

    No, what do you think about him saying, “Kick them in the shins” … essentially … start to get to that kind of political-

    Well, that was Eric Holder.

    Eric Holder, oh, Eric Holder, sorry.

    Yeah, I know they all look alike.

    No they don’t. Oh, well done. Now, Hillary …

    I was paid by Mark Zuckerberg to do that.

    (This was the interview in which she let out that she hasn’t ruled out running again in 2020.)

    It’s weird the stuff that gets a pass. It’s weird the stuff that we automatically know is “ironic”.

    It’s kinda weird that it took two days for this to get out… but maybe Hillary is under the radar enough that it’s not surprising.

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    • ? I think this would need the video or audio at least to get the tone right.

      I can read it in a way that comes off very badly for HRC or in a way where she’s rolling her eyes at the interviewer and then trying to let her off the hook with a joking reference to Zuckerberg.

      I guess how you interpret depends on your priors, but honestly I don’t care enough to go find the interview and watch/listen. I’ve seen the 2020 rumors, but can’t get worked up one way or the other. Mostly wrt candidates on the left side of the aisle I just want Sanders to sit down and shut up about running again. Or at least campaign for other progressives in the midterms instead of for himself.

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  12. Mike Dwyer: There’s a very real contradiction in the way conservatives handle immigration. My company would grind to a halt without legal immigrants (we have a lot from Cuba and Africa). We’re also very conservative but pretty much daily you hear my fellow management members complaining about lazy Americans. It’s an odd dynamic.

    What do you think drives this? I have my theories, but being a career public servant and liberal I’m probably missing something.

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    • Most of the conservatives I know don’t really have a problem with legal migration. The anti-illegal thing is perplexing to me too because so many of them say we should beef up the border, but they don’t really mind Latinos coming in. When I ask about this contradiction, I think they actually believe hordes of Islamic terrorist are sneaking in with them. So it becomes a homeland security concern, not an economic one.

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