Saturday, July 24, 2021

Gone Beachin'

FYI everyone, I'm on vacation through Wednesday. We're in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware right near the boardwalk, and I'm happy as a sitting duck.

The picture is Michael Bedard's "Sitting Ducks", which was featured on the wall of the beach house we stayed in the first time my family took me to Rehoboth Beach as a kid.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Pre-Portland Thoughts

Our move to Portland is rapidly approaching -- more so, because tomorrow Jill and I are actually going to the beach for a long weekend, so we have even less time left in Chicago than the calendar would indicate.

It's an interesting time to be moving to Portland. Fortunately, the city seems not to have been incinerated off the face of the earth. But it still is among the go-to references for conservative pundits looking for an urban hellhole ravaged by antifa and anarchists. "Don't let our city become another Portland!", they say. Meanwhile, the people I've met in Portland all universally rave about how incredible the city is. Other cities should be so lucky as to become another Portland.

Short stint back in Chicago notwithstanding, we're functionally moving to Portland from Berkeley, and that's clearly the best way to do it, because all the potential negatives of Portland are like baby versions of what you'd encounter in Berkeley. Homelessness crisis? I didn't see one person masturbating on the sidewalk on my visit. Housing prices? It's so cute what people outside the Bay Area think is expensive! Pretentiously crunchy granola vibes? Please -- Berkeley will take that granola, spit it out, and then eat it again freegan-vegan style.

So we're really just left with all the positives, including (normally) beautiful weather, lush greenery, a great restaurant scene, and a population that is markedly united in deep city pride. I wish there was an NHL or MLB team in town, but you can't have everything.

I'm so excited -- I can't wait for us to begin our new lives in the City of Roses.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Other Horseshoe

I was reading a fascinating review by Yair Wallach about how antisemitism was combatted during the 1917 Russian Revolution,* and he made an observation which in retrospect is very obvious but for whatever reason had never fully clicked with me before.

Many of us are familiar with the idea, often referred to as "horseshoe theory", that antisemitism serves a conduit between left and right-wing politics. Antisemitism bridges the left and the right, so that persons who begin in one milieu can end up finding affinity with persons in the other, united by shared antisemitic beliefs.

But Wallach observes that there is another potential "horseshoe" vector between left and right -- this one running through "anti-antisemitism". Here, left and right overlap based on real and perceived affinity for fighting antisemitism. Persons who feel, rightly or wrongly, that the left is not taking a strong enough stance on antisemitism, that it excuses antisemitism, that it has become infected by antisemitism, may -- need not, but may -- become enamored with right-wing actors who are every day loudly banging the drum calling out exactly these cases of antisemitism.

Just as the left, even if it may start from a principled position of "anti-imperialism" or "decolonialism", regularly finds itself keeping company with (and worse -- being sympathetic to!) outright antisemites whose Israel hatred is merely a subspecies of their Jew hatred, so too are there persons who begin from a genuine anti-antisemitism posture who find themselves in the company of, and eventually even sympathetic to, Islamophobes and other right-wing bigots for whom "fighting antisemitism" really just means hating Muslims and other non-White persons.

This is not something limited to antisemitism, either. One can see versions of this coming out of feminism (some feminists who truly hate what they see has the repressive characteristics of the hijab eventually floating into outright hostility to Muslims) or even anti-racism (some anti-racists whose beliefs in racial self-help and self-empowerment eventually lead them into hierarchical nationalism). If anything, what this demonstrates is that our politics are less organized and coherent as the simple left/right binary would have one believe -- there are all manner of tunnels, thoroughfares, and crossings that offer opportunities to quickly travel from one side of the ideological spectrum to the other.

But certainly this is something I have observed -- sometimes seemingly in real time -- in the Jewish case. The rise of the neo-neoconservatives is one example -- starting as liberals, such persons' travel to more conservative territory is very much greased by a perceived affinity for the sort of anti-antisemitism discourse emanating out of the right. A similar concept was alluded to when I spoke of the knife's edge of radicalization -- the right stimulus can cause someone to rapidly tumble over into ideological terrain seemingly incompatible with their own proffered beliefs. Bret Weinstein was a Bernie Sanders backer, after all! Now he's claiming liberal values are best being protected by the likes of Tucker Carlson.

Weinstein, for his part, illustrates another important point -- that the start of the journey across the horseshoe can very much be prompted by legitimate grievances. Based on everything I've read, Weinstein was indeed treated poorly by his community at Evergreen State. That doesn't justify him becoming a member of the intellectual dark web, anymore than legitimate grievances against the Israeli state justifies one becoming a tankie. But insofar as we're less interested in identifying who we can legitimately chide and more interested in undermining pathways towards people on the left adopting  right-wing politics, it's important to dispassionately map out how these journeys progress. 

And there's no question that at least some persons -- I have many, many more names in mind beyond Bret Weinstein, but I don't want to call anyone out -- make the trek over in part by traversing the causeway of "anti-antisemitism". Surely, anyone reading this knows of whom I speak.

It is unfair, and a gross exaggeration, to conflate noting the horseshoe's existence with saying that any progressive concerns in this arena are tantamount to indulging in right-wing politics. That's true if our horseshoe's base camp begins with legitimate concerns about Israeli policies, and that's true if our horseshoe begins with legitimate concerns about antisemitism in the left-wing, or Muslim, community. Taking the horseshoe seriously means not conflating anyone who expresses concern over the occupation with a David Duke aficionado, and not conflating anyone who expresses concern over Corbynist antisemitism with a Tommy Robinson fanboy. That sort of cheap gotcha politics can only be indulged in by people who don't take the underlying issue seriously at all; viewing it as fundamentally benign enough that it can turned into political sport.

For the rest of us, though, the darker truth is that the horseshoe -- insofar as it is a conduit between left and right -- is both a danger and a temptation. It's a danger because of the prospect of losing people to the right. It's a temptation because of the prospect of gaining people from the right. The conduit flows both ways. It takes a lot of discipline to know of the conduit's existence and even, gingerly, to try to reach through and pull people out of reactionary politics, without falling through it oneself and coming out the other side. That's true regardless of whether the consonance you're pulling on is emotive hostility to Jewish self-determination or snarling suspicion towards Muslim power; seething resentment of (((globalist financiers))) or furious loathing of (((cultural Marxists))).

If we're being honest with ourselves, all of us probably know which version of the horseshoe we're more vulnerable to. Some of us are more likely to be tempted by persons whose pure, uncompromising loathing of Israel is intoxicating even as it spills out and over into hatred of Israelis and Jews. Others of us are more likely to be seduced by those whose vocal, prideful denunciations of antisemitism is mesmerizing even as it laps against the walls of race-baiting and conspiracy-mongering.

We can pound our chests all we want and how very dare you the premise, and I don't need anyone to raise a hand and admit to anything.

Just -- be mindful. The conduit is there. Know yourself, know your weaknesses, and don't walk through it.

* Which is, of course, a very different question than how antisemitism was "combatted" -- which is to say, implemented -- by the Communist government after the revolution was over. The review (and I assume, the underlying book) do not pretend that the actually-established Communist regime was anything other than a disaster as far as antisemitism was concerned.

Are We Pro- or Anti-Enlightenment? And Other "Anti-CRT" Questions

On the one hand, the Jewish Journal's latest screed against the "Cultural Marxism" of Critical Race Theory, embarrasses me as a Jew -- not the least because (((cultural Marxism))) is a well-known antisemitic dogwhistle. On the other hand, the screed also embarrasses me as a political theorist, since the column's treatment of the political theories and theorists it mentions is so scattered and incoherent one can hardly remember what the underlying argument is supposed to be.

Some of the puzzles I was left with:
  1. I thought Voltaire was a hero of free speech and Enlightenment liberalism. But here I'm told Voltaire actually is an evil harbinger of contemporary leftism.
  2. For that matter, is the Enlightenment a good thing? I thought the anti-CRT folks were casting themselves as last guardians of the dying Enlightenment tradition, but here the Enlightenment is presented as a utopian nightmare opposed to "individual rights" and "free expression."
  3. I thought CRT was bad because it supposedly presents biological race as an immutable and totalizing feature of the self. But here it's bad because it recognizes race is socially constructed?
  4. What the hell is a "collectivist belief system" in this context? Telling me it is just "other words" for saying that race is socially constructed, racism is endemic, and racial progress tends to occur when it is to the advantage of racially dominant groups is less illuminating than one might think. Is "the new antisemitism" also a "collectivist belief system"?
  5. When did Cheryl Harris promote the outright abolition of private property? Because it sure wasn't in her "Whiteness as Property" article. Is this just Christopher Rufo spreading lies again (all signs point to yes)?
  6. What is the relationship of "cultural" to "Marxism" in "cultural Marxism"?
  7. And what makes any of this non-class based activity "Marxist" in the first place? Is "Marxism"  now just any theory that claims a certain group is discriminated against and wants to change society so that it no longer is? Is Zionism "Jewish Marxism"? Was the American revolution "American Marxism"? (And if that is the definition then I still can't figure out what "cultural Marxism" could possibly mean)?
  8. How on earth can "tech-titans and corporate leaders" be pursuing a Marxist agenda? If it's their agenda, isn't that a pretty glaring hint that the agenda -- whatever else it is -- is not "Marxist"?
There are so, so many more, but enough is enough. We sure could use a bit more rigorous inquiry, though.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Coming Now: Abolishing Qualified Immunity for Everyone But Killer Cops

A few weeks ago, I flagged remarks from Justice Thomas raising the prospect that the Supreme Court might get rid of qualified immunity for everyone but abusive police officers. Justice Thomas' rationale was that police officers have to make "split-second decisions" and so should receive more deference from courts, whereas, say, college administrators "have time to make calculated choices" regarding the policies they impose and so perhaps should be held to a stricter standard.

It is of absolutely no surprise to me to see the Eighth Circuit become (to my knowledge) the first court to race through the door Justice Thomas opened, in a case concerning the University of Iowa's application of non-discrimination policies to religious student organizations, in a context where that meant a Christian student group (InterVarsity) could not deny a leadership position to an individual who refused to affirm that same-sex relationships were against the Bible. Denying qualified immunity, the panel wrote:
We acknowledge that the intersection of the First Amendment and antidiscrimination principles can present challenging questions. See, e.g., Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm’n, 138 S. Ct. 1719, 1732 (2018) (noting that the conflict between Colorado’s anti-discrimination law and a baker’s First Amendment rights created “issues [] difficult to resolve”). “Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011). And, if applied properly, it protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Id. (citation omitted). 
But as Justice Thomas asked in Hoggard v. Rhodes, “why should university officers, who have time to make calculated choices about enacting or enforcing unconstitutional policies, receive the same protection as a police officer who makes a split-second decision to use force in a dangerous setting?” __ S.Ct. __, *1 (2021) (Thomas, J., statement regarding denial of certiorari). What the University did here was clearly unconstitutional. It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the Human Rights Policy—while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions they presumably supported. 

Way to get off the blocks quickly, Eighth Circuit!

I'd note that, while I don't think the court's decision in this case is clearly incorrect under governing precedent, I also don't think it is as "clear" as the court suggests. The court relied heavily on the fact that the university approved another student Christian group (LoveWorks) which required leaders to affirm support for gay relationships, claiming that such a requirement "violates the [university's] Human Rights Policy just as much as" InterVarsity's anti-gay requirement. But, at least as I read the record (and it is a bit murky as presented in the opinion), that isn't necessarily true.

If the university purported to deregister InterVarsity because no student organization could require a religious statement of faith as a leadership prerequisite, then I agree allowing LoveWorks' statement of faith but not InterVarsity's is viewpoint discrimination. But it seems that InterVarsity was deregistered not because statement-of-faith requirements were always banned, but because InterVarsity's statement violated the university's Human Rights Policy because it "effectively disqualif[ied] individuals from leadership positions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity." LoveWorks' statement, by contrast, obviously does not disqualify individuals from leadership on basis of sexual orientation, nor  does it appear to disqualify individuals along any other characteristic protected by the Human Rights Policy. So if Iowa's Human Rights Policy is itself considered viewpoint neutral -- and the panel agreed it was -- then the university's different treatment of LoveWorks and InterVarsity may not be viewpoint discrimination but rather a product of just correctly enforcing the policy.

This observation doesn't necessarily end the story in the university's favor -- there is some evidence of targeting religious groups for heavier university scrutiny, and the manner in which the university decided how to interpret the Human Rights Policy's requirements differently for different sorts of organizations may run afoul of the Supreme Court's new "most-favored-nation" doctrine regarding religious exemptions to generally applicable rules. As I said, the record seems a bit murky and I'm not sure that the ultimate decision against the university is wrong here under the prevailing precedents. 

But when I warned that the potential two-tracking of qualified immunity doctrine -- keeping it "for police officers using violent force, but abolish[ing] it for public university officials contending with the judiciary's rapidly evolving and often seemingly arbitrary campus free speech jurisprudence" -- this is very much the sort of case I had in mind. The intersections of free speech and anti-discrimination doctrine are indeed a nettlesome subject, no matter how much courts pretend they are easy, and university administrators are going to make some wrong calls whether they have time to "calculate" or not.