Pamela Paul on the problem with “progressives”

November 20, 2023 • 12:30 pm

I hate writing the word “progressives” when I refer to people like AOC and her squad, and especially to people like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, whom I see as regressives, hoping for some form of Islamism to infect America. But the “progressives” are also regressive in not adopting the values of classical liberalism, including freedom of speech, unity instead of divisiveness, and the rejection of identitarian politics.  “Progressives” favor a form of gender activism that abrogates certain rights of women and, more important, are liable to engage in “cancel culture”. They are self-righteous, authoritarian, and not prone to compromise.

But the latest identifying marks of “progressivists” are their embrace of Hamas and the Palestinian cause, an animus towards Israel, and, as evidenced in calls for a cease-fire and an approval of BSD, an apparent indifference about whether Israel should even exist.

So no, I’m not a progressive but a diehard liberal, and, as Bill Maher says, I never moved to the right: the Democrats simply shifted way leftward.

This NYT op-ed by Pamela Paul, the former Sunday book-review editor for the paper, shows her credentials as a liberal, which in the NYT’s op-ed section, puts her almost on the Right.  Click on the headline; I also found it archived free here.

According to Paul, self-described liberals are increasing in number (17% of Americans in 1992 to 25% in 2021), though “still lower than the proportions of those who said they were ‘conservatives’ or ‘moderates’.” Progressives are less numerous, constituting constitute 6-8% of the population, but they are LOUD. And their ranks will grow as younger college students grow up and regurgitate the political pabulum they were fed in college.

Here’s how Paul distinguishes progressives from “normal” liberals:

In an increasingly prominent version of the progressive vision, capitalism isn’t something to be regulated or balanced, but is itself the problem. White supremacy doesn’t describe an extremist fringe of racists and antisemites, but is instead the inherent character of the nation.

Some aspects of contemporary progressivism look less like actual progress and more like a step in reverse. Whereas liberals hold to a vision of racial integration, progressives have increasingly supported forms of racial distinction and separation, and demanded equity in outcome rather than equality of opportunity. Whereas most liberals want to advance equality between the sexes, many progressives seem fixated on reframing gender stereotypes as “gender identity” and denying sex differences wherever they confer rights or protections expressly for women. And whereas liberals tend to aspire toward a universalist ideal, in which diverse people come together across shared interests, progressives seem increasingly wedded to an identitarian approach that emphasizes tribalism over the attainment of common ground.

More reactionary still is the repressive nature of progressive ideals around civil liberties. It is progressives — not liberals — who argue that “speech is violence” and that words cause harm. These values are the driving force behind progressive efforts to shut down public discourse, disrupt speeches, tear down posterscensor students and deplatform those with whom they disagree.

Divisions became sharper after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, when many progressives did not just express support for the Palestinian cause but, in some cases, even defended the attacks as a response to colonialism, and opposed retaliation as a form of genocide. (One might argue that it is similarly illiberal for universities to suspend or cut funding to student groups that support Palestinian rights, as several have done, though those actions often came after chants by the groups that administrators considered threatening toward Jews.)

All this stands in marked contrast to the liberal stance that more speech is better speech, allowing for the free exchange of ideas. As David Frum, not generally considered a liberal himself, wrote recently in The Atlantic, “how is a society ever to settle its most important questions if it follows the rule ‘The more important a question, the more strictly its discussion is forbidden’?”\

And, of course, the cancel culture:

. . . .This brings us to the most troubling characteristic of contemporary progressivism. Whereas liberals tend to pride themselves on acceptance, many progressives have applied various purity tests to others on the left, and according to one recent study on the schism between progressives and liberals, are more likely than liberals to apply public censure to divergent views. This intolerance manifests as a professed preference for avoiding others with different values, a stance entirely antithetical to liberal values.

What a strange paradox that at the very moment the word “liberal” is enjoying a renaissance, liberalism itself feels on the wane. Many liberals find themselves feeling lonelier than ever.

It only feels on the wane because progressives are so damn loud. Liberalism is increasing, but perhaps not fast enough to keep Trump from being reelected.  Here are the latest poll numbers from FiveThirtyEight; and they’re are damn depressing (click to enlarge)

As for the Presidential polls of Trump vs. Biden, Trump can’t lose for trying. Yes, this is within the margin of error, I think, but it’s way too close for me.


In which I get blamed for Trump’s victory

November 16, 2016 • 11:00 am

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been held guilty for Hillary Clinton’s loss for several reasons, including criticizing her too much as well as for not criticizing her enough before the primaries, which led to a flawed candidate being put up against Trump. You can’t win in this game!

David, whose email is below (name redacted to protect privacy ) took the time to chew me out for not doing enough for Hillary, and for criticizing both her and Islam. This is only one of several specimens I’ve gotten from butthurt liberals. (His first paragraph is a quote from my post referenced above.) I love the gracious salutation!


‘………What bothers me almost as much as Trump’s victory is the vitriol I’m getting in both comments (the really nasty ones don’t go up) and personal emails, excoriating me for being responsible for Trump’s victory. I am told that by calling attention to Hillary’s flaws, I helped pave the path to a Trump win, as if somehow we should not point out the weaknesses of our candidates […..] But me? Seriously? I am one individual among millions, and one who voted for Clinton……’

Some points:

1 You claim to be 1 in a million, but your blog reaches thousands of potential voters, and I think you have boasted on your blog of the # of your followers – you ARE an opinion-maker.

2 If you truly supported HRC, you could have donated $ to her campaign, or volunteered to knock on doors in the nearby swing state of Wisconsin – did you do any of this? Moi? I reluctantly donated $ to HRC to try to stop Trump.

3 Even while traveling in Asia, you could have called potential voters on your phone with a pro-HRC message. [JAC: LOL; I don’t travel with a phone outside the US!

4 I [and other Democrats] see the recent election as a fight between reality and an insane, racialized, right-wing fantasy – a zero-sum fight in which there is no neutral ground. Trump represents a return to the USA of a theory of white genetic superiority.

5 If points 1-4 above are true, then the following 3 points are also true:

5A Every time you criticized HRC, you depressed turnout among Democratic voters – which was an in-kind donation to Trump. Overconfidence in HRC and confirmation bias with opinion polls were a HUUUGE gift to the Trump campaign. You contributed to this.

5B Every time you criticized ‘political correctness’, you made an in-kind contribution to the alt-right.

5C Every time you mentioned the hijab and ‘muslims behaving badly’, you made an in-kind contribution to the alt-right.

These problems with the alt-right haven’t ended with the election – see, e.g., Steve Bannon.

Quick, where’s my hair shirt and metal cilice?

I’m sorry, but reader David is like a wounded bull in a corrida who wants to gore the nearest available human. People like this need to stop trying to find someone to blame for Hillary’s loss. The reasons are complex:  you can’t point at one thing as the culprit, but least of all at the person who was a Democrat but simply had opinions different from yours. As for criticizing Islam and hijabs, are we supposed to stifle ourselves lest we enable the “alt-right”? Yes, David is not thinking clearly, and that’s the most charitable thing I can say about him.

For more on the immature tendency to find anything to blame for a bad election outcome, here are Seth Andrews and Darrel Ray discussing some of the more angst-ridden responses and overstatements with respect to Trump’s election:

And here’s the podcast referenced by Ray in his capacity as a clinical psychologist. A quote that David should take to heart.

“Many people are expressing deep and strong, even debilitating emotions as a result of the election. In this special episode I wish to give listeners some techniques they can use to reduce their distress, while preparing to move forward in the future.”

No, Laura Ingraham did not give a Nazi salute at the GOP convention

July 22, 2016 • 8:15 am

Jebus, is the Left becoming as fond of conspiracy theories as the right? This photo (and gifs) of conservative author and radio host Laura Ingraham, waving to the crowd after her speech at the Republican convention, are all over my Facebook page, with some posters seriously suggesting that she’s giving a Hitler salute.  (I really should stop going to FB.) When I said, “People, it’s just the beginning of a wave—she’s not giving the Nazi salute!”, I was contradicted by some who said it’s just too strange to be a real wave.

Slate, for example, posted this, without giving the video (click on screenshot for link):

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 8.00.18 AM

Here’s a video of her entrance to the stage and then her final wave. Note her stiff-armed wave as she walks onto the stage at the beginning, and then her final salutations (including the “Nazi salute”) at 2:48. She’s just an awkward waver, for crying out loud!

Come on, people! That stiff-armed bit was just the beginning of a general wave to the crowd. Do you really think that Ingraham, conservative as she is, would covertly give a sign of sympathy to Hitler? Are we so mired in hatred of Republicans that we’ll even entertain conspiracy theories like this?

Ingraham is odious enough without us making fools of ourselves by suggesting she’s a Nazi sympathizer. That makes us akin to creationists: we take one bit of a wave out of context; creationists take a few words out of context from the writings of evolutionists.

Is “privilege” like Original Sin?

May 24, 2016 • 2:15 pm

I direct your attention to a short piece on Allthink by James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian: “Privilege: The Left’s Original Sin“.  Their thesis is cute, and makes some sense: the Authoritarian Left’s notion of “privilege”, which establishes a hierarchy of victimhood, is analogous to religion’s Original Sin. You can read it in 5 minutes, but I’ll give two excerpts:

The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you’re born with. It’s something you can’t escape. It’s something you can’t really do anything about – except be ashamed. It’s something you should confess and try to cleanse yourself of. It’s something that requires forgiveness, atonement, penitence, and work. It’s something, if you take it to heart, for which you will browbeat others.

For many contemporary left-situated activists, privilege occupies the same role in a religion of contemporary identity politics. There is no greater sin than having been born an able-bodied, straight, white male who identifies as a man but isn’t deeply sorry for this utterly unintentional state of affairs.

Everybody is a sinner; everybody is privileged; and both are the fall of Man. Both are the stain upon everyone who, by virtue of existing, falls short of moral perfection. Both are a kind of disease that threatens society. Neither can be escaped. Both must be abhorred and demand redemption from the guilty.

Lindsay and Boghossian are not saying that “privilege” is completely without merit—just that it substitutes, as do so many other notions in the Authoritarian Left, for the impetus to actually fix society:

Sin and privilege aren’t empty concepts, and they’re not exactly useless. They generate a particular kind of awareness and empathy that motivates certain kinds of behaviors seeking to avoid, minimize, and atone for them, but they’re effectively useless for solving any real problems. Wiser people focus more on the positive qualities they’d like to instill in others – temperance, self-control, generosity, fairness, even purity – rather than wallowing in the failures of miscreants and leaving it at that. Those adhering to the religion of identity politics (many of whom already reject the concept of religious sin) should learn from example and turn their attention to what matters, campaigning to create social, political, and economic systems that raise the underdog to genuine equality.

They point out one difference: that Original Sin, unlike privilege, can be expiated. And here’s another: you either have Original Sin or you don’t, but everybody except the single most disadvantaged person in society has some form of privilege. The most privileged, and thus the biggest sinners, are people like me: heatlhy white, cisgendered males.

A digression:  I was once told by a privileged cis-gendered white woman that all my academic success was due to my privilege. (She didn’t realize that hers was as well.) Well, that’s part of the story, of course, but there were a lot of factors involved beyond race and gender: a set of parents who valued learning, the fact that my Army dad was stationed near good schools, my exposure to charismatic teachers in college (I couldn’t afford to go to the school I wanted, which was Princeton), and so on. I take no real credit for my accomplishments, for I’m a determinist and didn’t make any choices. What diligence I exercised was due completely to my genes and environment.

I’m pleased that I’ve had a pretty good life, but it’s not because I made the right choices. I can’t even say I was “lucky,” for my fate was largely predetermined by my genes and environment, and determinism isn’t “luck”. But, as Lindsay and Boghossian note, the accidents of birth and environment involve a lot more things than just the color of your skin and whether you have a Y chromosome.

If you’d like, discuss the oft-repeated mantra of “privilege” below.

The Curious Case of Cologne

January 10, 2016 • 12:15 pm

by Grania

By now everyone has heard of the New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, although the events of that night are still being investigated and the facts aren’t yet known in great detail. On New Year’s Eve, groups of men appearing to be of mostly Middle Eastern and African origin attacked and harassed women in an apparently coordinated action. There are now, as the Irish Times reports, 379 official criminal complaints, including two rapes. About 40% the cases include sexual offences.

The German newspaper The Local reports that women were even hindered in attempting to reach police:

“We were already informed of the conditions in and around the station as we were arriving at our positions by emotional members of the public with crying and shocked children,” a high-ranking police officer wrote in a document seen by Spiegel Online and tabloid Bild.

“On the square outside were several thousand mostly male people of a migrant background who were firing all kinds of fireworks and throwing bottles into the crowd at random.”

The police vans were themselves the targets of thrown fireworks as they pulled into their parking spaces, and people immediately rushed to the officers to report thefts, violence and sexual assaults against women.

“Even the appearance of police officers on the scene. . . didn’t hold the masses back from their actions,” the report notes.

Women – with or without male companions – were forced to “run a gauntlet. . . beyond description” of drunken men to reach or leave the station.”

In some cases, reaction in the media has been bizarre. Predictably, right-wing outlets have used the event to fuel absurd anti-immigrant screeds, seeing this as all the ammunition they need to attack Germany’s recent welcoming of a million refugees.

Perhaps even more bizarre has been the reaction from certain left-wing outlets and people who have apparently been so confused by cultural relativism that they end up sounding exactly like the rape apologists they normally decry. These comments range from well-intended but inept “advice” from authorities in Germany, such as Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, telling women to keep themselves at a certain distance from men; to various talking heads in both written and video media arguing that this is nothing unusual—rape happens all the time. Click on the image below to watch The Young Turks for an interesting if eyebrow-raising 3 minutes (I couldn’t make it any further in the clip).

Rape-splaining by The Young Turks: “I’m sure there’s been plenty of assaults in Germany before this”.

It’s perfectly true that this crime spree cannot be seen as a characteristic of immigrants, let alone Muslim immigrants; and right-wingers trying to hijack this for their own goals need to be confronted and combatted. But this pushback will be futile if right-wingers alone discuss the issue, and if the best that the left-wing, pro-feminist side can come up with is an appalling unwillingness to even admit that there is something worth discussing here.

Yes, this is not entirely about immigrants:  it’s not yet clear how many immigrants were actually involved in the group in Cologne. But even if they were all immigrants, it would still not invalidate Germany or Europe’s immigration policies. Nor would it show that the overwhelming majority of immigrants are anything other than ordinary people looking to start a new life in a new country. However, this sort of thing cannot be ignored, nor can it be written off as just another example of the sort of thing that happens all the time to women in Europe. That attitude is clearly imbecilic and betrays the women who were targets of the abuse and violence on New Year’s Eve.

I have read two hearteningly intelligent articles on the subject. The first is from Musa Okwonga, journalist (and himself an immigrant to Europe) in the New Statesman: “How to deal with the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne and Hamburg“:

“So, what to do …? Well, it is actually simple. Let’s just keep sticking up for the women. As far as being a black man of African descent goes, the racists in Germany and elsewhere hate us anyway. They thought we were rapists and perverts and other assorted forms of sex attacker the second they set eyes on us. They don’t care about the women who were attacked in Cologne and Hamburg, except to prove the point that we are the animals that they always thought – or hoped – we were.

In return, I don’t care about them. Nor am I too bothered by the people who don’t want to sit next to me on the train. Fear of the unknown is a hard thing to unlearn. I am most concerned, by far, with the safety of the women who may now be more frightened than ever to enter public spaces. I don’t think that women have ever felt particularly comfortable walking through crowds of drunk and aggressive men at night, regardless of the race of those men. But groups of young men of North African and Arab origin, whatever their intentions, will most likely endure more trepidation from women than before.

So here’s what I propose we do. Why don’t we just start with the premise that it is a woman’s fundamental right, wherever she is in the world, to walk the streets and not be groped? And why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past?”

The second is a very detailed analysis by Maajid Nawaz who, with his usual refreshing candor and clarity, tackles the underlying problems head-on in The Daily Beast, “Why We Can’t Stay Silent on Germany’s Mass Sex Assaults“:

The fetishization of the female body has not led to a decrease in cases of sexual violence in societies where women cover their entire bodies. If Taliban- and ISIS-held areas are anything to go by, violence against women only increases the more women are asked to conceal and segregate themselves. This would make sense, because accompanying such attitudes is the notion that women are sexual objects to be owned and controlled, and not human beings to be respected and loved. What is infuriating is that for centuries progressives have made these very arguments against white Christian fundamentalists in the West, yet—displaying an incredible cognitive dissonance—those progressives easily abandon that position when confronted with the problem in a minority community. [JAC: here we see, again, the characteristic ambivalence of the Authoritarian Left: a dissonance between sympathy for the oppressed on the one hand and the Enlightenment values apparently violated by the oppressed on the other.]

The case of Cologne tells us that we can no longer afford this Regressive-Left double standard. The only person to blame for rape is the rapist. Employment and education among migrant males will be a more conducive and far more consistent approach than asking European women to change how they dress or when they go out.

Whatever the investigation eventually uncovers about the attacks in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, three things will remain true: it is not the fault of Europe’s trying to help as many refugees as they can; the overwhelming majority of Muslim immigrants to Europe arrived there only to seek a new and better life for themselves and their families; and the mass attacks on women in Cologne that night were not an example of “everyday sexism”.

Nick Cohen on Charlie Hebdo, cowardice, and the regressive left

December 17, 2015 • 1:00 pm

Since the death of Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen is the closest thing we have to a latter-day Orwell. It’s refreshing to read him amidst the flatulent apologetics of Reza Aslan, Glenn Greenwald, and other blame-the-Westers who argue that every terrorist act, every malevolent deed of ISIS and Al Qaeda, is the fault of colonialism, and those deeds include the repression of women and the murder of gays, Yazidis, apostates, and Shia Muslims. (The latter acts can also be excused as aspects of Muslim “culture”.)

In a new and longish piece in Standpoint, “Shame on the liberals who rationalize terror” (access free), Cohen tells it like it is, heaping scorn on those Leftists who cower before Islam while refusing to cower before Catholicism or any other faith. I’m still under the weather, but that’s convenient because Cohen’s piece speaks for itself, rife with his usual eloquence and clear thinking. I’ll give just one excerpt. The piece takes off from some mealymouth remarks uttered by John Kerry after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, more or less implying that the writers and cartoonists brought it on themselves.

Instead of encouraging Muslims to break with extremism, we left liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims isolated. We adopted the language of the extremists, and censored the very arguments they needed to use against fundamentalism. Instead of damning religious totalitarianism, we invented rationales that obscured rather than enlightened.

As John Kerry showed, anyone can play the game. You can say the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon were a rational response to American support for Saudi Arabia and Israel. If America wanted to be safe, it should stop supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel. The British Left claimed that the 7/7 attacks on London were a rational response to British involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t true: Mohammad Sidique Khan, the terrorist cell’s leader, was training in Islamist camps long before the Iraq war. Nevertheless, the point still held: you can suppose that Western foreign policy provides a “rationale” for Muslims who become terrorists. You can say, as John Kerry implied, that if Charlie Hebdo had steered clear of Islam, it would never have been bombed. You can say that Jews would not be targets if they renounced Judaism. You can say that Islamic State would not have attacked Paris if the French had stayed out of Syria. You can say that the existence of Israel explains Hamas. You can say that IS would not treat Yazidi women as sex slaves if they had embraced its version of Sunni Islam. You can say there is a rationale for the Iranian subjugation of its Sunni minority and the Saudi subjugation of its Shia minority, for both are potentially dangerous to their respective states. You can say that Muslim countries would not persecute homosexuals if they went straight, or order the death of apostates if they remained good Muslims. There is no limit to the number of reasons you can find. Every time you rationalise, however, you miss the obvious and ignore an often openly fascistic ideology whose appeal lies in its supernatural certainties and totalitarian promise of a new heaven on earth.

Every step you take in explaining radical Islam away is apparently rational and liberal. Each takes you further from rationalism and liberalism. In your determination to see the other side’s point of view and to avoid making it “really angry about this or that”, you end up altering your behaviour so much that you can no longer challenge the prejudices of violent religious reactionaries. As you seek rationales for the irrational and excuses for the inexcusable, you become a propagandist for the men you once opposed.

Indeed. Read the whole piece; you’ll like it—that is, if you’re not an Aslanophile or Greenwaldian.

Quote of the day: Nick Cohen

July 9, 2015 • 9:30 am

Nick Cohen is an outspoken critic of those Western liberals who cower and dissimulate before extreme Islam. Here’s a bit of his new Guardian piece on a recent talk in London by Rafidya Bonya Ahmed, a secular blogger who survived a brutal attack by Muslims with meat cleavers. She was badly cut up and lost a thumb, but also lost her husband and co-blogger Avijit Roy, who died of his wounds. This is from the piece “Islamism prevails even as we suppress free speech”:

Compare the bravery of Bangladeshi intellectuals with the attitude of the bulk of the western intelligentsia. Whole books could be written on why it failed to argue against the fascism of our age – indeed I’ve written a couple myself – but the decisive reason is a fear that dare not speak its name. They are frightened of accusations of racism, frightened of breaking with the consensus, frightened most of all of violence. They dare not admit they are afraid. So they struggle to produce justifications to excuse their dereliction of duty. They turn militant religion into a rational reaction to poverty or western foreign policy. They maintain there is a moral equivalence between militant religion and militant atheism.

On occasion, they drop even that spurious attempt at evenhandedness and seem to suggest, as Professor Craig Calhoun, director of the London School of Economics, did recently, that the real menace facing universities is not students heading to Syria to rape and behead but secularists whose calls for free speech “challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students” and disrupt “campus harmony”. [JAC: do have a look at the link about the reprehensible Calhoun.] David Cameron will clearly have trouble taking his mission to “root out” extremism to the LSE.

For all the similarities, there is no moral equivalence between Britain and Bangladesh. They have thinkers of the calibre of Rafida Bonya Ahmed and Avijit Roy, while we have liberals whom Karl Marx might have looked at and said: “Religion is the opium of the intellectuals.”

Roy and Ahmed are precious defenders of free speech in a country where that very concept brings death; Nick Cohen is a precious critic of pusillanimous Western liberals who are apologists for Islam. Cohen reminds me of George Orwell, who issued, in his “Notes on Nationalism,” one of the smartest quips of our age:

One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.