Archive for ‘Politics’

Divided We Can Change the World

By , 23 November, 2015, No Comment

Recently, while in India, I met an economist named Deepti Sethi who told me about some research she’s doing into organizations advocating social change, like non-profits and activist campaigns. She and her team have divided them into three categories:

1. Organizations that aim at material change – new laws, money moved from point A to point B.

2. Organizations that aim at ideological change – persuading others that their ideas are wrong,  changing hearts and minds.

3. Organizations that aim at personal expression – large protests bearing witness to injustice or support groups validating the experiences of oppressed groups.

All social movements need all of these modes of activism. But, Sethi argued, the organizations that make up these movements (usually) only succeed if they pick one to focus on.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in recent weeks, as squabbles over feminism and anti-racism have erupted on my social feeds.

On Charlie Hebdo and the culture of free expression

By , 11 January, 2015, 1 Comment

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about Charlie Hebdo, so I’ll keep this short. I won’t add to the debate about whether the cartoons were offensive to Muslims, or racist to France’s minorities, or just crude, because the best thing about writing online is that you can link to stuff rather than repeat it.

What concerns me is the idea that the only ‘right’ response to the attack is to re-circulate the paper’s cartoons. Jon Chait and Ross Douthat have argued that the right of free expression is meaningful specifically because it protects expression that some find objectionable. And we have to promote that objectionable speech, to show that we’re still protecting it, or the terrorists win.

But the reason liberal societies protect free expression, including offensive speech, is the belief that there’s a market for ideas. And that bad ideas, if they circulate freely, will lose out: people won’t buy those magazines, or watch those TV shows, or download those songs, and the ideas will disappear.

A central component of that ideal is that we have to be as free to not consume or circulate speech as we are to make it in the first place. Insisting that everyone who believes in free expression share a Charlie Hebdo cover or they’ll be an apologist for terror is entirely out of spirit with what free expression means. It is thought policing, which is as fundamentally illiberal when it appears in the pages of New York Magazine as when it comes from the mouths of clerics.

The best response to the attacks is to actively have these debates – about whether the cartoons were good satire or bad satire and why, about how terrorism comes about and what to do about it, about identity in modern Europe – not silence them all as somehow demeaning the dead, because debate is how free societies work out what they believe. If we don’t have debate anymore, we’ve got nothing.

The problem with Occupy Wall Street

By , 7 October, 2011, 1 Comment

As regular readers will know, I worry that the American left is preoccupied with culture at the expense of economics, more concerned with identity politics than it is with combating inequality. As someone who leans left primarily because of economic issues, that’s made me feel a bit homeless, politically.

So, as a critique, from the left, of our economic malaise, Occupy Wall Street interests me. But I am frustrated by the way the critique is framed.

Why I am not a SlutWalker

By , 29 September, 2011, 2 Comments

On Saturday, I am going to SlutWalk. I have decided to attend the rally, where some of the walkers will give speeches explaining why they’re there, but not the march.

As someone worried that the feminist movement is losing steam, I am thrilled to see that feminist causes can still get people, especially young people, on the streets. And while I welcome the intention to combat a culture that feeds violence against women – that is a noble feminist cause if ever there was one – I am deeply uncomfortable with the way SlutWalk has framed that cause. Attending the rally allows me to be a friendly observer, to listen and try to understand, whereas marching felt like something I should do only if I felt, truly, that SlutWalk’s message was mine.

SlutWalk began as a response to the callous comments of a Toronto cop who told women that they could avoid sexual violence by covering up. He was voicing the idea, still common in some quarters, that a woman who dresses scantily or has sex often or with many partners has ceded her sexuality to the public sphere – it is now out there for anyone to use. She’s asked for it. Implied is the notion that most women don’t like sex, and therefore that affirmative consent – of a woman asking for sex explicitly when she wants it and not being forced to participate in it when she doesn’t – is impossible.

Affirmative consent was framed quite neatly in the 1970s with the slogan, “Whatever I wear and wherever I go, ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no,’ ” Because it requires people to understand female sexuality, affirmative consent has gotten a big boost from shows like Sex and the City, which, despite its flaws, helped mainstream the idea that women like sex too, and not just the vanilla kind you see written up in Cosmo‘s advice pages. In gender studies departments, this is often referred to as ‘sex-positivity.’ And it’s great.

What distinguishes SlutWalk is a decision to affirm female sexuality by appropriating the word so often used to degrade it: slut.

The Difference Between Expertise and Intelligence

By , 21 January, 2011, No Comment

There’s a fair bit of web chatter about Peter Baker’s magnum opus in the NYT Magazine on the Obama Administration’s economic policy failures, which doesn’t actually contain much discussion of economics or policy. Why this shocks bloggers is a mystery to me: if the NYTM wanted a deep look at economic policy, they’d have commissioned a piece from David Leonhardt. [Oh, wait, they did that already, three times.] Baker is a political correspondent, and instead of evaluating whether Obama’s economic vision is sound or not, he asks why the Administration failed to provide the public with any vision at all.

As Felix Salmon has noted, the piece places a large share of the blame on Larry Summers (who, as Director of the National Economic Council, was responsible for forging consensus among the President’s economic team, and instead was busy fighting with several of the other key players) and goes a long way towards attempting to exonerate the rest. Salmon correctly adds to Baker’s critique of Summers’ personnel skills a critique of his economic principles, which have never lined up neatly with the Pro-Main Street expectations voters have of this White House.

That’s all fair, as far as it goes, but I don’t think it goes very far.

Gordon Brown, After the Fall

By , 15 December, 2010, No Comment

A post at Foreign Exchange on a Gordon Brown lecture/book launch I attended yesterday at NYU:

The basic thrust of the book is that financial reform laws in individual countries are irrelevant as tools against a future crisis, because they simply provide incentives to firms to take their riskier business elsewhere. Instead, the book pushes for formal regulatory coordination and essentially, for expanded global governance. It is not an explicitly left-wing argument, as Brown’s vision of global coordination includes a completed Doha Round and a plea for international institutions to prod China into speeding up its push for more consumer spending. [During his talk, Brown clarified this point–essentially he thinks the recent five year plan can be a two year plan if Beijing wants it to be.] My take having read the first section and skimmed the rest: It’s a pretty good blueprint, but completely unfeasible. It’s also not badly written, as far as books by ex-politicians go. Certainly a relief after the purple prose we got from Blair.

After laying all this out in a short lecture, the former PM took a few questions.

Read the rest.

More on the Rally

By , 16 November, 2010, No Comment

via the voracious media-consumer bjkeefe, I’m watching this video now, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow on the Rally. I won’t make any comments, as you already know my take on the event.

Really, it’s not funny

By , 12 November, 2010, 9 Comments

Two weeks ago, I joined much of the young American Left at the “Rally to Restore Sanity.” I didn’t travel down to Washington for the occasion; I’m not that much of a Daily Show devotee. I had meetings with various sources, a very good college friend to stay with, and my sister to see in Philly on the way back. The timing and location were convenient.

The rally was, to be honest, boring, certainly not as funny or as compelling as the two television shows from which it derived. Given how little effort I put into getting there, that’s fine. But when I think about how many young folks actually traveled to be there, it’s infuriating. It’s infuriating that the ideas around which young liberals rally en masse are so unsubstantial.

I was not the only person who felt that way. Mark Ames had a screed at The Exiled on the rally, and it’s definitely got a lot of problems [basically, skip the second half], but I think there’s a kernel of truth in the piece that is worth excerpting at some length.

More About Grizzlies

By , 3 November, 2010, 15 Comments

I’ve got a post about GOP women up at Forbes right now: basically, I took a look at how GOP candidates fared with women voters. And interestingly, in this so-called year of the GOP woman, it was GOP men who got the women’s vote, while GOP women were successful with a more traditional Republican base of white men. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m inviting theories from you, so please, go read the data and comment.

Who are the Mama Grizzlies?

By , 27 October, 2010, No Comment

Over at ForbesWoman, I’ve got a piece on the ‘Mama Grizzlies,’ meaning the Sarah Palin-endorsed GOP women running for office this fall. The piece asks: are they feminists? and if not, how should we think of them?

Yet while these candidates may have a catchy new name, the Mama Grizzly moniker and campaign is, at the surface, built around the most traditional of female roles: mother.

I go into some of the history of this phenomenon, of the patriotic mother being invoked in politics for a confusing mix of progressive and regressive goals. And I try to suss out where the Grizzlies fall. Conclusion:

the Grizzlies are more appropriately thought of as “feminine conservatives” than “conservative feminists.”

Readers of this blog know that the problem of anti-feminist, post-feminist or false feminist women is a major bugaboo of mine, so while I don’t write on politics frequently, this piece was interesting to report, even if some of what I learned was frustrating.

Go read it. And remember to vote.