My Resistance To Identity Politics

There is a lot of identity politics out there. It comes in various forms, and the liberal-tarians are all united on the fact that it is good to be an “ally” to victims of certain difficult lived experiences. But just as I have resisted the inclination to call myself a “feminist” despite believing in equal rights for women, I’m not ready to sign-on to the pleas of the likes of (most recently) Jacob T. Levy. The natural question is, “Why the heck not, Ryan?” and the answer is because the evidence and the philosophy just aren’t there to support the notion of identity politics.

But does it matter? The toothpaste is already out of the tube, as the saying goes. It’s only a matter of time before everyone in the LGBTQ community gets to enjoy the same kind of social respect that we pay to everyone else, and racism and sexism is always and everywhere deplored by everyone who counts for anything. No one takes a bigot seriously anymore, not in today’s world. Despite the lamentations over Trump’s allegedly white-supremacist agenda, society as a whole wants to move on from all this bigotry. In that environment, why shouldn’t I just be simpatico? I mean, why can’t I just be a nice guy and declare myself an ally of women, of LGBTQs, of racial minorities, of religious minorities, etc.? Why hold out? Do I want to make myself look like an asshole?

In other words, why don’t I just follow where the group leads me? What’s the harm in that?

Libertarianism – the belief that people by and large ought to be left alone to pursue their own slice of happiness – deserves a unified theory. It’s almost inevitable. Despite the attempts of many to divorce libertarianism from hardcore individualism, Aristotelianism, first principles, and unfettered market capitalism, libertarianism only makes sense as the fusion of those ideas. If you remove one of those things, then you are no longer left with a consistent, coherent political philosophy. Instead, what we end up with is a contradictory mess of personal whims and wishes; but you don’t need philosophy to just believe whatever the heck you feel like. Philosophy without consistent self-reconciliation is just word salad.

Thus, to wit, I don’t want to just go along with the crowd on identity politics because, doggone it, I’m an individualist. I’m not going to just accept any hackneyed idea just because a bunch of really nice people really really want me to go with it. That kind of blind susceptibility to situational influence is what produces the Lucifer Effect, and I’m not into that. While we’re busy pitting our various political identities against each other, we’re causing a real rift between and among groups. It’s not very hard to imagine the different ways the Lucifer Effect would take hold. It ought to be resisted.

I bring this up because it highlights the importance of individualism as an idea in general, but specifically with respect to libertarianism. Without the general principle that individuals ought to be left alone, we become a teeming mass of identity-factions, each more justifiably angry than the next. The function of individualism is to diffuse the claims of specific factions and to apply broad principles of freedom to all kinds of people, no matter what their demographics happen to be. In other words, the purpose of individualism is to prevent us from getting caught up in bigotry. Inventing a complex “intersectionality” of factious identities will only serve to pit factions against each other.

What we want is to treat all people equally. So long as we’re pounding pulpits over identity politics, we’ll never get there. Separate is inherently unequal. "All collectivist doctrines are harbingers of irreconcilable hatred and war to the death."


When Your Way Out Isn't A Way Out

I followed a link on Robert Murphy's blog, and then followed another link, and then somehow I found myself on The Other Side of the Internet. I don't recommend going there often, if at all. Still, "While I'm here," I thought to myself, "I may as well see if I can learn something."

I discovered an article written by one Sophie Gray, who, in an article tellingly entitled "Why I've Stopped Posting Ab Selfies to Social Media," opens with the following:
If you were scrolling through my Instagram account on July 15th you would’ve seen a feed filled with ‘ab selfies’ with comments littered underneath saying how I’m #LIFEGOALS and have the #PERFECTBODY.
Note the link to her Instagram account. We can already tell that this story is about to veer into sadness, but if Sophie can get a few more Instagram followers, then why not, right? She continues:
But if you were my boyfriend on that very same day, you would have seen a very different story. You would have seen a very different version of me. 
You would have been the one by my side as I stood crying in the baggage claim area in the airport. You would have been the one climbing into a rental car and embarking on a 38-hour drive home just because I couldn’t get on our connecting flight home. 
And guess what? My so-called enviable thigh gap and six pack weren’t the reason I wasn’t able to get on the flight.
It was because I had a horrible panic attack on our previous flight and was a total and complete fucking mess.
At this point, the average reader is keen to learn about how the relentless pursuit of physical perfection drove this poor woman into a melt-down. But Sophie never says that. In fact, she never says anything at all about what was behind her panic attack.

Instead, she self-diagnoses as someone who has "anxiety," and provides the unreferenced statistic that "1 in 5 people are living with anxiety." I haven't fact-checked that claim, because it is completely irrelevant. It's irrelevant to my blog post, it's irrelevant to her article, and it's irrelevant to her panic attack.

Sophie uses this statistic to do a quick calculation. She states (audaciously, in bold text) that she has 400,000 followers on Instagram (product placement again), and that this implies that 80,000 of them suffer from anxiety.

To Sophie, this means that 80,000 of her followers are suffering anxiety as a direct result of, or which is seriously aggravated by, her ab selfies. So, for their sake, she's not posting ab selfies anymore.

Well, gosh, I feel better now. Don't you?

It's possible that Sophie's desire to have lots of adulating Instagram followers drove her to a panic attack. It's also possible that her relentless pursuit of a perfect body drove her to a panic attack. And it is certainly believable that the combination of those two activities drove her to a panic attack. But if so, this means that Sophie's anxiety really has nothing to do with her followers. Changing her Instagram behavior might be exactly the right thing to do - for herself. So why does Sophie decide to do it for everyone's sake but hers?

It could be that she's just fishing for positive reinforcement from her nigh-half-a-million fans. Like, she's worried about how a change in behavior will affect her social media presence, so she wants to put the idea out there to them, so that they will say, "Yes! Do it! We support you!" Maybe she just needs that kind of adulation in order to make a positive change in her life.

But notice the difference between earnestly asking for support because you feel unsure of yourself and need to make a change, versus suggesting that it's really your support network who has the real problem, and that you need to make a change for them. Both activities feel like a positive change for the better, but while the former is an acknowledgement of personal weakness and an earnest request for help, the latter is a way of spreading the guilt around.

"I had a panic attack, therefore I'm going to do something so that you don't have one, too."

No, Sophie. You had a panic attack, so you need to make a change in your own behavior to prevent yourself from having another one. I don't know how many people have had panic attacks as a direct result of seeing her Instagram photos, but I suspect the number is much smaller than 80,000 and might even be close to zero.

Of course, Sophie has an incentive to ignore this. The thought that her Instagram followers don't think she's important enough to have driven them into a panic attack is, in essence, a narcissistic injury. It means she isn't as popular and important as she wants to be.

Notice the other ugly thing about this: A woman whose ab selfies are so glorious that they send people into panic attacks is still pretty marvelous, isn't she? So even by swearing-off her selfies she still gets to proclaim her superiority over her followers.

So she covers it with a self-serving story about how her ab selfies are driving anxious fans into panic attacks and that she needs to stop, for their sake.

My prediction: Sophie will stop posting ab selfies but will not stop being anxious.


Democratic Crack-Up Boom

The Washington Post is riffing on a common theme: the plummeting popularity of democracy as a form of government. Most people agree that this is a deleterious trend, and a lot of people have been writing about what it "means."

Before we jump the gun, though, I wanted to consider a possibility that people aren't talking about at all. What if the data isn't telling us what we think it's telling us.

Years ago, I had a friend who told me her mother used to feed her candy made of carob instead of chocolate. But here's the kicker: her mother told her that the candy was chocolate. So, for years, was not particularly fond of "chocolate," because what she thought was "chocolate" was actually carob. When she finally tasted real chocolate for the first time in her life, she loved it. And she's loved it ever since.

Now consider the modern political landscape, where elections seldom result in any kind of measurable change, where the candidates who win the popular votes don't end up in office, where all the real power is had by the bureaucracy, not the elected officials, and where it seems that no matter what the law says, governments mostly just serve their well-connected friends, business partners, and other insiders.

And consider that this landscape is what is known to most people as "democracy." If top-to-bottom corruption, staged elections, media propaganda, and kangaroo courts are what is currently known as "democracy" in this day and age, might young people's opinion of democracy reflect what everyone keeps telling them democracy is?

In other words, isn't it possible that people are losing faith in democracy because our institutions are corrupt and are no longer democratic? Isn't it possible that people now see how ineffectual their system is, and so they are rejecting it, whatever it happens to be called?

I think this is a possibility that ought to be ruled out before we write democracy's obituary.


Getting Fitter

Getting people from fat to fit isn’t even a cottage industry anymore. I’d speculate that it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry that ranges from short workouts of the day, like the ones you’ll find at Darebee.com, to hour-long video workouts like P90X. I just opened the app store  on my phone to discover pages upon pages of reasonably highly rated free fitness apps: Couch-to-5K apps, shortcuts to size, triathlon training, diet logs, and so on, and so forth. You don’t have to look very far to spend hundreds of dollars on fitness stuff faster than you can say “Take my money, you chiseled Adonis!”

Of course, we here at Stationary Waves have long since been of the opinion that, in order to get truly fit, one has to stop beginning and start becoming an intermediate fitness enthusiast. This will help you resist the urge to start over again and again, always from the novice level. This will help you progress to a point where you add a little more to your daily routine – because, after all, your routine is now a daily one. It’s part of your life. You made it! Fitness is a regular part of your life now. You’re no longer one of those people who need to get off the couch.

What you’ll discover at that point is that you’re working out daily, and you still don’t look and feel like Duane Johnson or Gillian Michaels, you still don’t run a sub-3-hour marathon, you still can’t do very many unassisted pull-ups, and the thought of posting “workout videos” on YouTube frightens you. In short, even after you’ve been working out for a long time, you still won’t feel like an expert or a pro. You’ll still feel like a beginner.

I’ve been training hard as a distance runner since my age could be expressed in single-digits – yes, really – and even I still don’t feel like an expert. The truth is, no level of fitness ever feels like enough. There’s always some additional challenge or barrier that you can’t quite achieve, that makes you feel like a complete rookie. So we try harder.

Speaking personally, I work out during my lunch hour at work. Optimistically, you could say I have 60 minutes with which to get a great workout in – and for the last several months or years I’ve been doing just that. But lately I’ve noticed something: in order to get fitter than I am today, I need more than 60 minutes.

Now, this makes perfect sense. After you’ve conditioned yourself to an hour a day, the only way to get a better workout is to either go harder for the full hour, or stack on more time. Frankly, I’m not sure I could go much harder for my daily hour. I want to be fitter – I need another hour.

And so I continue to flirt with my on-again, off-again relationship to twice-daily workouts. I know I need them, but they’re hard. They’re hard to do, physically, and they’re hard for a diabetic like me to figure out. They’re hard to keep up in light of all my other responsibilities in life. They’re just hard. I try it, I fail, and I give up.

But, darn it, I keep trying. Maybe this time’s my chance.