• urstoff

    It seems to me that the “good” instances of identity politics you cite are just responses to other identity politics, racism being the most obvious one. Racism (and bigotry in general) is a form of othering, foisting an identity on someone whether they buy into that identity or not, and then treating them in a particular way because of that identity you have pushed on them. It is possible to push back against that without buying into identity politics yourself. Is the goal of treating each person as a complex individual with a diverse set of experiences, beliefs, and preferences too idealistic? Identities by their very nature create outgroups, and the ingroup/outgroup dynamic is the very thing that leads to many of the injustices we see in the world.

    • Yeah, it’s almost as if separate is inherently unequal…

    • Theresa Klein

      This is a very good comment. I agree that identity based groups have helped to fight back against illiberal uses of state power. But the goal should always be kept in mind that the ultimate objective is to NOT to buy into identity politics and the tribalism that entails. The goal is to get rid of the injustices and group identities and othering.
      Identity politics becomes dangerous because it encourages that tribal thinking, which humans already have a tendency to, that needs to be resisted for the health of a pluralistic society. We want a society where people have the freedom to choose their their own identities, not be forced into the narrow categories fashioned by others prejudices.

  • Sean II

    Regular readers of the comment section will surely wonder: how did Sean hack the Niskannen Center to create such a brutal parody of left-libertarian PC pandering?

    Well, let’s just say I had a little help from the Russians.

  • White identity politics is a constitutive fact of American politics, and if an election in which the Republican got the normal share of the white vote counts as white identity politics in action, well, that suggests a deep problem, but it doesn’t suggest a new problem.

    I was not a fan of this article. You spend the first half carefully and empirically disabusing us of the myth that white identity politics decided the election. Then, in the second half, you merely insist that white identity politics is a “constitutive fact of American politics” without repeating the same kind of careful argumentation that you use during the first half of your essay.

    Leave aside the fact that these two claims are at complete odds with one another.

    You rightly point to benefits that can be extracted from political coalitions based on identity politics, but then double-down on affirming the consequent, i.e. that white identity politics are a constitutive fact.

    It’s like reading de Tocqueville, with his, “the gradual development of the concept of equality is a Providential fact.” No. Facts are things that can be observed, they are not merely valid interpretations of events based on one’s baked-in political leanings or “lived experience.”

    I would have been receptive to your argument if you had clearly argued for a political coalition between libertarians and identity-politics activists to achieve libertarian ends with broader-based support than libertarians typically enjoy. But that’s not what you argued. You argued instead that identity politics just are the cause of state sponsored illiberalism. To make that claim, you have to provide a stronger argument. And you have to ignore the fact that state-sponsored illiberalism exists in many ethnically homogeneous nations and that American whites are also victims of it and, and, and…

  • Theresa Klein

    You can think that Trump did much better than he ought to have due to white backlash against political correctness and identity politics. It was a close election, but it shouldn’t have been. It should have been a landslide in favor of Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t mean there’s some tidal wave of white identity politics taking shape, it just means that the anti-racism consensus among whites may be somewhat weaker. Just enough to tip Trump over the threshold of victory. I don’t think it’s crazy to say he should have lost by a mile, but instead he won (barely) because a lot of people got fed up with political correctness.

    The trouble with identity politics is that it is self-reinforcing. You have white people othering blacks and Hispanics, and people who are othered tend to band together into the racial identity that the ingroup has defined. That is to say, outgroup membership is defined by the perceptions of the ingroup. The outgroup then coalesces into it’s own ingroup and begins othering other groups. Turns out that the dominant ingroup doesn’t like being othered either, and that reinforces the in-group/out-group separation. (Case in point, “check your privilege” rhetoric tends to be a way of othering whites – and the result is that it reinforced whiteness as an identity group. Counter productive. )

    • jdkolassa

      “(Case in point, “check your privilege” rhetoric tends to be a way of othering whites – and the result is that it reinforced whiteness as an identity group. Counter productive. )”

      This. This was such a dumb strategic move.

      • Sean II

        I’m not sure it was a strategy.

        Meaning: I doubt anyone started talking about privilege as a way to persuade people, accomplish some mapped-out goal, etc.

        More likely, the concept of privilege was invented because it had to be – because it was needed like a patch, to cover certain gaps in a widely-shared worldview.

        • jdkolassa


          It was just a colossal mistake.

          • Sean II

            But a mistake made under duress, with only bad options in play.

            The last three decades have been hard for people concerned with social justice.

            Basically they got everything they asked for in the 60s and 70s, but the outcomes they predicted failed to materialize. Neither the removal of artificial barriers nor the addition of artificial supports have sufficed to make different groups equal.

            They can’t just not explain that. They need a theory about why and how certain groups still end up doing better or worse than others.

            Privilege is a concept that attempts to solve that problem, saying in effect: “Ya’ll are still discriminating but now you do it so subtly only the victims notice”.

            I can’t see what other choice they had, but to invent a concept like that.

          • Dan045

            “…They need a theory about why and how certain groups still end up doing better or worse than others…”

            That’s part of it. Another part is the leaders of the SJ movement need an enemy. Something to rally the troops. Some way to stay relevant and keep the contributions flowing.

            Saying “it’s a misuse of statistics to say that” (i.e. “because of math”) isn’t helpful from that viewpoint, nor would saying “because of culture”, nor would saying “we don’t actually have that problem, the real problem is much harder and/or politically painful”, etc.

          • Sean II

            Well, we know why they didn’t use “culture”. It’s because the respectable Right got dibs on that narrative before the Left ever knew they might need it. Also because it would feel to them like victim blaming.

          • King Goat

            You’re right there. Subcultural theories will get you labeled a racist as fast and as vigorously as biological difference theories. Which is sad/funny in that they’re probably the best alternative to the latter.

          • Dan045

            One of the problems with blaming “culture” is a big root cause would be government mis-incentives and disfunction. Admitting attempts to “help” people backfired would be bad for those plans’ architects and for those who want to expand the gov.

          • King Goat

            “Basically they got everything they asked for in the 60s and 70s”

            Yeah, and who wouldn’t expect all the effects of the hundreds of years of systemic discrimination before that to be totally addressed in that decade and a half? Yeah, they totally had to revert to privilege after that didn’t happen!

          • Salem

            The 1960s was now 50 years ago. That experiment has had a long time to fail.

          • Dan045

            Yeah, and who wouldn’t expect all the effects of the hundreds of years of systemic discrimination before that to be totally addressed in that decade and a half?

            If you want to go back “hundreds” of years then you’re pointing to great-great(times many)-grandparents, and we can get to the point where everyone is related to everyone.

            The 60’s was 50(ish) years ago, which is roughly two generations. It’s disingenuous to explain negative parts of one’s life by pointing to one’s grandparents. Presumably my grandfather’s family’s failed business had some effect on my life, but more recent events and forces have had FAR more influence.

            Whatever is going on Now is the result of whatever is going on Now.

          • Lacunaria

            The problem with your argument is that many metrics for blacks are worse since the 60s and 70s. Thomas Sowell is preaching this all the time.

        • Theresa Klein

          I think the concept of privilege is intended to persuade whites that “whiteness” as an ingroup exists. That has both pros and cons. Not every white person who starts seeing themselves as a member of a privileged ingroup is going to react to the knowledge by trying to be more inclusive. Some of them are going to decide that it’s nice to be part of the white ingroup.

          • Lacunaria

            Not just persuade them that a “white” ingroup exists, but that they, as a group and therefore individually, are culpable. They must start their sentences with “I know I’m too privileged to understand, but…”. If people don’t accept the culpability part, then you’re right, their strategy is counter productive.

            What’s funny is that whites have the most ideological diversity compared to other races, e.g. in terms of voting as a block. The fact that other races vote in blocks against a particular party is taken as evidence that the party is racist.

          • Theresa Klein

            Right, yeah. Many whites (correctly, IMO) reject the notion that they are personally morally culpable for being a member of a privileged white ingroup. It’s one thing to say that society unfairly favors whites, it’s another thing to say that every white person has to assume collective guilt for that. As I was saying before, just being white doesn’t summarize your life experiences in any meaningful way. You can’t just take any random white person and insist they have unfairly benefitted from racism without knowing anything about them other than race.

      • Lacunaria

        But it “others” them as a uniquely culpable group, which is working for them.

  • Jeff R.

    Black Lives Matter as a force for liberty. That is…novel, Mr. Levy. Very novel.

    • Sean II

      Whatever do you mean?

      Take away the murder, take away the arson, take away the assault, take away the looting, take away the lies and the utter contempt for factual accuracy, take away the statistical insignificance of the problem, take all these things away from BLM and what you have left looks a lot like…

      Anyway cops are assholes, amirite?

      • Jeff R.

        There’s the mob element certainly, but I also had something else in mind. To the extent you can find some people amongst BLM that have an actual political agenda or some thought to express that’s longer than can be printed on a T-shirt, what you hear from them is just the same hard left wish list we’ve been hearing for the past fifty years or better. Here, for example, is the “Economic Justice” section of a website called M4BL:

        We demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access. This includes:

        1.A progressive restructuring of tax codes at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure a radical and sustainable redistribution of wealth.

        2.Federal and state job programs that specifically target the most economically marginalized Black people, and compensation for those involved in the care economy.

        3.A right to restored land, clean air, clean water and housing and an end to the exploitative privatization of natural resources — including land and water. We seek democratic control over how resources are preserved, used and distributed and do so while honoring and respecting the rights of our Indigenous family.

        7. Through tax incentives, loans and other government directed resources, support the development of cooperative or social economy networks to help facilitate trade across and in Black communities globally. All aid in the form of grants, loans or contracts to help facilitate this must go to Black led or Black supported networks and organizations as defined by the communities.

        8. Financial support of Black alternative institutions including policy that subsidizes and offers low-interest, interest-free or federally guaranteed low-interest loans to promote the development of cooperatives (food, residential, etc.), land trusts and culturally responsive health infrastructures that serve the collective needs of our communities.


        Not exactly Rothbardian. It goes on in that vein for some length.

        So yeah, my basic impression is of a racialized movement that includes a substantial lumpenproletariat element which has been resisting attempts to impose basic law and order upon them for years (e.g., snitches get stitches), some decent, average black people who are understandably indignant about being treated roughly by public servants, and then some hard left activists jumping on yet another cause celebre, hoping to use it to push the same Marxist agenda they’ve been pushing for 50 years.

        If this is a movement for liberty, I’m an aardvark.

        • Sean II

          Oh sure, if you took a city-state and turned it over to the people who make up the BLM coalition, you’d end up with something that looked like the Paris Commune fucked the Attica Prison Riots and had a kid who grew up being breast-fed by a gender fluid version of Hugo Chavez.

          But what kind of jerk would hold a little thing like that against the movement?

          Don’t let their terrible ideology take your attention away from the good work they do by being wrong 95% of the time.

          • Jeff R.

            “poor blacks on the one hand, young rich white progressives on the other.”

            I think the term for it is “Selma Envy.”

          • Sean II

            I have this little theory that much of the madness in American politics can be ascribed to a kind of compulsive historical reenactment.

            The Left and the Right each had one legitimate moment of heroism in the past 75 years.

            For the Right it was standing up to communism. For the Left it was civil rights and first wave feminism.

            But each side has since become prisoner to its own legend.

            The Right keeps trying to reenact its finest hour by looking for bullies to stand down…whether they exist or not. That got us Iraq.

            The Left keeps trying to reenact its triumph against racial and sexual chauvinism…by redefining these things in such a way as to make a crime out of common sense. That gets us BLM, the bathroom wars, Shrieking Girl, etc.

          • A. Alexander Minsky

            If anything positive can be said about the Trump phenomenon, it would be that he seems to have no interest in reenacting the Right’s “finest hour” as it relates to foreign interventionism in general, or the Cold War in particular. Perhaps the liberal left with be able to produce a leader capable of rallying Democratic Party constituencies while eschewing efforts to see current problems and predicaments through the lenses of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement (I will admit to having no idea how such a figure might come about or rise to prominence).

          • jdkolassa

            You know, I disagree with you quite a lot, and I think you have a warped view of society…but this comment is spot on.

          • Sean II

            Thanks, and if I haven’t said this before JD…I’m sorry it should be necessary for you to think that about me.

            You seem like a good guy and always have.

          • A. Alexander Minsky

            I love your first paragraph. And I never thought that I would read Hugo Chavez and gender fluid in the same sentence.

          • Sean II

            “I never thought that I would see Hugo Chavez and gender fluid in the same sentence”

            You don’t read Slate?

          • Theresa Klein

            I think you vastly overestimate the number of young rich white progressives involved in BLM. The Marxist stuff is coming from very long established quarters of the black political community.

            Also thing you do with a situation where Marxists are trying to glom onto a legitimate issue, is to solve the legitimate issue. Movements like this tend to dissipate when their legitimate grievances are addressed.

          • Sean II

            If not for the young rich white progs, BLM would never have got off the ground with either traditional or social media.

            Blacks are 13% of the US population. Just not big enough to push a trend.

            Trust me, I was reading Black Twitter BEFORE the summer of ’14. The throughput of content from there to the mainstream was almost nil – a virtual world, virtually sequestered.

            That changed with BLM, but it only changed with the help of massive white re-tweets.

        • A. Alexander Minsky

          While it is true that BLM is far from Rothbardian, let us not forget that Murray Rothbard was a Black Panther Party supporter during the late 1960’s. So it is not entirely out of the realm of the possible that the diminutive Austrian economist might have found praiseworthy elements within Black Lives Matter.

        • Theresa Klein

          I see it as an amorphous and largely peaceful but angry reaction of large swaths of the black community to how they are treated by law enforcement. Sure, various marxist and leftist groups are attempting to glom onto it to advance their own agendas, but let’s not let that distract us from the central issue.

          • Jeff R.

            Well, I live in Baltimore, where we had several days of rioting last May and dozens of stores were looted and vandalized across the city, cars burned, people assaulted, etc., and then in September, I had the misfortune of driving through Charlotte on the day some BLM activists decided to block traffic on a major highway to protest…something or other and was stuck there for two hours. Throw in the fun and games in Ferguson, the dead cops in Dallas, Baton Rouge, etc., and “largely peaceful” might be accurate in a statistical sense, but on the whole, the movement tends to spread destruction, disorder and rather indiscriminate violence, despite what the majority of its supporters might have mind.

          • Theresa Klein

            What makes you associate BLM with the dead cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge? BLM is a group that organizes protest rallies, and more generally a twitter hashtag. Random angry black men who shoot cops aren’t under their control. You can’t just blame the entire black community for being angry because a few of them go out and shoot cops.

          • Jeff R.

            BLM is a group that organizes protest rallies, and more generally a twitter hashtag. Random angry black men who shoot cops aren’t under their control.

            Maybe not, if I’m being generous, but they’re inspired by the angry rhetoric and the ugly mob mentality arises from those protests.

          • Lacunaria

            Pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon.

            What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want them? Now.

            Hands up, don’t shoot.

            Police officers and whites are characterized as racist murderers. That’s highly provocative. Some of the organizers have pushed the envelope in their rhetoric. Violence has erupted as an outgrowth of the rallies. There’s also a theme of vehement reactions to those who do not join them. If you do not agree with them, then black lives do not matter to you.

            Jeff wasn’t blaming the entire black community, just a consistent thread of the BLM movement. And while I know enough BLM protesters to agree with you that they are generally non-violent, that seems more attributable to the individuals themselves rather than their movement.

      • Sergio Méndez

        Take away all those things and we get a racist asshole lying, overstimating what is trully a statistical insignificance (the loothing), understating the magnitude of the problem (yeah, because blacks are not profiled, abused and incarcerted in higher rates than whites) commenting in a “libertarian forum” with total impunity…in other words, you.

        • Sean II

          I love this comment. You felt something in your gut and you projected it right into the box. Nice work.

      • Theresa Klein

        What makes you think BLM condones or encourages rioting? Most of what you see from BLM is speech… it’s a hashtag, it’s people holding signs.

        • Sean II

          Good point. The evidence linking BLM to rioting is no better than the evidence linking Islam to terrorism.

          • Theresa Klein

            True, in fact it is much much worse. BLM does not advocate violence. It does not have texts which command it’s followers to slay infidels. it consists of social media tweets protesting violence commited by police offices against black people. There is not subset of BLM followers who have written a manifesto advocating killing white people, cops, or any other group of people.

            If BLM resembled Islam even remotely, it would have all of those things.

          • Sean II

            You clearly don’t follow BLM on twitter.

            Violence is celebrated often, and it is condemned almost never.

            For fuck’s sake, the main face teaches a course at Yale called In Defense of Looting.

          • Theresa Klein

            I don’t follow Twitter, period, it’s a cesspool.
            You realize that nobody can control who uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, right?

            And as for not condemning violence, how about this:




            You should stop getting your news from Brietbart.

          • Sean II

            Hold up: you’re not on Twitter – the main communication tool of BLM since it began -but you have super strong opinions about what the movements leaders and followers say or don’t say there?

            Okay, that’s reasonable.

          • Theresa Klein

            At least I don’t form my opinions of them by reading only what their critics say. I’m sure if I hung out in the right-wing blog-o-sphere I could read plenty of selectively filtered tweets picking out the most hateful comments on twitter and form a very bad opinion of them.

          • Sean II

            I follow about a dozen BLM leaders, directly.

            On Twitter, something you should try.

    • SimpleMachine88

      Yeah, look I’d point out to the author that anyone who thinks that Black Lives Matter is in anyway convincing has clearly met anyone they are supposedly trying to convince. I’m concerned about the political influence of the police and prison guard unions in my state, how their able to take the taxpayer for a ride, how clearly incompetent officers are able to keep their jobs, including officers whose presence on the force will eventually do something that will instigate a riot, etc.

      As soon as a rock goes through my window, however, I am going to scream for the national guard to come save me while I throw money at them. And you know what, I’m right to do so. The law is imperfect, it does need to be reformed, but first of all it needs to be upheld.

      • Sean II

        There’s a special place in hell for whites who dwell in safety while encouraging blacks to riot and chase the police away from their own perilous streets.

        Wealthy white suburbs don’t really need cops, but poor black communities absolutely do, quickly collapsing into violent chaos without them.

        Indeed, one reason why BLM speaks to people in the ‘hood is because criminals are so common there. Every family has a son or a cousin in jail, so every family has at least one reason to resent the law and its enforcers. But of course that could only happen in a community saturated with crime.

        So yeah, to hell with any white who helps mislead the people in such places into risking 5000 black lives for the sake of 500…even as it risks white lives numbering 0.

        • King Goat

          To be parsimonious, I imagine the cops who regularly pull over and assault the people, the large majority of whom aren’t found culpable for any crime in relation to the stops/assaults, in those communities contribute more towards the anger and resentment than what some outside white guy with dreadlocks and a BLM t-shirt does.

          Imagine if the cops did such things regularly to a Red State area like where the Bundys are from.

          • Sean II

            Nope. Go to a community meeting on the black side of town sometime.

            Invariably you hear two interestingly related complaints:

            1. Why can’t somebody put a stop to these thugs terrorizing our streets?

            2. The police arrested my grandson for no reason, saying he was some kind of thug.

            It’s not hard to work out what’s going on here. Everyone feels certain their own kin is innocent, but Complaint 1. means most of them are wrong.

          • King Goat

            I hate to respond to your hypothetical anecdote with statistics, but the latter show that a large majority of the stops/assaults I’m talking about do not result in arrest or summons, much less convictions, and the justification given by the police themselves for them rarely is suspicion of a violent crime.

            So, yeah, it’s rather parsimonious to think anger comes more from actually, and routinely, getting stopped by armed men and laid hands on when you’ve no evidence of a crime on you (much less a violent one) than from some apology for bad behavior an activist in Seattle might write on the Internet that day.

          • Sean II

            “[statistics] show that a large majority of the stops/assaults I’m talking about do not result in arrest or summons, much less convictions…”

            The vast majority of chest x-rays come back negative. Does this mean lung cancer isn’t a problem?

            Don’t be an idiot.

          • King Goat

            What’s idiotic is equating going in for a chest X-Ray with having a guy with a gun stop you on the street and manhandle you.

            In a way though it’s not a bad analogy to get at your utilitarian twist on things. We could have officials with guns go to areas they suspect of high amounts of lung cancer and stop people that they think look like they might be high risk as they go by and push them into a mobile X-Ray device. Most’ll come back negative of course, but think of the lives that could be saved from the correct positive hits we get, allowing them to seek immediate treatment for the now uncovered problem!

          • It’s like the Nancy Pelosi of law enforcement: “We have to detain the criminals to find out what they should be charged with.”

          • Sean II

            In fact that’s exactly how it works.

            I know this may seem amazing to you, Ryan, but criminals tend to hide their crimes.

            Which means you kinda have to go out and find them.

            Often they cleverly disguise themselves as non-criminals, which make the process even trickier.

            Crazy, I know.

          • The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

          • Sean II

            Nothing I’m describing conflicts with that passage.

            The 4th Amendmenr doesn’t say: “only guilty people should get stopped, ever”.

          • There is no probable cause. Statistics aren’t probable cause. Even if your racialist sentiments were correct, it would still only be circumstantial evidence. Stop and frisk, which I presume is what Goat is talking about, is just a clear violation of the spirit of the Fourth.

          • Sean II

            Who said Goat gets to limit this discussion to one specific policy in one city?

            Did I say anything about Stop n’ Frisk?

            Am I even in favor of it?

            If you’re responding to me, respond to me, and to things I’ve actually said.

            (One of the reasons many people avoid Goat is just this: you start out talking about the meaning of life and 12 comments later you’re arguing about test scores in a Cincinnati charter school…and you can just tell he’s thinking “If the other guy makes one mistake about those test scores, I win!”Seriously, don’t encourage that.)

          • I didn’t respond to you. I responded to Goat with my Nancy Pelosi comment, and then you responded back to me. 🙂

          • Sean II

            The 4th Amendment comment clearly was a response to me.

          • Haha, right. So here’s what happened:

            [GOAT]: (something about stop and frisk)
            [RYAN]: ha ha, (something about stop and frisk)
            [SEAN]: That’s exactly how it works.
            [RYAN]: (something about stop and frisk)
            [SEAN]: If you’re responding to me, respond to me

            So I understand your confusion, but it’s pretty clear to me that I was riffing on something King Goat said about stop and frisk, and naturally I interpreted any response you made to me to deal with stuff I said, ie. stuff about stop and frisk.

          • Sean II

            Okay, fair enough.

            But for god’s sake look what you’ve done. You’ve no idea how much energy the Goat can derive from a single affirmative reply.

            This thread is screwed now.

          • hahaha

          • King Goat

            “Did I say anything about Stop n’ Frisk? Am I even in favor of it?”

            Talk about internet bullshit games. So you know I’m talking about stop n frisk, but you’re not talking about that, no, no, you’re not even offering an opinion one way or another on that!

            Then what are all your responses to me on this thread about then?

          • Sean II

            Pay close attention because this is more important than anything going in the thread:

            That thing you do where you narrow the discussion down to some sub topic and then expect everyone else to honor the narrowing…it’s super annoying.

            I came here to talk about Levy’s “troll the libertarian right” article. And especially about its money-shot one-liner: “BLM is the greatest movement for freedom in our lifetime”.

            Stop n’ Frisk is clearly related to that, so it makes sense someone should bring it up.

            But just as clearly, the challenge posed by Levy’s throw down statement is much bigger than Stop n’ Frisk or any other sub-topic.

            YOU may have decided to stage a discussion on that one policy alone, but I never did.

            I’m only interested in the larger issue. Come, join me.

          • King Goat

            I responded to a specific comment you made, about how there’s some special blame on the white apologists for the kind of social unrest associated with BLM.

            You: “There’s a special place in hell for whites who dwell in safety while encouraging blacks to riot and chase the police away from their own perilous streets.”

            My reply was, that that social unrest has to be significantly blamed on police treatment of the people in the communities where the unrest occurs, that that’s, parsimoniously, the more obvious cause of what you’re lamenting.

            You then went into your ‘well, all that treatment is totally the rationalz and fair!’ And I noted a prominent, and more importantly well studied/documented example where, nope, it doesn’t seem to be. As you concede, “it makes sense someone should bring it up”

            I’m not a fan of BLM. Is BLM great for anything? I’d say no. But are they more to blame for social unrest than the cops themselves? I’d say no. And that’s all I’ve been saying, I don’t know what you’re problem is about that.

          • Sean II

            Forgive me for waiting until the thread died to add this, but there is one thing you said which needs a response. It’s this:

            “Statistics aren’t probable cause.”

            That isn’t really true. Take away the question of race for a moment and consider the broader picture.

            Statistics are just a way of expressing patterns, and patterns are used all the time in criminal justice, to move a case along the chain from mere suspicion to reasonable suspicion to probable cause.

            Classic example: a married woman turns up dead. What do they cops do? They go straight to the husband. Why? Because statistically “killed by male intimate partner” accounts for a big plurality of homicide with female victims.

            So the husband gets brought in for an interview as the prime suspect. If he flees that interview, he becomes the only suspect. If he lawyers up right away or gets combative, likewise.

            Now all of this seems terribly unfair, right? Long before the cops have any specific reason to suspect this guy, here they are treating him with suspicion. He’s already lost his wife, and now he has to contend with a couple assholes in cheap suits asking questions whose obvious premise is that maybe he did it.

            Or take another: some merchandise goes missing from a store. When the cops come they start right away looking through the personnel files and rudely questioning the employees.

            Owner: “Aren’t you guys gonna take fingerprints and stuff?”

            Cops: “Ha, good one. Just as soon as we arrest whichever worker did this, we’ll be sure to get his prints”

            Again, no specific cause for individual suspicion guides this search. The cops are starting with the store employees because past patterns and statistics suggest that is the most likely explanation. And here again, if one of the employees runs or refuses to talk, he will become the prime suspect until proven otherwise.

            Note the similar course in both cases: 1) Crime happens. 2) Cops use past pattern to guide first steps of investigation, deciding who to suspect on what amounts to a statistical basis. 3) Anyone who responds by refusing cooperation becomes focus of intense investigation.

            Same goes for any number of crimes you can imagine. Building torched? Probably the owner. Percocet missing from medicine cabinet? Probably your own teenage kids. And so on.

            So much of the justice works this way, that you couldn’t have a functioning system without it.

            And that’s my point. There’s plenty of room for disagreement on the race aspect of things. If you want to argue for a special taboo against using race in criminal justice, on the grounds that it carries unique potential for harm, I can totally understand that. That’s a reasonable argument.

            But…saying “patterns/statistics should be off limits in criminal justice” is not reasonable. In fact it’s not even possible.

            How, for example, could you have a homicide detective who didn’t notice that husbands are often the killers of wives? Anyone who failed to notice such an obvious pattern would be unable to do that job.

            So by all means, ban the use of race if you like. Just don’t imagine you can do it as part of any general ban on the use of pattern recognition.

          • In the case of the husband, the police are allowed to question him, but must obtain a warrant to conduct a formal search. Even in that case, statistics aren’t probable cause.

            Regarding the target of the analogy, the policy is not “stop and ask questions,” the policy is “stop and frisk.” This is precisely the kind of unlawful search and seizure the Framers aimed to protect us against.

          • Sean II

            Probable cause isn’t required for a frisk. Not since Terry.

            And indeed the husband in my scenario will likely get frisked before going into the interview room.

            Again, I think there’s room for an argument that race is especially abhorrent and shouldn’t be used.

            Buy any argument that sets the threshold for a frisk at probable cause is up against 50 years of law and lots more common sense.

          • Sean II

            Crime is contagious, cancer is not. Crime kills people other than the carrier.

            That’s why it’s okay to use coercion in one case but not the other.

          • King Goat

            Your problem is you’ve only one side of the ledger. Nine assaults committed to make one arrest (the actual ratio of stop and frisk to arrests resulting) for drug possession (the actual most common reason given for arrest or initiating the stop), fair trade I guess!

          • Sean II

            Stop melodramatically describing a stop as an assault.

            That kind of wordplay adds nothing of substance to the conversation.

          • King Goat

            What do you call it when a guy with a gun orders you to stop, then roughly turns you about laying hands on you?

          • Sean II

            A visit to the airport?

          • King Goat

            Tots the same thing, right? Flying is just like walking/driving down a public street! TSA agents are armed and always putting their hand on their piece (or pulling it on you) when they order you about! Lord knows the TSA treat you like Penn in Colors when they pat down! And they totally racially profile, instead of randomization techniques, which is why the Right is always praising them for their good sense!

            You were doing better with the X-Ray analogy…

          • Theresa Klein

            It could be that the cops lack the kind of social connections to the black community that would allow them to properly investigate crimes in old-fashioned gumshoe fashion, instead of just treating all “black male, mid-20s” as possible criminals. This is why black leaders have called for more community policing for a long time. I bet you would find that if the police were actually knowledgeable about the community and were trusted by the community, they could find out who the actual criminals are.

          • Sean II

            You might have a point, except that black cops in black run cities have the same problem, but worse.

            No snitching is a bigger problem in Detroit and Baltimore than it is in Denver or Boston.

            If you were right, it’d be the other way around.

          • Theresa Klein

            Black cops in black run cities aren’t necessarily doing community policing.

            Community policing entails assigning the same cops to the same community all the time, so that the cop becomes familiar with the community and develops contacts there. A black cop assigned to a neighborhood isn’t necessarily from that neighborhood, and may not get assigned there the next day or the next month.

          • SimpleMachine88

            They do do these things in Red State areas like where the Bundys are from. Many of the worst police scandals have involved small police forces in rural areas. Hollywood thinks its good entertainment, they call it “Walking Tall”.

            Another point I’d make is that there’s no reason, when trying to reform police procedures, to try to portray these incidents as something that only happens to black people. There’s no point in trying to purposely trying to limit those your marketing to. People are less likely to be involved in solving an issue if you keep telling them its not something that could happen to them. Sometimes even rich suburbans get shafted on occasion.

            Whether you think the government treats inner city blacks, poor whites, or res Indians the worst, the point is just that the government is often callous and abusive, and it shouldn’t be. And to be quite frank, I think most problems are the result of poor discipline and poor oversight, thinks that aren’t only present in the inner city.

            And no, I don’t think I’m as likely to get manhandled by an LEO as people in the next town over, but I don’t want a lesser chance of a terrible encounter with the LEO than other people, just less in general. And also for people in general, I care about other people, I just care a lot about me.

            Actually, unjustified police gun homicides are extremely rare in general, regardless of race. The most common bull that could happen to you, white or black, rich or poor, is that an officer will be drunk, whether on or off the clock, and run you down, and probably blame it on you they can. The fact that Cal LEOs are almost never convicted of speeding or DWI, while are also substantially more likely to be involved in a vehicular accident, even while off duty, isn’t actually a mystery to anyone.

      • Sean II

        Because I can’t up-vote your excelllent comment twice, let me just add a second reply:

        One of the painful things about watching a libertarian gush over Blacks Lives Matter is the obvious condescending hypocrisy of it all.

        If one of our own committed even a small fraction of the crimes and misdemeanors inspired by BLM, we would never forgive him, and the soul-searching (on this blog in particular) would be endless.

        I mean, if someone in a “Don’t Blame Me I Voted Johnson” T-shirt shot five tax collectors and then torched a Quicktrip, we would not hesitate to blame ourselves. Quite rightly, because there is no such thing as too much apologizing for atrocities like that. Anyone who has anything to do them, directly or otherwise, deserves to bathe in guilt and shame.

        The fact that some of us react differently when the violence comes from pissed off black people is just a museum quality specimen of soft bigotry by low rock bottom expectations.

        • Theresa Klein

          I mean, if someone in a “Don’t Blame Me I Voted Johnson” T-shirt shot
          five tax collectors and then torched a Quicktrip, we would not hesitate
          to blame ourselves.

          I wouldn’t.
          I’ve never advocated killing tax collectors or torching quicktrips, and I would argue strongly against doing so. So if someone does it, it has nothing to do with me. I can’t be held responsible any time anyone with a tangential connection to my political philosophy does something violent.

          • Sean II

            Tough talk. I think you’d find it very hard to feel so separate and pure on the day.

          • Theresa Klein

            Actually I wouldn’t, because it already happened in the case of the Oklahoma City Bombing.
            A lot of people blamed that on libertarians.
            I did not feel any guilt whatsoever about that because I’ve never advocated blowing up federal buildings.

          • Sean II

            McVeigh wasn’t a libertarian.

            It doesn’t matter what people believed. It matters what is true.

          • Theresa Klein

            Sure. And all those black people rioting aren’t members of BlackLivesMatter, either.

            Not every black person belongs to BlackLivesMatter. Many people show up at riots who are not actually supporters or followers of protest groups. The protest group leaders may not actually be able to control what every person who shows up on the street does.

          • Sean II

            Theresa, your joking.

            You can’t argue that “BLM isn’t a real group” in one comment, then turn around and argue “the shooter/looter wasn’t a real member of BLM in the next”.

          • Theresa Klein

            It’s not a real group, or at least did not start off as one, and there aren’t any real “members”, outside of a handful of local chapter organizers.
            You’re basically saying that anyone who uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, is responsible for what EVERYONE else who uses the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter says and does. Which is insane.


    Two comments. You say, The politics of drug prohibition, the war on drugs, and the subsequent expansions of police power and imprisonment were never racially innocent to begin with, and it is no accident that Nixon launched the War on Drugs when the ink was barely dry on the formal end of Jim Crow segregation and disenfranchisement. This claim is unsupported by any evidence, and worse, probably false. As documented in great depth in this link (from an NPR affiliate, no less), the War on Drugs appears to have had the support of most black civic leaders and politicians, including the Black Caucus, and many high profile, “liberal,” white politicians. http://prisontime.org/2013/08/12/timeline-black-support-for-the-war-on-drugs/

    Second, the political energy brought by BLM to the cause of reforming police violence and mass incarceration is a good thing, so long as we ignore its policy recommendations, which include strengthening public sector unions. Union-enforced disciplinary rules contribute to the culture of impunity that promotes police brutality, while prison guard unions lobby for criminalizing things, thus creating more prisoners for them to guard.

    • Sean II

      Levy’s actually half right on that first point. Only accidentally, but still half right.

      Were it not for America’s race problem, the Drug War would have run a course similar to other moral panics: it would have burned hot for a couple years, then flamed itself out.

      The fact that it stuck around needs explaining. And the best explanation I’ve ever seen goes like this:

      After the Great Migrations came a massive crime wave that hollowed the urban core of most American cities. By the end of the 1960s everyone could see what was happening, but it was no longer kosher to say so in plain language. The truth – “black migrants brought a crime wave and now everyone is scared to go downtown” – was just the sort of thing decent people were then training themselves (and each other!) never to say out loud.

      But privately everyone wanted something done about the problem.
      And that meant somehow getting more power to the police.

      Enter the Drug War, which functions like a Writ of Assistance in the ghetto – a general, indefinite warrant, that makes arresting certain people in certain places a very simple task.

      Prosecutor in 1972: “You know those kids with the flick knives (for it was still knives back then) who terrorize everyone in the housing project, so that on one will testify against them? The kids who were hard to catch and convict before the Warren Court, and who seem almost impervious now?

      Well guess what…here’s a way to arrest them where you don’t need witnesses. They call it marihuana. Most of the kids you’re looking for have some, and for those that don’t…well, let’s just say weeds plant easily.”

      Now, suddenly, every city has a tool it can use against the thugs who’ve been making city life unliveable.

      And use it they did, in 40 years racking up the worlds biggest incarceration rate – followed, coincidentally it seems, by one of history’s sharpest crime declines.

      And that’s pretty much what happened. Crime went up. People got scared. They couldn’t describe what was really happening, which meant they couldn’t address the problem directly. So when a nice convenient excuse came along, they grabbed it. Grotesquely enough, it seems to have worked. Downtown isn’t just habitable again, it’s a thriving utopia for white hipsters.

      But, point for Levy, that really does mean the coming of the Drug War had something to do with the end of segregation.


        It’s an intriguing and plausible hypothesis, because it is consistent with the facts and is a reasonable view about how people might think. The trouble is that I don’t see any obvious way to test it empirically, because it refers to the mass of people’s unspoken attitudes and fears.

        My argument against the claim that the “war” was racially motivated seems correct because we can examine how members of Congress and state legislatures voted on these laws. And we can infer that since they are craven politicos it is unlikely that they would continue to support the “war” if their predominantly black (and sometimes liberal white) constituencies adamantly opposed it. At the minimum, Levy needs more than mere assertion.

        • Sean II

          Sure, and of course you’re dead right about black leaders supporting the drug war – not just at the start, but well into the late 80s.

          The line back then was: “Either you want total war against crack dealers, or you want black babies to die.”

        • Sean II

          I should add: you’ve hit upon a major weakness in Levy and all the people he parrots: Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the like.

          Their story has no plausible theory of individual action. It’s basically a conspiracy theory built on a ridiculously large fraction of humanity being just straight up EEE-VIL.

          They make out like some bunch of guys sat in a room plotting to consciously to do an obvious wrong.

          Cartoon Villian 1: “How shall we keep those darkies down, now that the sun sets on Jim Crow?”

          Cartoon Villain 2: “Use your head Buford! We’ll repurpose the prison system to keep them from taking over NASA.”

          Nothing happens like that, in real life, ever.

          Grown-up theories include plausible motives for the people involved. What problems were they responding to? What incentives led them to act, and what institutions coordinated the action? What alternatives did they forego? What stories did they tell themselves to live with their choices? Etc.

          My little theory does that. His does not.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I agree with you. Nixon (who hated pretty much everyone) and the other congressional architects of the War on Drugs had more on their minds than the oppression of blacks; like getting us out of Vietnam, the China opening, the Russian Bear, the economy, and the categorical imperative, getting reelected. It’s too simple an explanation to fit the facts. I remember when crack cocaine was going to end civilization as we know it.

          • Sean II

            Also important to remember that we have massive evidence of sincere good will and optimism for equality among whites at the dawn of the civil rights era.

            People really seem to have thought: “We’ll take down these barriers, maybe throw in a bit of extra help here and there, and before long we’ll see blacks playing the bourgeois prosperity game just like everyone else.”

            Only after that project failed did we see whites resort to the kind disguised discrimination by distance which has become so uncomfortably obvious of late…and which is most obvious of all among the people we think of as Left on the issue.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            In the conversation you imagine, did CV1 and CV2 also discuss spending trillions on the War on Poverty, initiating affirmative action and job set-asides for the “darkies,” and the forced busing of millions of K-12 kids in the pursuit of educational equality? Or, was that covered in a different conversation? Either way, kind of hard to square that circle, I think.

          • Sean II

            Yeah, conspiracy skeptics are often mislead by such noise.

            They’re all: “If America was always so irredeemably racist, why is so much of its most celebrated art & culture dedicated to anti-racist messages?”

            Then I’m like: “You never heard of disinformation, fool? It’s all part of the long con.”

  • Bugsby

    Lots of good arguments in the piece, but ultimately I can’t agree. Levy is correct that injustices that fall disproportionately on certain groups should be strongly opposed by any one. That point needs to be repeated endlessly. But the problem with “identity politics” is that it doesn’t ground this in universal claims, but by separating one group from another. (Not all lives, BLACK lives.) Accordingly, identity politics increases political tribalism, thus perversely undermining its own worthy goals.

    • Chris Despoudis

      Hey Bugsby, I saw in one your posts that you were an analytic philosopher. I’d like to contact you to ask you something that puzzles me thats related a bit to Objectivism that you were very close in one article’s comments to answering. Is there any way I can contact you?

  • Theresa Klein

    I think it’s worth posting this here:

    Maybe try taking their own statements at face value would be a start.

    • Sean II

      Now I understand how BLM membership is defined.

      When a BLM’er speaks or acts in a way you find acceptable = real member.

      When a BLM’er does something abhorrent = just some random guy who happened to be at the rally, coincidentally sharing the same complaint as everyone else there.

      • Theresa Klein

        One would think that whoever owns the blacklivesmatter.com domain name is acting in some sort of “official” capacity. Probably has relationships to a fairly large number of people who are involved in the movement and therefore represents some sort of consensus view.

        I don’t think it’s crazy to take that person more seriously than random commenters on twitter or isolated violent actors.

        more importantly, do you find the view expressed in the link to be abhorrent? Would you say that IF this is what the movement was about then THAT would be acceptable ?

        • Sean II

          “One would think that whoever owns the blacklivesmatter.com domain name is acting in some sort of “official” capacity…”

          No one would think that who knows anything about how the movement works.

          It’s a Twitter-based movement. Always has been. Moves much too fast for blogs and other pull-type communication websites. Shit, Deray alone reaches more followers in a day than that website you linked to has readers in a year.

          Stop talking about something you don’t understand.

          Open the app today and start following: Deray, Netta, Patrice Cullors, Shaun King, Bree Newsome, Samuel Sinyangwe, Jesse Williams, etc.

          These are the thought leaders of BLM. Follow them.

          • Theresa Klein

            Ahh, so if I follow the cherry-picked extremists who you obsessively focus on, then I will truly understand how crazy and evil BLM is?