Friday, March 30, 2018

WPSA and Personal Troll Roundup

I presented my "White Jews: An Intersectional Approach" paper at the Western Political Science Association (intersectionality section) yesterday. It went quite well! I've now presented the paper to political theorists, to Jewish Studies folks, and to intersectionalists. If you haven't read it yet, I think it's pretty good.

But the prize for biggest professional accomplishment this week goes to the discovery that someone has created a website dedicated solely to informing the world that "David Schraub the UCLA Law Professor is a Disgusting Zionist Punk."  That's how you know you've made it. I may not have the highest quality trolls ("UCLA"?), but at least they're mine. (I can't say I recommend reading the entire screed on the website, but it's worth browsing for a few laughs).

* * *

The African Muslim immigrant who saved a dozen Jews during the 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris kosher supermarket quietly arrived at the funeral of the elderly Holocaust survivor who was stabbed and burned to death in her apartment in an antisemitic hate crime. "I want to tell the Jews of France, you are not isolated. You are not abandoned. This is your country."

Jews and Muslims in America actually agree on quite a lot! And alignment increases alongside devoutness (more devout Jews and more devout Muslims share more in common), as well as contact (the more Jews and Muslims interact with each other, the more likely they are to perceive the two faiths as being similar in nature).

A former police officer turned criminal defense attorney discusses the Stephon Clark shooting, the way police are acculturated to fear (especially fear Black men), and the way poor instructions (e.g., "show me your hands" when your hands are holding a cellphone) can place innocent people in impossible situations.

Russian airline allegedly "deports" U.S. citizens of Indian descent back to India during a layover in Moscow. Great -- another reason for Trump to love the Russians.

Jewish News (UK) publishes an interview with Jeremy Corbyn. It's rare to see a conversation this long between two parties who so evidently loathe one another (it's really, really apparent in the interview).

Harvard Hillel is hosting a "liberation seder" focusing specifically on the ongoing injustices faced by Palestinians under occupation. The organizers worked closely with Jewish groups already affiliated with Hillel to ensure that it did not run afoul of the partnership guidelines. I'm all for this -- I have mixed feelings about the guidelines, but it's important to establish decisively that they will not be applied ad hoc to prohibit any criticism of Israel that's deemed too "sharp" in character. (Harvard Hillel has actually been consistently good on this issue -- refusing to allow the guidelines to metastasize to block, say, a program which has nothing to do with BDS because one participant backs the movement).

Sephardic Chief Rabbi in Israel may face criminal charges for likening a Black child born to White parents to a "monkey."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Two Standards of Opinion-Columnist Selection

Conservative writer Kevin Williamson, late of the National Review, has been hired by the Atlantic. This is proving controversial, possibly because he's conservative, or possibly because he compared a Black teenager to a primate and suggested women who have abortions should be hanged. Who can say?

In reality, the anxiety over Williamson's hiring is revealing a fissure in how we think opinion-column space should be distributed. We might think of two different rationales for why a magazine should publish a particular opinion columnist or column -- a reflective rationale and a legitimation rationale.

Under the reflective view, opinion columns should roughly mirror -- reflect -- the opinions that exist in the wider public around politics. We should have conservative columnists because many people are conservative, and it's important that the readership be exposed to that common view. Note that this makes no claim about whether this perspective is a good one, only that it's a common one.

Under the legitimation view, by contrast, opinion columnists should be chosen because the editors conclude that their views are affirmatively worth considering. This almost certainly falls short of requiring agreeing with the views -- I can think of many opinions I don't share but which I nonetheless think are worth wrestling with -- but it does represent some commentary on quality. Often (not always), the legitimation rationale for hiring a columnist cuts in the opposite direction from the reflective view -- as in the claim that so-and-so's perspective is one "you don't hear often" or is "novel and original" (though these are not in themselves reasons for publishing someone unless they're also paired with the ideas actually being decent. A string of gibberish isn't heard often in august editorial sections, but that doesn't mean it should be published).

One problem that's partially being illuminated by the Williamson hiring is that we're not sure what purpose we want opinion section editors to adopt. Some of the critics of Williamson's hiring note that, as a Never-Trump Republican, he's actually not reflective of conservative ideology as it's currently practiced -- wouldn't ideological diversity better be served by hiring an avowed Trump defender? But of course one can feel the anxiety in that sentence even as it's written -- do we really want the views of avid Trump supporters (Muslim ban, "shithole countries", and all) gracing more prominent media outlets? No, because we think it would legitimate them.

But if Williamson can't be defended as a reflective hire -- and a #NeverTrump Republican by definition isn't reflective (if even a fifth of American conservatives were of this ilk, Hillary Clinton wins in a landslide) -- he has to be justified based on legitimation. Yet it's really hard to justify him along that metric either. Certainly, the usual bromides about hearing "alternative points of view" won't do on their own. We need to know why "hang one quarter of American women" is the sort of keen social insight that is worthwhile on it's own right -- not simply as a "different" view but as an independently justifiable one.

So what do we want? The reflective case has one thing going for it, and that's that it would represent an honest portrayal of the state of conservative argumentation in America today -- which doesn't even carry Williamson's patina of #NeverTrump-ism. Yet going that route would have to mean consciously abandoning any legitimation justification for their publication -- and most editors don't really want to write that out of their job description. The fetishization of an objectively tiny branch of contemporary conservatism -- acting as if it is of more than trivial social influence -- is I think primarily grounded on how they let us deny what is before our eyes.

Seth Mandel suggests that one reason conservatives are skeptical of this reaction to Williamson is that -- even though some of the criticisms of him hold water in isolation -- it seems to happen to every conservative who joins a mainstream media outlet (cf. Bret Stephens). But the problem is that, given the state of conservatism today, an attempt to find a remotely representative conservative voice will start to look like an error theory: it's possible in concept to imagine a representative conservative argument worthy of legitimation, but in practice none of them will qualify. Given where conservatism's center of gravity is right now, even if you step a standard deviation off the middle of the bell-curve, you're still likely to encounter at goodly chunk of the (again, wholly mainstream) conservative pathologies -- like "execute women" (Williamson) or "science is a hoax" (Stephens).  But there's no reason -- at least once we stop grading conservatives on a curve -- why "I don't like Trump, but global warming is made up" should be thought to count as a good argument.

The sad fact is, the mean, median, and modal conservative argument in American politics today is not some deeply Burkean reflection on the need for cautious change and considered ponderings about the continuing legacy of racism coupled with healthy respect for historical American traditions. It is deep-set, gutter-level racism and xenophobia of the sort which gleefully catapults a know-nothing slur-tossing conspiracy theorist to the Oval Office and continues to enthusiastically back him to this very day. That's not fringe, that's central. We might be able to justify printing such views on the grounds that it's important to be crystal clear about what American conservatives actually believe. But if that's the rationale, there's no reason why editors should try to gussie them up to make them seem more considered and legitimate than they are on their own merits.

Hard Left Jews Are Not "We Young Jews"

There's something just ... perfect about Annie Cohen writing a column in the Forward criticizing Jews for trying to hold Jeremy Corbyn accountable for his antisemitic associations under the title "Leave Jeremy Corbyn Alone. He’s The Leader We Young Jews Have Waited For."

Why?

Because last year, Annie Cohen ran for the presidency of the UK's Union of Jewish Students (as an avowedly non-Zionist candidate) -- a delightfully democratic mechanism for determining what, exactly, "young Jews" desire.

And she came in last place. With less than 9% of the vote.

Turns out, we have pretty compelling evidence that Annie Cohen doesn't have her finger on the pulse of what "young Jews" are waiting for.

Now, to be clear, Cohen has every right to dissent from the predominant view of her generation of Jews. She's absolutely entitled to say "while most young Jews believe A, I believe B, and here's why."

But what's troubling here is the pretension of being representative -- the claim of being right in the thick of a live controversy (if not on the leading side) as opposed to sitting way out on the marginal wings.

It's part of a disturbing trend among this sort of Jewish activist -- claiming to "speak for" communities that by all objective metrics want nothing to do with them. Ben Gladstone pointed out cases in the US, David Hirsh has written similarly about the function of groups like Jewish Voice for Labour in the UK. Groups and individuals whose modus operandi is to kick up dust to deny the existence of any "consensus" in the Jewish community around issues of antisemitism, to give third parties an excuse to simply pick the "side" that better matches their pre-existing priors.

The issue isn't of moral correctness, but simply of numbers. When Cohen writes vaguely that, "of those of us who voted Labour last year, many were Jewish," that might be technically true -- but only in the same way that "many" of Trump's voters were Muslim (Trump's level of Muslim support was in fact identical to Corbyn's rate of Jewish support). It's a classic example of how to tokenize with proportions. The sleight of hand isn't in acknowledging its existence of pro-Corbyn Jews, it's in implying that they're more than an obscure fringe that could satisfy any remotely robust obligation to "engage" with Jews as a group.

So this happens all the time. But normally it's obscured -- how can we really know who speaks for young Jews, or what politics they do and don't find appealing?

It is one of the many virtues of the UJS actually having democratic elections that here we get a crystalline case: where we know just how little support someone who claims to be representing "we young Jews" has among said "young Jews." That it didn't stop her from making the claim is testament to the hubris of the movement, and how little it cares whether its pretensions of authority map onto any reality.

I'm not sure which leader "young Jews" in the UK are waiting for. But they've been pretty emphatic in saying Annie Cohen isn't it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Eighth Circuit: Go Ahead and Taze Him, Bro -- He's Mentally Ill

Today from the Eighth Circuit: "[N]o reasonable officer" would have concluded that tasering an unarmed, passive paranoid schizophrenic unsuspected of any criminal activity five times after a different police officer broke his arm because just sitting there "could have [been] interpreted" by the officer "as resistance" constitutes "excessive force."

As is always in cases like these, if this strikes you as obviously ludicrous, you really need to read up on your qualified immunity jurisprudence.

Incidentally, as the gun control debate shift in focus -- as it always tends to do -- towards "mental illness", it's worth reflecting on cases like this. The victim in this case probably did need mental health services -- his father wanted him to get evaluated after he stopped taking his medicine and began behaving erratically. His father almost certainly did not want his son to have his arm broken and be shocked into submission. But now that he's learned that's what happens when you try to get your son mental health services, he's presumably going to be far less likely to call in the future. Imagine that: Imagine that every time you had a medical emergency part of the calculus before calling 911 is asking "will the EMTs beat me up?" It isn't exactly a recipe for the ideal distribution of health care service.

The man in this case wasn't violent, but our cultural discourse increasingly is treating him like an inherent threat -- which means police officers (and all of us -- but officers are the ones empowered to use physical violence) will be more inclined to treat him as a threat, which means he's more vulnerable to having violence visited upon him when what he needed was medical assistance.

Police officers are often not trained to be front-line responders in cases like this. When we treat mental illness as a subcategory of crime control, though, this is a predictable result. I think we can have a conversation about the toxic interaction of mental illness and easily accessible firearms while recognizing that the stigmatization of those suffering from mental illness doesn't just obscure who's actually more at risk from whom; it in many ways produces these risks. And the result is that mentally ill individuals and their families -- when seeking the assistance they need to be healthy -- have to make a terrible risk calculation before they make the call.