Toleration, Current Events

Has “Racist” Lost Its Sting?

Tyler Cowen asks today, if Trump wins, what’s the best theory of why? He offers a number of hypotheses, including that Hillary is unpopular, as well as cistscism:

2. A quite significant percentage of America is very directly racist.  I don’t mean statistical discrimination here, I mean “downright racist.”

Polls do tend to show that a large percentage of both Trump and Clinton supporters hold what are plausibly seen as explicitly racist views. Note that because of social desirability bias, these polls probably understate just how racist their supporters are.

Here I’ll speculate a little about racism. I wonder if being called racist has lost its sting, and I wonder if the Left has itself (or a loud subset of membership) helped to cause this.

Anecdotally, it generally seemed to me in all the places I’ve lived (working class Massachusetts neighborhoods, libertarianish New Hampshire, northern Ohio, southern Arizona, Rhode Island, NoVA, etc.) that the white people around me were horrified of racism and being called racists. Few of them would utter any explicitly racist claims or express such attitudes. While they no doubt probably had implicit bias, they generally pushed each other to avoid explicit bias. Granted, this is anecdotal, and perhaps other parts of the country are quite different. But keep in mind I’m not just talking about the fancy white people at universities, but working class Irish kids, kids from Ohio farms, and “the wrong kind of white people”. In short, however racist white Americans might be, most of them at least explicitly believed that racism was wrong and wanted to avoid being called or seen as racist. They wanted to be the good white people who rose above racism.

Over the past 15-20 years or so, though, it seems that the Left has often tried to take advantage of this to influence what white people believe. The Left has a strong tendency to call any non-Leftist views racist. Conservatives: “People should be rewarded for their hard work.” The Left: “Oh, that’s racist.” Conservatives: “Welfare policies invite at least some abuse.” The Left: “That’s racist.” Conservatives: “Campuses should be centers of open dialogue.” The Left: “That’s racist! You only say that because you’re racist.” Etc. Granted, not all leftists talk that way, but many do, and the ones that do are loud. Working at a university, it’s pretty clear that most campus leftists regard any form of conservatism as inherently racist, sexist, and degenerate. Watching the Daily Show gives the same vibe. Anything a moderate or a conservative says is racist.

I’m not sure whether these accusations were sincere or tactical. But many loud people Left seemed to operate on the theory that they can bully conservatives and moderates into compliance by calling them racist. “You don’t want to be racist, do you? Well, then you must accept my view of fiscal policy and trade theory.”

I wonder if this has backfired. Maybe there comes a point where people subconsciously go through the following kind of reasoning: “No matter what we say or do, the people with whom we disagree are going to see us as racists. They’ve made it clear that they think we’re racists. Well, if that’s the case, I guess there’s nothing to lose with actually being or becoming racists.” If everyone is going to believe you’re a thief no matter what you do, you might as well start stealing. Similarly, if everyone is going to say you’re a racist no matter whether you deserve it, then you might as well be racist.  Inadvertently, by overusing accusations of racism, the Left lowered the marginal reputation cost of being racist and lowered the marginal cost of uttering explicitly racist beliefs. By lowering the cost of racism, it made it so that more people “bought” it.

To be clear (though I expect a bunch of leftists to ignore this caveat), I am not saying that because people were being unfairly accused of racism, that it’s therefore okay for them to be racist. I’m not saying the Left should blame itself for the rise of racism. I’m just speculating about causation.

In principle we could test it with empirical data. It might be completely wrong.

By the way, on implicit bias tests, I score much lower than the rest of you, so before you go there, you’re all more racist than I am by a few standard deviations. Shape up, you racist jerks.


A variety of interesting responses.

Jeffrey Sachs and a few others suggest that overt racism isn’t actually any higher. Perhaps all that’s happening is that Trump’s making it clear how much there is.

John on Twitter suggested that the over-use of racism accusations make it the closeted racists come out, as such accusations make them think racism is more popular and prevalent than they’d thought. So, not “Oh, I might as well be racist if I’m gonna be called racist,” but rather, “Oh, hey, everyone is racist, too, so I won’t be shamed when I reveal I’ve been racist all along.” Of course, no one uses such self-descriptions.

  • Jason Kuznicki

    “If everyone is going to believe you’re a thief no matter what you do, you might as well start stealing. Similarly, if everyone is going to say you’re a racist no matter whether you deserve it, then you might as well be racist.”

    The difficulty I have here is that the two situations are not quite analogous. The payoff to stealing is obvious: You get stuff from it. The payoff to being openly racist is that people avoid and dislike you.

    • Jason Brennan

      The payoff is that hating and looking down on others is fun. Also the payoff is that we’re naturally inclined toward intergroup bias, so if you’re called racist no matter what, you have little incentive to avoid the bias and might as well indulge it.

      • Jason Kuznicki

        I may be improperly discounting that factor; I too score as not racist on the IAT. In fact, the only bias the test found in me was a bias toward egotism.

        • IllyC

          The IAT is not a test of racism. That is not at all what those studying the results have suggested. They have not operationalized racism. Where would you have gotten the result “not racist”?

      • After the Hillary Clinton “deplorables” comment, a lot of Trump supporters changed their handle names on Twitter to begin with “Deplorable”.

        • Craig J. Bolton

          And does that say that they are not deplorable, or that they are proud of the fact?

          • 1Gandydancer

            It says they feel derision towards people who call them deplorable, or “bitter clingers”. Like “racist”, the accusation is weightless and risible.

    • Mortado

      Not even true. If you have any common sense, you’d realize it isn’t wise to talk publicly about political views that fall too far outside the range of acceptable thought. This is true of everything from communism to Evolian traditionalism (libertarianism doesn’t count since, in most cases, it’s just the logical conclusions of Enlightenment liberalism and therefore socially safe). That doesn’t mean you can’t come to the realization on your own that what’s called “racism” in the West is more often than not just normal, healthy tribalism and that it’s pointless to try and keep up with the constantly changing definition of anti-racist. The satisfaction you get is from liberating yourself from worrying about whether you fit into the increasingly ridiculous definition of racist. Once you accept that you may be a racist, you also get to look at issues with whole new perspectives that were previously off-limits, which is always fun. As long as you aren’t open about it in public, being racist is great.

  • Sean II

    “2. A quite significant percentage of America is very directly racist. I don’t mean statistical discrimination here, I mean “downright racist.”

    Not if those Reuters questions are his evidence. Because those don’t get at anything except statistical discrimination.

    Respondents are called racist when they give the same answers you’d get from experts in psychometrics, employment screening, criminology, etc. They’re being punished for correctly stating official statistics. Not a sound method.

    • King Goat

      Ugh, I have to agree with SeanII (glad I have a shower planned later).

      I read Bouie’s Slate article to the effect of, Clinton’s ‘basket of deplorables’ comment was warranted because of these kinds of polls showing around 50% of Trump supporters finding ‘blacks’ to be ‘more violent,’ ‘more rude,’ ‘more lazy’ than whites. As I read it I thought, this should have been an easy breakaway slam dunk, but by using these survey results no basked is made. The reason is the questions, especially with the comparative ‘more,’ are not likely to be read as ‘blacks are inherently more violent, rude or lazy,’ which would be racist (and the kind of thing SeanII believes, he’d call them ‘Sub-Saharan populations instead of blacks though), but rather than can be understood as ‘currently, statistically more likely to engage in violence, rudeness, laziness.’ And one isn’t racist to recognize there’s objective support for this (violent crime rates for blacks just are disproportionately ‘more’ high than for whites, things that could be taken as ‘laziness’ like labor force non-participation are likewise, and there’s a strong cultural element of ‘rudeness’ in black culture that is sadly often celebrated-see the success of Martin Lawrence, Christ Tucker, and other ‘angry, rude, black man’ celebrities).

      Bouie and others could have pointed to the high numbers of Trump supporters favoring things like blanket bans on Islamic immigration, denying basic fundamental rights like marriage to gays, and Trump’s sweepingly general statements re: Mexicans if they wanted to show Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, etc.. But these questions, pretty ‘piss poor’ for that.

      • Sean II

        Better upgrade that shower to include anti-microbial soap, because I’m pushing for a second point of agreement.

        For we do have something else in common here: a sincere interest in the topic. We’d both like to know what explains the various group differences one sees in the world. I tend to favor one explanation, you another…but we’re alike in actually giving a shit about what the explanation is.

        That gives us a common enemy: people who don’t really care about the issue, but simply exploit it as part of a social imposture.

        Cowen and Brennan are smart enough to spot the obvious and fatal flaw in that survey’s method. If they failed to see it, it can only be because they don’t care to.

        Brennan and Kuznicki are also smart enough to spot the many flaws in the Implicit Association Test. Yet here they are, bragging about their scores, like a couple of clueless SWPL foils in an Onion piece.

        Think about it: in just 30 years, we’ve gone from “Some of my best friends are black…” to “Okay, I have no black friends…but some of my fastest keystrokes are fearlessly struck despite the presence of simulated black faces on my iPad!”

        Something tells me you’ll see the tragi-comedy in that, just as I do.

        • King Goat

          Aw, now you’re sweet talkin’ me!

          But let’s keep the Era of Good Feelings here going, because I think I, at least in some respect agree with you. People in general are very hesitant to talk about average group differences. Now, that’s to some degree understandable, both because 1. some awful things were in the past justified by conclusions in that subject, and so people are rightly ultra-skeptical of it and/or just kind of ‘bad form’ even if it’s the case and 2. a person can catch all kinds of hell for talking about it. When I was a TA, the professor I assisted taught a class on Psychological Testing, and he entirely omitted any discussion of, say, the black-white gap in standardized testing. Puzzled at how he could omit such a big, well researched topic, I asked him. He looked a bit dazed and eventually said, well, I think the gap is very real and substantiated, but talking about it would seem like ‘rubbing it in.’ But did he think everyone didn’t already know about the gap, and that such glaring omission would just invite speculation, maybe of the worst sort? It didn’t matter, he wasn’t going to go there! When I later taught that class, I discussed it. I may have used a type of ‘trigger warning’ by telling the class first that there was a fair amount of controversy at least into what was causing the gap, and then just went down what several important researches had found on the subject. I had black and white kids in my class, none of them seem very fazed or surprised…

          But why doesn’t someone like Brennan or Cowen, who doesn’t seem afraid to piss people off, talk about it more? Of course he’d have a better answer than I on that, but let me offer one: they’re ideologues. I don’t mean that in the bad sense, because ideologues can be committed to very good ideas. And while I’ve heard and get your argument that liberalism and by extension libertarianism don’t necessarily have to eschew the use of group average differences in forming their philosophical tenets, I think that as a historical-empirical matter most liberal thinkers and movements have done so. Take the uber-liberal thinker Jefferson and his ideas on toleration. I’d bet you dollars to donuts Jefferson thought that on average Catholics, or more extremely Muslims, make for less good democrats (small d) than Protestants. But he still thought that since Catholics and Muslims were *capable* of being democrats, the general rule had to be toleration for them as well as Protestants.

          That’s my take anyways. What’s yours?

          • Sean II

            My take is: why explain by fanaticism what can be explained by more usual suspects like jobbery and ignorance?

            Academic rent-seeking is nice work if you can get it. Good pay with off-the-charts job security. One of the few known ways to fuck that up is to start saying interesting things about race or sex. So almost nobody does, and you see a lot of very smart people who’ve mastered the knack of making themselves stone cold stupid when they need to be.

            Of course there’s also some plain ignorance involved. College professors only deal with the top 1/3 of the population, and at elite schools it’s more like the top 1/10. It doesn’t take long before they forget what the normal people in a normal distribution are really like…if they ever knew.

            Case in point: the lump sum UBI is an idea much beloved by think tankers and intellectuals, but it’s exactly the sort of thing you can’t take seriously once you’ve seen real-life poor people in action. All you have to do is describe the concept to a city school teacher, social worker, cop, ER nurse, etc. and they’ll be like “Oh, no, no, no. See what’ll happen is…[insert devastating objection here]”

            Nor is the problem limited to humanities profs. Awhile back I’m talking to this immunologist, and he caught me off guard me by casually mentioning, as an example of baseless stereotyping par excellence, “the myth that black people talk loud in movie theaters”.

            I coughed a little vaudeville cough, and said: “Remind me, where’d you train?”

            He goes: “Iowa, then Berkeley. Why?”

            I suspect a lot of the “non-racists” you find in surveys are like him. They rarely see group differences, because they rarely see different groups. And such people as they do meet are carefully screened members of a super-strata that is laughably the opposite of a representative sample.

          • King Goat

            I think there’s certainly, in addition to just not wanting to catch heck, some ignorance which leads to naïveté, and that naïveté could prove some of their ideas, if carried out, to be disasters. I like your UBI example, anyone who has worked with some ‘at risk’ populations can see that assuming many in them would manage direct transfers in anything other than a disastrous way is being head-shakingly naive.

            But don’t discount ideology, both in the sense of how strongly ingrained ideas of universalism, political equality and being against government policy adverse to any individual based not on anything provable about that individual, but rather membership in a group that has higher/lower mean X than other groups are in the liberal tradition both as an empirical-historical matter, but also as philosophical positions. The professor who finds his African colleague doesn’t fit the stereotype which does have support in higher mean amounts of the stereotype among blacks would be silly to deny that the mean group difference exists, but they’re not being obviously wrong if they draw from that that any policy based on that stereotype would be unfair to their colleague and many others like him. Since a long held hallmark of liberal thought is the old maxim ‘better to let ten guilty go unpunished than have one innocent be punished,’ any proposal that would say ‘better to punish all of people in group X because even though most don’t deserve punishment group X has a higher number of offenders than other groups’ is going to be even more out of step with the liberal tradition of thought.

    • Anomaly

      Excellent point. A few scholars are finally beginning to come out of the closet and challenge the left wing creationists who hold that all bias is irrational, and that believing in group differences makes you a racist.

      A few introductory essays on the topic:

      Unequal by Nature

      On the Reality of Race and Abhorrence of Racism

      Groups and Genes

      • Sean II

        I am indeed familiar with those sources. Crime science is a minor hobby of mine, so I really admire what Boutwell is doing to salvage his field from the fruitless swamp of 1960s style sociology.

        Hard to overstate the magnitude of the correction due for fields concerned with human behavior. When it all shakes out, we’ll face the sad truth that much of everything written on these subjects for a century was hopelessly confounded nonsense (and that certainly includes plenty of the libertarian share in such writings).

        Again and again the story will be: “This study failed to control for demography, throw it out. This one failed to control for heredity, use it to kindle the fire. This policy assumes everyone has an equal amount of X [normally distributed trait], it might as well paper the litterbox”.

        Sucks, really, to think of so many smart people wasting such a massive amount of time and effort.

        (Side note: that Pinker piece seems to be a heavily edited transcript of a talk he gave on Ashkenazi IQ to the Center for Jewish History.
        In it (the talk much more than the transcript) he gave a very good defense of open inquiry into group differences, hitting what I consider the key points: a) because reality won’t go away if we ignore it, b) because if we can’t use true explanations, people will be forced to invent false ones, and c) because the truth sometimes comes in useful for solving problems.

        • Anomaly

          Very well put. And for what it’s worth, I’m co-authoring an essay with Brian Boutwell right now.

          It’s kinda fun to see how far blank slaters will go to salvage the hopeless and anti-Darwinian thesis that (as they believe they know from their armchair) there cannot be any average cognitive differences between groups.

          Unlike when Jensen and Wilson were writing, this time is going to be different because (a) the evidence will be directly genetic and therefore virtually undeniable, and (b) human genetic variation will show why Asians and Jews, more than any other groups, have been discriminated against in a fruitless effort to completely close black-white gaps in countries like the US and UK.

          • Just passing by

            Could you please point out some of these ‘blank slaters’ for us? It helps to have something concrete.

          • Sean II

            Check out RealPeerReview on Twitter. They supply several examples per day.

      • King Goat

        It’s important to note that many who think that inborn differences may exist but don’t find them quite as powerful as you might don’t disavow that there are group differences in many important areas. In fact, in what Sean calls the ‘fruitless swamps of 1960s style sociology’ many of the top theories would *expect* that there would be very real (as opposed to results of government and other recording/measurement bias) group differences. I tend to favor subculture of poverty and violence theories, and they totally predict group differences at a harrowing level and which would make any honest social worker daunted to say the least

        Of course, those subcultural theorists are often pilloried as racists too.

  • urstoff

    Likewise, I have wondered if the rise of minority identity politics has led to the growth of white identity politics. If minority community leaders and pundits constantly frame issues in terms of what is good for minorities, then I don’t think it’s too surprising that a subset of whites will start to use these exact tactics and language to create a white identity politics (which is somewhat distinct from white supremicism, although there is definite overlap there on the alt-right). Note: all identity politics are execrable.

    • King Goat

      Ethnically conscious political movements and coalitions are nothing new though. The NAACP existed in 1920, it’s existence didn’t create the white nationalism that thrived at that time.

  • Jeffrey Sachs

    Upon seeing the prevalence of racist language and ideas in this campaign, a normal person would probably look at what the Left has been saying all these years about the persistence of racist thought in society and say “Yes, they were correct. This is exactly what they predicted.”

    Instead, Brennan has constructed a very different argument, one in which public condemnation first sends racism into decline, but then the Left goes too far, condemning *too* much, triggering a backlash effect in which otherwise non-racist people suddenly became racist. Not only does this mean that the Left was wrong in its original diagnosis, but that it is also partly the author of a great social evil.

    Since the first argument is much more straightforward, it seems to me that the only real advantage of the second one is that spreads some of the blame to Brennan’s ideological opponents.

    • Jason Brennan

      Dunno about that. Thing is, I’m much more on the side of the Left than the Right in almost everything. I voted Democrat a bunch of times and never voted Republican. So I don’t think I have much stake in this.

      But your counter-explanation doesn’t do much for us. Why is overt racism suddenly so acceptable when it was verboten for the past 20 years?

      • Jeffrey Sachs

        Yeah, I saw the caveat, but discounted it because absent any empirical evidence to substantiate your theory, and because my first argument has the advantage of parsimony, the only purpose of the backlash theory seems to be one of deflection, a la N. Rothman or K. Williamson. But I take your point and apologize.

        As for your response to my counter-explanation (“Why is overt racism suddenly so acceptable when it was verboten for the past 20 years?”), the latter half of that question is precisely what is in dispute. “Leftists” have been saying for decades now that overt racism is and has been broadly acceptable in our society, and it was only through selective blindness that it could be safely regarded as socially verboten. The Trump campaign (and again, this is the argument of the Left) has made such blindness impossible, making it appear to some as if what once was absent is now present. But the point is that it was never verboten, never cast away and defeated.

        So the Left’s long-standing claim is basically this: both implicit and overt racism are far more prevalent in our society than we care to admit, and Trump has gathered, organized, and articulated that racism at a national level in a uniquely effective way. The alternative explanation — that overt racism was verboten all this time and has only gained respectability (in the past 12 months? 18 months?) due to a propitiously timed anti-Left backlash — is just too convenient to be true.

      • King Goat

        Is ‘overt’ racism any more acceptable today than 20 years ago? Even Trump feels like it’s obligatory to show how ‘the blacks’ really love him and how they’re going to do great under him, and to employ a fair amount of black surrogates to go around pushing that message on the media.

    • bladedoc

      Has anyone done something crazy and actually asked? I have generally found that amongst my friends (who are generally conservative, if not Republican) and amongst whom I’m the only serious libertarian this line of thinking is mainstream. Basically it’s one of the reasons they give for the rise of Trump himself as the “f-you” candidate. “I believe that conservative fiscal policy is best for everyone and that makes me racist? F-you. I’ll show you.” It’s a direct rejection of the word’s power similar to how gay people embraced the terms “gay” or “queer”. If you think that some quality of mine that I believe in is “racist” than maybe that word doesn’t mean what you think it means and certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings any more.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    You write as though bullying people via the “racist” epithet were the monopoly of the left. It isn’t. Anti-Semitism is widely regarded as a form of racism, but in Europe and the US, those who accuse others of anti-Semitism tend to be on the right, and tend to do it as part of a rhetorical strategy in defense of Israel. Has this strategy (which rivals or exceeds any of the excesses of the left) lowered the marginal reputation cost of being called an anti-Semite? I don’t know, but I doubt it. I’m inclined to think that if the charge of anti-Semitism can be made to stick against you, your reputation is over. The difficulty the accusers face is not in destroying a reputation once the accusation has stuck, but in making it stick. They have a tendency of going after the wrong people (Walt and Mearsheimer, Tony Judt, Tony Kushner) and looking like idiots. But once they change their tactics, and go after Arabs, Muslims, and (generally) non-Jews, things may change. Omar Barghouti (the head of BDS) is widely reviled as an anti-Semite, and BDS is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic organization. Norman Finkelstein’s career is probably a case in point as well (despite his being a Jew and despite his parents being Holocaust survivors). And don’t get me started on Jeremy Corbyn et al.

    The payoff here is not a matter of mere “fun” but of political capital. If you call BDS (or generally, Palestinian activists) anti-Semitic, you don’t have to argue with them about the Israeli occupation. You can just change the subject and watch them have to defend themselves against your bullshit accusations for the rest of their lives. It’s a mistake to think that discourse about racism is discourse about black-white, or Hispanic-white relations, or even Islamic/non-Islamic relations. It ranges beyond well beyond that and always has.

    So anyway, that’s a partial counterexample to the argument of your post. I don’t dispute your account of the mechanism you describe. I dispute your account of who is employing it. I don’t dispute your claim that the left employs it. I would just point out that the right does the same, and worse.

    • Irfan Khawaja

      Sorry, my last paragraph is a little unclear and misleading. What I mean to say is: I don’t dispute your account of the mechanism you describe, as applied to the case you’re describing. But in other cases, like the one I’m describing, things are different. Loose accusations of racism are made, not by the left but by the right, and when those accusations are made, you don’t clearly get a “loss of sting.” That’s compatible with what you’re saying about the cases you’re discussing, but reflects a focus on a different set of cases, where something else is likely to be happening.


        Whatever Israel’s sins against the Palestinians, and they are usually grossly exaggerated, see, the BDS movement is by its very nature anti-Semitic. It ignores the far worse violations of human rights by dozens of other nations, including virtually all Muslim-majority ones, to focus on the sole Jewish-majority state. This is exactly like a white sheriff in the Jim Crow South only arresting blacks for crimes that are equally committed by whites. Then, when confronted, the sheriff denies racism on the grounds that, hey, the blacks I arrested ARE committing crimes.

        • King Goat

          “the BDS movement is by its very nature anti-Semitic. It ignores the far worse violations of human rights by dozens of other nations, including virtually all Muslim-majority ones, to focus on the sole Jewish-majority state.”

          By this logic the movement to boycott South Africa was ‘by its very nature prejudiced against white Afrikaners’ because ‘it ignored the far worse violations of human rights by dozens of other nations, including totalitarian African nations, to focus on the sole country controlled by white Afrikans.’

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Um, the BDS movement is GLOBAL, including on many US college campuses. The Palestinians themselves buy tons of goods and services from Israel, and many thousands work in the West Bank (and in Israel itself) for Israeli companies.

            ^ [This is my personal troll. I think he has a little too much time on his hands, as he follows me around BHL like a lost puppy dog, commenting on my comments. I am trying to discourage this, as I don’t have the patience to train him not to soil the carpet. Thus, I am now activating troll counter-measures…]

            Hey, Barnyard Animal, did I happen to mention that my Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World: The Politics of Natural Rights (Bloomsbury, 2015) received a really positive review in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, My favorite part is this (p.489): “It would be misleading, however, to suggest that Friedman simply speaks to shared beliefs. He often offers arguments that are remarkably lucid, succinct, and thorough, and he is honest when he does not know how to solve a problem.” Was that also your favorite? If you ask your Mommy really nice, perhaps she’ll loan you the money to buy a copy.

            BTW, I’m still looking for great stuff written by “King Goat,” but haven’t found it. Don’t fret, I’ll keep trying.

          • King Goat

            1. What does BDS movement being ‘GLOBAL(!!)’ have anything to do with anything we’re talking about? This is not so much as a non sequitur as it is perhaps some strange form of Tourettes (which I understand is a form of the autism you suffer from iirc, and if so my sympathies).

            2. “This is my personal troll.” Considering I responded to about half a dozen people before I did your goofy comment, that’s touchingly narcissistic if nothing else.

            3. “did I happen to mention that my Libertarian Philosophy in the Real World: The Politics of Natural Rights (Bloomsbury, 2015) received a really positive review ”

            You published a book. Kim Kardashian has two. Get over yourself. If you have points to make, make them. If someone rebuts them, try to answer them, if you can.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            South Africans confronting their oppressive government had the right to resort to BDS if they choose. So do Palestinians, but they do not in fact resort to BDS, as I have shown. The global supporters of BDS are electing to target Israel in preference to far worse regimes, and thus ARE anti-Semitic, like the racist white sheriff in my example, which you do not contest. Finally, comparisons between Israel’s actual treatment of the Palestinians and South Africa’s former treatment of its blacks is dreadfully inapt, as my link explains.

            You are a troll, and a none-too-bright one at that, so I’m done with you.

          • King Goat

            Mark, it’s you that is being quite dim, and it’s easily demonstrated.

            1. You criticize BDS because many Palestinians continue to work for and buy from Israeli enterprises. But South Africans called for boycotts of Afrikaner controlled South Africa while many of them, out of necessity, continued to work for and buy from Afrikaners.

            2. You say it’s damning that the ‘global’ supporters of BDS support boycott of Israel even though there are objectively worse regimes. But the global (and it was global, here in America and across the West we were urged to boycott South African products) movement to boycott South Africa also targeted them knowing full well there were objectively worse regimes (including some in Africa itself and led by Africans!). Again, you’ve failed to make a distinction here.

            3. I too think the Israeli and South African situation are not totally similar, but that’s neither here nor there in our debate which started with you making the goofy claim that because there are worse regimes out there, targeting Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic. You see, your problem is that there are numerous factors that can go into deciding who and when to boycott other than just how objectively bad the behavior objected to is. Other factors include matters of likely effectiveness or influence, for example. Americans boycotting North Korea, as an example of a clearly objectively worse nation than Israel (or South Africa pre-1994) would largely be a waste of time, NK has few ties to us anyways, is condemned regularly by our government, and is in no way ‘oriented’ towards the US or the West in general. Of course, none of that’s true for Israel.

            4. We should thank you for so perfectly exhibiting what Jason and then Irfan are talking about: the lazy, too-casual charge of anti-Semitism when there are other significant factors potentially responsible is exactly like the lazy, too-casual charge of racism. The result is of course to de-sensitize to those charges, ironically helping out the very thing you’d like to style yourself as crusading against.

        • Irfan Khawaja

          Even if I granted the first two of your sentences, which I wouldn’t, anti-Semitism wouldn’t follow. What would follow at best was the claim that BDS was guilty of inconsistency. But that’s insufficient for demonstrating anti-Semitism. There are many explanations for a double standard that fall short of an ascription of anti-Semitism. One possibility is overzealousness. Another is insularity. Another is a sense of desperation. All three make reference to errors of one sort or another, but none need make essential reference to anti-Semitism.

          In any case, since BDS is not an agent, it makes no sense to accuse “it” of “ignoring” far worse violations of human rights elsewhere. A movement has to have a delimited focus, and BDS focuses on Israel. It doesn’t follow, and isn’t true, that BDS activists, as agents, ignore human rights violations elsewhere. I know my share of them (some of them Jewish), and that claim about them is simply false. To put it mildly. BDS may be a worldwide movement, but its founder is a Palestinian, and he has an obvious motivation for wanting to be focused on the Palestinian/Israeli case.

          Your “white sheriff under Jim Crow” analogy fails. A sheriff is a law enforcement officer charged with equal enforcement of the criminal code. If he enforces it in a discriminatory fashion, and knows that he is, he’s guilty of racism. But BDS isn’t a law enforcement organization charged with equal enforcement of the laws. It’s an activist organization which (like all activist organizations) has a sharply delimited practical agenda: resistance to the Israeli occupation. It has a delimited agenda because activism is a highly demanding activity that requires specialized knowledge and experience but can’t call (by the use of coercion) on tax revenue in the way that a government agency can. (There are dozens of other differences, but those three are enough.) If an activist organization adopts too broad an agenda, it dilutes its efforts and fails. No activist organization can reasonably be expected to do activist work on behalf of “the moral law” without further discrimination as to beneficiaries (which is the absurdity that your accusation implies).

          There is in general no moral principle that requires an activist about X to be an activist about everything resembling X. The relevant moral principle is universalizability: you have to be *willing* to universalize your moral judgments so that your judgments about X are coherent with your judgments about everything resembling X. Given that willingness, how you apportion your time and energy on X versus non-X pursuits is a separate matter, and depends on a wide range of practical and personal considerations that go well beyond the mere universalizability of your moral judgments (a fact known to every activist on earth of whatever persuasion, but predictably baffling to armchair critics).

          That’s why Stand With Us doesn’t spend a lot of time standing with South Korea against North Korea, laudable as such activism might be– or in favor of the Pakistani government against the Pakistani Taliban, or in favor of the Kashmiris against India (or India against the Kashmiri separatists), or the Tibetans against China, etc. It asks its followers unapologetically to stand up *for Israel*, and focuses on that delimited task. No rational person would accuse Stand With Us of anti-South-Korean bias because it focuses resolutely on the defense of Israel while ignoring the threat that South Korea faces from North Korea. But your criticism of BDS is on par with such a criticism.

          What’s true of Stand With Us is true (mutatis mutandis) of BDS. BDS focuses on pro-Palestinian activism against Israel. There’s enough work to be done there to keep anyone “occupied” for quite a while without getting distracted by every other activist cause under the sun. The occupation has lasted almost 50 years, settlements have expanded, and expropriation has increased. That suggests that even the most concentrated activist efforts have led to zero in the way of political yield. Anyone who spends time engaging in that activism–as I have–knows the reason why. The reason is that it isn’t easy to be an activist when your adversaries have the legal right to shoot at you for engaging in it but you have no legal right to defend yourself. Nor is it easy when every non-violent attempt to resist the occupation is described, without further argument, as “anti-Semitic” (while people repeat the lie that there IS no “non-violent” Palestinian resistance).

          In other words, it’s OK for them to shoot at us without provocation (as they do), but we can’t call for divestment against them–because, well, BDS is “by its very nature anti-Semitic.”

          In short, you need a lot more than you’ve offered to make a charge of anti-Semitism stick, or even begin to. Consider that Jewish Voices for Peace is both Jewish and pro-BDS. Your claim entails that every Jew in JVP is as anti-Semitic as Bull Connor was racist. A stretch, to put it mildly. Your inability to see that suggests that you’re a little too quick on the trigger finger with accusations of anti-Semitism.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            The leaders and followers of BDS are moral agents, even though not law enforcement officers. They seek to exert leverage on their governments, universities, corporations etc, to harm Israel, while ignoring far worse states. People who chose to ally with BDS, instead of pressuring (say) Saudi, Egypt, or Pakistan are culpable for horrible moral judgment. They seek to pressure the “sheriff” to do exactly what my sheriff is guilty of. The best explanation for this blindness is anti-Semitism.

            In any case, BDS is NOT trying to reform Israeli policy. It does not accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish-majority state or one that would enjoy defensible borders. It plainly wishes to deny Jews the right of national self-determination enjoyed by all other peoples. Barghouti makes no secret of this. See Israel can never agree to these demands, so the purpose of BDS is clearly not to influence Israel to cease its alleged abuses, but to erase it from the map. That too is anti-Semitism.

            Finally, it should go without saying that I completely reject your characterization of the causes and nature of this conflict.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            The leaders and followers of BDS are indeed moral agents, but you’ve presented no evidence to suggest that their activism excludes activism against the Egyptian, Saudi, and Pakistani regimes. I’m a BDS fellow traveler.

            Insofar as you can call me a BDS “activist” (if speaking out is “activism”) I’ve been as vocal and vehement about Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as I have against Israel. I’ve never called for an outright boycott of Israel but I’ve called for a boycott of the hajj. Completely missing from your account are the millions (upon millions) of activists in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan who are actively opposed to those regimes and only passively supportive of BDS (but still supportive, and therefore still covered by your charge of anti-Semitism). Every one of those people is a counter-example to your ill-informed generalizations. I know dozens of such people personally. I also know BDS activists who are active on the anti-Egypt and anti-Saudi fronts (again, some of them Jewish). You neither seem to know any, nor do any figure into your deliberations on the subject. But your ignorance doesn’t stop you from leveling half-baked charges of “anti-Semitism.”

            It should go without saying that there are plenty of BDS activists who combine activism on more than one front. It doesn’t follow from that, isn’t true–and in fact, makes no sense–to insist that not only the individual activists but the movement as a whole must combine activism on Israel with activism on other issues. (The movement may, and sometimes does do that, but there is no defensible “must” that requires it to.)

            I make no secret of denying Jews a right of national self-determination. I never have. If that is a sufficient condition in your universe for calling me an anti-Semite, go ahead. I also make no secret of denying Pakistanis the same right, and make no secret of asserting (in Pakistan, to Pakistanis, many of whom agree with me anyway) that Pakistan, as an Islamic Republic, has no right to exist (as an Islamic Republic). It should never have come into existence in 1947, and we should do what we can to make it go out of existence, at least under that description. I’m hardly alone in holding either view, whether about Pakistan or about Israel or about both. (If that makes me an anti-Pakistani racist, go ahead and say that, too. In fact, your position requires you to say it, since it would be racism on your part to restrict your focus to Israel. If I’m against Zionism but also against Pakistan’s founding ideology, to avoid racism, you should condemn both of my malfeasances, not just the one. Please do, as I’d like to share it both with my Pakistani friends/relatives and with my co-celebrants at services for the High Holy Days, coming up soon.)

            Mutatis mutandis, I would say (and have said) the same thing about Israel as I just said about Pakistan. Far from being some outre racist claim, anti-Zionism is now the subject of rigorous academic discussion, not by anti-Israeli activists opportunistically bringing up Pakistan to cover up implicit anti-Semitism, but by critics of the existence of Pakistan drawing parallels between Pakistan and Israel. In your book, I guess Faisal Devji is an anti-Semite, too (who isn’t?). Feel free to join the chorus demanding his termination at Oxford, since your view entails a priori that he is one.


            In fact, Devji’s scholarship is focused on Pakistan, not Israel. But it is clearly anti-Zionist in its basic presuppositions (which is just to say that it’s in favor of a secular state based on equal rights, whether in Pakistan or in Israel/Palestine). His point is that what is wrong with Pakistan is what is wrong with Israel: Pakistan’s ideological founding and founders were remarkably similar to Israel’s, and Pakistan faces remarkably similar problems today. (Read the book blurb above.)

            Saudi Arabia doesn’t pretend to exemplify a right of national self-determination (or rights generally), but suffice it to say that I think the Saudi monarchy should be overthrown. In that sense, I don’t think Saudi Arabia has any right to exist, and my criticisms of it have always consistently been more vehement than anything I’ve said about Israel. I’ve visited both places, and Saudi Arabia is *obviously* worse, something I’ve said ad nauseum to anyone who’s cared to listen.

            But much of this is beside the point, because you’ve simply ignored the main claim I was making. The claim, which you haven’t touched, is that activism isn’t law enforcement, and can’t be judged by the same standards. Activism is necessarily selective in a way that law enforcement can’t be. The focus of law enforcement is set and delimited by jurisdiction. A sheriff enforces the law in his own county, but does so impartially within that county. But he’s partial to the county at the expense of other counties, which he ignores (ceteris paribus). It would make no sense to accuse a sheriff of bias for failing to arrest offenders in a neighboring county. He can’t be expected to do that.

            It likewise makes no sense to accuse an activist focused on issue X of bias for not engaging in activism on issue Y as long as, if questioned, the person is willing to universalize the moral claims he makes about X to Y. Issue X may be instantiated all over the place, on a scope much bigger than an American county. Or it may have wide-ranging ramifications. There are also severe constraints of time and resources on activists not faced by law enforcement officials. Law enforcement is a job; activism is something you do on top of your job. Law enforcement can call on tax revenue; activism can’t. Further, law enforcement is culturally lionized, at least in the US. Activism is stigmatized. So activism is an uphill battle in a way law enforcement is not.

            For those reasons, it’s enough for activists to focus on one topic at a time without their having to dilute their efforts across dozens of similar topics. Labor unions focus on labor rights. BLM focuses on black lives. AIM focuses on American Indian rights. The Gulf Artist Labor Coalition boycotts the Gulf Arab countries (not Israel). Stand With Us focuses on Israel/Palestine. BDS focuses on the same.

            If you understand what activism is and what it requires, it makes no sense to criticize any of these groups for focusing on what they focus on. You might as well criticize Jason Brennan for focusing his scholarship on the ethics of voting rather than the ethics of driving. Imagine the following criticism of Brennan: “Why voting? Why not driving? Is he biased against drivers? Against roads? Does he not care about the menace of drunk drivers? Is he perhaps sympathetic to drunk drivers? Could he just BE a covert drunk driver? Surely his silence in this conversation proves that there’s something in his driving record he wants to hide….” These are transparently stupid questions and criticisms. Their equivalents don’t become intelligent when put in the context of BDS.

            If you disagree with my claim, try dealing with it instead of ignoring it. Is it your view that an activist is obliged to be an activist about every (like) thing in order to be an activist about some one thing? If so, why not try dealing with the examples I gave you in just the way I dealt with the example you gave me? If BDS is required to be focused not just on Israel but on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan (etc.), why isn’t Stand With Us required to be focused on South Korea, Kashmir, India, Tibet, Ferguson, Newark, Oakland, Cincinnati (etc.)?

            In fact, neither group is obliged to spread its efforts thin in this way. The “requirement” in question is simply silly, a conflation of what is required of one’s judgments and what is required of one’s actions. No one thinks that if I support one charity, I have to support every charity devoted to the same cause (or similar ones). Nor do rational people think that if I support cancer research for entirely personal reasons, I display a bias against AIDS research because I don’t give as much to it (or vice versa). Or if I give to brain tumor research I must be biased against veterans causes. “What kind of bigot supports brain tumor research while NOT giving a cent to brain TRAUMA research? Obviously someone who hates our troops.” That was meant as a reductio, not as an example to emulate.

            When it comes to charity, in principle I may support one cause while not devoting my resources to any others. The same thing is true, mutatis mutandis, of political activism. Activism resembles charitable activity much more than it resembles law enforcement.

            On ETA2, it is true that both the BDS activist and the racist sheriff *could* say the same thing in defense of themselves. It doesn’t follow–and isn’t true–that if X says the same thing as a racist, X is a racist even if the claim has no overt racial content. Even aside from the disanalogy between law enforcement and political activism, you’re begging the question here. We know ex hypothesi that the sheriff in your example is a racist. That’s how the example was set up from the start. What has to be *proven* is that the BDS activist is also a racist. It certainly is *not* proven by comparing the face-value similarity of the wording they use. A racist and “another person” (of whom racism has not been proven) could–easily–say the same things in defense of some action of theirs. That the racist could use those words to conceal racism does not entail that the other person is a racist because he uses the same words. To infer that is not just a non-sequitur but a paradigm of injustice. Imagine going into a courtroom and claiming that the suspect is guilty because he talks “in just the way that guilty people do when they falsely protest their innocence.” Well, *that* evidence is as compatible with guilt as it is with innocence. To use it as evidence of guilt while excluding innocence is to confess oneself ignorant of even the rudiments of impartiality or valid inference.

            But that’s what you’ve done, for all the world to see. For which I thank you. That confession has made this otherwise tedious and mostly off-topic conversation worthwhile. We now know how recklessly you will accuse someone of anti-Semitism. If they are critical of Israel, and if they focus in their activism on Israel (even if, like Omar Barghouti they are dispossessed Palestinians), you will simply ignore every other consideration–including their other activism focusing on other issues–to conclude that they are the moral equivalent of Bull Connor. By this logic, every person who put his life on the line against the Egyptian regime(s) during the Arab Spring was an anti-Semite if they were also a BDS activist. That they put their lives on their line to protest the Egyptian government is of no interest to you, despite the fact that you didn’t lift a finger to do anything comparable. It’s their job to die in droves protesting Egypt, and their job to keep quiet in the face of a 50 year Israeli occupation. Since they didn’t also march in the same streets against the Saudi monarchy and the Nawaz Sharif government and Erdogan and the Yemenis and the Sudanese…they can’t protest Israel. If they do, they’re anti-Semites. Feel free to believe that, but if you want to defend it, you’ll need arguments better than anything you’ve mustered so far.

            That said, I have never said–and don’t believe–that we can only detect racism in cases where people confess it. But in cases where they don’t confess it, we need better evidence than “they sound a lot like a Jim Crow sheriff” before we pull the trigger.

            My original comment was a response to Jason Brennan. I pointed out that the phenomenon of leveling accusations of racism was not a monopoly of leftists, but had other sources as well, plausibly described as right-wing in orientation. We haven’t heard from him on the topic (this happens with remarkably frequency), but I’m going to rest my case now. I tend to do that when after thousands of words and a half dozen go-rounds, no one mentions the point I was actually making, much less refutes it. Maybe that’s evidence of bias against the comments that have yet to be written. Or maybe it’s an example of rational choice under constraints of time, energy, and information. Kind of like what happens in activism.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            In the interests of conserving my time, I tried with my last comment to cut to the chase. I believe, however, that I said quite enough to discredit your arguments. Nevertheless, since you insist that I be more explicit, I will oblige.

            With respect to my sheriff example, you say: “We know ex hypothesi that the sheriff in your example is a racist. That’s how the example was set up from the start. What has to be *proven* is that the BDS activist is also a racist.” This is a very superficial analysis. There is nothing inherent in this case that requires us to posit that we know the sheriff to be a racist. Let’s say that all we know is that he only arrests blacks, and not whites guilty of the same crime (more realistically, arrests blacks for lesser crimes). When accused of racism, he denies it.

            You then state: “I have never said–and don’t believe–that we can only detect racism in cases where people confess it. But in cases where they don’t confess it, we need better evidence than “they sound a lot like a Jim Crow sheriff” before we pull the trigger. Strangely, you never say what sort of evidence would suffice. And, critically, as discussed below, it’s not how BDS “sounds” that justifies the charge of anti-Semitism, it is what they are attempting to do.
            Since we are talking here of what we can infer from an agent’s actions, the fact that BDS is not law enforcement, hardly seems to be a key fact. Indeed, BDS activists are just trying to accomplish indirectly what my sheriff can do directly. They are pushing him (the US, EU, UN, etc.) to “arrest,” under cover of international law, only blacks and not whites, even though the whites are committing far worse crimes. And, even though this is done through political rather than legal means, it reflects the same indefensible moral judgment.

            You waste several paragraphs explaining the obvious, i.e. that people must be permitted discretion in the causes they pursue, charities they support and so on, but miss the fact that BDS is not simply “activism.” As I have mentioned before, it does not seek to educate and persuade like StandWithUs and a million others, but to destroy Israel’s economy, and thus directly harm ordinary Israelis, including the roughly 20% of Israeli citizens who are Arab/Muslim. I am aware of no other comparable movement. It is simply one set of people attempting to harm another.

            Thus, BDS is not one “worthy” organization among many that people might join, but a weapon solely wielded against Israel. Before undertaking such a destructive mission, an agent should be sure that they are deploying this weapon against the right party in a conflict, and that it has a reasonable chance of success. As already explained, BDS fails both prongs of this test.

            Now, it is possible that people with no direct stake in this conflict are supporting this reprehensible movement based on motives that are not anti-Semitic. There is no way to look into the hearts of millions of persons and be absolutely sure [Note: and however fascinating I may find your personal narrative and perspective, it is evidence of nothing]. It is conceivable that of the many dozens of (as you acknowledge) worse states, BDS supporters have all innocently (if mistakenly) glommed onto the sole Jewish-majority one, ignoring the many Muslim ones they might attempt to influence (more accurately, harm).

            I can imagine that the BDS folks are seeking to destroy (by means of the “unitary state”) the sole liberal democracy in the region and the only refuge in the world for worldwide Jewry out of ignorance or naiveté. It is possible that they are unaware that the unitary state they seek would have disastrous consequences for all Israelis, which explains why, when polled, 77% of Israeli ARABS say they would rather live under Israeli governance than under the PA: All that is possible, in exactly the same way it is possible that my sheriff, who steadfastly denies being a racist, only arrests blacks because he just isn’t interested in arresting whites. That’s still racism, whatever you may prefer to call it.

            No, the simplest, best, and only plausible explanation of this phenomenon is that it is just another manifestation of the mental disease called anti-Semitism that has infected the world for many hundreds of years. Even supposing that universalizability is somehow the Holy Grail of moral philosophy, I’m pretty sure that you can’t consistently universalize anti-Semitism, so I have ignored your reference to it.

            Your attempted parallel between Pakistan and Israel is risibly inapposite. For one thing, Israel is the sole refuge for persecuted Jews, while there are many dozens of Muslim-majority states. Second, Israel is not a Jewish theological state. It has unfortunately ceded to the Orthodox control over certain lifecycle and religious issues (marriage, divorce, conversion), but these strictures can usually be circumvented, and this monopoly is slowly changing. In all other ways Israel is a liberal democracy, with separation of powers, regular parliamentary elections, a free press, a constitution, and an independent judiciary. Most significantly of all, its citizens have internalized those attitudes that promote the rule of law.

            In contrast, Pakistan is the place where rights go to die, where an authoritarian government, dependent on military support, rules, where minorities (including Muslim ones) are murdered at will, where gays and women are horribly oppressed, where blasphemy laws are enforced, etc. It is a state where according to the Pew foundation’s polling, 84% of the population favors the imposition of sharia law and religious courts to decide family and property disputes; where over 70% favor stoning to death for adultery; over 60% favor death for apostasy; over 70% say wives must always obey their husbands, etc. (sadly, Pew didn’t ask about Charlie Hebdo). See It is a pathological state, and should be dissolved. But, for anyone whose mind is not trapped in the 7th C., the case for Israel’s existence is just a little stronger.

          • King Goat

            Irfan, of course Mark doesn’t reply in *any way* to your *five paragraphs* (3-8) directly rebutting his ‘argument’ that since there are worse nations than Israel focusing a protest at the latter and not the former necessarily indicates anti-Semitism. He just repeated his original assertion without addressing any of your points, examples and hypotheticals. Not one. My question to you: did he not read those five paragraphs or did he but not understand them?

          • Irfan Khawaja

            I’d rather not speculate. But you’re right that he didn’t.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Good points, all. There is also I think the widespread awareness that Israel is structurally a colony, run by an assortment of European settlers. As one of the last colonies formed by “the West” in Asia, Israel does stand out. Repudiation of colonialism is not intrinsically anti-Semitic, unless Friendman argues that the conquest of Palestinian land is intrinsically Jewish. Personally I think the equation of Zionism and Judaism is closer to anti-Semitism than BDSM.

            Further, there is the direct monetary support for Israel (minimum of $38 000 000 000 this year, I think,) which makes Israel a special responsibility for BDSM. Saudi at least pays for all its guns.

            There are many of us who would like to see merely correct relationships with confessional states, without alliance, much less support. The adamantine commitment to the Saudi in particular is horrible. But unlike Friedman, I think this is an inconsistency to be deplored. Instead, the US policy as of today is to discriminate against secular national states, such as Syria or Libya or Iraq.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            I think you mean BDS, not BDSM, i.e., Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions–not Bondage, Discipline, and Sado- Masochism. Even I don’t hold Israel responsible for the latter. Typo aside, I agree with your basic point.

          • stevenjohnson2

            Re BDSM: Indeed, evidently the Mormons are responsible for BDSM, as opposed to BDS.

            (Yes, joking!)

    • King Goat

      Irfan, you’ve got a point there about how the Right uses the charge of ‘Anti-Semitism’ in much the same way the Left does ‘racist’ (too casually and to try to end debate). But I wonder if that doesn’t lend support to the thesis here: I see more people shrugging off the charge of ‘anti-Semite’ inevitably and predictably tossed out in any internet comment section debate about Israel probably because of it’s overuse leading to it’s ‘sting’ being less potent…

      • Irfan Khawaja

        I agree, there’s something to that. I think it’s just an open question without a clear-cut answer.

        In other words, both things may be true. It could be that over-use of the “anti-Semitism” charge has made it lose its sting. But it could also be that once the charge can be made to stick in a particular case, it *completely* destroys that person’s reputation and career. Just look at the cases of William Salaita or Norman Finkelstein.

        But it’s not even that “both” things could be true. It’s that the truth is just complicated. It could also be that in some cases, even if the charge of anti-Semitism can’t quite be made to stick, it creates a cloud over someone’s work and reputation that never quite goes away. That’s what’s happened to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. People don’t quite believe that M&W ARE anti-Semites. But they can’t help suspecting it, given how often the charge has been repeated and by whom (e.g., the ADL).

        In any case, the equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, as well as BDS with anti-Semitism, has been pretty effective. You can’t, in the United States, describe yourself as an anti-Zionist without being regarded as having confessed to anti-Semitism. That’s probably why the President feels the need to go out of his way to stress his support for the *Jewish* and democratic character of the State of Israel.

        Israel is the only state that American presidents will support precisely because of rather than despite its sectarian character. The reason is obvious: to do otherwise would be to court an accusation of anti-Semitism. You don’t see Obama praising the specifically Islamic character of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

        In short, the whole thing’s a mixed bag. But that’s why I’d insist that Brennan’s OP is so oversimplified. There’s more to racism than black/white relations.

        • King Goat

          Irfan, good points and examples. I wonder though if there might be a difference worth noting between the ‘sting’ of lazy charges of anti-Semitism inevitably hurled at anyone who is critical of Israel in terms of public outrage and the power of highly organized and well funded ‘pro-Israel’ groups and donors to ‘blackball’ those charged with anti-Semitism. In the case of Salatia, for example, there was a considerable chunk of the public, especially academic public, which seemed unimpressed with the charge and opposed his treatment while at the same time we now know that behind the scenes pressure from pro-Israel groups and big donors largely pushed the college to improperly rescind his offer. In this sense, lazy fanatics like our Mark are indeed, and ironically, diluting the moral authority of accusing someone of being anti-Semitic, but the charge still wields power when powerful, highly organized pressure groups get behind it.

          • Irfan Khawaja

            That’s entirely plausible and coheres with what I said. If a charge of anti-Semitism is going to stick, it has be supported by a pro-Israel group with a track record and political clout when it comes to making such charges. If it does, the target is likely to suffer for it. Otherwise, perhaps not.

            Again, I think there’s something to the mechanism that Brennan is describing in the original post. Even if you factor in criticisms like the ones Jeffrey Sachs makes nearby, Brennan’s hypothesis still remains plausible. It needs to be tweaked, studied, and confirmed, but I think it’s a good bet that *something* like his hypothesis is true. My point is that the hypothesis has to be disentangled from the hand-waving claims he’s making about “the left.” The hypothesis doesn’t just have application to the left. It has application to gratuitous charges of racism, whoever makes them. The left does make them, but so does the right. It’s not clear who makes them more often, and it probably doesn’t matter. But the right makes them often enough to figure in the discussion.

          • I see two classic accusatory pathologies deployed by groups and organizations that are fiercely pro-Israel. If the person that they wish to excoriate is not Jewish, then they are anti-Semitic. If the person happens to be Jewish, then they must be a “self-hating Jew”. Both are juvenile slurs intended to choke off discussion and debate, and absent any clear proof, deserving only of ridicule and dismissal.

  • Steven Horwitz

    I’m more partial to the “look how well identity politics worked for everyone else, now it’s our turn” explanation. I think there are a good number of people who, as Jason says, have tried to do the right things on race and be “good white folks” only to see the sorts of politically correct bashing that he discusses. Rather than actually become racist, as I share Jason K’s skepticism about the thief analogy, they simply have decided that white folks need a piece of the political pie. Sometimes that manifests as racism, but other times it’s simply the refusal to give sanction to the moral code of PC and other times its fighting for policies that they think will disproportionately benefit them qua whites.

  • Ben Kennedy

    Another closely related concept from the left is Privilege, which is pretty much “you are an unintentional racist whether you like it or not”

    • King Goat

      A more charitable interpretation: “you may have benefited from being born who you are in ways you might not be immediately aware of.”

      • Jeff R.

        That’s one half of a motte and bailey routine, if you ask me.

  • j_m_h

    I would agree that the leftist goal of eliminating racism and making something of a “we’re all equals” (assuming that was actually the goal) type of society backfired. To me the problem is that we’re rapidly getting to the point where it’s okay to discriminate as long as it’s not against a protected class. This leads to new laws to grant status of protected to whatever the flavor of the year/decade is and for groups to start seeing themselves as disenfranchised if they don’t have a law protecting them specifically.
    While I suppose it’s somewhat interesting to speculate about something that no one will ever really be able to answer — why Trump wins should he win — beyond the simple he got the required number of votes I’d be much more interested in the speculation about what will occur under his presidency. At least that has some chance of offering empirically verifiable answers across a much larger set of questions than what a 100 million might have been thinking.

  • Jeffrey Sachs

    Consider the case of Canada.

    The anti-racist Left in Canada is highly organized, arguably wielding far greater political power here than its counterpart does in America (e.g. human rights tribunals, aggressive multiculturalism, etc.). Canada is also exposed to virtually the exact same media landscape as the US. As a result, IF Brennan’s argument is correct, we would expect to see a similar politics of white racist backlash.

    But we don’t — not even close. Now, normal caveats apply: comparisons are hard/complex variables/endogeneity, etc. But just at a surface level, this is a real problem for the backlash argument.

    • King Goat

      Wow, very good point!

    • John Dougan

      I think that is mainly because the major historical conflict in Canada has been anglophone vs. francophone, not white vs. black. Talk to older Canadians in various parts of the country and you’ll get a different view. To the francos, the anglos are all out to get them and destroy their distinct culture (and pre quiet revolution, there was some truth to that). Conversely for the anglos, the francos are out to take all or tax money and want special privleges, disproportionate to their size (cf language police, bilingualism).
      After the last rounds of talk and the failed separation referendum, things have cooled down some, so younger people aren’t as affected.

    • This point only works if you ignore First Nations issues and the terrible backlash white people unleashed and continue to unleash against them.

  • Jeff R.

    I think there’s merit in this argument, and I’dd add that I think hypocrisy and double standards play a role, too, in de-legitimizing accusations of racism in the minds of many on the right, too. To choose one obvious example, think of the way feminists will loudly denounce any kind of perceived sexism or misogyny in American culture today, although somehow that never seems to include rap music, but somehow does include scantily clad female video game characters(?). Likewise, Al Sharpton can say all sorts of nasty things about Jews and remain a mainstream, popular media figure, something it is, for better or worse, not possible for people on the right to do.

    • stevenjohnson2

      But, Al Sharpton is not a mainstream, popular media figure. He serves as a safely unpopular representative of dissident views, trotted out to vent predictable views in controversies. He is a hissable villain in media metanarrative.

      I will be happy to examine his official credentials as a mainstream, popular figure, though.

  • stevenjohnson2

    It’s one thing to speculate about how much racism, implicit or overt there is. Or about the role of such in Trump’s rise to power. It is even on thing to speculate about whether racism is on the rise. But is it abusing the privilege of speculation to hypothesize a cause (the “Leftist” canards) for these speculative phenomena?

    No doubt Jason Brennan is always perfectly rational, but for the rest of us, a good way to check how reasonable we are being is to consider alternative hypotheses. In this case, to be precise, two alternative hypotheses? First, that the civil rights reforms (the ones that were the last gasp of greatness in America?) did not abolish individual, psychological racism and there is no rise of racism to “explain.” Second, that the mass media consistently falsify the true state of affairs, have disappeared this racism lest coverage foster demands for further reforms in society, so that it pretends to be shocked, shocked every time that demagogues appeal.

    We might go further, and wonder if there is no genuinely clear distinction in practice (as opposed to concepts in political philosophy,) between racial and religious bigotry, or for all the panoply of reactionary prejudices justifying the status quo.

    • My take on the hand-wringing about the resurgence of racism is that legislation against racism, which was passed in the UK at around the same time as the US Civil Rights legislation, did not eliminate racism. It simply made it socially unacceptable in most communities and social situations. So racists rapidly learned to only talk about racism in private among trusted family and friends, while listening carefully to others for “tells” and “dog whistles” indicating support for their worldview. Hence the rise of political “dog whistles” to signal tacit approval of the idea of discriminating on the basis of race.
      So I tend to agree that there is no resurgence as such. All that is happening is that the collection of various types of individuals who normally keep very quiet about their racism have been emboldened to start not only talking about it, but in some cases revelling in it. The shallow end of the Twitter pool is currently awash with those kinds of people.

      • stevenjohnson2

        I think you’re right. In the US, the structural political reforms doing away with de jure racism meant that continuing the old style racism was continuing losing politics, so elite support for the old forms diminished. But racism I think is not some sort of natural thing that somehow flows from the essence of the vulgar masses, but a social/political construct. Like lynch mobs headed by the local big shots.

        For instance, people don’t just hate immigrants because that’s the way they are, some have hated and feared immigrants because some leaders have propagated a narrative that blames real ills on them.

        It’s like those people who really believe that lots of money is being spent on foreign aid. Formally, this is just psychotic. But individually they are in contact with reality. It’s just that crazy ideas spread by vested interests are not systematically refuted. It’s a version of thieves’ honor, one grifter never blows another one’s scam.

        I think libertarians think of this sort of thing as the marketplace of ideas.

        • I might also add that my experience of contact with people in the UK who were racists and/or religious bigots, and particularly looking at Northern Ireland, is that once people become cognitively wedded to a worldview containing racism as one of its components, it is unlikely that they will modify that part of their worldview. Sadly, it seems that only death removes those worldviews from active circulation.

  • Craig J. Bolton

    It is curious (or maybe not) that a group of scholars who might describe themselves as left libertarians is still captive of the rhetoric of other libertarians, libertarians who are explicitly NOT left. So if “racist” has become less odious, the cause must be that, once again, THE LEFT is responsible. This constant “find the blame in the left” is tiresome. And it is not at all convincing.

    • hgfalling

      This just takes the easy empirical observation that:
      P(X is of the left | X called Y a racist) >> P(X is of the right | X called Y a racist)

      • Craig J. Bolton

        Really. Well if that is an empirical observation rather than an intuition then I’m sure you can cite to the well controlled studies, right? As pointed out above one interpretation of “being a Jew” is “racial” (or at least tribal). I have personally been referred to as a “self hating Jew” by a number of people who are proudly and very loudly rightwing. So my intuition, or, if you prefer pseudo-empirical observation, differs from your intuition

    • Just passing by

      This’blame the Left’ for everything is shared by Mises Institute, CATO, and BHL types alike. Only (some of) the libertarians with Right intentions from Mises Institute appear to be aware of their own rhetoric echoing an old World Anti-Communist League brochure. I mean, this is a movement that will (begrudgingly) condemn Jared Taylor while throwing a dinner honoring Charles Murray– even though both these racialists share the same sources. Maybe it isn’t malice on these libertarians’ part– but ignorance and desire to belong to the group. And maybe you, Craig, just know too much….

    • Just passing by

      The dominance of reductionist Right/Left rhetoric has aided the rise of the ‘alt-right’. Libertarians like Lew Rockwell, Stefan Molyneaux, and Tom Woods couldn’t be happier– while those who might oppose its fascism look contradictory and defanged.

  • Here’s another possibility: Americans are less racist now than ever before, and so any public figure or organization who profits from identity politics can only maintain his or her livelihood by amplifying claims of racism. Is there empirical evidence for this? Yes. Consider the many cases of campus groups staging fake hate crimes to garner support for their cause.

    I believe that racism in America exists, and I believe it is systemic. But today it looks nothing like it did in the past, and the hysterical cries of racism from leftist progressives are now too difficult to take seriously. Yes, this has encouraged the alt-right by giving them excellent troll-fodder. By now it should be obvious to everyone that the bulk of modern racism is systemic in that police forces and bureaucracies are staffed by petty bigots who use whatever small amounts of power they have to be vindictive against easy targets. But that is fundamentally a size-of-government problem, not an Americans-are-racist problem. Of course, nobody profits from reducing the size and scope of government, but there is always the risk that the public’s appetite for building more bridges to nowhere and shooting every black person at a roadside check point will wane, so the profiteers have to keep up their huff.

    • Sean II

      “by now it should be obvious to everyone that the bulk of modern racism is systemic in that police forces and bureaucracies are staffed by petty bigots….”

      “Systemic racism” is a bullshit term. Generously translated it means “we couldn’t find evidence of actual people engaged in actual discrimination, but we did find lots of disparity…and since it CAN’T be that we were wrong about discrimination causing the disparity….since it can’t be that, there is just one remaining possibility: the discrimination is more insidious than even we feared, because it’s being carried out by some ghost in the machinery of institutions”.

      Bluntly translated it means: “the less evidence we find of discrimination, the more we believe in it”.

      Madness. The better explanation is: maybe those disparities – which are found everywhere, which persist remarkably across time, and which indeed change little even in the face of reverse discrimination engineered to undo them – maybe they’re caused by something other than discrimination.

      Also and more importantly, you don’t seem to know anything about the people you’re describing. How lazy – and indeed, how bigoted can one get – to sit there and say “here’s a social outcome I don’t like…’it should be obvious to everyone’ that there are bad people at the root of it…and equally obvious that the bad people happen to be people not like me”.

      But of course as the problem persists, you have to keep finding more goats to scape . Thus are we always adding new groups to the list: cops, school teachers, loan officers, hiring managers, journal referees, voting members of AMPAS, etc.

      What’s your story? That they’re all “petty bigots”. The liberal democratic teachers as much as the Trump-thumping cops? The blacks cops, just as much as the white ones? The social-justice loving Yale profs just as much as the adjunct hicks from Cowtown Community College?

      Try a new theory. That one has failed long enough.

      • Woo boy. There are so many videos of police gunning down black people that your comments about lack of evidence are just… I don’t know where to begin with that. Probably best if I don’t. We’ll agree to disagree.

        • Sean II

          I remember two years ago, in this very space, you and I argued about the Mike Brown shooting.

          You were SURE it was a cold-blooded execution in the street, with racism as the motive-until-proven-otherwise. It seemed shocking to you that anyone could even entertain questions about it.

          That shooting has since been cleared by: a grand jury, Eric’ Holder’s Department of Justice, the FBI, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and of all people, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

          Same goes for a line of similar incidents, where an alleged racist slaying turned out to be either a) justifiable homicide or b) a tragic but not malicious mistake.

          Indeed, out of however many stories these past two years, the racist killer narrative seems to have been right exactly one time: the case of Walter Scott.

          Good to see your confidence is undiminished, though.

          • Ick, Sean. Ick.

          • Sean II

            Yeah, see, there you go again. It’s the essence of bigotry to think disgust does the work of argument.

          • Do you feel more satisfied, or less, with each additional comment you add here?

          • Sean II

            There, you just did it again. You keep accidentally confessing that what matters to you on this subject is how something feels.

            Don’t do that. Try worrying less about how things feel, and more about how things are.

          • Okay, here’s how things are: I am going to go hang out with my daughter now. Goodbye.

  • CbyN

    To summarize: spite is a powerful thing.

    Many people really would prefer to destroy something than see the other guy win. This may be the single most uniting force driving Trump’s success thus far. Hell, it’s why on certain days of the week my coccyx gets tickled at the idea of the Leftists that disgust me at a primordial level becoming apoplectic should he win.

  • Stefan Sciaraffa

    I think this restates/maybe elaborates a bit on the Sachs comment you mention in your update. But, it includes some sociological data, so maybe its worth posting. The data is qualitative rather than quantitative. See the link. Its a Mother Jones piece, but the author is reporting on a field study.

    As I read it, this piece indicates that there is an internalized racist frame particularly but not only in the South that Republican politicians have been exploiting for some time now–Trump’s just done the same in a blunter way.

    The thought is that there is a white poiitial and cultural idenity-a sense of standing that is race-based. I’m white, hence I’m at tthe top of this hierarchy. Demographic white decline and economic stagnation threaten this frame. These guys are ripe to be exploited. Folks like Lee Atwater were explicit about the Southern strategy. See the link:

    Trump has appealed directly to this sentiment, and its and its worked to a limited extent. In turn, this has given the folks with internalized white identities permission to express these views out loud. They feel safer because they know others share this worldview, and a public figure has endorsed this worldview.

    I’d add that the Mother Jones piece resonates with my experience growing up in Texas. My exurban high school was predominantly white. As of 1987, my read would have been that social norms forbade expressions of racism in an official capacity–your teacher couldn’t get away with saying something overtly racist in class. But at very many informal gatherings (parties or heaven-forbid watch a football game on TV with some of those guys), there was little or no social sanction for overtly racist talk. Trump has tapped into that. As I see it, and as I think the data and the self-reporting of folks like Atwater indicate, the Republicans have been mining this well–Southern strategy. Trump’s just dialed it to 11.

  • Pingback: Losing the Race Against Racism | The Indian Economist()

  • 1Gandydancer

    “Polls do tend to show that a large percentage of both Trump and Clinton supporters hold what are plausibly seen as explicitly racist views.”

    This sentence links to a Slate article , where facts like “Nearly half of all Trump supporters described blacks as more “criminal” than whites, compared with nearly one-third of Clinton supporters who did the same. Among all respondents, 33.2 percent said whites were more lawful than blacks.” are claimed to be evidence for “A significant slice of Americans expressed racist views against blacks, and those who identify as Donald Trump supporters are more likely to fall into that group..”

    But of course it is a simple statistical fact that blacks are more criminal than whites, and to require denial of that fact as a condition of not being “plausibly” accused of holding “explicitly racist views” is nuts.