The Nation of Islam has an antisemitism problem, and that’s about it

Currently, there is a mini-controversy of sorts related to antisemitism, Louis Farrakhan, and some organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. The main problem seems to be that these three co-chairs of the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Tamika Mallory, are balking at denouncing their association with and tacit tolerance of Farrakhan. In particular, the focus is on Tamika Mallory.

Personally, histrionic demands of denunciation usually leave me cold.

But in this case, there are strong grounds. Louis Farrakhan and his small splinter sect, the Nation of Islam, have a long history of very extreme perspectives on Jews, and whites more generally. The racism isn’t a minor idiosyncrasy with the Nation of Islam. It’s a constitutive part of their ideology. The Nation of Islam believes that white people are a race of mutants designed by a malevolent black scientist. There are some similarities fundamentally with white nationalist Christian Identity, which dehumanizes non-whites in a literal manner. And, both the Nation of Islam and Christian Identity operationally share very similar and stereotypical views of Jews as evil puppet-masters.

In reaction to this much of the media has taken to writing long analyses. This piece in The Atlantic, The Women’s March Has a Farrakhan Problem, meanders over an enormous amount of territory. Frankly, it seemed a bit much.

First, the co-chairs of the Women’s March are not the marchers themselves. The marchers are to the Left of center, but many of them are quite moderate and mainstream and conventional. I know some personally who aren’t even very liberal and self-identify as centrists. And many are Jewish. The point is that leaders and organizers can have very different politics and associations from the movement they lead. Tamika Mallory has a problem. The Women’s March, not so much.

Second, there was a theme in The Atlantic piece about the fraught and cooperative relationship between blacks and Jews in the United States. Impressionistically there’s something to this, especially considering the Crown Heights riot. But part of me wonders if there really is such that much antisemitism among American blacks that’s out of the ordinary.

The GSS has a variable, “JEWTEMP”, which measures respond attitudes toward Jews on a scale of 0 to 100 (0 being cooler and 100 being warmer). I binned the results into quartiles. You can see that black Americans are less warm toward Jews than white Americans, but the difference is very marginal.

Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are clearly antisemitic by any definition. But black Americans are not particularly antisemitic at all. Farrakhan is as representative of black American attitudes toward Jews as those on the “Alt-Right” who obsess over the “JQ”.

In fact, could it simply be that black Americans exhibit a demographic profile that is correlated with somewhat less positive feelings toward Jews, as opposed to something distinctive about black American culture? To check I played around with a multiple regression.

Changing variables around I found three traits that were robustly predictive of warmer feelings toward Jews:

1) The biggest effect was vocabulary score, which is correlated with general intelligence (r=0.7). If you don’t put this variable in, education matters. But once WORDSUM is in the equation the effect of education disappears.

2) Being a woman.

3) Being younger.

Being black as opposed to white is associated with being somewhat more antisemitic in many regressions, but it’s very weak as an association, and, it’s not statistically significant (this is probably due to sample size).

What’s the point of this post? Not to sound too much like Steven Pinker, but there isn’t a looming threat of antisemitism in the United States from any large demographic. Rather, there are small old groups like the Nation of Islam and white nationalists, which remain resolutely antisemitic. And, the Israel-Palestine issue does loom over campus politics in a way that blurs the line between being anti-Zionist and antisemitic. A small number of campus radicals and students from Muslim backgrounds do step pretty clearly from anti-Zionism to antisemitism in my opinion. In the latter case, it’s from personal knowledge, as when I was a graduate student a few kids approached me during controversies related to BDS from Islamic backgrounds expressing their strong reservations about Jews and taking courses from Jewish professors. These conversations were not welcome by me, but because of my physical appearance and name, they assumed I’d be sympathetic.

The problem here is simple, and it’s the indulgence that the black intelligentsia (that includes you President Obama) and some of the radical non-black Left, have given the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan for decades. Remember, he was on Arsenio Hall‘s show in 1995. The issue isn’t the Women’s March (whose politics I somewhat disagree with), nor is it antisemitism in the black community. And most of the public doesn’t even know what BDS stands for.

It isn’t what you say, it’s who you are

Sarah Haider in the talk above outlines the reality that she has particular privileges in regards to talking skeptically and critically of Islam because of who she is, not the force of her arguments. More precisely, her status as an immigrant, woman, and a person with brown skin, inoculates her against the reflexive charges of racism or bigotry which get leveled against those who dare challenge Islam and the cultures with which it is associated.

And yet even here Sarah observes that she gets attacked and dismissed, whether through undermining her credibility, or suggesting that she’s a “native informant”.

I’ve been writing on the internet for 15 years. Long enough to see some trends emerge. This pattern of dismissal-by-identity has become much more noticeable on the Left over the past few years. Left-wing thought policing is operationalized through enforcing informational hygiene by segregation from unclean persons. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m not optimistic.

But there is another group that engages in the same thing: the racist Right, what is now called the Alt-Right. In the early years of this weblog, most of the attempts of dismissal-by-identity came from this sector. Basically, the thesis is that nonwhites are constitutionally not intellectually creative, so their arguments were better than mine because they were white and I was not (this is a real position that was staked out by people who kept reading my writing).

A milder form of this stance would be that of a long-time reader, who I will not name in this post, who suggested that he understood the Bible better than I did because he was a white American and it was part of his culture, and not mine (nevermind that I grew up around white Americans and in white American culture, so he probably confused my brown skin for my cultural identity; again, something common among the identity politics Left and the racist Right).

Ultimately this form of argument-by-identity goes nowhere. Arguments are won through positional rank status within the tribe (you all know what “oppression Olympics” are), so they’re not arguments at all, but restatements of the nature of identity and its determinative character. If you are a white male, your job is to listen and learn, not talk back. If you are a white male and Alt-Right it is the job of others to listen and learn from you. If two people are of different tribes there is suspicion and incommensurability.  I, for example, am suspicious of engaging in discussions with liberals who I don’t know because tribalized arguments are usually just a waste of time (once they realize I’m not on their tribe they’ll just go full identity and everything will collapse). Similarly, many liberals probably feel the same way about #MAGA types.

The future seems to be more about power than persuasion. You are either in the Elect, or you are among the damned.

Meanwhile, someone like Sarah, who exhibits an old-fashioned fidelity and adherence to the idea and execution of truth is caught in the cross-fires of the two ascendent barbarian tribes.

Why the Democratic wave may be bigger because of gerrymandering

I’ve been saying for a while that I think the Democrats will probably retake the House in 2018. More recently the probability seems to be getting higher and higher if you look at the generic ballot.

But I noticed something on Twitter and made an observation which I think perhaps I should put here: the conscious Republican gerrymandering after 2010 opens the possibility for greater Democratic gains because of tail risk. I was prompted to this comment after seeing a distribution of likely outcomes of the November 2018 election. The shape of the likely number of Republican/Democratic representatives wasn’t Gaussian. Rather, there was a much longer Democratic tail to the distribution. I hypothesized that this was the outcome of massive Democratic gains if the wave was high enough, and gerrymandering districts begin to overtop and flip.

The logic is pretty straightforward. Republican gerrymandering involves packing Democrats into some districts and dividing others between very Republican districts. The packing decreases the proportions of Democrats in some Republican districts. But the dilution of Democrats across very Republican districts, leaving somewhat less Republican, but still reliably Republican, districts, is where my point comes in.

If the national generic ballot swing toward Democrats is large enough, then some safe Republican seats come into play. Distribution of Democrats across these districts in a normal year does not entail anything more than a trivial shift in probabilities. But in a wave election, the standard operating procedure might not hold. If the Democratic votes were in a single district, then the Republican districts that remained would be more robust to a wave. As it is, removing these safe Democratic districts and distributing them across Republican districts made these districts a little less robust to a wave.

Political polarization in the Twitter-sphere and how it will end

A few weeks ago a very Left-wing (I believe Marxist?) reciprocal follow on Twitter quoted Sebastian Gorka. I couldn’t see what was being said, so I assumed Gorka had blocked him. I clicked the link only to find that I was blocked by Gorka!

This really confused me because to my knowledge I have never spoken about Gorka. My working assumption is that I was on a “block-list” that Gorka had subscribed to. But what sort of block-list was I on? Honestly, the most likely conclusion is that I probably follow or am followed by someone blacklisted by Gorka’s block-list. The strangest thing is that some people who are literal Communists (with substantial followings) were not blocked by Gorka!

The criteria I use to follow people is probably pretty strange. If they follow me and work in a scientific field close to my own professional interests I will usually follow them back (e.g., I pretty much follow back every evolutionary and population genomicist and geneticist, but not every genomicist or geneticist). Since the vast majority of this group are vocally liberal, or keep their politics to themselves (there is a non-trivial minority of libertarian-leaning scientists who are closeted), I see a lot of tweets I disagree with.

After that, I will follow people I interact with a lot or post interesting stuff outside-of-my-field. For example, I often, but not always, follow back economic historians. Then there are science journalists who focus on biology with some following and who I interact with or know personally. I don’t like following people who have no information on their profile.

Finally, there are libertarian and conservative pundits. They often follow me, and I follow back since I respect that they actually bother to follow someone who often tweets about abstruse and technical topics. After the recent hit piece that was written about me in a well respected science journalism publication* (which has really updated my priors as to what I think about journalism and how much, or honestly little, I respect the profession) there is really no point in engaging with any prominent liberal that is outside of science because their minds are made up. I am honestly OK with that since I’m not liberal, and I still retain influence and following on the Right, where people are more open-minded about the world in my opinion (basically I think anyone who has sympathies that they have the courage to make vocal with classical liberalism will end up on the Right eventually; I’m looking at you, Bret Weinstein).

And yet because most of the people I follow are science-related I’m exposed to different opinions all the time…and that probably explains how I got on Gorka’s block-list. So I was really curious when I saw Kai Ryssdal, the NPR journalist, tell people to follow “5 people you disagree with.” To me, that was a really bizarre statement. I assume I follow about 500 to 600 people I disagree with. This is pretty much in evidence when people re-tweet stuff about how all conservatives are Nazi’s approvingly (even though they follow me perhaps they don’t notice I am a conservative!). I guess I’ve gotten really good at ignoring smugness and screaming that is the total polar opposite of mine politically (though I agree with the Left on many positions, so it’s not always in disagreement).

Out of curiosity, I decided to put up a poll to survey what my follower’s politics were. Since there were only four options allowed, I allowed for liberal, moderate, conservative, and libertarian. Though I wasn’t surprised by the political diversity, I was surprised by the balance. In a classical “world’s smallest political quiz” my followers are almost equally split across the four quadrants!

As for how this polarization will end, I think it will end with the cessation of politics and the assertion of an old-fashioned authoritarianism. It will be Sulla. Or Caesar. Or Shihuangdi. Liberalism in the classical sense of the Right and Left dies in meekness, and most people are quite meek. Many liberals privately admit to me that they’re terrified of a Spanish Civil War type denouement to our culture wars, while many non-liberals are resigned (the people on the extremes, who are very vocal, of course, are thrilled and anticipatory). Social change is nonlinear, and it would not surprise me if in the coming generation the polarization and dehumanization come to a head and it ends badly for one side. I assume that my children will come to see in their maturity most definitely. Ultimately people will have to pick a side or be persecuted by both groups (also, an international exit plan is probably necessary for many people who have expressed opinions in public). The only way to win and be safe is to have a tribe. My nation right or wrong really expresses something deep in terms of human nature.

But until then life goes and we try to make the best of it. Knowledge and learning existed before liberal democracy, and it will persist after it. As someone who follows a lot of liberals honestly I’m just more and more convinced that there will never be healing because there is so little charity, grace, or humility when it comes to political differences. I really relate to Maajid Nawaz talking to Islamists in unguarded moments in prison realizing how they would give no quarter the opposition if they came to power. My twitter feed pretty much makes me more, not less, Right-leaning. These people hate the idea of the existence of me and want to blot it out! It’s the same on the conservative side, though since I don’t follow too many conservatives I wouldn’t know** Perhaps amusingly most of the crazy conservative stuff I see is hate-re-tweeted by liberals. I guess it would be different if I picked “Salon conservative” type of liberals, but in science, you don’t really have a choice when you are in such a small minority, unelss you are only interested in pharm or applied ag science.

Addendum: When people find out I’m conservative or identify me as such the liberals are often confused and want clarification. First, political quizzes often show me to be a moderately conservative libertarian (if that makes sense). But even if I was a Left-liberal if you are vocal about things which are considered third-rails on the Left it doesn’t matter what the preponderance of views turns out to be. A few deadly sins count more than one thousand mitzvahs. At the end of the day, a pragmatist picks the side which won’t persecute him. I am no longer surprised when a publically very orthodox liberal scientist confides me in thoughts that would get them scourged by their own tribe. It’s my tribe, right or wrong, for most people, and heretics get it the worst. But the disjunction between private and public views really just reinforces that there’s not really as much to preserve as we think, and we’re already extremely far down the path to cultural cognition overwhelming individual reason.

* Several journalists privately DMed to say they thought it was unfair, but of course they can’t break ranks with their peers and say that in public (with very rare exceptions). It’s a guild, and you don’t cross powerful people in the guild who want to shape reality as they see it. I really respect Foucault a lot more than I used to after seeing how journalism works operationally.

** Just because someone is an intolerant screamer on politics doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of interesting things to say, so I keep following usually. Until the last day of this republic, we’ll have plenty to exchange of value. Even if someone believes you are going to hell they often can treat you decently on the non-abstract level.